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5 Common Retirement Myths Debunked

Retirement Planning
senior couple ride a motorscooter on a sunny day and recall common retirement myths they’ve learned

Entering retirement marks a new chapter in your financial, professional and personal life — but like some retirees, you may find the reality doesn't quite align with your vision. Don't let the following five common retirement myths affect the ways you save, invest and otherwise prepare for your golden years.

Myth 1: Your Expenses Will Suddenly Decrease

Removing your commuting, work wardrobe and business-related travel and dining costs could reduce some of the expenses to which you've grown accustomed, but your retirement expenses ultimately depend on the lifestyle you pursue once you stop working, as well as your saving and spending habits. In fact, the Center for Retirement Research's data indicates that about half of workers in the United States are at risk for a retirement lifestyle of a lower quality than the one they were able to sustain while earning income.

Long before you plan to retire, track the amount of money you spend each month (and on what) to establish a sense of your average expenses. Given that some of those expenses will likely go away once you retire — like fuel costs related to your commute — your overall living costs could go down in retirement. But if you plan to exchange the work commute for world travel or buy a home on the beach once you've sold your current one, it's less likely that retirement will leave more money in your pocket.

In addition, take note of outstanding debt like high-interest credit card balances or car loans. If you plan to pay them off while you're still earning income, those expenses will be eliminated (along with the interest and fees that may come with them) and ultimately won't affect your retirement spending.

Myth 2: No More Tax Concerns

You may no longer rely as much on your employer's W-2 when filing your annual tax return in retirement, but that doesn't mean taxes stop being part of your life. Once you turn 70 1/2, for example, you may be required to take annual minimum distributions from your retirement accounts — which are then included on your income tax return. Social Security and other retirement benefits are also generally subject to income tax.

You may also find that you're newly eligible for some tax advantages in retirement, such as the tax law that allows taxpayers age 70 1/2 and older to make contributions directly from their individual retirement accounts (IRAs) to qualifying charities and count those qualified charitable donations toward their required minimum distributions. Some retirees find that they're eligible for tax advantages they weren't eligible for previously, like the ability to deduct un-reimbursed medical expenses that exceed a percentage of their adjusted gross income (AGI). The expenses must exceed 7.5 percent of the taxpayer's AGI for the 2017 and 2018 tax years, or 10 percent of their AGI in the 2019 tax year.

Myth 3: Every Day Will Be Like a Vacation

Whether you dream of not waking up to an alarm each morning (like you have over the last several decades) or are simply looking forward to a day without professional commitments, common retirement misconceptions swirl around the myth that endless free time equates to joy or contentment. Retirees often find that a sense of purpose is more important than non-stop relaxation. In fact, your health could benefit: A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a correlation between strength, vitality and one's sense that they have a purpose and are giving back to society. You might consider seeking opportunities to volunteer with local organizations or mentor younger students and professionals.

Myth 4: You'll Never Work Again

More than half of retirees who responded to a study conducted by the RAND Corporation said they'd willingly return to work if the right opportunity presented itself. Further, nearly 40 percent of respondents age 65 and older were currently employed, despite having retired previously. While their motivations for working (or wanting to work) after retirement aren't defined in the study, their responses debunk retirement myths about older adults wanting to spend their golden years in a rocking chair or on a golf course.

Though the emerging trend of "unretirement" doesn't mean you have to stay in the same profession in which you spent most of your working life, it does demonstrate that retirement doesn't have to mean the end of your professional life — rather, it may simply be the start of a new chapter.

Myth 5: Social Security & Medicare Have You Covered

Whether you can live off of Social Security and Medicare in retirement depends on many factors, including the age at which you claim benefits, your current and future medical needs, and the possible future depletion of the Social Security trust. However, it's important to know the role each will potentially play in your retirement finances in order to build the rest of your retirement savings strategy accordingly.

AARP reports that the average Social Security recipient now receives about $1,400 a month; the maximum payout for those who wait to claim benefits until full retirement age is now $33,456 a year. While Medicare Part A coverage can offset the costs of your hospital care in retirement, retirees should still be prepared to fund additional premiums for Medicare Part B, prescription drug costs and other healthcare expenses they may face related to vision, dental and hearing aid coverage.

Retirement misconceptions can make it challenging to know what your future will hold, but a little strategy and planning can help you prepare. Don't let retirement myths prevent you from working towards the personal, financial or professional future you want.

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