Retiring Solo? 3 Things You Need to Know

Maurie Backman, The Motley Fool

Retirement is a milestone you need to plan for, regardless of your marital status. But if you're single, retirement can pose certain financial challenges that don't tend to impact couples the same way. Here are a few things you ought to know if you'll be retiring solo.

1. It helps to boost your Social Security benefits

Being married certainly has its advantages from a Social Security perspective. When you have a couple and both members worked and are entitled to benefits, that's two payments to look forward to each month in retirement. Even if you have a situation where one member of a married couple didn't work, that person is still entitled to spousal benefits.

Senior man sitting on grass and petting a dog


If you're single, however, you'll be working with your Social Security benefits alone -- which means you'll need to be really strategic about maximizing them. There are a few ways you can go about doing so. First, always try fighting for raises throughout your career. Your Social Security benefits are based on your top 35 years of earnings, so the more you make from your various employers, the more you stand to collect as a senior.

Another move to consider is extending your career so that you wind up working until age 70. This will help in a number of ways. If you're earning more at the latter stage of your career than you did early on, which tends to be the case for most workers, then you'll replace some years of lower earnings with higher earnings in the formula used to calculate your Social Security benefits. Additionally, working until 70 should, in theory, allow you to hold off on claiming those benefits past full retirement age, and in doing so, you'll boost your payments by 8% annually.

Of course, if you're able to work past 70, you'll have an even greater opportunity to save money, all the while holding off on dipping into your nest egg. Just be aware that the delayed retirement credits you get for waiting on benefits run out at age 70, so while there's no need to retire at that point, you should file for Social Security rather than wait.

2. Healthcare and housing will probably be your biggest expenses

While some of your living costs might go down in retirement, healthcare is the one expense that's likely to go up. That's why it pays to read up on how Medicare works and figure out ways to lower your healthcare costs when you're older, whether it's being smart about choosing a drug plan, buying generics instead of brand-name medications, and taking full advantage of the free preventive-care services Medicare offers.

Housing is another expense that's likely to eat up a sizable chunk of your income. Even if you own your home outright, you'll still have property taxes, insurance, maintenance, and repairs to contend with. And as your home ages, you can count on more of the latter.

As retirement approaches, play around with ways to lower your housing costs, especially if you'll be responsible for tackling them solo. If you own a home, you might consider becoming a renter instead. Though you'll potentially lose out on certain tax breaks, you'll avoid the many unknowns that come with ownership. Whether you rent or own, you might also consider downsizing your living space or moving to a cheaper area of the country altogether to save money.

3. It pays to get long-term care insurance

Another whopping expense you might encounter when you're retiring solo is long-term care. When you're married and get injured or fall ill, you often can look to a spouse to help you recuperate or function. When you're single, however, you don't have that same built-in help, and that's why long-term care insurance is particularly crucial for unmarried folks. Without a policy, the cost of long-term care could be astronomical (think $82,000 a year or more for a shared room in a nursing home), but if you buy insurance, you'll have a means of offsetting what could otherwise come to be a crippling expense.

The best time to buy long-term care insurance is generally during your 50s, when your health is still reasonably strong and you're therefore more likely to get approved at a decent rate. But if you're already in your 60s, it's certainly not too late to start looking at policies.

Retiring as a single person isn't easy, but the plus side is that you get to live out your golden years on your own terms and spend your savings on your own needs, and not someone else's. Just be sure to keep the above points in mind so that you don't wind up facing more financial hiccups than necessary.

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