We’ve all heard the adage “nothing can be certain, except death and taxes.” This line of thought also applies to retirement, as society and financial markets change.
Here are a few assumptions many Americans used to be able to make about retirement, and why they can’t rely on them anymore.
1. I’ll Be Married When I Retire
Times are changing. We have all heard the statistics that 50 percent of first marriages end in divorce, and the numbers are even higher for second and third marriages. “Gray” divorces — among couples 50 and up, or “Boomers” – have been on the rise, according to a study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, with about one in every four divorces (25 percent) occurring to people over the age of 50.
Divorce can wreak havoc on the retirement plan of married couples, as assets now need to be divided. Typically, the “less monied” earning spouse has less saved for retirement (401(k), pension, annuities) and a lower Social Security benefit than their higher-earning spouse. With the retirement strategy no longer based on two incomes (even if only Social Security) as originally planned, income is cut in half or less, and expenses as a single person rise. Consequently, divorced couples face unanticipated financial constraints and decisions.
Retirement assets may not be split 50/50 — only the “marital” portion will be divided and they are not automatically split in a divorce — substantially reducing what you will receive after a divorce versus at widowhood. Get financially literate and know what you have ahead of time. Understand all the marital assets, as they all become “potential” retirement assets; even more esoteric employment benefits such as stock options, deferred compensation, bonuses, HSA accounts and the value of pensions (their future income stream). If these assets aren’t explicitly accounted for, or you don’t understand them, the success of your retirement plan may be been compromised and you could be out of luck — there is no “re-do” in divorce.
Divorce may be out of our control, just like an accident or illness, but it’s important to plan for the things we can control — like saving more. Since divorce is forever, perhaps it may be prudent to run retirement projections if you were to divorce — treat it like a “long-term care event,” even if you are not considering it — just to test the success rate of the modified scenario and understand the potential financial impact on your retirement plan.