The golden years look murky for many married couples who are still years away from retirement. Statistics show they haven’t planned well financially for different retirement scenarios they may face.

 Almost half of married Americans – 46 percent ­– die nearly broke, according to a recent study by the National Bureau of Economic Research.  Surveys by GoBankingRates showed 56 percent of Americans have put away less than $10,000 toward retirement, and that about 75 percent over age 40 are behind on saving for retirement.

The uncertainties that lie ahead in retirement – life span, health, market factors, unexpected expenses – make it important for married couples to have different income plans in place to cover various scenarios.

“Every married couple needs three retirement-income plans, but most don’t even have one,” says Jeff Dixson, a financial educator and radio talk-show host on retirement-planning matters.

“Nine out of 10 people do not have a financial plan at all. They may have some investments, but that’s not a financial plan, especially for retirement. They typically don’t understand how each investment works, what fees they’re paying, and the tax advantages and disadvantages.”

Dixson outlines three scenarios that married couples can experience in retirement and how they can get through it or plan ahead accordingly.

  • Plan A: What if you both live to be 100? One of the biggest fears people have in retirement is outliving their money. So, to do well if you both live well past normal life expectancy, it’s important to have money coming in from a solid combination of sources, Dixson says. For example, married couples may have two Social Security checks, one or two pension checks and then their investible assets. With that many income sources, they might be OK. Pensions, though, will be fewer in the future, Dixson cautions, so it’s vital for those without one to plan ahead regarding the other assets.
  • Plan B: What happens to her if he dies first? This will immediately impact the monthly cash flow, Dixson says. The wife would get to keep the higher of the two Social Security checks but not both. Planning beforehand regarding how the husband’s pension check is set up, and whether he had a survivor benefit for the spouse, has a big effect on monthly income.
  • Plan C: What happens to him if she dies first? It’s a similar scenario to Plan B, with less monthly income due to the loss of one Social Security check. Proactive planning in asset areas can help cover the gap. Dixson says the volatility of the stock market the past two decades means retirees can’t bank on the same withdrawal rates previous generations have used. This will affect the income stream a retiree can generate, ultimately making things that much more difficult for today’s retirees.

“There are a lot of pieces to the retirement puzzle,” Dixson says. “It simply makes sense to plan proactively for what could happen in the future instead of burying your head in the sand.”