Deciding when to retire: When timing becomes critical

Deciding when to retire may not be one decision but a series of decisions and calculations. For example, you’ll need to estimate not only your anticipated expenses, but also whatsources of retirement income you’ll have and how long you’l

Deciding when to retire may not be one decision but a series of decisions and calculations. For example, you’ll need to estimate not only your anticipated expenses but also what sources of retirement income you’ll have and how long you’ll need your retirement savings to last. You’ll need to take into account your life expectancy and health as well as when you want to start receiving Social Security or pension benefits, and when you’ll start to tap your retirement savings. Each of these factors may affect the others as part of an overall retirement income plan.

Thinking about early retirement?

Retiring early means fewer earning years and less accumulated savings. Also, the earlier you retire, the more years you’ll need your retirement savings to produce income. And your retirement could last quite a while. According to a National Vital Statistics Report, people today can expect to live more than 30 years longer than they did a century ago.

Not only will you need your retirement savings to last longer, but inflation will have more time to eat away at your purchasing power. If inflation is 3 percent a year–its historical average– it will cut the purchasing power of a fixed annual income in half in roughly 23 years. Factoring inflation into the retirement equation, you’ll probably need your retirement income to increase each year just to cover the same expenses. Be sure to take this into account when considering how long you expect (or can afford) to be in retirement.

There are other considerations as well. For example, if you expect to receive pension payments, early retirement may adversely affect them. Why? Because the greatest accrual of benefits generally occurs during your final years of employment, when your earning power is presumably highest. Early retirement could reduce your monthly benefits. It will affect your Social Security benefits too.

Also, don’t forget that if you hope to retire before you turn 59 1⁄2 and plan to start using your 401(k) or IRA savings right away, you’ll generally pay a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty plus any regular income tax due (with some exceptions, including disability payments and distributions from employer plans such as 401(k)s after age 55).

Finally, you’re not eligible for Medicare until you turn 65. Unless you’ll be eligible for retiree health benefits through your employer or take a job that offers health insurance, you’ll need to calculate the cost of paying for insurance or health care out-of-pocket, at least until you can receive Medicare coverage.

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