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10 Things Retirees Won’t Tell You

For many, retirement isn't all it's cracked up to be


(This article appeared previously on MarketWatch.) 

Contrary to popular belief, retirement can be a very stressful time. According to a number of studies and surveys, retirees are not all living the dream. Here are 10 things they may neglect to tell you if you ask how things are going:

1. We’re Broke

Each day, roughly 10,000 boomers turn 62 — the average age at which people actually retire, according to a recent Gallup poll.
But many of these retirees, and ones a few years older, aren’t spending their golden years traipsing around the world. In fact, quite the opposite. According to the Census Bureau’s Supplemental Poverty Measure, which takes into account out-of-pocket health-care spending and government benefits like food stamps, in addition to income, roughly 15 percent of people over age 65 — that’s 6.1 million people in all — live in poverty. And nearly half are considered “near poor,” meaning that they live with incomes that are less than twice the poverty threshold.

Tomorrow’s retirees aren’t in much better financial shape: Among workers age 55 and older, nearly 60 percent have saved less than $100,000 for retirement, and 24 percent have saved less than $1,000, according to the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute. That’s far less than financial advisers typically recommend: For example, AON Hewitt estimates that Americans will need roughly 11 times their final working salary when they retire, so someone with a $50,000 salary would need $550,000 upon retirement to maintain his or her standard of living.

(MORE: What Women Fear Most About Retirement)

That may help explain why even retirees who have retirement savings say that they rely heavily on Social Security — which pays an average monthly benefit of around $1,290. Indeed, 57 percent of current retirees consider it a major source of income, according to a recent Gallup poll (up from half in 2003); only 33 percent say that pension plans are a major source of retirement income, 24 percent say 401(k)s, 23 percent home equity and 15 percent individual stocks and mutual funds.
2. Retirement Is More Stressful Than It Looks
Retirement is supposed to be the ultimate in relaxation, with mornings spent leisurely reading the paper over coffee, afternoons hitting the links or chilling on the beach, and evenings at pleasant dinners with your spouse or watching your favorite programs.
But for many people, it’s just the opposite. In a study by the American Institute of Stress, out of 43 potentially stressful major life events, retirement was ranked the 10th most stressful, ranking just higher than a major change in the health or behavior of a family member (11th). The death of a spouse, something many people experience in their retirement years, ranks Number One.

Only 39 percent of people who are actually retired say that it is less stressful than life was during the five years before they retired, according to a survey of more than 1,200 people 50 and older by National Public Radio, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health.

(MORE: Secrets of Successful Retirees)

Studies show that money tends to be the number one stressor. In Merrill Lynch’s 2013 Family & Retirement study, “running out of money to live comfortably” was the biggest concern for members of both the Silent Generation (people aged 68-88) and boomers, followed by the worry that they are or will be a burden to their family.
It’s also hard for many retirees to give up working. “We get a lot of our happiness from purpose and meaning in our lives — and jobs give us that,” says Chicago psychologist Elizabeth Lombardo, the author of Better Than Perfect. She adds that other retirees get stressed out by the lack of structure in their days, and some find change, even if it’s positive change, to be stressful.
3. We Spend Too Much Time By Ourselves
Roughly one in 10 people aged 65 and older report that they are severely lonely, according to a study published in 2012 in the Journal of Psychology: Interdisciplinary and Applied — a finding that has remained roughly constant in studies for the last few decades. Often, the lack of a career exacerbates loneliness: “We often don’t realize that our careers provide quite a bit of interaction,” says California-based psychologist Traci Lowenthal. “When retirement begins, most of those daily connections are gone.

People in their 80s and older tend to experience higher rates of loneliness than do younger people, other research shows, as spouses and friends pass away.

(MORE: How to End the Senior Loneliness Epidemic)

Worse yet, loneliness can lead to health problems and premature death. Older adults who report extreme loneliness had a 14 percent greater risk of premature death than those who didn’t, according to studies of more than 2,000 adults age 50 and older by researchers at the University of Chicago.

In a discussion at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s annual meeting this year, the researchers noted that loneliness can be twice as unhealthy for older people as obesity can, with health consequences that include disrupted sleep, elevated blood pressure, increases in the stress hormone cortisol, altered gene expression in immune cells, increased depression and lower overall well-being.

