If you’re like many people, the pandemic has had a profound impact on your worldview. The tragedy and social isolation we’ve experienced have put into sharp focus what’s most important. It’s no surprise, then, that a survey conducted by Ameriprise Financial in January found that 70% of people said the pandemic has increased their desire to enjoy life.
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And this desire to live life to the fullest is leading people to accelerate their retirement plans. In fact, nearly one in five (18%) of those surveyed who had a retirement date said they are speeding up their plans to exit the workforce. In most cases, it wasn’t because they were pushed out of jobs or couldn’t find work during the pandemic. In fact, 83% said the decision to retire earlier than anticipated was their choice.
If you’re fortunate to be in the position to accelerate your plans for retirement, you may be looking forward to an exciting new chapter in life when you have more time to do the things you enjoy most. After more than a year of social distancing, perhaps you’re looking forward to traveling and reuniting with friends and family. Unburdened by the demands of work, you may finally have time to tackle projects around the house or pursue your passion for activities like writing, volunteering and exercising.
Whatever your dream retirement looks like, it’s critical you have a plan to pay for it. Before you walk away from your career and the paychecks that come with it, be sure you’ve thought through these fundamental questions about your future spending needs and available sources of income.
As a first step, try to estimate what your living costs will look like in retirement by considering the following:
What will your typical monthly expenses be?
Some people assume, often mistakenly, that living costs will be lower in retirement. They often overlook things, such as hobbies and experiences, that can bring fulfillment to your days as a retiree but also come with a price. To avoid this miscalculation, add up your current monthly expenses today (rent or mortgage, utilities, food, transportation, other necessities, taxes and discretionary spending, such as travel) and determine what those expenses will look like when retirement begins.
Some costs – like commuting – may go down, while others – like dining out – may increase.
What new expenses might be added when you have more free time?
You may be planning extensive travel or a major purchase (i.e., vacation home or recreational vehicle). These could add to your retirement expenses.
How will you pay for medical insurance?
If you are leaving an employer, your health care costs could become a bigger factor, particularly if you’re younger than 65 and aren’t yet eligible for Medicare. Longer term, you may need to budget for Medicare’s monthly premiums and out-of-pocket expenses.
Sources of income
It’s no secret that you need enough money from various sources to meet expenses over the course of your retirement, especially one that could last decades, given today’s life expectancies. If you’re planning to start your retirement earlier than expected, it’s especially important to determine whether your funds will last.
The following questions can help you determine whether your nest egg can sufficiently cover your planned retirement:
Where are your retirement savings invested, what have you accumulated, and what is your withdrawal strategy?
Inventory all of your accounts, including any “orphaned” retirement plans that still reside with previous employers. IRAs and other accounts held at various asset management firms should also be documented and potentially consolidated to simplify the process of taking distributions. Be realistic about how much you can afford to withdraw and not run out of money (no more than 4% of your savings each year is a general rule of thumb to consider).
If you’re unsure of how much you will need, working with a financial adviser can help you to determine how much to withdraw, which accounts to take money from, and when and how to do so to potentially minimize taxes.
When will you begin collecting Social Security?
The earlier you begin, the lower your monthly benefit will be compared to its value if you wait until you reach your full retirement age, which depends on your date of birth. The benefit is reduced for each month before full retirement age.
As an example, if someone turns 62 (the earliest age for qualification) this year and starts collecting Social Security, their benefit would be about 30% lower than it would be at their full retirement age, which in this case would be 66 years and 10 months.
On the other end of the spectrum, if you delay receiving Social Security benefits until after your full retirement age, your monthly benefit continues to increase until you reach 70. For instance, if the same person from the previous example turns 62 this year and holds off on collecting Social Security benefits until reaching age 70, their full retirement benefit would be a little over 25% larger than the amount they’d receive at their full retirement age. However, waiting may not be the right choice for everyone.
A financial adviser can help you determine an approach that reflects your options and your personal situation.
Decisions you make today have long-term consequences
Starting off on the right foot in retirement, no matter the timing, is critical to your long-term financial security and quality of life. Don’t be hasty in finalizing your decision to retire or choosing to tap retirement income sources like Social Security. Answering these fundamental questions can help you assess whether you have a plan that will support your retirement lifestyle — not just for the initial years of retirement, but also for the long run.