Amy & Dan Smith's Planning for Life: Closing a Retirement Income Gap

When you determine how much income you’ll need in retirement, you may base your projection on the type of lifestyle you plan to have and when you want to retire. However, as you grow closer to retirement, you may discover that your income won’t be enough to meet your needs.  If you find yourself in this situation, you’ll need to adopt a plan to bridge this projected income gap.

Delay retirement: 65 is just a number

One way of dealing with a projected income shortfall is to stay in the workforce longer than you had planned.  This will allow you to continue supporting yourself with a salary rather than dipping into your retirement savings.  Depending on your income, this could also increase your Social Security retirement benefit. You’ll also be able to delay taking your Social Security benefit or distributions from retirement accounts.

At normal retirement age (which varies, depending on the year you were born), you will receive your full Social Security retirement benefit. You can elect to receive your Social Security retirement benefit as early as age 62, but if you begin receiving your benefit before your normal retirement age, your benefit will be reduced.  Conversely, if you delay retirement, you can increase your Social Security benefit.

Remember, too, that income from a job may affect the amount of Social Security Retirement benefit you receive, if you are under normal retirement age.  Your benefit will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn over a certain earnings limit ($16,920 in 2017, up from $15,720 2016.) But once you reach normal retirement age, you can earn as much as you want without affecting your Social Security retirement benefit.

Another advantage of delaying retirement is that you can continue to build tax-deferred (or in the case of Roth accounts, tax-free) funds in your IRA or employer-sponsored retirement plan. Keep in mind, though, that you may be required to start taking minimum distributions from your qualified plan retirement or traditional IRA once you reach 70-1/2, if you want to avoid harsh penalties.
And if you’re covered by a pension plan at work, you could also consider retiring and then seeking employment elsewhere.  This way you can receive a salary and your pension benefit at the same time.  Some employers, to avoid losing talented employees this way, are beginning to offer “phased retirement” programs that allow you to receive all or part of your pension benefit while you’re still working. Make sure you understand your pension plan options.

Spend less, save more

You may be able to deal with an income shortfall by adjusting your spending habits.  If you’re still years away from retirement, you may be able to get by with a few minor changes.  However, if retirement is just around the corner, you may need to drastically change your spending and savings habits.  Saving even a little money can really add up if you do it consistently and earn a reasonable rate of return.  Make permanent changes to your spending habits and you’ll find that your savings will last even longer.  Start by preparing a budget to see where your money is going.  Here are some suggested ways to stretch your retirement dollars:


  • Refinance your home mortgage if interest rates have dropped since you took the loan.

  • Reduce your housing expenses by moving to a less expensive home or apartment.

  • Sell one of your cars if you have two. When your remaining car needs to be replaced, consider buying a used one.

  • Access the equity in your home. Use the proceeds from a second mortgage or home equity line of credit to pay off higher-interest-rate debts.

  • Transfer credit card balances from higher-interest-rate card to a low-or no-interest card, and then cancel the old accounts.

  • Ask about insurance discounts and review your insurance needs (e.g., your need for life insurance may have lessened).

  • Reduce discretionary expenses such as lunches and dinners out.

Accept reality: lower your standard of living

Once you are within a few years of retirement, you can prepare a realistic budget that will help you manage your money in retirement.  Think long term. Retirees frequently get into budget troubles in the early years of retirement, when they are adjusting to their new lifestyles. Remember that when you are retired, every day is Saturday, so it’s easy to start overspending.

From "Amy & Dan Smith's Planning for Life" column appearing monthly in the Blue Ridge Leader, Loudoun County, VA.

The foregoing article contains general legal information only and is not intended to convey legal advice.  For legal advice regarding estate planning, the reader should contact his/her lawyer.

Daniel D. Smith is a partner in the law firm of Smith & Pugh, PLC, 161 Fort Evans Road, NE, Suite 345, Leesburg, VA 20176. (Tel: 703-777-6084, He has practiced law in Loudoun County since 1980.