4. We’re In Denial About Our Health Problems
It’s an unfortunate reality of aging: our health declines as we get older. According to the Health and Retirement Study, one of the most comprehensive data sets looking at older Americans, almost half of Americans ages 55 — 64 say they are in good or excellent health, while only about a quarter of those 65 and older say the same. Among the most common ailments facing older adults are hypertension, heart conditions and arthritis, the study found, and roughly one in four people 65 to 74 and nearly one in three people 75 to 84 have two or more major health problems.

But even though it seems like common sense to assume that our health will deteriorate as we age, most people approaching retirement don’t believe it.

When asked “All in all, how would you say your health in retirement will be/is as compared to the five years before you retired?,” just 13 percent of pre-retirees said they expected their health would be worse in retirement, while nearly 40 percent of those who have actually retired said it was worse, according to the NPR/RWJF/Harvard study.

Justin Sayde, a research manager at the Harvard School of Public Health, says the result is “intriguing” and notes that “in recent decades, health and disability levels have improved in the 60-70 age group,” which may in turn lead pre-retirees to be overly optimistic about what to expect in the long run.
Some studies show that compared with those who keep working, retirees have worse health. A 2012 study that followed more than 5,400 men and women 50 and older over a 10-year period found that those who had retired had a 40 percent greater risk of stroke and heart attack than those who kept working — and that this effect was the most pronounced in the first year after retirement. (To be sure, other studies show a health benefit to retirement.)
Perhaps just as important, many retirees are having trouble getting the health care they need. According to the NPR/RWJF/Harvard survey, 13 percent of retirees say they have trouble finding quality health care and 13 percent say they had trouble seeing the doctor of their choice.
5. Our Health-Care Costs Are Huge
While Medicare covers plenty of health-care expenses for people 65 and older, it doesn’t cover everything — a fact that surprises some people.
In fact, Medicare doesn’t cover longer term skilled nursing or rehabilitative care, hearing aids, eye exams and most dental care. A couple who retire at 65 need an average of $220,000 to cover out-of-pocket medical expenses over the course of their retirement, according to Fidelity Investments — and that doesn’t even count the costs of having to go into a nursing home, which Medicare doesn’t cover under most circumstances. A semiprivate room in a nursing home costs a median of roughly $77,000 a year and living in an assisted living facility costs $42,000 a year, according to 2014 data from Genworth.
Given how little most people have saved for retirement, many retirees are likely to struggle to afford the health care they need. And some are already feeling the strain of these expenses. Nearly one in four retirees say they’ve had trouble paying for the medications that they or their spouse needed; 21 percent say they’ve had trouble paying for health insurance premiums, 21 percent for medical bills, 19 percent for long-term care and 18 percent for preventative services, according to the NPR/RWJF/Harvard survey.
6. We’re Coming After Your Jobs
The percentage of workers 65 and older who are in the labor force has risen from 11.5 percent in 1992 to 18.5 percent in 2012 and is projected to hit 23 percent by 2022, according to Census Bureau data.
That’s a trend that’s likely to continue as the population ages. According to a 2013 survey by AARP of 1,500 American workers ages 45 to 74, about 72 percent of older Americans say they plan to work in retirement, with 29 percent of that group saying they plan to work part-time mainly for interest or enjoyment sake, 23 percent for the income it provides and 13 percent so they can start their own business or work for themselves.
For some younger workers, this isn’t good news, because many employers prefer older workers. A 2012 survey of more than 500 hiring managers by HR consulting firm Adecco found that companies were about three times as likely to hire a worker 50 and older than they were to hire a millennial (defined as someone born between 1981 and 2000). Among the traits they attributed to older workers were that they were more reliable and more professional.
Such findings aside, age discrimination remains alive and well in the workplace. According to a study published in the journal Ageing and Society in 2011, 81 percent of workers 50 and above had encountered at least one instance of discriminatory treatment in the workplace in the previous year; other studies indicate that some hiring managers show preference to younger hires.
7. We Still Get Frisky
This may come as a shock to the younger generation, but your grandma and grandpa likely still get it on. While men and women ages 57 to 72 have less sex than their younger counterparts, they’re still having sex. Nearly three in four men and about half of women in the age group report that they are sexually active, having sex an average of about four times a month, according to a study published in 2011 in The Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences.
All that frisky behavior sometimes has negative consequences. While rates of sexually transmitted diseases are still much higher among younger than older Americans, the 55-and-over set saw an uptick in infection rates for some sexually transmitted diseases between 2007 and 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Even HIV is becoming a problem for older Americans: 19 percent of the 1.1 million people living with an HIV infection in America are 55 or older, and 5 percent (or 2,500) of the new HIV infections in 2010 were from this age group, according to the CDC.
8. We’re Planning to Move In With Our Kids
More than 43 million adults in America care for someone 50 or older, according to the National Center on Caregiving. What’s more, the proportion of adult children providing personal care and/or financial assistance to a parent has more than tripled over the past 15 years, according to insurer MetLife.

