5 Retirement Risks and How to Manage Them

Professionals offer advice for dealing with inflation and other risks.


Retiring can be risky business. The Society of Actuaries, a group of professionals who evaluate risk for a living, recently named inflation the top retirement concern among both retirees and people nearing retirement age, according to a survey released this week.

About 57 percent of those already retired and 63 percent of those near retirement age said they were concerned that the value of their savings wouldn't keep pace with inflation, the telephone survey of 801 adults ages 45 to 80 found.

The Society of Actuaries also offered advice for dealing with the top retirement risks. Here's a summary:

Inflation. Between 1980 and 2007, U.S. inflation averaged 3.5 percent a year, ranging from 1.1 to 8.9 percent. And yet most retirees have only one source of inflation-adjusted income: Social Security. Time-tested strategies to beat inflation include investing in stocks and stock-based mutual funds, owning a home and other assets, holding TIPS (Treasury inflation-protected securities), buying annuity products that offer a cost-of-living adjustment, and delaying tapping your retirement assets for as long as possible.

Outliving your assets. A 65-year-old American man can expect to live 17 years on average, while a woman the same age can expect to live 20 years. Fully 30 percent of women and 20 percent of men can expect to reach age 90. Defined-benefit pension plans, Social Security, investments that preserve principal, and deferred annuities that commence at high ages, such as 75 or 80, can all help protect assets.

Loss of a spouse. Women have longer life expectancies and tend to marry men who are older than them, so a widowhood period of 15 years or more is not uncommon. The death of a breadwinner spouse can trigger a dramatic decline in your standard of living. A single person requires nearly 80 percent of the income needed by a married couple, according to the Society of Actuaries. Yet the Social Security benefit paid to a survivor is typically only from 50 to 67 percent of what the couple received. Married couples can consider joint and survivor annuities and life insurance, plus strategies for maximizing their Social Security benefit.

Long-term care. Long-term care options include home care, adult day care centers, assisted-living facilities, and nursing homes. What they have in common: They're all expensive. The cumulative cost of care may amount to $1 million for a couple, with nursing home costs reaching $70,000 annually. Long-term-care insurance can help pay for the cost of caring for disabled seniors.

Healthcare and medical expenses. Nearly all retirees and those near retirement say they maintain a healthy lifestyle, and three quarters have or plan to have supplemental health coverage. But retirees need to be prepared for unexpected health problems, Medicare premiums, and the expenses that Medicare doesn't cover.