Working in retirement is not a sure thing

CHICAGO (Reuters) - (The opinions expressed here are those of the author, a columnist for Reuters.)

A man watches the sunset with his dog on a breakwater. REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Phil Ventura’s plans for a cozy retirement were shot when the company where he worked for 30 years merged with another and left him unemployed at age 58.

Ventura, now 71, discovered what many younger people should know if they are counting on working into their late 60s to make up for a lack of retirement savings: “People are dreaming if they think they’re going to work until they drop,” he said.

Yet, that is the plan for a lot baby boomers. Worried about deficient retirement savings and unaware that job troubles or poor health end up forcing people to retire early, 79 percent of workers are expecting to work during their retirement years, according to a recent survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

But there is a huge disconnect between the plan to work and what happens. Although most people now say they want to work into their retirement years, only 29 percent of current retirees are actually doing it. Half retired before 62, according to the EBRI survey.

If you are trying to figure out your options, here is what you need to consider:

* Will there be a job for you?

“People lose jobs through no fault of their own,” said Jack VanDerhei, research director of EBRI.

His research shows that 55 percent of people who retired earlier than planned were forced to do so because they or their spouse developed health problems. Healthy spouses must sometimes leave jobs to become caregivers.

Further, even people able and willing to work long into retirement may not be welcomed by employers. About 60 percent of those who lose their jobs end up retiring involuntarily because they cannot get replacement jobs, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College research.

* Are you saving enough?

If you are setting your savings goal based on working until a certain age, get more conservative about your planning.

About half of people are not going to have enough saved to keep up their lifestyle when they retire, and that assumes they keep working and saving during the years all the way until 65, according the Center for Retirement Research.

You need to first run a calculation to see if you are on target to retire by 65 by using the “ballpark estimate” at a website like Then, do another calculation to see if you will be in the ballpark if you retire early – maybe 60 or 55 - by your own choice or not.

If not, increase your savings. It might seem like a burden to cut spending now, but losing your job and being short of savings, will be worse.

* Remember healthcare costs

Financial planner Brett Anderson, of Hudson, Wisconsin, has had clients save large sums and plan to retire in their 50s, only to realize healthcare costs would derail them before they became eligible for Medicare at age 65.

It was a huge strain when Phil Ventura had to pay $15,000 a year for health coverage for himself and his wife between 58 and 65, after he lost his job as an administrator for a machine tool company.

Ventura had to dip deep into his retirement savings to cover basic living expenses, and also took a minimum wage job with no benefits stocking shelves at a grocery store. When he could go on Medicare, it was such a financial relief, even though Medicare has costs also ( “ I felt like I had died and gone to heaven,” Ventura said.

* Realize the snowball effect

Ventura figures he would have had $500,000 more for retirement if he had been able to work as he planned before the layoff. His wife Anne has calculated they will run out of their savings by age 81.

The problems built on one another: They dipped into savings instead of letting their assets grow, and they could not add new savings because of the low earnings of Ventura’s minimum-wage job. Because he had to take Social Security at 62, instead of his full retirement age of 66 or his maximum benefit at 70, the benefit was much less.

“People don’t like to think about this when young,” said Ventura. “But cycles happen and people are not immortal.”

Editing by Beth Pinsker and Lisa Shumaker