This article was published in the New Haven Register on January 6, 2018.
Among potential problems that can derail your retirement, developing a health issue can be one of the most devastating. After all, you have to deal with your medical misfortune as well as the financial fallout.
While there is no way to guarantee immunity from illness as you age, an effective financial plan includes steps you should take to be prepared in case a health problem disrupts your life or the life of a loved one. Professional retirement planning should include the following strategies:
Build an emergency fund. Set aside a pool of money, perhaps in a money market account, that you can access immediately in case of a crisis of any kind, including a health crisis. You may be tempted to tie up every dime in a diversified investment portfolio, but that may leave you unable to access cash quickly and easily, penalty-free. You should have at least six months’ living expenses in an emergency fund. If you don’t, start directing some of your savings toward that purpose.
Take out disability insurance. If you are still working and nearing retirement, and if your family depends on your income, consider purchasing disability insurance. While life insurance protects your family in case you die, disability insurance protects them in case you can’t work due to injury or illness.
Contribute to a health savings account (HSA). Again for those still working, consider opening an HSA. Besides allowing you to pay some medical expenses with pre-tax earnings, the funds in an HSA roll over year to year and can build up to a significant amount by the time you retire.
Purchase long-term care insurance. Nursing home stays are expensive, and not always for the elderly. Often people in their 50s or 60s need long-term care (help with daily tasks such as dressing and eating), either temporarily or permanently, and of course you may need it after you retire, as well. Long-term care insurance helps pay those types of costs. This type of insurance is complex, and you must qualify on a health basis, but it can be well worth it if you can afford the annual premiums.
Understand Medicare. Too many people believe Medicare will pay their medical expenses once they reach age 65. Medicare only pays some of your expenses, and you will be on the hook for the rest. Most people purchase supplementary insurance to cover the difference, and you need to account for this cost in your retirement plan.