While most care recipients live in their own homes (58 percent), one in five lives with their caregiver, usually in a spare room in the home. Wherever the retiree lives, caregiving can be a financial drain on the provider, not only because the care and medications cost them thousands of dollars, but because it can impact their careers over the long-term.

For the average woman 50 or older caring for an aging parent, the amount of lost wages due to leaving the labor force early or reducing work hours totals $142,693 over the duration of the caregiving; for men, that number is $89,107 — and that doesn’t include their lost Social Security benefits, which in both cases total over $130,000, according to a MetLife survey.

Making matters worse, many caregivers take a dual financial hit, as they care both for their parents and their children. According to a 2013 survey from the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of Americans ages 40 — 59 say they have provided financial support both for a parent 65 and older and for a child within the past year; that’s up from 12 percent in 2005.
9. That Big Hawaii Trip? It’s More Like a Pipe Dream

Nearly six in 10 American retirees say that travel is one of their top two dreams for retirement, according to a 2013 study by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. But while they lust after frequent trips to far-flung locales in retirement, the reality is much different for most.

About 59 percent of older workers say they plan to travel more in retirement, according to the NPR/Harvard/RWJF survey. But only 31 percent actually do so. In contrast, 34 percent of retirees say they take fewer trips than they did in the five years before retiring.

There are many reasons that retirees can’t just jet off to far-flung locales, including financial constraints. One in four retirees say one of the top things they’d change about their retirement is that they would have saved more for travel, the Transamerica survey revealed.

Lowenthal notes that health issues, especially those that limit mobility or cause aches and pains, may make travel “less comfortable and more trouble than it’s worth,” while others, like incontinence, are embarrassing. She also notes that spending time with grandchildren, another goal for many retirees, often competes for time and money with more ambitious travel plans.

10. We’re Scam Magnets
Each year, older Americans get bilked out of billions of dollars, thanks, in part, to scammers who take advantage of the elderly’s high rates of dementia and often poor health, which sometimes leave them less able to make smart financial decisions. A study published in 2011 by MetLife estimated that financial abuse costs older Americans at least $2.9 billion each year.
Most victims of such fraud are between 80 and 89, live alone and need some kind of health or personal care help from another person, the study found, and women are nearly twice as likely as men to be victims of elder financial abuse. A little over one-third of the cases of fraud were perpetrated by family, friends and neighbors. According to data released in 2013 by the Federal Trade Commission, some of the most common fraud types against people 60 and up were telemarketing scams (17 percent); fake sweepstakes, gifts and prizes (8 percent); and government impostor scams (8 percent).

No matter what the scam or who the victim is, one thing is clear: Financial fraud against the elderly can have life-altering, negative consequences.

The MetLife study points out that elder financial abuse “increases rates of depression among elders.” Plus, it makes people feel shame, Lowenthal says: “They feel they ‘should have known better’ or ‘shouldn’t have trusted’ the person who victimized them.” Or as Lombardo put it, becoming a victim of a scam “puts you in the mind-set of ‘I am old, frail and a victim.’” And, in turn, “whatever the label we put on ourselves, we often act as if that is real.”

Catey Hill is a freelance personal finance writer, who has written for Next Avenue, The Wall Street Journal, SmartMoney, Worth, MarketWatch.com, Forbes.com and others.

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