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What is the average retirement income for a single person? This article offers a data-driven answer based on U.S. government data for those 65 and older. Use these middle-of-the-road numbers as a foundation to compare against your situation.
A sufficient retirement income should cover average monthly expenses — plus wiggle room. That said, expenses change over time, so it helps to overestimate retirement expenses today and into the future.
Is the average retirement income enough to live on? We’ll explore this question further below and show examples of how you can determine the answer specific to you.
Table of Contents
Bottom Line Up Front (BLUF)
My analysis of single household averages estimates the average retirement income for a single person, including money from all income sources, is about $3,596 per month or $43,156 per year.
Social Security covers about $1,786 per month, on average, requiring a single person to generate an additional $1,810 of retirement income per month or about $21,720 per year to meet the average.
Remember, these are average retirement income numbers. They account for male and female data nationwide but not for the cost of living by location (use the chart in that link to see where your state ranks).
Most retirees will likely need more income to pay for today and save for future expenses, such as healthcare or assisted living costs. It’s always prudent to overestimate.
Read on to see how I estimated the numbers above. Once we’re through the baseline scenario, we’ll discuss how you can apply it to your financials to determine your retirement income needs.
All numbers in this article are estimates based on government data. I recommend using a comprehensive retirement calculator such as NewRetirement (review) to associate more precise numbers and a timeline to your scenario.
Average Retirement Income for Single Retirees (65+)
Let’s first look at the average retirement income for those 65+. This will give us a baseline to help us determine a good monthly retirement income for a single person.
According to surveys by the U.S. Census Bureau, the average annual household income for single folks 65+ was $43,156 in 2021 (female = $39,974, male = $46,337).
We can get an average monthly retirement income by dividing that number by twelve, and we get $3,596.
This number represents the average retirement income amount received from all retirement income sources for a household (which, for our purposes, is either one male or one female).
We’ll dig deeper into various retirement income sources in the section below.
Average Social Security Income for a Single Person
By looking at Social Security Administration (SSA) data, we can determine the average monthly Social Security payment for a single person.
The average Social Security retirement benefit per person is $1,786 (“average monthly benefit”). This number includes retired workers and the spouses of retired workers.
We’ll use this number to help us understand how much additional retirement income we need to generate to meet the average.
Average Non-Social-Security Retirement Income Needs
Now that we’ve determined the average retirement income for a single person and the average Social Security income for a household with one person, we can estimate the average retirement income required to generate enough non-Social Security income.
Here’s the calculation:
Average Monthly Household Income (single, 65+) = $3,596
Average Monthly Social Security (single, 65+) = $1,786
Monthly Average Retirement Income Needs (non-SSA) = $3,596 - $1,786 = $1,810
Our baseline scenario calculation tells us that a typical single person needs to generate about $1,810 in additional monthly retirement income (non-Social-Security) to meet the U.S. average retirement income.
The annual amount is $21,720.
Adding a bit of wiggle room brings us to $2,000 per month or $24,000 per year. Use those numbers as a target retirement income for a single person based on the average.
While this is a helpful benchmark, all individuals should estimate their personalized numbers based on their specific cost of living.
Use a cost of living index to determine where your city or state compares to the national average. If your cost of living is higher, you’ll need a proportionate increase in retirement income.
Consider several factors to determine if your retirement income is sufficient for your expenses.
Day-to-day spending tends to decrease as one ages healthily but costs dramatically increase toward end-of-life.
Much of the spending levels depend on lifestyle. Years of luxury travel would increase retirement expenses, so it depends on the individual.
But many retirees remain in their homes and communities, enjoying a less busy life while living comfortably on savings and Social Security.
Calculating annual expenses is a good starting point to determine if you have enough to retire.
One rule of thumb to determine if you have “enough” to retire is to multiply annual expenses by 25 to get a financial independence number.
When your invested assets (not including home equity) reach that number, it should be enough to live for 30 years on 4% annual withdrawals, assuming a conservative investment strategy.
Simply dividing annual expenses by 12 gives you a monthly number from which you can reverse calculate the necessary monthly income.
Keep in mind the more wiggle room, the better. Expect unexpected expenses.
Non-SSA Retirement Income Sources
Retirement income sources may include some or all of the following:
- Retirement account dividends/distributions
- Taxable account dividends/withdrawals
- Earned retirement income
- Rental property income
- Annuity income
DIY investors have income-producing and non-income-producing financial resources, which can affect how we generate spendable cash.
