Avoid early withdrawals. "Taking hits on your retirement accounts, especially when the stock market is falling, generally isn't a good idea," says Matt D'Arcy, of Greybridge Financial in Cleveland. Seek professional help. "There are a lot of strategies that might help people avoid touching retirement investments," he says. "The point is to sit down with someone who can help you map a plan." If possible, delay Social Security. Benefits are reduced before full retirement age. (Calculate this at www.ssa.gov/planners/calculators.htm.)
Allison Mattingly, 63, was laid off in June from her editorial assistant job with a newspaper in DeLand, Fla. She’s collecting unemployment, but her health care benefits, which also covered her husband, Tim, 61, stopped at the beginning of the year. “We are too young for Medicare, and too old to get good insurance rates,” she says.
The couple weighed two options. First, through COBRA (the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1986), they could keep the health benefits from Allison’s job for up to 18 months, but they’d have to pay for it out of pocket. The Mattinglys say they are “in great health,” but faced a critical deadline—those applying for COBRA should do so within 62 days of losing their old coverage to avoid being denied because of preexisting conditions.
The couple’s other option was to buy a limited private policy—which is what they decided to do, but only for Allison. “We found one that will pay for doctors and surgeries but won’t cover long-term things like cancer chemotherapy,” says Tim Mattingly. “I know we need coverage,” added Allison, “but having the best of the best may not be in our budget.”
For many unemployed workers, it’s the intangible job perks that they miss most, like a sense of identity and camaraderie. “There is a loss of benefits, sure, but there is also a loss of connections to an industry and to people,” says psychologist Al Siebert, author of The Resiliency Advantage. When Allison heard she was laid off, she was “devastated,” she says. “I’m a young 63, but working with my young friends kept me feeling even younger.”
These days, she’s busy with painting and other activities that she’d never had time for when she was working. And she has a supportive husband: Tim, a retired policeman, does part-time delivery for a florist. “That makes a world of difference,” she says. “We’re in this together.”
Allison Mattingly is optimistic. She has sent out a pile of resumés and is waiting for responses. “I’m not going to be picky,” she says. “But I hope that they recognize experience counts.”
Explore care options. These include COBRA, a union or association group plan, or a high deductible plan to protect against catastrophic events. Focus on the future."Those who succeed look forward, instead of focusing on what they lost," says author Siebert.
Joan Raymond is a freelance journalist who writes for many national publications. She lives in Cleveland.