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How much do you really need to retire?
NEW YORK (3/25/2014)--As many as 85% of respondents to a nationwide GfK Custom Research survey believe it's important to prepare for the future by sacrificing and saving today. Yet 44% worry that they aren't putting aside as much as they think they should. How do you know if you need to save more, are right on target, or perhaps are going overboard (The Street March 11)?
The rule-of-thumb formula is to plan to live on 70% to 80% of your preretirement income during your retirement years, while increasing your replacement income annually at the inflation rate for 30 years. This is a reasonable starting point.
But these assumptions can over- or underestimate the true cost of your retirement. David Blanchett, head of retirement research at Morningstar Investment Management, points out that one size does not fit all. Your actual replacement income requirements will more realistically range from 54% to close to 90% of pre-retirement income (MarketWatch 12/21/2013).
One important factor in determining a replacement rate is your proportion of pretax expenses (contributions to a 401(k), for example) to post-tax expenses (contributions to a Roth, mortgage payments, and so forth). The more you put aside in pretax retirement accounts before you retire, the lower your replacement requirements.
To help you evaluate other factors that affect your replacement rate, consider:
  • Some of today's expenses will decline or disappear when you retire, for example, Social Security and Medicare taxes, saving for retirement and work-related expenses.
  • As you progress through retirement, even if you take into account the inflation rate for retirees (3.15% compared with a general inflation rate of 3%), your expenses will decrease in real terms at first and then increase toward the end. That's because your consumption most likely will change over time.
  • Your life expectancy might be a lot less, or more, than 30 years. You can use SocialSecurityOnline's calculator (found on to estimate your life expectancy.
  • If you have a low preretirement income, for example, $20,000 a year, your replacement rate likely will be higher than that of someone who makes $100,000 a year.
  • The relative amount you will spend on health care could increase significantly as you age.
  • After age 65, you stand a good chance (70%) of requiring long-term care and help with basic daily activities, even if only temporarily.
Blanchett's research suggests that many households would benefit from claiming Social Security as late as possible. Keep in mind that, by delaying, you'll get a higher inflation-adjusted benefit for life.
Meet with a certified financial planner to make sure the decisions you make are appropriate to your situation. For related information, read "Do You Need a Financial Plan?" and "Making Dollars and Sense of Financial Planner Designations" in the Home & Family Finance Resource Center.

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