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3 Unexpected Risks to Prepare for in Retirement

4 minute read

When it comes to retirement planning, we naturally focus on the risks we’re most aware of–for instance, the possibility that this nine-year-old bull market could give way to a ravaging bear. Or that an unscrupulous or incompetent adviser might talk us into bad investments.

Here are three risks that may not be top of mind but that you should still guard against:


Maybe you set your savings rate early in your career, when your budget was especially tight, and haven’t raised it since. Or perhaps you were automatically signed up for your 401(k) at a default rate of 3% to 6% and you never increased it.

Still, aided by the double-digit market returns of recent years, your retirement account balances seemed to be growing nicely, so you never bothered to gauge whether you were actually on pace to build an adequate nest egg. In short, you have fallen prey to complacency risk.

You’ve let yourself be lulled into a false sense of security that you’re on the road to a secure retirement–or at least making reasonable progress toward that goal–while in reality you may be well short of where you need to be.

The best way to protect against this risk is to periodically give yourself a retirement checkup. Go to a retirement income calculator and plug in information such as your income, the current value of your retirement accounts, how much you’re saving each year and the age at which you plan to retire. The tool will estimate your probability of achieving your goal.

If the tool estimates your chances at less than 80%, then you need to make some adjustments, such as saving more, investing differently, scaling back your planned retirement lifestyle or a combination of these things.


This risk tends to be highest during periods of market extremes, when emotion and impulse are more likely to affect our investing decisions. But whether it’s getting overly excited when stocks are on a tear or too pessimistic when the market is taking a beating, letting your emotions sway your investing strategy can inflict real damage on your retirement prospects.

One way to manage this risk is to set–and then preferably put in writing, so you’ll be more likely to stick to it–an asset-allocation strategy that will increase your chances of being able to ride out stocks’ ups and downs without reacting rashly to them. A risk-tolerance asset-allocation tool like the free version Vanguard offers can help you come up with such an asset mix. Whatever stocks-bonds blend you ultimately decide on, make sure you rebalance occasionally to ensure that gains or losses in different holdings don’t cause your portfolio to stray too far from your target mix.


You might think that this risk–which is essentially the possibility that you could live much longer and spend a lot more time in retirement than expected–would be an issue only after you retire.

The danger, of course, is that if you underestimate how long you might live (as many people do), you might spend down your nest egg too quickly and outlive your savings.

But longevity risk can also come into play during your working years.

If you assume you need to save enough during your career to support you for 20 years after you leave your job, and you actually end up living 25 or 30 years in retirement, you’re not going to accumulate nearly enough savings to maintain your pre-retirement standard of living throughout your post-career life.

It’s impossible to know exactly when you’re going to shuffle off this mortal coil. But you can get a more realistic sense of how long you may be around by going to the Actuaries Longevity Illustrator.

With these estimates in hand, you will be able to better assess how much you ought to be saving during your career and how much you can safely afford to spend once you’re retired. Of course, you won’t entirely eliminate longevity risk. But you’ll be much better equipped to deal with it.

Updegrave is the editor of RealDealRetirement.com

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Write to Walter Updegrave at walter@realdealretirement.com