If you’re a decade or so away from retirement, you’ve probably spent at least some time thinking about this major life event. How will you manage the transition? Will you travel, take up a new sport or hobby, or spend more time with friends and family? Should you consider relocating? Will you continue to work in some capacity? Will changes in your income sources affect your standard of living?
When you begin to ponder all the issues surrounding the transition, the process can seem downright daunting. However, thinking about a few key points now, while you still have years ahead, can help you focus your efforts and minimize the anxiety that often accompanies this life-changing shift.
This is Part 1 of a two-part article discussing some of the important points to consider as you are approaching your retirement.
Reassess your living expenses
A step you will probably take several times between now and retirement — and maybe several more times thereafter — is thinking about how your living expenses could or should change. For example, while commuting and other work-related costs may decrease, other budget items such as health-care and travel will likely rise.
Try to estimate what your monthly expense budget will look like in the first few years after you stop working. And then continue to reassess this budget as your vision of retirement comes more into focus.
According to a recent survey, 47% of retirees said their healthcare expenses were higher than expected in retirement, while 37% of retirees said their other expenses were higher than expected.1 Keeping a close eye on your spending in the years leading up to retirement can help you more accurately anticipate your budget during retirement.
Consider all your income sources
First, figure out how much you stand to receive from Social Security. The amount you receive will depend on your earnings history and other unique factors. You can elect to receive retirement benefits as early as age 62, however, doing so will result in a reduced benefit for life. If you wait until your full retirement age (66 or 67, depending on your birth date) or later (up to age 70), your benefit will be higher. The longer you wait, the larger it will be.2
You can get an estimate of your retirement benefit at the Social Security Administration website, ssa.gov. You can also sign up for a My Social Security account to view your online Social Security statement, which contains a detailed record of your earnings and estimates for retirement, survivor, and disability benefits. Your retirement benefit estimates include amounts at age 62, full retirement age, and age 70. Check your statement carefully and address any errors as soon as possible.
Next, review the accounts you’ve earmarked for retirement income, including any employer benefits. Start with your employer-sponsored plan, and then consider any IRAs and traditional investment accounts you may own. Try to estimate how much income they could provide on a monthly basis. If you are married, be sure to include your spouse’s retirement accounts as well. If your employer provides a traditional defined benefit pension plan, contact the plan administrator for an estimate of that monthly benefit amount as well.
Do you have rental income? Be sure to include that in your calculations. Might you continue to work? Some retirees find that they are able to consult, turn a hobby into an income source, or work part-time. Such income can provide a valuable cushion that helps retirees postpone tapping their investment accounts, giving the assets more time to potentially grow.
Some other ways to generate extra cash during retirement include purchasing an immediate annuity, selling off valuables that you no longer need, and participating in the sharing economy — e.g., Uber.
Pay off debt, power up your savings
Once you have an idea of what your possible expenses and income look like, it’s time to bring your attention back to the here and now. Draw up a plan to pay off debt and power up your retirement savings before you retire.
Why pay off debt? Entering retirement debt-free — including paying off your mortgage — will put you in a position to modify your monthly expenses in retirement if the need arises. On the other hand, entering retirement with a mortgage, loans, and credit-card balances will put you at the mercy of those monthly payments. You’ll have less of an opportunity to scale back your spending if necessary.
Why power up your savings? In these final few years before retirement, you’re likely to be earning the highest salary of your career. Why not save and invest as much as you can in your employer-sponsored retirement savings plan and/or IRAs? Aim for maximum allowable contributions. And remember, if you’re 50 or older, you can take advantage of catch-up contributions, which enable you to contribute an additional $6,000 to your 401(k) plan and an extra $1,000 to your IRA in 2018.
In Part 2 of this two-part article we will discuss the importance of managing your income and other taxes and your health care costs. Stay tuned!
1 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey, Employee Benefit Research Institute
2 Note that if you work while receiving Social Security benefits and are under full retirement age, your benefits may be reduced until you reach full retirement age.
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