No one has a crystal ball. But financial planning would be a whole lot easier if you had a reasonable idea of how long you're likely to live. And if you're planning as a couple, it is especially helpful to know your longevity possibilities.
After all, you'll make different decisions if you're required to make your IRA last for another 35 years after retirement. And if you knew with certainty that your lifespan would be shorter than actuarial average projections, you might either quit work earlier or go on a spending spree. Why buy a lifetime annuity unless you're pretty sure you'll live longer than the typical age on which the insurance companies price their payouts?
It's tough to bet on your own longevity, but that's exactly what financial planning requires. So, here are two websites where you can get more than an educated guess.
At livingto100.com, you can enter your personal characteristics, including family history and your own health habits to get a reasonable projection of your life expectancy. I have recommended it frequently in my columns and books. You answer 40 simple questions, and then with a click of your mouse the program makes a longevity projection.
Some of the inputs are simple facts and others test your honesty. Have you ever had a heart attack? Did you ever smoke? How frequently do you exercise? How often do you eat red meat? How much do you weigh? Do you floss?
Be honest in your responses. And remember, your lifespan isn't set in stone. This website also gives hints on expanding your longevity by changing your eating and exercise habits. You might be surprised at how the changes affect your projections.
The interactive and predictive tool at LongevityIllustrator.org was created by the Society of Actuaries and the American Academy of Actuaries. Theirs is the science of predicting longevity. And this website is less fun, but more illustrative of the possibilities. After you enter your first name and date of birth, you're only asked a few basic questions, such as: What is your current general state of health? Do you smoke?
Then you're asked to indicate an age for the projection to start. You can either pick your nearest birthday -- or perhaps an age farther in the future, such as your proposed retirement age. A click of your mouse and you will see your personal probability of living to age 75, 80 or even past 100.
Interestingly, you can enter the same information for your partner and see a projection of your joint life expectancies. You'll see how long you can expect to live as a couple, and how long a survivor is likely to live after the first spouse or partner passes on.
You can view the information as a chart or a table, and even print out the information to take to your financial planner. Surely, good planners will be using this new resource.
Is it gruesome to try to take this look into the future? I admit that I hesitated before clicking that mouse! But life is better planned using the most knowledge available. That's why you check the weather report to see if you should wear a jacket or take an umbrella. And that's why you buy life insurance and update your estate plan -- just in case.
Certainly the loved ones who depend on you deserve the respect that financial planning brings, even if it still is just a (more) educated guess. And that's The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and the author of four best-selling books, including "The Savage Truth on Money." Terry responds to questions on her blog at TerrySavage.com.