How much money will your clients need in retirement? Seventy to 80 percent of pre-retirement income is an oft-used rule of thumb, with more recommended for retirees who might be globe-trotting, making mortgage payments or putting grandkids through college.
But while simple estimations may play out for individuals, couples have more complex needs. For a healthy couple aged 65 today, there’s nearly a 50/50 chance at least one of them will live to the age of 90. Women also outlive their husbands by five to eight years, face greater healthcare costs and are far more likely to require long-term care.
Typically taking the role of the family caregiver, women also tend to earn less, work fewer years and invest in lower-risk, lower-yield assets than their male counterparts. Ultimately, this leaves a couple with less savings going into retirement.
Fortunately, partners can strategically coordinate investments and distributions, leveraging the money each has made better than either could have done alone.
For several reasons, married women – and men – fare significantly better in retirement. According to the Census Bureau, median 2013 incomes for couples with and without kids were $85,087 and $70,995, respectively. The median income for single women was $26,355.
By splitting household expenses, that difference is magnified, allowing couples to put away even more for retirement. Americans haven’t exactly saved well, but a study by the Employee Benefits Research Institute showed that married couples born between 1965 and 1974 were about $32,000 behind on retirement planning, compared with a shortfall of $75,000 among single women of the same age.
Finally, married women and men tend to be healthier as they age. According to a study by the Center for Retirement Research, singles between the ages of 51 and 61 are more likely to develop serious medical conditions, suffer disabilities and enter nursing homes. Disabilities also reduced net worth by 42 percent for singles – but by only 16 percent for couples.
When to retire
Over one-third of women retire at the same times as their spouses. What’s more, men and women both tend to leave the workforce around age 62, despite earlier planning to retire at 65. It’s tough enough to make a nest egg last an additional three years; it’s even harder to stretch it for six more. Early retirement will also trigger earlier 401(k) distributions, lifetime Social Security penalties or both.
Waiting to retire, on the other hand, gives a couple a more time to build their nest egg, greater Social Security benefits and a smaller window of time to make it all last. While it flies in the face of tradition, it may actually benefit female clients to work longer than their husbands, particularly if they’re a few years younger and in better health. And people who work longer tend to live longer. Plus one spouse retiring at a time can make it easier for a couple to settle into a new routine.
Another advantage of being married: Dual-income couples can strategically invest in their 401(k)s.
“Look at the plan with the highest match so the spouse with the better plan can focus on maxing out that one,” says John Piershale, wealth advisor at Piershale Financial Group. “The other spouse can participate less or not at all, so the couple has more overall cash flow every month.”
That extra cash might be invested in an HSA, brokerage account or other asset that, in combination with the 401(k), provides more retirement income.
The distribution phase
That cash might also be put toward a Roth IRA. “In general, the main thing we look at with drawdown strategies is tax efficiency,” says Brandon Corso, executive director of financial planning for Edelman Financial Services. “Take some from tax-deferred accounts and some from after-tax investments.”
A single retiree or single-income family can use the same strategy, but multiple accounts allow for more options during the distribution phase.