"Don't get old; there's no future in it. " That was my stepfather's joke. He died three years ago, in his mid-80s, having lived much longer...
“Don’t get old; there’s no future in it.”
That was my stepfather’s joke. He died three years ago, in his mid-80s, having lived much longer than he expected.
Financial planners call it “longevity risk.” Like the risk of young spenders — having too much month at the end of the money — the older we get, the greater the chance that we’ll outlive our savings.
Can anything be done about it?
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Yes and no. Life is the greatest gift we have. Few part with it lightly. We’ll have to cope by planning more and saving more — if we have the good fortune to expect a longer-than-average life.
What’s our first step? Estimate the longevity risk we face. Then make decisions accordingly.
Let me give you a surprising, if personal, example. If you do a Google search for “life expectancy test,” you’ll come up with a long page of different “tests.”
The tests will ask you a bunch of questions. Then they estimate your life expectancy based on the information you provide. If you smoke, weigh too much, have high blood pressure or any of the usual health worry signs, the tests will reduce your expectancy below the national averages.
If you exercise, eat right and have no family history of cancer or heart disease, the tests will increase your life expectancy above the national averages.
If you and yours have long expectancies, here are some of the implications:
Social Security and Medicare stress. The longer your expected retirement, the greater the odds you’ll experience shrinking Social Security benefits and drastic changes to Medicare.
There is evidence of this already: With the Medicare premium for 2005 up 17 percent from 2004, this one item absorbs much of the annual Social Security benefit increase.
Today’s long-lived seniors are likely to face the same funding problems today’s 30-somethings will face — except that the seniors will be facing them when they are 90, while the 30-somethings will experience these challenges in their 60s. It won’t be pretty.
Private pension purchasing power. Of the diminishing number of workers who will receive defined-benefit pensions from corporations, government and nonprofit institutions, many will retire to a fool’s paradise. They will fail to recognize that even a modest 3 percent inflation rate will cut the purchasing power of their pension in half in only 24 years.
Help from children. It is one thing to have help from your children when they are in their 50s or 60s. It’s quite another for them to help when they are approaching 70 or 80 themselves. Yet many Americans will be in precisely this position. This would make long-term-care insurance virtually imperative — if we could confidently rely on the financial strength of the insurance industry over such a long period.
Major upheavals. This is a tough, unruly world. The longer we live, the greater the odds our lives, investments and institutions will be affected by a major event — a market crash, high inflation, a major change in our nation’s position in the world.
Estate distributions. Those fortunate enough to have an estate have to think differently if they are also long-lived. Distribution at the traditional time — death — means your assets are likely to go to children who are more than 70 years old. Earlier distributions could benefit them, and grandchildren, much more.
Margin for error. Compensating for all these factors means the long-lived can’t cut it as close as those who will live normal life spans. The longer you live, the more you need to save. The biggest single lever for increasing your personal safety is simple. Delay retirement. Work longer.
Questions about personal finance and investments may be sent to Scott Burns at The Dallas Morning News, P.O. Box 655237, Dallas, TX 75265; by fax at 214-977-8776; or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns.