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Ready to retire? If you’ve saved 8 times your salary by age 60, maybe

Commentary: Why bigger isn’t better when it comes to Social Security
People who save a lot tend to have more options as they age.
(George Sheldon / TNS)

Dear Liz: I keep reading about how much money one should have saved at various ages to comfortably retire. These are usually a multiple of your annual salary. Do these projected amounts factor in whether you are single or married with a single income? Or if you still have a mortgage? What about having to take a lower-paying job in future years because of downsizing? Is Social Security included? It’s tough to know what these suggested amounts assume to know, given that each person’s situation is different.

Answer: Exactly. So it’s smart to do a little digging.

Fidelity Investments, for example, has come up with some salary-based rules that suggest you have an amount equal to:

  • One time your salary by age 30
  • Three times your salary by age 40
  • Six times your salary by age 50
  • Eight times your salary by age 60 and
  • 10 times your salary by age 67.

Fidelity assumes you’ll want your standard of living to continue basically unchanged in retirement. Its rules are based on a number of factors, including a 1.5% real wage growth throughout one’s working life, a 15% savings rate starting at age 25, claiming retirement and Social Security at age 67 and a portfolio invested at least 50% in stocks that replaces 45% of your individual income in retirement. Fidelity used multiple market simulations “to support a 90% confidence level of success.”

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Few people’s lives will follow an idealized trajectory. For example, many people who enter their 50s with full-time jobs will lose them, and only 1 in 10 will find a new one that earns as much, according to a study by ProPublica and the Urban Institute. You can’t know for sure how long you’ll live, what investment returns you’ll get, whether you’ll need long-term care (although that’s likely) or even what your fixed expenses will be, at least until you’re relatively close to retirement.

People also will have vastly different needs and interests in retirement. A thrifty homebody will probably need less than a globe-trotting spender. Working at least part time in retirement also can shift the math in your favor because you’ll need to draw less from your retirement funds.

What we do know is that people who save a lot tend to have more options as they age. And once you reach your 50s, you’d be smart to consult a fee-only financial planner who can give you a second opinion on your retirement plans to ensure you’re on track.

About the ex’s Social Security

Dear Liz: I’ve been divorced since 2004. My ex received half of all my pension funds and lives off that and his Social Security. I have not yet drawn Social Security, but I am retired. Am I eligible to receive part of his Social Security? How does that work?

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Answer: Yes, if your marriage lasted at least 10 years. If you were born before Jan. 2, 1954, you also have the option of filing a “restricted application” for divorced spousal benefits while allowing your own benefit to continue growing.

Divorced spousal benefits, like regular spousal benefits, allow you to get an amount of up to half your ex’s benefit. The amount would be reduced if you start before your own full retirement age, which is currently 66 and rising to 67 for those born in 1960 and later. If you start at age 62, for example, you would get about one-third of his benefit, rather than half. (Your claim doesn’t take money away from him or any of his current or former spouses, in case you were concerned.)

Regular spousal benefits require that the primary worker has started his or her own retirement benefit. Divorced spousal benefits don’t have that requirement: You both just need to be at least 62. Also, the divorced benefit is based on the primary earner’s benefit at his or her full retirement age. With regular spousal benefits, the amount is typically based on what the primary earner actually receives, which could be less if the primary earner started benefits early.

If you were born on or after Jan. 2, 1954, you can’t file a restricted application. Instead, you’ll be deemed to be applying for both your own benefit and the divorced spousal benefit, and given the larger of the two amounts. You can’t switch to your own benefit later.

If your ex should die before you do, you also would be eligible for a divorced survivor benefit that is up to 100% of his. That has the unfortunate effect of making your ex worth more to you dead than alive.

Liz Weston, certified financial planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the “Contact” form at asklizweston.com. Distributed by No More Red Inc.


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