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How to Decide When You’re Ready to Retire

Some people know exactly when they want to retire. They may have dreamed of it for years and set up a triggering mechanism, like when they accumulate X amount of dollars, reach age Y or pay off Z. For others, the decision of when to retire is not so obvious. In fact, it can be a complex calculation with financial, emotional, social and family considerations.

If you’re trying to decide when you’ll be ready to retire, these tips may help.

Visualize your life in retirement. Think about the activities that will fill your hours. Do you plan to do volunteer work, enjoy hobbies, take care of grandchildren or travel? Not having a job to go to every day can leave a big hole that needs to be filled with something you find fulfilling. Planning how you’ll spend your time can also provide important clues to how much money you’ll need to support your desired lifestyle.

Create a retirement budget. Do your best to estimate what your expenses will be, then consider adding a cushion for the unexpected. Be sure to make allowances for health care costs, which have been rising faster than inflation. To have a 75 percent chance of covering health care expenses (excluding long-term care) in retirement, the Employee Benefit Research Institute estimates that a 65-year-old married couple would need $227,000.*

Don’t count on “magic numbers.” Particular ages entitle you to certain financial benefits.

For example: At age 55 you can make penalty-free withdrawals from a 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan if you leave your job. At age 59½ you can make penalty-free withdrawals from employer-sponsored retirement plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Note, you must also have held the account for at least five years to make penalty-free withdrawals of earnings from a Roth IRA. At 62, you can begin collecting early Social Security benefits.

At 65, you qualify for Medicare. Between 65 and 67, depending on when you were born, you can begin collecting full Social Security benefits.

Any of these milestones may play a role in your readiness for retirement, but can’t on its own signal that the time is right to retire.

Reduce financial responsibilities. Without a steady paycheck, meeting financial obligations may mean drawing down your retirement nest egg. So before you retire, do what you can to reduce financial drains like credit card debt, a child’s college tuition, support for an adult child who lives with you, major repairs to your home or car, etc.

If you’re married, get your spouse on board. Just like the first year of marriage, the first year of retirement requires adjustments in routines, responsibilities and more. It can be difficult for both of you, so having each other’s support is important.

Get an objective view. Meeting with a financial advisor can give you an unbiased view of your financial readiness to retire.

* Employee Benefit Research Institute, EBRI Notes, October 2012,


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