JUST PLAIN TALK: Unexpected expenses burden the elderly

Buz Livingston
Buz Livingston

Plan to live longer than you expect. No one can control market returns; the only thing you have any say over are your expenses. While employed, live below your means and save the excess. No one wants to die young, but it won’t matter to you, you will be dead. Worse than dying prematurely at 65 is running out of money at 85 and living to 95.

Standard retirement dogma argues spending drops during retirement. Some retirees though find they spend more during retirement. Active retirees have more time for travel, and grandchildren are expensive. Even if you don’t spend more during retirement, a recent study found 40% of retirees spent more than expected after they stopped working.

Officially inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index (CPI), is at historic lows. Last year the CPI was a shade under 2 percent, and for the previous two decades, inflation averaged 2.1 percent. But some of us remember double-digit inflation, for the two decades beginning in 1970, inflation was almost three times as high (6.2 percent). While low inflation is good news, inflation for seniors is higher. As you age, healthcare costs are a burden, and healthcare inflation approaches 5 percent annually. For retirement projections, we inflate medical expenses by 5.25 percent. Healthcare costs double in less than 14 years with 5.25 percent annual inflation; it’s basic algebra.

Tax bills can surprise retirees. Distributions from qualified plans, e.g., 401K, 457, or 403B plans along with IRAs are taxable income. Unexpected medical costs can be 30 percent or higher if funded entirely from IRAs or qualified plans. Distributions from IRAs or qualified plans can trigger the Social Security tax torpedo for middle-class retirees, too.

Making things worse, retirees are often victims of elder abuse and fraud. Recently an Okaloosa County caregiver was charged with exploitation of elderly persons, fraudulent use of credit cards along with other crimes. Elder financial abuse is a mushrooming problem. Judith Kozlowski, a consultant with the Department of Justice, Elder Justice Initiative, reminds us elder financial abuse is not merely taking money but destroying a life. One of the Okaloosa County victims is terminally ill, and his spouse is partially disabled. One piece of their missing jewelry, a custom-designed wedding pendant, had immeasurable sentimental value. From press reports, the cash taken from the couple was relatively small, but money isn’t everything; the thief irreparably damaged their lives.

Everyone, from Millennials to the elderly, should freeze their credit. Some things are no-brainers, and freezing your credit is one. Unthawing a frozen report is less trouble than unthawing a freezer. The alleged perpetrator in Okaloosa County set up fictitious credit accounts in the couples’ names. Buy a shredder and use it to destroy sensitive documents, particularly credit card solicitations. The golden years can turn into fool’s gold.

You can’t always get what you want but Buz Livingston, CFP can help you figure out what you need. For specific advice, visit livingstonfinancial.net or drop by 2050 West County Highway 30A, M1 Suite 230.