Sometimes retiring early is unavoidable. If you're struggling with chronic health issues, or if you're laid off from your job in your early 60s and see no prospect of getting another, it just makes sense to go ahead and retire. On the other hand, claiming Social Security early can put a serious crimp in your income later on: Starting Social Security payments before full retirement age means your benefit checks will be permanently reduced. But if you can scrape together enough income from other sources, you can wait to claim Social Security until the most financially practical time for you.
Here are five ways to fill the income gap between the day you retire and the day you start collecting retirement benefits.
Buy an annuity
If you retire early, it may make sense to take a chunk of money and use it to buy an immediate fixed annuity. These annuities pay you a set amount of money every month for the rest of your life. That makes them something of a substitute for Social Security, and if you have cash to buy a substantial annuity, you may be able to delay taking Social Security for years, thereby letting your eventual benefit amount grow.
A caveat: Annuities are complex products that come with fairly restrictive terms, so do plenty of research on your options before buying one. You can start by learning some of the basics here.
Construct a bond ladder
Bonds are an excellent source of guaranteed income in the form of interest payments -- but the drawback is that in order to get a decent return on investment these days, you need to purchase fairly long-term bonds, which means your principal will be tied up for years and years. Bond ladders help you to get around this problem. To construct a bond ladder, you buy bonds with different maturity dates so that you will regularly have bonds reaching maturity and releasing principal back to you. As you get your principal back, you use it to buy new bonds and keep the ladder going. Another perk of bond ladders is that if interest rates go up, you'll be able to take advantage of the new rates as you continually buy new issues to replace the bonds that have matured. While interest rates are quite low even on long-term bonds, a good bond ladder can provide a substantial amount of income.
Buy dividend stocks
With their exceptionally high long-term returns, stocks are an excellent money maker. However, in order to realize the income from a stock's increased value, you have to sell it. An alternative way to get income from stocks is to buy ones that pay regular, high dividends to their stockholders. While dividends aren't as reliable a source of income as bond interest payments, if you invest in dividend aristocrats -- companies that have paid dividends for at least 25 consecutive years -- then those payments are likely to keep coming, and increasing, for many years. This strategy works well for retirees, because dividend aristocrats also tend to be large, stable companies that are unlikely to suffer from high volatility.
Get income from your house
The above strategies require a retiree to have a substantial chunk of money at their disposal. If your accounts aren't quite so well-funded, you might not be able to generate enough income from them to get by without Social Security. In that case, your house may be the resource you need to make up your income gap. If you have more house than you require, renting out a room might be an excellent source of income -- especially if you live in a college town. A somewhat more permanent option would be to get a reverse mortgage on your house, but before you pursue this option, make sure that you understand all the consequences of doing so. Finally, if all you need is a little extra cash to smooth out your cash flow, a home equity line of credit can help.
The side hustle is an increasingly popular way to make money at any age, and the best side hustles are the ones you actually enjoy doing. Your favorite hobby might be just the thing to bring in some extra cash; it's clearly something you enjoy doing, since you're doing it now without being paid for it. You may be surprised by how many people would be willing to pay you for the fruits of your labor. So if you practice any sort of craft, from sewing to building bird houses, try setting up a shop on Etsy or a similar site and peddling your wares. If you love gardening, look for a local farmers market and figure out what it would take to set up a profitable booth. And if you have years of experience in a job that can be done without leaving a computer, then you may be able to find freelance work online. There are several websites that exist solely to connect freelance workers with companies that have a short-term need for help.
A side hustle likely won't pay the bills on its own, but combined with the other options above, it could help you stay afloat until you reach full retirement age -- and finally claim those Social Security benefits.