What's the best age to retire? It's a question countless workers ask themselves every day. Pinpointing the right retirement age isn't easy, as each choice comes with its own consequences. Leave the workforce at 62, for example, and you'll slash your Social Security benefits should the need arise to claim them right away. But, you'll also get more years of payments, not to mention the ability to enjoy some downtime when you're younger and are apt to have more energy.
It's also easy to make the case for retiring at 70. Doing so will allow you to maximize your retirement plan contributions for longer while boosting your Social Security benefits. On the other hand, you'll have a shorter retirement to look forward to.
Clearly, there's no right or wrong answer for picking a retirement age. What you should do, though, is keep these key rules in mind when making your decision.
1. Retire only once you've saved enough
It's not a secret that most older workers are behind on retirement savings. In fact, the average household aged 56 to 61 has $163,577 socked away, but when we look at the median savings balance for that age group, that number drops to just $17,000. And that's hardly enough to pay the bills in retirement, even with Social Security factored into the equation.
When deciding when to retire, you'll need to think seriously about the sort of lifestyle you want, and then make sure your savings level can support it. If that's not the case, and you don't want to compromise on certain luxuries, then you'll need to work longer until your savings catch up to your expectations. It's really that simple.
Say you have a healthy $500,000 nest egg come age 66, but you determine that you really need closer to $600,000 to maintain the lifestyle you desire. If you don't want to cut corners, then you'll need to keep working until you save that additional $100,000. That might mean plugging away until age 70 -- or even beyond, depending on your personal savings rate, but the key is to keep at it until your savings are where they need to be, as opposed to just landing on an age that sounds nice.
2. Do what makes sense for your health
Just as your finances should heavily dictate your retirement age, so too should your health play an equally important role. For example, if your health is suffering because of your job (say, your commute is physically taxing, or your stress level is through the roof), then it might pay to retire earlier and adjust your lifestyle to compensate.
On the other hand, if you like your job and are physically able to keep doing it, it often pays to retire later. Not only can working longer help you financially, but leaving your job might cause your mental health to decline. Retirees are 40% more likely to suffer from depression than workers, so if you think leaving the workforce at 66 will increase your odds, it pays to stay longer, even if your savings level is such that you could quit your job at a moment's notice.
Your health should also play a role in determining when you file for Social Security -- a move that often goes hand in hand with retiring. You're allowed to claim Social Security as early as age 62 and as late as age 70, but its formula is designed to pay you roughly the same amount in lifetime benefits regardless of when you first file. There's just one catch, though -- you'll need to live an average life expectancy. If your health is poor, then it often pays to file as early as you can, because doing so will help you get the most from your benefits. On the other hand, if your health is fantastic and you expect to live a notably long life, you'll do better Social Security-wise by waiting on your benefits as long as possible.
3. Don't go in blindly
One final rule about retirement is that you need an actual plan, regardless of age, for how you'll spend your days. If your goal is to start a business, make sure it's a feasible idea, and start laying the groundwork before retirement so you're able to dive right in and stay occupied once you leave your primary job. If you're expecting to work part-time to not just cover your bills in retirement, but give yourself someplace to go during the day, do some research and make sure local businesses are hiring.
Finally, if your goal is to enjoy your leisure time and not work at all, come up with a concrete list of things you actually want to do. Maybe you're hoping to travel, or take a class at your local community college. You're more likely to wind up content in retirement if you go in having already figured out what you'll be doing with all of that time.
Picking the right retirement age boils down to honestly evaluating your health and savings, and going in prepared. Satisfy these criteria, and you'll probably find that choosing the ideal age to retire isn't so difficult after all.
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