Common Money Mistakes As We Age

It is common knowledge that as we grow old, our bodies tend to not work as well. Some folks begin having physical challenges, some have cognitive issues and some have both. But what we don’t know is which, if any, of those challenges we will face. Worse yet, those who fall into cognitive decline often do not have the ability to recognize it.

The lesson here is to prepare for the unknown. If you’ve worked with financial advisors throughout your career, it’s a good idea to narrow your resources to one or two trusted people—possibly including a family member. That way, if and when you need help managing your finances, you’ll have a loved one who can help recognize when it’s time for you to relinquish control of the reins—and an expert to help take over.

The following are some common areas in which seniors make mistakes that could impact their future financial security.

Draw Social Security Too Early

Many of today’s current retirees started drawing Social Security at the earliest possible age of 62. This might have been due to a layoff, health issues or simply because they retired and needed to turn on the income stream. However, the earlier you start drawing benefits, the lower the payout—and this payout level is locked in for life (with the exception of periodic cost-of-living adjustments). It also locks in the amount a surviving spouse—whose benefit is derived from your earnings—will receive when you pass away. Waiting as long as you can before starting Social Security allows your benefits to accrue higher.

Spend Assets Too Soon

Once you retire, it’s important to create a household budget for regular and ad hoc expenses each year. Then, subtract the amount of Social Security and any pension benefits you (and your spouse) will receive to estimate how much you’ll need to withdraw from your savings and investments each year. One of the most common mistakes is withdrawing too much of these assets early on in retirement and then running out of funds.

Forget RMDs

When you turn age 70½, you will need to make Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) on all tax-deferred 401k and IRA accounts, even if you don’t need the money. Each year your brokerage will send you a notice indicating the withdrawal amount. You’ll need to make that withdrawal before the end of the calendar year and pay any taxes due on your return for that year. Any RMDs you do not withdraw will be subject to a 50 percent penalty. Remembering to take RMDs as a young retiree might be easy, but you should have a plan for someone to continue making these withdrawals on your behalf should you forget to in old age.

Cancel Life Insurance

Many couples stop paying for life insurance once their children are grown. However, consider how much your household income would be impacted should one of you die first. Would the elimination of a regular pension and/or Social Security benefit check impact your loved ones’ lifestyle or financial security? Consider purchasing life insurance for one or both spouses to help ensure that there is enough money for the survivor’s lifetime.

Chat With Strangers

Elder financial fraud is big business. Each year, $37 billion is fraudulently taken from seniors—often willingly given. Because many seniors live alone, they are more susceptible to chatting on the phone with a friendly caller, who uses this to their advantage. It’s a good idea to never respond to phone calls you receive from marketers or unsolicited offers from unfamiliar companies.

Keep Information in Different Places

The wider the range of your savings and investment accounts, the harder it is to look after them when you get older. Consider consolidating accounts into as few as possible, such as combining checking and savings accounts into a single bank and transferring investments to one investment firm.

Pay Bills By Hand

Stop paying your bills every month; have your bank pay them automatically. Enter all regular payors and authorize your bank to pay them from your bank account automatically. Also, get some help monitoring this process. As you get older, you’ll want someone helping sort through your mail on a regular basis to address periodic bills like homeowner’s insurance and your property tax bill.