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When clients can’t afford to retire

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A recent study by HSBC shows that 40% of Americans are unable to retire until their 70s, and an unlucky 20% are unable to retire ever.

A survey by Willis Towers Watson corroborates that finding, showing that about one in four U.S. employees think that they won’t be able to retire until after 70, and about one-third expect to retire later than planned.

In that survey, 5% predicted they will never be able to retire.

The numbers highlight how helpful it is for advisers to develop strategies to help some clients reckon with the notion that full retirement remains out of reach.

Help them cope with that reality, but make it pleasanter than they might have imagined, says Deena Katz, co-chairman of Evensky & Katz/Foldes Financial Wealth Management, which manages more than $1.5 billion in assets and has offices in Lubbock, Texas, and Miami.

That doesn’t mean papering over hard facts, however.

“Talk to them bluntly about their spending habits,” Katz says, but do so in productive ways.

“I have this thing I call trade-off budgeting. What are you willing to trade off now so you might retire in the future?” Katz says she asks clients.

Also, staying employed beyond 65 doesn’t have to be a huge downer for clients.

“Let them envision a job that would help them maintain their standard of living and they would like to have,” Katz says, recalling a client who became a high school math teacher after “retiring” from his CEO post.

For clients facing a retirement-less future, Sheryl Rowling, who is the owner of Rowling & Associates in San Diego, which has more than $260 million in assets, sticks with honesty and bottom-line math.

“By working longer, there's a chance of saving money while reducing the number of years to pay for,” she says.

But, “reducing living expenses can have a material impact and must be part of the planning. The reality is that most people cannot expect to work throughout their entire lifespan,” Rowling says.

“Thus, the client cannot expect to keep their current level of spending without maintaining the same earnings level forever,” she says. “In other words, it is imperative to cut spending.”

Advisers should be both kind and emphatic with clients in this situation, Rowling says.

“Explaining this to clients without defeating them emotionally means putting it in terms of a simple equation: Income plus earnings on savings must be equal to or greater than living costs times number of years in retirement,” she says. “It is easily understood that by varying the first numbers positively or the latter numbers negatively, there is a better chance of making ends meet and being able to retire eventually.”

Also, be sure and give clients specific options to reduce expenses: refinancing a home or selling it, shedding an extra car or unnecessary life insurance, and, perhaps most meaningfully, “cut down on family gifts,” Rowling says.

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