A recent study found that 67 percent of middle-income baby boomers are expecting a retirement that is different from the one their parents enjoyed.
For one thing, the study, performed by the Bankers Life & Casualty Company Center for a Secure Retirement, found that roughly three-quarters of the generation born between 1946 and 1964 believe that financial factors, not their age, will determine when they will retire.
Despite these new uncertainties, more than half are looking forward to retirement. If you're trying to navigate plans for the new retirement landscape, the California Society of CPAs (www.calcpa.org) offers these four key pieces of advice.
#1: Be Prepared to Be the Decision Maker
In the past, workers were asked few questions about their retirement or healthcare choices. Employers provided specific benefits and employees could generally count on defined and reliable pension and healthcare coverage. That has all changed, however, and workers have more options, as well as greater responsibility-and costs.
You may find yourself faced with choices about how much to set aside in a health savings or medical spending account or which Medicare supplement plan to select. 401(k) plans and other tax-advantaged retirement options also provide an array of sometimes confusing choices.
Your CPA can explain your options and help you with your financial planning concerns, so be sure to turn to him or her with all your questions.
#2: Planning Is More Important
All of the choices and responsibilities mean that it's more critical than ever to have a realistic sense of your financial situation and whether you're ready for retirement. According to the study, about one-half of middle-income boomers aren't certain they will have enough in savings to guarantee a comfortable retirement.
If you're not sure where you stand, you can begin by using the tools on the 360 Degrees of Financial Literacy site, a public service of the CPA profession. The site's retirement pension planner, for example, helps you to estimate your savings needs based on factors such as your current age, income, savings rate and expected retirement age.
Articles on the site also walk you through retirement planning and estate planning basics. You may learn that you're running a bit behind in your savings if you want to reach your retirement goal, but finding this out now can help you consider your options and take the steps you need to get back on track.
#3: Get Ready to Work Longer
There was a 101 percent jump in the number of people 65 and over in the workforce between 1977 and 2007, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That compares with a much smaller 59 percent in total number of people in the workforce during the same time.
There may be numerous reasons for that change, including losses to retirement savings suffered due to the recession and recent stock market crashes and changing attitudes about work among those of retirement age. That means you may have to adjust not only your savings plans but also your career expectations if your work life will last longer than you'd thought.
#4: Make the Most of Your Opportunities
Given the new retirement realities, it's especially important to take advantage of any options that will maximize your situation. That means, among other things, that you should make full contributions to company retirement plans that offer a matching employer contribution.
If you don't, you're missing the free addition to your nest egg that the matching contribution represents. On the other side of the coin, avoid dipping into your retirement account, particularly if it will mean a penalty for early withdrawal. The longer the money stays in the account, the more time it will have to earn interest or dividends.
Turn to Your Local CPA
Retirement is just one of the many financial challenges that your local CPA can help you tackle. Consult him or her with all your financial questions.