Freedom. Enjoyment. Stress-free.
Those are the top three words that workers surveyed by the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies said they associate with retirement. However, to enjoy freedom in retirement and live stress-free as you age, you need to take steps to protect your finances. Otherwise, you could end up facing the biggest fears that those surveyed by TCRS said they have about retirement: outliving savings and declining health that requires long-term care.
Protecting your finances as you age can go a long way toward ensuring you have a comfortable, stress-free life in your later years. Here are eight things you can do to safeguard your money and increase the chances that you’ll have an enjoyable retirement.
Know your number before you retire
One of the best ways to avoid outliving savings is to know your number before you retire. This means being familiar with the amount of monthly income you will need in retirement and the sources of income you will have at that time, says John Cooper, a Certified Financial Planner™ professional with Greenwood Capital Associates. “Once you know your anticipated retirement income needs, you can determine if your current savings rate will enable you to reach your goal,” he says. “If not, you have time to increase your savings rate, pay down debt or lower your retirement income expectations.”
Don’t just guess what your retirement savings needs are, as 43% of workers surveyed by TCRS said they have done. Use a retirement calculator such as these from Bankrate and Charles Schwab.
[ Read: How to Figure Out How Long Your Money Will Last in Retirement ]
Build an emergency fund
Even if you have enough saved to cover ordinary expenses in retirement, you’ll need money you can easily access to cover unexpected costs, such as home or car repairs and major medical expenses. Otherwise, you’ll have to raid your retirement account or rack up debt.
Cooper recommends having cash on hand to cover at least six months of living expenses. Set up automatic monthly transfers from your checking account to a savings account to build an emergency fund. This allows you to use cash to meet expenses rather than draw from investments in retirement, which could have a big impact on your nest egg if you have to sell investments when the stock market is down.
Have a plan for long-term care
Nearly 70% of adults 65 and older will need long-term care services at some point because of a disability or health issue, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Yet, only 15% of those surveyed by TCRS said they are confident they will have the financial resources they need to pay for long-term care. The cost of this care, which includes assistance with activities such as eating and bathing, ranges from $4,567 a month for a home health aide to $8,821 a month for a private room in a skilled nursing facility, according to Genworth’s Cost of Care Survey.
To protect your finances, you need a plan to pay for long-term care because Medicare doesn’t cover this cost. Look into buying a long-term care insurance policy or a life insurance policy with a long-term care benefit. Or meet with an elder law attorney to discuss what steps you can take to qualify for Medicaid, which can cover the cost of some types of long-term care for low-income adults.
[ Find Out: How to Pay for Long-Term Care ]
Put legal protections in place
It’s important to take steps now to put legal protections in place to safeguard your finances as you age. That’s because a health issue or cognitive decline might leave you unable to manage your finances on your own as you age. Plus, even healthy adults experience a decline in their financial-decision making ability as part of the aging process.
Meet with an elder law attorney to draft powers of attorney documents. A financial power of attorney document lets you name someone you trust to make financial decisions for you if you can’t. A health care power of attorney document allows you to name someone to make medical decisions for you if you can’t. This documents must be drafted and signed while you still are mentally competent.
Also, consider using a trust to protect your finances if something happens to you. “Having a trust-based estate plan can help if all assets are titled in the name of the trust,” Genna Fasullo LaPeer, an attorney with The Miller Elder Law Firm. “That way, if you become incapacitated, your named successor trustee can step in and lock down your finances.”
[ Learn: How to Use a Trust to Plan for Long-Term Care ]
Identify trusted family members to protect your finances
You should determine which family members you trust most to help with your finances as you age. This could be the person you name as your power of attorney, but it could also be others who might have to help support your POA.
Share details about your finances with these trusted family members—or make a list of accounts and assets and tell them how to access it in emergencies. This will give them the information they need to manage your finances in a way you would want if you become unable to yourself. And it allows you to build a circle of support before you have any issues. Otherwise, people you don’t trust might try to fill those support roles and take advantage of you.
Also, provide the name of a trusted contact to any financial professionals you work with and to your financial institutions. “This way, the financial institution can reach someone you trust if they are concerned that you are experiencing a health crisis, fraud or another emergency that could affect you financially,” says Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention programs with AARP.
[ Read: Why You Should Talk to Your Adult Children About Your Finances ]
Be alert to scams and fraud
Older adults are often targets of scammers. “But rather than be worried, be empowered,” Stokes says. “If you know about a specific scam, research says you’re 80% less likely to engage with it, and if you do engage, you’re 40% less likely to lose money or sensitive information.”
Increase your awareness about scams by signing up for alerts from the AARP Fraud Watch Network and the Better Business Bureau. Then, resist the urge to click on links in suspicious emails or text messages and to answer calls from callers you don’t know. “Let all calls that aren’t from people you know and expect to hear from go to your answering machine or voicemail,” Stokes says. If they leave a message, listen with intent. If the message sends you to an emotional state—fear or excitement, for example—that’s a big red flag.” If you are concerned that the call is from a legitimate organization, look up the organization’s number rather than call the number that is left in the message.
Use an account-monitoring service
It’s good to have a second set of eyes on your finances as you age. Your bank and credit card issuer likely offer the option to receive alerts about transactions on your accounts. However, you can get more robust monitoring through a service such as Carefull, which will review all of your transactions and alert you to signs of fraud and money mistakes such as late payments and insufficient funds to cover upcoming bills.
Carefull also provides credit monitoring to alert you to fraudulent use of your credit and identity monitoring for misuse of your personal information. Plus, it provides up to $1 million in identity theft insurance protection to help recover your identity if it is stolen. You can add trusted contacts to the Carefull service so they can have view-only access to your accounts and receive alerts about unusual activity to help you resolve issues.
Seek the help of professionals
Consider hiring a financial advisor (if you don’t already have one) to help you craft a solid financial plan to ensure you have the resources you need to cover costs in retirement. Look for a fee-only (not commission-based) fiduciary who is required to work in your best interest, such as a CFP® professional, by using a free service such as Wealthramp, the Garrett Planning Network or the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.
If you do develop a health issue or dementia as you age, seek help from an elder law or life care planning attorney and aging life care professional, “who can provide ongoing protection and health care advocacy as you move through the process of your chronic illness,” LaPeer says. You can find a Certified Elder Law Attorney through the National Elder Law Foundation and an aging life care expert through the Aging Life Care Association.
[ Keep Reading: 10 Signs You’re a Victim of Fraud or Identity Theft ]