5 steps when you’re 60 and broke

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In response to yesterday’s retirement planning blog, I received this e-mail — one of several notes from people with similar concerns.

“I’m two years into unemployment and the benefits are running out. I’m 63 years old and there are no job prospects in sight. Taking Social Security early reduces benefits with no provisions for an increase when you need it later. What are people like me supposed to do?”

Here are five things to do when you are 60 and broke. None of them insure that retirement will be comfortable, but they will buy you time while you figure out a better plan.

  1. Find a job. Fast food, customer service, substitute teaching and cleaning are all jobs that are available in most parts of the country, even when times are tough. They don’t pay much more than minimum wage, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do just to pay the bills.
  2. Cut your housing costs. Between 2005 and 2009, more than 3.8 million people moved in with their relatives, according to the U.S. Census. Moving in with somebody else or renting out a room to split the costs is a time-honored strategy when times are tough.
  3. Reduce the cost of owning a car. Defaulting is a bad idea because even if you turn the car back voluntarily, your lender will want you to pay the difference between what the lender was able to sell the vehicle for at auction and what you owed. Try putting the vehicle up for sale yourself. Even if you have to make up the difference, you’ll pay less. Replace those wheels with a used car that you pay cash for. Getting rid of that car note will help you cut your  auto insurance costs — on an old car on which you don’t owe money, you can carry cheap liability insurance only.
  4. Don’t be too proud to apply for whatever help you can get. One good place to start is the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which used to be known as food stamps. This program will help you with the essentials.
  5. Keep your health insurance. Under health care reform, there should already be a high-risk health insurance plan available to you — even if you have a pre-existing condition. Find a knowledgeable insurance agent and ask for help locating an appropriate policy. You’ll probably have to accept a plan with a high deductible, but  that’s better than having no insurance at all.

If it’s any consolation, you’re not alone. A study from The Hartford Financial Services Group has found that more than 28 percent of people between the ages of 60 and 69 have “no idea” when they will be able to retire, and more than 33 percent 70 and older are in the same boat.