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Ten Frequent Retirement Mistakes You Should Avoid

When your retirement finally arrives, you can take a deep breath and exhale. You made it! But that doesn't mean you may relax completely.

In fact, mistakes made in retirement can cause significant financial distress. Here are 10 common pitfalls to avoid:

Mistake 1. Going on a spending spree. It may be tempting to start spending freely, especially because you now have more time on your hands. But you don't want to burn through your savings in just a few years. It's still important to rely on a budget that helps you balance monthly income and expenses.

Mistake 2. Applying for Social Security right away. Most people are eligible to begin receiving Social Security benefits as early as age 62. Although that may be the best approach for some retirees, it's not recommended for everyone. You can ensure greater monthly benefits by waiting until full retirement age (FRA) to apply—age 66 for most Baby Boomers—or even longer. Starting your benefits at age 70 will give you the largest possible monthly benefit.

Mistake 3. Not taking income taxes into account. Even though you're retiring, taxes will continue to have an impact on your financial life in general and your investments in particular. You still can take advantage of investment losses to offset capital gains that otherwise would be taxed, while distributions from your employer-sponsored retirement plans and IRAs may add to your tax bill. If you have a Roth IRA, you may be able to take tax-free payouts—or pass them along to your heirs.

Mistake 4. Becoming too conservative in your investments. The traditional advice is to shift your portfolio to lower-risk investments during retirement. That makes sense as a general principle, but don't go too far. Consider your life expectancy and how long you will have to stretch the income from your savings. By avoiding investment risk you could increase another kind of risk—the risk of outliving your savings.

Mistake 5. Being handicapped by your biggest asset. It's often hard to give up the home in which you raised your children. However, at some point during retirement, it may become too expensive to live there. Even if you've paid off your mortgage, you'll still be responsible for real estate taxes, repairs, and utilities, which could add up to thousands of dollars a month. Selling the old homestead and then buying a smaller place could free up your equity while reducing your costs.

Mistake 6. Being victimized by a scam. Con artists frequently prey on the elderly, and today's schemes are increasingly sophisticated, putting almost everyone at risk. Imposters may create phony websites that mirror ones from reputable financial institutions and pretend that the information they're seeking is crucial. Be very careful about working with anyone you don't know personally.

Mistake 7. Continuing to support your adult children. No matter how old you are, you never stop being a parent. Nevertheless, there comes a point when you must realize that you're living on a fixed income and can't support your children in the same manner as you could during your peak earning years. Worry about paying your own expenses first. Then, if there are assets left over, you can follow your parental inclinations.

Mistake 8. Underestimating health-care costs. Just because you're eligible to receive Medicare at age 65 doesn't mean all of your expenses will be paid. You'll probably need other coverage to supplement Medicare, and if you or your spouse encounter serious health issues, you could run up extremely high costs for care in a nursing home or care in your home. Long-term care insurance, when purchased early enough, can provide affordable protection. Alternatively, you might need to set aside funds to pay for potential care expenses.

Mistake 9. Leaving work too soon. Sure, some people would like to call it quits as early as possible, but it's important to be realistic. Go back to your budget and consider it in terms of how long you're likely to live. Although it may not be your first choice, the option of working for a year or two longer could help in two ways, adding to your nest egg and shortening the length of time you'll need it to fund retirement expenses. Coordinate this decision with your choices for Social Security benefits.

Mistake 10. Not seeking professional guidance. Instead of trying to do it all on your own, or relying on the advice of friends or family, sit down with your financial adviser to map out a plan. This last step may help you avoid many of the other mistakes and improve your chances of a comfortable retirement.