For example, our family lives off dividends, earning about $1,500 a month from stocks.
We transfer that cash from our broker to our checking account every month to spend it.
We also own growth stocks that do not pay a dividend. We’d have to sell some of those investments to generate income from growth stocks and incur a capital gain (taxable if not in a retirement account).
If you own mutual funds or ETFs, you likely receive regular distributions that can be used for spending, but more may be needed to cover expenses requiring the sale of assets.
Social Security, pensions, bonds, rental properties, and annuities are income-producing retirement sources.
However you go about generating the difference between your spending needs and the amount Social Security covers is dependent on your existing portfolio.
Determine the most efficient income or withdrawal strategy for your scenario. Online calculators such as the one at the end of this article can help if you are uncomfortable with paying an advisor.
How to Calculate What is a Good Retirement Income for Singles
Until now, we’ve been discussing averages and government data. That’s helpful to a point. You need to determine the specifics of your situation.
Start with the expected average monthly expenses in retirement. For example, let’s look at a person who spends $4,583 per month or $55,000 per year.
Next, determine the monthly Social Security retirement benefit. Let’s say the person receives $2,100 per month in Social Security.
Financial Independence Number = $1,375,000 (annual expenses X 25)
Average Monthly Household Expenses = $4,583
Average Monthly Social Security Income(single) = $2,100
Retirement Income Needs (non-SSA) = $4,583 - $2,100 = $2,483
The person would need to generate $2,483 monthly to sustain their current lifestyle. Ideally, they’d want to generate more than that number to provide some wiggle room.
Retirement portfolio withdrawals are the obvious source. In our scenario above, the financial independence number supports expenses without Social Security by withdrawing 4% per year ($1,375,000 x .04 = $55,000).
Factoring in Social Security, the person could retire with a lower amount of invested assets — about $744,900 ($2,483 x 12 x 25)
Inflation is another reason to overestimate. More expensive goods will eat up more of your retirement income.
If you start your retirement by spending less and allowing your investments to grow longer, you can increase spending as you age, which can be useful as healthcare expenses typically rise with age.
What if you Delay Social Security?
You’ll eventually earn a higher monthly benefit if you avoid taking Social Security until age 70. Not everyone can wait.
But if you choose to wait, simply exclude the Social Security payments in your calculations when determining a good monthly income.
Ideally, it would be best to project your spending and income needs for every future year until your projected end-of-life date (an estimate used by financial planners based on actuary data and other factors).
This is where comprehensive online calculators are beneficial. The tools project income and spending needs with data and charts.
With more information at your fingertips, you can withdraw more of your savings before receiving Social Security and then reduce your savings drawdown once you start receiving it.
Best Retirement Income Calculator
The above examples are elementary to give you baseline numbers based on U.S. government averages. However, most individuals should use this exercise as a starting point to find a rough estimate of what is a good monthly retirement income for a single person.
However, if you’re a do-it-yourself retirement planner and investor, I recommend assembling a more serious forecast model to ensure you have enough money.
Fee-only fiduciary financial advisors can do this for you, but the cost may be excessive for your taste. If you fall into this category, there are low-cost retirement calculators that can handle even the most complex scenarios.
These calculators require straightforward inputs (income, assets, age, cash flow, etc.) and output estimations of how long your money will last decades out, accounting for investment returns, inflation, large expenses, and anything else you can throw at a retirement plan.
My favorite online retirement calculator is NewRetirement, which links to your accounts to provide updated calculators every time you log in.
It’s free to try for 14 days. That’s enough time to put in your numbers to see if you have enough income to retire. After 14 days, it’s only $120 per year — significantly cheaper than paying an advisor, and the tool updates every time you log in.
Advisors use similar software programs to do the same thing.
Check out my detailed NewRetirement review to see screenshots and scenarios I throw at the tool to see what it can do. It handled my somewhat complex scenario with ease.
The NewRetirement calculator can empower individuals to move beyond average retirement income numbers to build a more precise and evolving retirement plan instead of guessing.
Read more: What is a Good Monthly Retirement Income for a Couple?
Featured photo by Jill Wellington via Pexels.
Craig is a former IT professional who left his 19-year career to be a full-time finance writer. A DIY investor since 1995, he started Retire Before Dad in 2013 as a creative outlet to share his investment portfolios. Craig studied Finance at Michigan State University and lives in Northern Virginia with his wife and three children. Read more.
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