Not too long ago it was common for pre-retirees to depend on two sources of retirement income: Social Security and a private or public pension. Both began at age 65, were expected to last for life, and typically met 50% or more of retirees' financial needs.
With two secure sources of lifetime income, age 65 was the standard retirement age for many years. Retirement income planning focused on closing or narrowing the gap between one's projected retirement income needs and what would be provided by Social Security and pension income.
Retirement Planning Milestone
The decline of defined benefit pension plans over the past 30 years eliminated one source of dependable lifetime income for most retirees. The replacement of these plans with 401(k) defined contribution plans was a milestone in the retirement planning world since it transferred the responsibility for funding retirement from employers to employees.
Retirement income planning has dramatically increased in importance in recent years as employees have realized that it isn't easy to (a) accumulate sufficient assets in 401(k) plans to generate adequate retirement income and (b) convert 401(k) plan assets into sustainable lifetime income streams beginning at a specified age.
The shift from employer defined benefit to employee defined contribution retirement plans, combined with longer life expectancies, has made it much more challenging to plan for retirement at a specific age. While it's definitely possible, it requires a different mindset and the assistance of an experienced retirement income planning professional to increase one's opportunity for success.
Retirement Income Plan is Essential
As part of the change in mindset, it's important to understand and recognize that a retirement income plan is an essential tool for helping individuals close or reduce the gap between projected retirement income needs and what will be provided by one source of sustainable lifetime income in many cases, i.e., Social Security. Unlike other types of financial plans, a retirement income plan typically isn't a "one-and-done" exercise.
A successful retirement income plan generally requires an ongoing disciplined, systematic, approach beginning at least 20 years prior to retirement and continuing for the duration of retirement. The purpose of such a plan should be to make sure that sufficient assets will be saved at specified times using tax-advantaged investment and protection strategies that will increase the likelihood of providing adequate and reliable after-tax income to cover one's planned and unplanned expenses beginning at a specified age for the duration of retirement.
With the shift from employer to employee retirement funding, can we still plan to retire at a specific age? I believe that it's possible provided that we understand (a) the burden for making this a reality has shifted from employers to employees, (b) a retirement income plan beginning at least 20 years prior to retirement in most situations is essential, and (c) a lifetime commitment is required to monitor and update the plan in order to reduce the risk of outliving one's assets.