Sometimes it makes more sense for one member of a married couple to keep working.
AFTER WORKING THEIR separate jobs for decades, some couples can’t wait to retire and finally spend time together doing the things they love. But there are many issues that can make a joint retirement difficult or even impossible, especially when one spouse is significantly older than the other.
Here’s when it makes sense for at least one member of a married couple to keep working:
- You’re not old enough to qualify for Medicare.
- You don’t have enough income to comfortably cover retirement expenses.
- You need to improve your retirement savings.
- You want to increase your Social Security benefit.
- Your retirement income doesn’t support the lifestyle you want.
- Your job isn’t killing you.
There are many considerations spouses should take into account before deciding whether to retire together. Consider these reasons for at least one spouse to continue to work.
1. You’re Not Old Enough to Qualify for Medicare
When you retire you typically lose your company health benefits. If you retire before age 65, you aren’t yet eligible for Medicare and will need to purchase other health insurance. “If one spouse still works until 65, they don’t have to get health care on the open market,” says Mike Kojonen, founder of Principal Preservation Services in Woodbury, Minnesota, and Hudson, Wisconsin.
If at least one member of a married couple continues to work, you can maintain employer coverage until you qualify for Medicare. “Sometimes it would make sense for one spouse to work longer if they are not eligible for Medicare,” says Greg Hammer, president of Hammer Financial Group in Schererville, Indiana. “It could be better coverage and cheaper.”
2. You Don’t Have Enough Retirement Income
Your Social Security checks and retirement account withdrawals might not produce the same level of income you enjoyed while working. “It’s important for couples to realize how they will have an income stream after their W-2 income ends,” says Katherine Dean, head of family dynamics at Wells Fargo Private Bank.
Compare your expected retirement income to your current bills. “All conversions should start with understanding your income gap: the difference between expenses and income in retirement,” Hammer says. “If the finances and math don’t work, at least one person working in some capacity changes the dynamics of that gap.” Income from even a part-time job can improve your retirement finances and give your investments more time to grow.
3. You Need to Improve Your Retirement Savings
Retirees need to gradually draw down their savings in order to make the money last for the rest of both of their lives. “A lot of times, if (the couple) is the same age and both want to retire, I have to say one should keep working because they will run out of money,” Kojonen says. “If they both were to retire at the same time, it would shorten the lifespan of their money.” Working for even a single extra year allows you to put more money in a 401(k) or IRA, delay withdrawals and earn another year of investment growth.
Kojonen has one client couple in which the husband was already retired and the wife was ready to join him. “I told the spouse that if they retire at 66, they could run out of money in their 80s,” Kojonen says. “If she worked until 70, it will extend their money into their 90s. That’s the important part of that decision, the solvency of the retirement plan.”
4. You Want to Increase Your Social Security Benefit
Your monthly Social Security payment is reduced for early claiming and increases if you delay claiming between ages 66 and 70. Delaying claiming Social Security allows you to qualify for bigger payments later on in retirement when you are less able to work. Hammer says delaying Social Security can also create a better survivor’s income if one spouse outlives the other.
5. Your Retirement Income Doesn’t Support the Lifestyle You Want
Retirement gives you the time to pursue the activities that are most important to you. But some retirement activities are expensive, including travel, golf or moving to a new part of the country. “Are you at a point where you can achieve those goals, or do you need to work five years to achieve them?” Dean says. “You need a financial plan for achieving your goals. It is important to update that plan and reassess where you are, and what needs to change or be added.”
6. Your Job Isn’t Killing You
It isn’t always easy to return to the workforce after you leave. When at least one spouse works a little bit longer it can shore up the finances of the couple for years into the future. “Once you stop working it’s hard to go back,” Hammer says. “The most disappointment lies when people don’t understand the repercussions of a decision. They just want to retire without understanding if they can.”
However, if you work at a stressful job that is damaging your health, it may be time to leave that job. “We do ask about the work environment,” Kojonen says. “Sometimes it’s just time to leave that job, even if it’s the younger of the two spouses.”