As you transition into retirement, you face many important decisions that will impact your quality of life for the rest of your life. The trouble is, many people ignore or put off these critical decisions, according to Disconnected: Perception vs. Reality in Retirement Planning, a recent study from the Stanford Center on Longevity (SCL).
Most people face these key decisions between the ages of 60 and 70. When you think about it, the decisions you make during this phase of your life are just as important as the decisions you made when you transitioned into adulthood, typically between the ages of 20 and 30.
Looking back on that decade of your live, many people choose a spouse or partner, started a family, embarked on a career path, decided where to live, bought a house, and so on. Those decisions set you on a path that led to where you are today. Now you’re planning to leave your career, determining how to build financial security for the rest of your life, navigating health care systems, and deciding what to do during your remaining years on earth.
Given what’s at stake—the rest of your life—it’s worth investing your time and effort to do the best possible job with these important decisions.
What are the critical decisions facing pre-retirees and retirees?
The researchers for the SCL study interviewed 21 experts in finance and academia about the critical decisions facing pre-retirees and retirees. The consensus is that the following decisions are extremely important:
- When to retire
- Whether to work part time for a period after retiring from your career job
- When to begin drawing Social Security benefits
- How to deploy retirement savings and financial resources to generate retirement income that will supplement your Social Security benefits
- Whether to downsize/right size/age-proof your home and how to finance your housing costs
- Whether to pay off a conventional mortgage or take out a reverse mortgage (if you own a home)
- How to manage debt effectively
- How to reduce your living expenses to accommodate a reduced income
- How to select the right type of medical insurance before and after eligibility for Medicare (age 65)
- How to build a supportive community of family and friends
- How to plan for potential long-term care needs
- How to plan for diminished capacity for making financial decisions in your later years
- How to best work with professional advisors
As part of the Disconnected project, researchers surveyed 2,000 pre-retirees and retirees on their views and experience with retirement planning and on their financial resources. The survey confirmed that most pre-retirees and retirees agree that these are important decisions, and a majority report that they’d like help with most of these decisions.
The survey revealed some less-than-positive information, too: Only one in 10 survey respondents feel very comfortable financially, and 55% report they’re either fragile or only able to just get by when it comes to finances. More than half (60%) of respondents feel they should have done more planning than they did, while almost three in four pre-retirees and retirees want to do more planning in the future.
The Disconnected report is a wake-up call for financial advisors, financial institutions, and anybody who wants to help pre-retirees and retirees have a better retirement.
It’s also a wake-up call for any pre-retiree or retiree who thinks that somehow “things will just work out.” If you haven’t thought about some of the decisions listed here, give yourself and your families the gift of being proactive and learning about your options. Your future self—and your loved ones—will thank you.
Full disclosure: I was one of the researchers on the Disconnected project.