The finish line is in sight. You're about to trade in your 9-to-5 for some well-deserved R&R, and you couldn't be more excited. But don't be in such a hurry that you fail to plan appropriately for retirement. The last thing you want is to spend your golden years worrying about how you're going to pay the bills. Here are four important steps that everyone should take before transitioning into retirement.
1. Decide when you're going to take Social Security
You can begin claiming Social Security at 62, but it's important to recognize that if you start this early, you won't receive your full benefit amount. Full retirement age for most working adults today is either 66 or 67, depending on the year you were born. For every month before your full retirement age that you take Social Security, your benefit amount will be reduced. If your full retirement age is 66 and you begin taking benefits at 62, you will only receive 75% of your total benefit amount per check. If your full retirement age is 67, you will only receive 70% of your benefit amount.
Conversely, for every month after your hit full retirement age that you wait to take Social Security, your benefits will be increased. This maxes out at age 70. At that point, you would receive 124% or 132% of your scheduled benefit, depending on whether your full retirement age is 67 or 66.
You can get an idea of what your Social Security benefit will be by creating a my Social Security account. Then, play around with the numbers to see how taking Social Security earlier or later than your full retirement age will affect your monthly payment. If you are going to take Social Security early, make sure that you have enough money saved up in your retirement accounts to make up for the smaller monthly checks.
2. Re-evaluate your retirement budget
Planning a budget for retirement is challenging because it's impossible to predict how long you're going to live, what inflation's going to do, and what unexpected expenses are going to arise. The best that you can do is make educated guesses and try to give yourself a little extra cushion just in case.
The average 65-year-old can expect to live another 20 years or so. That means you'll need money to cover your living expenses for at least that long. Tally up what your living expenses amount to each year, and then factor in 3% annually for inflation. You can also just use a retirement calculator to help you figure out how much you need. If you've done the previous step, then you should know about how much Social Security will cover for you. You can subtract that amount from the total to figure out what you need to save on your own.
If you don't have enough for the retirement you planned on, you'll have to make some adjustments. You may need to work a little longer, delay Social Security, or find a way to cut spending in retirement. It's better to make these adjustments now before you retire than to try to make up for dwindling savings down the road.
3. Make sure you can cover healthcare costs
The average couple retiring today will need $280,000 to cover healthcare costs, according to Fidelity. This includes paying Medicare premiums for Part B, which covers medical procedures, and Part D, which covers prescription medications, plus deductibles and coinsurance requirements. Ideally, you'll be healthy into your old age and you won't need to spend this much on healthcare, but you don't want to take that chance. When you're figuring how much you need for retirement, add an extra $280,000 to cover these costs, and keep in mind that the cost of Medicare could also rise over time.
If you have a history of serious illness in your family, you may also want to consider investing in long-term care coverage. This pays for the cost of assisted living, hospice care, and home modification to accommodate disabilities if you need it. The cost of long-term care insurance varies depending on the age at which you apply and the company you choose, but you can expect to spend a couple thousand dollars per year on average for this coverage.
4. Switch to low-risk investment products
This isn't the point in your life where you want to take big risks with your money. If you were to lose it, you wouldn't have enough time to make the money back before you needed to draw upon it. You want your money in low-risk investments so there's less chance of a catastrophic loss -- even though it'll typically mean accepting a lower rate of return.
If you're invested in target-date funds, there's probably nothing you need to do. These funds are designed to become more conservative as the target date approaches. Bonds and bank CDs are another relatively safe bet, although rising interest rates can pose a threat to the value of bonds and bond mutual funds over time. You can always consult with a financial advisor for more specific advice if you're unsure of the best place to put your money.
Retirement should be a fun, relaxing time. And it will be, as long as you take the time to understand your financial needs and shore up any gaps in your plan. Following the four steps listed above will go a long way toward keeping your retirement on the right track.
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