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Retirement Planning and the Younger Spouse

Adjust savings and withdrawals with the age gap in mind

illustration of a woodpecker on a tree

John Vogl

If one spouse is significantly younger than another, different retirement planning strategies could come into play.

En español | Retirement planning advice for married couples tends to assume two things: You’re pretty close to each other in age (with the husband perhaps a year or two older), and the husband has always been the primary breadwinner. But in this age of late marriages, divorce and second marriages, what if there’s a much younger spouse? Large age gaps between spouses require planning.

I asked several personal-finance advisers what their advice would be. Here are their thoughts.

Expect to work longer

You may have to stay employed past the typical retirement age in order to build up a larger pot of savings. If, for example, your spouse is 55 and you die, your nest egg may have to fund your spouse for 40 years. For investment growth, allocate a higher percentage of your financial assets to stocks. If that makes you nervous, you’ll have to plan on a lower level of spending — which is the hardest thing for clients to understand, says Alex Feick of Paragon Capital Management in Denver.

Plan to spend less

If you are a typical retired couple, you can afford to spend 4 percent of your savings in the first year and give yourself a raise for inflation in each subsequent year. But with a much younger spouse, you should drop your withdrawal rate to perhaps 3 percent, says Aaron Parrish of Triad Financial Advisors in Greensboro, N.C.

Reduce withdrawals

At 70½, you have to start taking money out of an individual retirement account. If your spouse is more than 10 years younger, you can reduce the required withdrawals — and stretch your savings — by using the IRS’s joint life expectancy table to calculate the amounts.

Mind the insurance gap

If the older spouse carries the couple’s health insurance and switches to Medicare at 65, the younger spouse will need to buy an individual health policy. Currently, it’s an uncertain market, with premiums going up.

Adjust your Social Security

Spouses with big age differences should generally approach Social Security as if they were single, says Bill Reichenstein of SocialSecuritySolutions.com, a website that helps you maximize your benefits. If you have health issues and don’t expect a long life, take Social Security at 62. Otherwise, wait until 70.

Consider life insurance

If you haven’t saved enough, look into a 20-year term life insurance to cover your spouse’s future needs. You can get it even at 65, if your health is good. Check the rates at term4sale.com.

Plan your pension

If you’ll get a company pension, don’t take the lump sum payment when you retire unless your spouse is already well provided for. Instead, take the maximum joint and survivor option. It will pay your surviving spouse 100 percent of your pension for life.

The younger spouse might find his or her career interrupted and savings slashed due to the needs of an aging spouse for medical and personal care, warns Susan Pack of Pomeroy Financial Planning in Cincinnati. It’s something to account for in your financial planning — and all the more reason to manage your spending and save the max.

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