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Suze Orman Touts Wall Street’s ‘Work Until You Die’ Mantra. Here’s Why She’s Wrong

Suze Orman is one of America’s best-known financial talking heads. The former financial advisor and Wall Street executive turned media personality is a great communicator, and her money advice is typically solid. Until now.

Orman’s recent pronouncements about when you should retire have me scratching my head and wondering if Orman has lost hers.

In a recent Time magazine article, Suze told Americans that everyone should work far beyond typical current retirement age. Basically, until we die. The piece was entitled “Suze Orman Says This Is the Age You Should Retire—Not a Month or Year Before.”

That age? Seventy.

Orman’s suggestion that you work until you drop isn’t new. The oldest gallows humor joke in financial planning is: How do you never run out of money for retirement? The answer? Work until you die. That’s basically what Suze is saying. In doing so, she is echoing Wall Street’s self-serving fear mongering about how much you need to retire. Remember the recent report by one Wall Street investment firm that claimed everyone needs to save more than $2 million before they retire? Orman’s advice is no different. It’s baseless and driven by fear.

The problem with retiring at 70 is that you run the risk of missing the sweet spot years of retirement when you are healthy and active enough to follow your post-career dreams.

A recent Bloomberg article notes that as the retirement age is being pressed from 65 towards 67, American “lifespans aren’t necessarily extending to offer equal time on the beach.” Our overall health is declining with people in their 50’s facing more serious health problems than the previous generation did at the same age. As a result, today’s middle age workers may have shorter, less-active retirements

So, retire at 70, eh, Suze? Look, the Bloomberg article admits that “postponing retirement can make financial sense because extended careers can make it possible to afford retirements that last past age 90 or even 100.” But given that data about shorter, less active retirements, would we sock away extra money for our retirement, or for our estate?

Orman’s article offered three pieces of advice for retiring at 70. Let’s talk a walking tour of her strategy so we can see the flaws up close.

Suze sez: Delay Tapping Social Security Benefits until 70 – But if you choose to delay Social Security from, let’s say, 66 until 70, you have forgone four years of payments. Let’s do the math. The average benefit is $1500 per month or $18,000 per year. Times four, that’s $72,000. Once you hit age 70 and start collecting that “higher payment,” it will take you 12 years to make up that $72,000. For a male, that brings you to age 82, which is, according to data and statistics, the age you are expected to live until. There is according to the Social Security Administration’s Actuarial Life Table. So break even at 82, and pass away at 84. Does that sound like a good deal? You can read more on the Social Security “break even” age here.

Suze sez: Lay the foundation now to work longer – Umm, you may not be able to control this one. Companies love to save money by easing out older employees who are at their earnings peak. Workers in their 50’s (let alone 60’s) are frequently offered “buy-out packages” in corporate cost-cutting or downsizing efforts. There’s also a bit of job bias in this advice. It’s one thing to suggest that an account or senior manager work to age 70. It’s quite another to ask that of a bricklayer or warehouse worker.

Suze sez: Truly enjoy a secure retirement – Here, I actually agree with to some degree. There can be plenty of remarkable retirement year left after 70. I have plenty of clients whose lives prove that point. However, the decade of your 60s is a truly magical one. Do you want to spend it clocking 50-hour weeks at the office, or would you rather be focused on being active and doing the things you love?

In my book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think, you can read about how to get to a place of retirement freedom. This can and should come well before age 70, and even ages 66, 65, and 60. Trust me; it’s not as relentlessly impossible as Suze would have you think. Instead of settling for Wall Street’s fear rhetoric and Suze’s “work until you die” message, I would rather see you, and all Americans, wake up and enjoy every day of retirement, on your own timeframe.

Cover Image: Albert H. Teich / Shutterstock.com