Retiring Soon? How to Beat Your Biggest Money Fears

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Planning for how you'll make ends meet when you stop earning a paycheck remains a huge challenge for millions of Americans nearing retirement. Yet despite the many concerns that a recent study of 45- to 65-year-olds revealed, taking some simple steps can help you feel a lot more confident about your own retirement prospects.

A study from Jackson National Life and the center for Financial Insight solicited opinions from more than 500 people between the age of 45 and 65. Let's take a look at some of the most interesting findings the study revealed and some simple steps you can take to resolve the concerns they raise.

Can't Stop 'Til You Get Enough

It's not surprising that for those within 20 years of retirement, saving enough to retire was the primary financial concern. About three-quarters of those surveyed chose saving enough for retirement as their biggest fear, with long-term care expenses and broader health-care concerns finishing a distant second and third respectively.

Considering that those surveyed were people with at least $200,000 available to invest, some might be surprised to learn that even those who've done a much better than average job of setting money aside for their retirement years are nevertheless squarely focused on getting in even better shape.

%VIRTUAL-article-sponsoredlinks%That said, overconfidence can also pose a threat. Of those surveyed, more than half said they were in good financial shape with no obstacles between them and their goals. With the stock market at record highs, many of those investors may have forgotten just how quickly their retirement prospects deteriorated during the 2008-2009 bear market, when stocks lost more than half their value in just over a year and crushed many portfolios.

The solution: Make sure that you have an extra cash cushion above what you think you'll need to retire comfortably, so that no matter what happens in the markets, you can weather the storm without having to sell out at an inopportune time.

Social Security: Not to Be Trusted

As you approach retirement, one increasingly important issue will be how generous your monthly Social Security benefits will be. Considering the dire predictions about Social Security's ability to keep making full benefit payments in the long run, it's no surprise that survey respondents were skeptical about the program's role in their overall financial prospects. But there's no question the program is vital: Social Security is what separates 40 percent of Americans 65 and over from poverty.

But among the comparatively well-situated people surveyed, almost two-thirds believe that Social Security won't be a significant source of retirement income for them. Instead, they expect it will end up being a small supplement to income from other sources. Even among those who were less well-heeled and foresaw Social Security as a major part of their income in retirement, few expect Social Security to allow them to retire comfortably -- if at all.

The Social Security Trust Fund is indeed on uncertain ground, especially for those who won't start taking benefits for another 10 to 20 years. By 2033 (or sooner), if nothing changes, benefits will have to be cut by around 25 percent. The ideal scenario will be to have saved enough that you can treat Social Security as a bonus rather than a necessary component of your retirement income. Alternatively, though, deferring benefits until a later age or using more complex strategies can help stretch what Social Security benefits you do receive as far as they'll go.

Couples: Making Money Decisions Together

Much of the advice you'll find regarding retirement decisions treats the subject like an individual choice. Yet for couples, coordinating financial planning can be a huge challenge, especially when disparities in age and investing experience exist.

The survey found that although 44 percent of all men surveyed said they have primary responsibility for financial decisions, only 12 percent of women agreed with that sentiment, with much of the difference coming from more women than men believing that the couple makes its money decisions jointly.

There's no single right way for couples to coordinate financial planning. The biggest danger, though, is when one person gives up oversight regarding the family finances to the other, a move that often results in them not knowing the basics of where their money is, how much they have, or how it's invested.

If a spouse or significant other has always handled money issues for you, you need to spend at least some time getting familiar with the basic strategies governing your household's finances, what is invested where, and whom you can turn to for help if something happens to your spouse.

Don't Let Fear Stop You

Perhaps the best news from the survey is that despite concerns about not knowing enough about their money, do-it-yourself investing is gaining in popularity, with more than two of every five men and three of every 10 women participating in it.

With so many online-research resources at your disposal, learning some basic retirement investing techniques doesn't have to be difficult -- and it can go a long way toward easing your fears about how to deal with money after you retire.

You can follow Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger on Twitter @DanCaplinger or on Google+.

12 PHOTOS
Best States for Retirement Aren't the Ones You Might Think
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Retiring Soon? How to Beat Your Biggest Money Fears
Not only does it have a Florida-like climate, but Tennessee also boasts the second lowest cost of living in the country. Combined with a low tax burden and great access to medical care, Tennessee is ideal for retirees living on fixed incomes, Kahn said. The only downside: the state has one of the country's highest crime rates.

One of the state's oldest towns, Sevierville, Tenn. (pictured above), provides close access to a national park where retirees can picnic, hike and fish, and it's an easy drive to Knoxville.
Another balmy locale, the state has an average temperature of 66.7 degrees -- behind only Hawaii and Florida for warmest average climate. Louisiana residents also enjoy low taxes, above-average access to medical care and a relatively cheap cost of living. Like Tennessee, though, it suffers from a crime rate that is among the nation's highest.

It may not be a retirement hot spot, but Bankrate says it should be. The state has the country's lowest crime rate, and an estimated state and local tax burden of just 7.6% -- lower than every state but Alaska. The downside: with an average temperature of 46 degrees over the past 30 years, it's pretty darn cold there.

For small town lovers, Aberdeen, S.D., holds a renowned film festival and has a historic downtown that plays host to farmers markets, haunted walking tours and holiday parades.

Photo: Conspiracy of Happiness, Flickr.com

The Bluegrass State is one of many Appalachian states to dominate Bankrate's top 10. While it may not have Florida's sunny beaches, it does boast an extremely low cost of living, warmer-than-average temperatures and a below-average crime rate.

In Louisville, retirees can stay active by walking or biking on the Louisville Loop, a pedestrian path set to eventually cover more than 100 miles. The smaller town of Danville, Ky., meanwhile, is ideal for horse lovers.

Beyond its warm weather, Mississippi also provides cheap living costs and a lower tax burden. But retirees may want to choose where they live carefully: the state has a high crime rate and subpar access to medical care. It has only 178 doctors per every 100,000 residents -- almost 100 less than the national average.

Photo: Natalie Maynor, Flickr.com

This coastal state came in above average for most factors that Bankrate analyzed, including climate, access to healthcare and cost of living. Its crime rate is one of the lowest in the country, with only 2,446 property and violent crimes per 100,000 people.

An affordable college town, Lynchburg, Va. offers the beauty of the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, as well as historic Civil War sites.

Another Appalachian state, West Virginia is boosted onto the list by low crime, a cheaper cost of living and above-average access to medical care. Still, it has a colder climate than some of the other states.
Warm temperatures, low state and local taxes and a relatively low cost of living all pushed Alabama into the top 10. Yet it suffers from below-average access to medical care and a relatively high crime rate, with 4,026 crimes per 100,000 people -- almost double that of Virginia.

Home to a campus of the University of Alabama, Huntsville, Ala. offers botanical gardens and nature preserves and 19th century architecture. Near the Georgia border, Fort Payne, Ala. is a quintessential small town with activities that include an annual fiddling convention and a stop at the "world's largest yard sale."

Beyond its cornfields, Nebraska offers excellent access to hospital care, a below-average crime rate and living costs among the country's cheapest. But with a lower than average temperature, it's another state for retirees who don't mind the cold.
Like neighboring South Dakota, this state is not for retirees looking for warm weather. But it does have the second lowest crime rate in the nation, a mild estimated tax burden of 8.9% and 5 hospital beds available for every 1,000 residents.
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