Average Life Expectancies Are Up. Here’s How That Could Affect Your Retirement

The CDC has found that average U.S. life expectancies have risen for the fifth year in a row. Specifically, that number has climbed from 78.7 years in 2018 to 78.8 years in 2019.

This is good news in theory — we should all want to live as long as possible. But extended life expectancies pose a challenge from a retirement savings standpoint. The longer you live, the more you’ll need your savings to last — and the greater your risk of depleting your nest egg in your lifetime. Here are a few things you can do to account for an increase in longevity — and avoid financial stress in light of it.

Older man blowing out candles on cake while younger man and woman look on

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Delay your Social Security filing as long as possible

The great thing about Social Security is that once you lock in your monthly benefit, it’s guaranteed for life (not including cost-of-living adjustments, and not accounting for potential universal benefit cuts in the event of a funding shortfall). And you can secure the highest possible monthly benefit by delaying your filing until age 70.

You’re entitled to your full monthly Social Security benefit, based on your earnings history, upon reaching full retirement age, which is either 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on your year of birth. But for each year you delay benefits past that point, they’ll grow by 8%, up until your 70th birthday. This means you have an opportunity to, at the very least, snag a 24% increase for your benefits, thereby boosting your monthly income on a permanent basis.

2. Save well in your IRA or 401(k)

The more money you retire with, the longer your savings are likely to last. If you’re currently nowhere close to maxing out an IRA or 401(k) plan, do your best to ramp up your contribution rate over time.

Imagine you’re 42 years old with $80,000 in savings, and you plan to contribute $300 a month to your retirement plan for the next 25 years. Assuming a 7% return on investment in that account (which we’ll dive into in a minute), that would leave you with $662,000. But if you push yourself to save $400 a month instead, you’ll wind up with $738,000.

3. Invest your savings wisely both before and during retirement

It’s important to invest your IRA or 401(k) in a reasonably aggressive fashion to ensure that your savings grow. And to that end, loading up on stocks is a smart bet. With a stock-heavy portfolio, you’re likely to snag an average annual 7% return on your investments over time, since that’s a bit below the stock market’s average.

Now you’ll often hear that as retirement nears, it’s important to shift to more conservative investments, like bonds, and that’s true. But one thing you’ll also need to do is keep some of your portfolio in stocks so you can continue generating that more impressive growth. That holds true both before and throughout retirement. Even once you start taking withdrawals from your savings to pay your living costs, you’ll still need your retirement plan to generate solid returns to help you retain your buying power in the face of inflation. And given the way life expectancies are trending, you’ll also need solid growth to avoid spending down your nest egg prematurely.

Living longer is something current and future seniors should celebrate. Set yourself up right financially, and you’ll be in a stronger position to do just that.