Baby Boomers Need a Reverse Mortgage Reality Check in Retirement

When it comes to retirement, Baby Boomers are vastly unprepared, and not just financially as many have expectations that are in need of a reality check, suggests a recent survey comparing the retirement outlook of workers age 50 and older with the actual experiences of current retirees. And in some circumstances, reverse mortgages may help Boomers bridge the gap to make their retirement expectations a reality.

While many Baby Boomers (b. 1946-1964) have yet to reach their sixties, the time when retirement becomes an impending life decision, the perceptions of pre-retirees do not align with the realities of those who are actually retired, according to the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS) report “The Current State of Retirement: Pre-Retiree Expectations and Retiree Realities.”

With the help of Harris Poll, TCRS conducted its online retiree surveys between July 6-24, 2015 among a nationally representative sample of 2,012 U.S. adults age 50 and older, who consider themselves fully or semi-retired, and who were employed by for-profit companies of 10 or more employees during their working careers.

Meanwhile, the worker survey was conducted between February 18 and March 17, 2015 among a sample of 4,550 full-time and part-time workers, including 2,191 workers age 50 and older.

Anticipated retirement age, the expected length of retirement and the decision to continue working even after retiring differed considerably between pre-retirees and retirees.

Most working Boomers (51%) responding to the survey indicated that they expect to retire after age 65, however, retirement arrived sooner than planned for most retirees. Among the fully retired, 61% of respondents retired before age 65, while only 23% retired after age 65.

Reasons for retiring earlier than expected included employment-related causes such as organizational changes at their place of work, job loss, unhappy with their job or career, or receiving a retirement incentive or buyout (66%). About 37% cited health or family reasons as their main cause to retire early. Only 16% said their financial ability allowed them to retire earlier than planned.

Just 7% of retirees said they retired later than planned, with most who did so (61%) citing the need for income and benefits. Another 44% said their reason to continue working was because they were enjoying their work or wanted to stay active.

“The retirement landscape is changing, with many workers planning to work past the traditional retirement age of 65,” said Catherine Collinson, president of TCRS, in a written statement. “This new vision of retirement among workers is a tremendous departure from the experiences of those already in retirement. Many retirees stopped working before age 65, largely for reasons outside of their control. Their financial realities serve as a cautionary tale for workers, employers, and policymakers.”

Retirees are also expecting a long retirement of 28 years on average, with 41% expecting a retirement of more than 30 years. But their finances may not be enough to sustain them for that length of time.

Nearly half of all retirees and age 50+ workers (46% vs. 48%) agreed to some extent that they have built a large enough retirement nest egg. Meanwhile, 47% of retirees and 45% of pre-retirees disagree that their savings are sufficient enough.

“Today’s retirees envision spending decades in retirement, albeit with limited savings and means,” said Collinson.

Most retirees are reliant on Social Security and the TCRS survey supports this claim with 89% of retirees indicating that Social Security is one of their current sources of retirement income (compared to 83% of pre-retirees). Additionally, 61% of retirees say Social Security is their primary source of income throughout retirement.

But for many retirees, a major unexpected expense or the need to pay for long-term care could prove financially devastating, Collinson said.

Though the study does not bother to mention, here is where reverse mortgages may come in handy. Financial planners, in touting the benefits of reverse mortgages, have highlighted the ability to delay claiming Social Security benefits, as well as drawing from other assets like IRAs and 401(k)s.

“Using a reverse mortgage is no longer just for the cash poor and house rich,” said Jamie Hopkins, an associate professor of taxation at The American College in Bryn Mawr, Pa., in a Forbes article earlier this year. “Instead, reverse mortgages can be used strategically as one part of a retirement income plan designed to build a buffer against sequence of returns risk early in retirement, help defer Social Security benefits or reduce cash outflow from traditional mortgage payments.”

Another indicator of the shifting retirement landscape, retirees (42%) are more likely to cite income from a company-funded pension plan than age 50+ workers (31%), according to the TCRS survey. On the other hand, age 50+ workers are more likely than retirees (67% vs. 37%) to expect income from self-funded retirement accounts such as 401(k)s, 403(b)s and IRAs.

As further evidence of the changing times, the survey noted 39% of age 50+ workers are expecting income from working in retirement, compared to only 6% of retirees.

Not helping the retirement situation are the myriad of competing financial priorities retirees identify, including covering basic living expenses, which is a priority for 42% of retires; paying health care expenses (37%); paying off mortgages (21%); paying off credit card or consumer debt (25%) and continuing to save for retirement (20%).

Only 16% of retirees said one of their financial priorities was creating an inheritance or financial legacy.

Despite the financial challenges retirees are facing, many (84%) report a strong sense of enjoyment with life and most (70%) consider themselves to be in good health.

In terms of living arrangements in retirement, most retirees (61%) live in the same home as they lived in when they retired. This bodes well for the reverse mortgage industry, especially considering long-cited statistics that more than 90% of people age 65 and older want to stay in their homes as they age.

But among the 39% of retirees who have moved, their reasons have been to downsize (34%), reduce expenses (29%) start a new chapter in life (28%) and move closer to family and friends (27%).

“Retirees may be facing formidable financial challenges; however, they are also finding meaningful ways to spend their time and enjoy life,” said Collinson.

If pre-retirees want to experience similar satisfaction with their quality of life and make their retirement dress a reality, and not simply just expectations, then proactive measures need to be taken. And that may include exploring reverse mortgages and how they can fit into retirement income planning.

“One of the most important things within reach that retirees and pre-retirees can do is formulate a financial plan to identify opportunities, vulnerabilities, and ways to address them,” said Collinson.

However, only 10% of retirees and 14% of pre-retirees have a written strategy in place, which may include government retirement benefits like Social Security and Medicare, ongoing living expenses, a budget, savings and income needs, health care costs and other factors.

“Mathematically, the notion that people can work for 40 years to save enough and accrue sufficient benefits to fund a 30-year retirement does not add up,” Collinson said. “Solving this equation requires change in how we think about aging, employment and retirement itself. It also requires the highly coordinated efforts of employers, policymakers, nonprofits, the private sector, and individuals and families.”

View the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies report.

Written by Jason Oliva

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