Whether you're aiming to retire in the not-so-distant future, or in a number of years, the more you plan for it, the more you're apt to enjoy it. Here are a few important milestones you should aim to hit in the course of your planning.
1. Save 10 times your ending salary
Because Social Security will only replace a portion of your pre-retirement income, you'll need a solid nest egg to ensure that you're able to keep up with your expenses once your paycheck goes away. And while there are different guidelines out there regarding how much to save, one good rule of thumb is to sock away the equivalent of 10 times your ending salary. This means that if you're in your mid-60s earning $100,000 a year, you should aim for $1 million in your IRA or 401(k).
If you're nowhere close, aim to ramp up in the coming years, or consider putting in a few extra years in the workforce. Setting aside $1,000 a month in a retirement plan for three more years will give an additional $36,000 for your golden years, and that doesn't even account for growth on your investments.
2. Devise a Social Security filing strategy
Although Social Security will only replace about 40% of your pre-retirement salary if you're an average earner, those benefits will still come in handy once you stop working. As such, it pays to make the most of them, which is why you need to establish a smart strategy for claiming them in advance of retirement. Though your benefits are calculated based on your earnings history, the age you file for them at will impact how much money you wind up with each month.
If you file at your precise full retirement age (either 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on your year of birth), you'll get the exact monthly benefit your wage history allows for. If you file before full retirement age (you can do so as early as age 62), you'll get your money sooner, but face a reduction in benefits. And if you delay benefits past full retirement age, you'll boost them by 8% a year until you turn 70. Read up on how Social Security works so you can land on the best age to start collecting your money.
3. Pay off your debt
Once you retire, you'll move over to a fixed income, which means it pays to eliminate as many monthly bills as possible prior to leaving the workforce. If you're sitting on debt, whether it's of the credit card, mortgage, or even student loan variety, paying it off prior to retirement will result in much less financial stress down the line. Assuming you're dealing with debt in all of these categories, attacking your credit card debt first is your best bet, since it's the least healthy kind to have and generally comes with the highest rate of interest. From there, you can move on to pay off any remaining student loans before knocking out your mortgage.
4. Sock away funds for healthcare
Healthcare is the one expense that tends to rise in retirement. The reason? Between Medicare premiums, deductibles, copays, and coverage gaps, it's easy to spend a small fortune on healthcare, especially if you enter your golden years with preexisting medical issues. That's why it's helpful to have a dedicated source of income to pay your healthcare costs, and to this end, a health savings account (HSA) is your best bet.
To fund an HSA, you must be on a high-deductible health insurance plan, but if you qualify to contribute, take advantage of that opportunity to the greatest extent possible. Even if you're close to retirement, maxing out your contributions for a few years will give you some money that's earmarked for healthcare expenses off the bat, which will at least ease that burden for a short while.
5. Secure long-term care coverage
It's estimated that 70% of seniors 65 and older will need some amount of long-term care in their lifetime, and unfortunately, Medicare won't cover it. That's why it's crucial to buy long-term care insurance prior to retirement. Without it, you risk enormous out-of-pocket costs if the need to reside in a nursing home or assisted living facility arises. Though your 50s are the ideal time to apply for long-term care insurance, many seniors apply in their 60s and not only get approved, but also snag reasonably affordable rates on their premiums.
Making the right moves in preparation for retirement will help ensure that your golden years are comfortable and stress-free, at least from a financial perspective. Hit these key milestones, and you'll be sitting pretty once you're ready to bring your career to a close.