Caring for an aging parent, a child with disabilities, or a family member with a chronic illness can have a significant impact on your emotional, mental, and financial well-being. Despite the challenges, millions of Americans find themselves in the role of family caregivers. According to AARP, around 48 million people in the United States are family caregivers. Many of them have to make sacrifices, including reducing their retirement contributions. In this article, we’ll explore strategies to help you maintain your retirement savings while caring for your loved ones.
Understanding the Financial Strain of Family Caregivers
Family caregivers, as defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are individuals who regularly provide care and support to their loved ones. This care can range from daily tasks like grocery shopping to accompanying them to medical appointments. Unfortunately, many caregivers face financial setbacks, with about half of those surveyed in the United States reporting a reduction in their retirement savings, according to a 2020 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.
Cynthia Haddad, a certified financial planner at Special Needs Financial Planning in Burlington, Massachusetts, understands the challenges of balancing caregiving and saving for retirement. She is part of the “sandwich generation,” caring for both aging parents and children with developmental disabilities.
Haddad shares her experience, stating, “I’ve been fortunate enough to work in the financial planning field, but it’s been a struggle because no one else contributed to my retirement account except for my husband and me.”
The financial burden of caregiving is felt disproportionately among people of color. The study found that Latino and African American adults spend a higher percentage of their income on caregiving compared to white adults. Latino Americans reported an average annual expense of $7,167, while African Americans spent an average of $6,746. Additionally, women, who often spend more time caregiving and traditionally earn less than men, also face significant financial challenges.
Taking Control of Your Retirement Savings
If you’re feeling behind on your retirement savings due to your caregiving responsibilities, it’s crucial to take proactive steps to secure your financial future.
1. Assess Your Current Financial Situation
Start by gaining a clear understanding of your current retirement savings status. Ed Coambs, a Certified Financial Planner and board member of the Financial Therapy Association in Charlotte, North Carolina, suggests conducting your own financial analysis or seeking assistance from a financial advisor to create a well-informed retirement plan.
2. Seek Professional Assistance
Consider using a financial institution to assess your finances. Many banks, such as Chase and Charles Schwab, offer free financial reviews for their clients. These advisors can help you evaluate your financial situation and set achievable retirement goals. Cynthia Haddad recommends working with a certified financial planner, especially for caregivers, as they can provide valuable support in managing both your financial needs and those of your loved one.
3. Consolidate Your Finances
A financial advisor can also assist caregivers in consolidating their financial accounts, like IRAs and 401(k)s, making it easier to manage and track your savings. It’s essential to choose a financial planner with experience in working with caregivers. You can ask for referrals or discuss their background during an initial consultation.
4. Explore Government Assistance
If caregiving expenses are hindering your ability to save for retirement, look into government assistance programs. Ensure that your loved one has access to sufficient financial resources, such as tax deductions, Medicaid/Medicare, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) to cover their care costs. Additionally, explore potential tax breaks for caregivers, like the medical expense deduction and the child and dependent care credit, to ease your financial burden.
5. Utilize Health Savings Accounts (HSAs)
Haddad suggests using a health savings account (HSA) to pay for caregiving expenses tax-free. Some HSAs also offer investment options, allowing you to grow any unspent funds through investments in mutual funds or exchange-traded funds, providing you with tax-deferred growth.
6. Maximize Retirement Contributions
For couples raising children with disabilities or those living on a single income, it’s essential to maximize your retirement contributions. If you have access to a workplace retirement plan, such as a 401(k), contribute at least enough to receive the minimum employer match. If you’re self-employed, consider a Simplified Employee Pension (SEP) IRA, which offers tax benefits. Funding a Roth IRA is another option, offering tax-free withdrawals in retirement and potential tax benefits for your heirs.
By implementing these strategies and seeking professional guidance, you can navigate the challenges of caregiving while securing your retirement savings for a financially stable future. Remember that caring for your loved ones and safeguarding your financial well-being are not mutually exclusive goals.