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Retirement Planning Essentials for Multiple Sclerosis
Planning for the possibility of an early retirement will help ease the stress of an unpredictable future with MS.
By Mikel Theobald
Medically Reviewed by Farrokh Sohrabi, MD
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It can be uncomfortable to talk about planning for the future when the future with multiple sclerosis is so unpredictable. But looking ahead is essential because, depending on how your MS progresses, you may need to retire earlier than expected. Preparing now for that possibility will help you grow the resources you'll need.
The discussion about retirement planning needs to take place sooner rather than later, says Rosalind Kalb, PhD, vice president of clinical care advocacy at the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS). If you find that starting the conversation is too difficult or leads to anxiety for you or your partner, the NMSS can connect you with a counselor who can jumpstart the planning process.
Prioritizing Retirement Planning for MS
“Not all people with debilitating diseases have retirement thrust upon them so quickly, but that's what happened to me,” says Trevis L. Gleason, Everyday Health MS blogger who was diagnosed with secondary-progressive MS in 2001. “I had about three months between diagnosis and having to leave my profession. I was in my mid-thirties, making a good living, and just beginning to make the important financial decisions about a ‘normal’ retirement,” he recalls.
Acknowledging that many people with MS go from thrive to survive when it comes to career, Gleason offers this advice: “If a person with MS is able to continue working, it is very important to secure whatever options are still available to them. Many things like long-term care insurance and life insurance can become difficult, expensive, or impossible to secure after a diagnosis .”
How to utilize financial resources to sustain your current lifestyle while saving for the future is a challenge many face, says Richard Bell, CFP, a certified financial planner in Calabasas, Calif., and national past president of the Society of Financial Service Professionals (FSP). You not only have the possibility of a shorter work lifetime, but also the likelihood of costly medical expenses in the future. A financial planner who understands the intrusion of disability on retirement can be a huge asset.
Bell is the founder and national director of , a joint project through which members of FSP provide free financial counseling to people referred by NMSS. Contact a MS navigator at NMSS for more information.
Future Expense Planning: Money-Building Strategies
Your number one financial objective for retirement savings is to immediately start spending less than your monthly income. You also want to maximize all resources and eliminate any debt, Bell says.
Here are Bell’s tips to prepare for retirement:
- Gradually build an emergency fund of three to six months of living expenses.
- Buy a house you can stay in for a long time -- factor in potential mobility concerns -- and focus on paying it off while you have earned income. Never refinance except to get a lower interest rate or shorter loan duration.
- Maximize retirement contributions. Contribute the amount needed to trigger your employer's matching funds if that's part of your 401(k) plan.
- Saving for your child’s education is a lower priority than creating a plan that provides for your future living expenses. “You can always borrow money for education, but nobody will loan you money for retirement,” Bell points out. Being a parent with a disability may make it easier for your child to get financial aid in the form of grants, not just loans. If you decide to save for education expenses, use a 529 plan for tax-free appreciation.
- Use any disposable income to:
- Pay off any consumer debt that carries non-deductible interest.
- Increase your retirement contribution to the max.
- Pay more on your mortgage to shorten the loan term.
- Put money into a home repair and vehicle maintenance/replacement fund.
- Invest in mutual funds or other investment alternatives.
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