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In Retirement, That Emergency Fund Is Even More Important (Archived)

August 24, 2016

The following article was published in The Street by Rodney Brooks on August 18th, 2016. Eric Bailey is quoted.


Creating a budget is an integral part of any retiree's financial plan.

Still, many enter retirement without one. And even more troubling, many begin retirement without an emergency savings fund.
Two-thirds of Americans would have trouble coming up with just $1,000 to cover an emergency, according to a survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.
Perhaps more troubling: That predicament spanned all income levels: three-quarters of Americans earning less than $50,000 and two-thirds of those earning between $50,000 and $100,000 would struggle to pay an unexpected $1,000 bill. And 38% of households making more than $100,000 say they could not come up with that $1,000.
Meanwhile, 36% of American workers say they have only $1,000 saved for their retirement, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

The point of all that is, if working people have trouble dealing with emergencies, imagine what can happen to a retiree on fixed income.

As important as an emergency fund is for workers, it's critical for retirees, who no longer have earned income. The last thing they should do is pull money from a 401(k) or IRA for a home or car repair.
"An emergency fund is not a luxury," says Jeremy Keating, investment advisor at Capital Income Advisors in San Diego. "I can't tell you how many people dip into their retirement accounts and pay a 10% penalty." 
Keating says creating an emergency savings account is often overlooked by people, even if they have saved well for retirement. How much you need depends on your specific situation, he says. But it could be anywhere from three months to 12 months of expenses.

Eric Bailey, president of Bailey Wealth Advisors in Silver Spring, Md., says he recommends clients have an emergency fund cushion of three to six months of expenses, depending on the amount of debt and the health of the client.

"We talk about [emergency savings] before we get to retirement," Bailey says. "We call it a part of your defensive posture -- assuring you can protect yourself from unforeseen things and coincidences. It is driven by your debt to income ratio, the stability of your employment and cash flow.

"If you're in good health and have a low debt structure, we will suggest three months (of savings)," says Bailey. "If you have a high debt structure and poor health, we will suggest four to six months. We take your net living expenses. If it costs $10,00 a month, you need $30,000 sitting in an emergency fund."

Bailey says the emergency savings accounts keeps people from having to make the mistake of withdrawing prematurely from retirement accounts.
Home repairs and health care are two of the leading causes of emergencies for retirees, he says.
"We know a lot of people have to take money out of 401(k) at inopportune times, having to pay a higher tax rate because," Bailey says. 

"We ask them to go back in minds over past five years: how many times did a significant unexpected expense arise?" Bailey says. "When we walk them through that, more times than not, most people come up with two to three instances her they needed more money than they had."

"They are realizing that in retirement, they don't have earned income," Bailey says. "They get the point that if they don't have emergency cash, it will mean increasing debt or spending money at an inopportune time."

"No matter what your situation, "You should have one," Keating says.
Here is the important thing, financial planners say: it's never too late to start that emergency fund. Of course, the younger you are, the more time you have.

Some tips:

Set a realistic goal. Set your initial goal low, such as at one month of emergency savings - less intimidating and more easily attainable than three to six months of expenses. Even starting out at putting aside $10 or $20 a week is a start. After you reach that first goal, make it two months, then three.

Make a budget. Once you determine better how much you spend each month, it will be a lot easier to redirect funds to an emergency fund.
Cut expenses. A lot depends on your lifestyle and what you enjoy. Skipping on a $5 latte or not having that dinner out one weekend a month and setting the cost aside might give you a solid start.