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Should You Return to Work or Retire Early?

By Katie Brockman – Jun 23, 2020 at 6:46AM

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Businesses are reopening and employees are going back to work. Is that the right move for you?

Over the past few months, millions of Americans have been ordered to stay home to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. Businesses have been forced to close their doors, and approximately 45 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits at some point during the coronavirus pandemic.

However, states that have implemented stay-at-home orders are beginning to lift those restrictions, allowing businesses to reopen. As a result, many unemployed workers have the opportunity to go back to their jobs.

Older man sitting in the kitchen looking at a laptop

Image source: Getty Images.

For those who are struggling to make ends meet and need income, this is good news. But for older adults and those with underlying health problems, going back to work could pose significant health risks. In some cases, then, it's worthwhile to consider the option of simply retiring early and not going back to work at all.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, so before you make any big decisions, be sure to carefully weigh the pros and cons.

Retiring early: The good and the bad

If you're in your 60s, COVID-19 could be a major threat to your health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those age 65 and older and those with underlying medical conditions such as diabetes or heart or lung disease are more likely to develop serious complications from COVID-19. If you're older and also experience health issues, your risk is even higher.

For those reasons, going back to work could potentially be putting your health in jeopardy -- particularly if your job involves a significant amount of contact with other people.

That said, choosing not to go back to work and retiring early also poses its own set of risks. You could run out of savings sooner than expected if you don't have a robust retirement fund, which could potentially force you to go back to work whether you want to or not. One-quarter of current retirees say it's at least somewhat likely they'll need to return to the workforce as a result of financial hardship caused by the coronavirus pandemic, according to a survey from Personal Capital. And if there's a second wave of the pandemic on the way, the stock market could potentially crash again and your savings could take a serious hit -- leaving you with even less to live on if you retire early.

In addition, you're not eligible to start collecting Social Security benefits until at least age 62, which could make it harder to make ends meet if you retire before that age. You also can't enroll in Medicare until age 65, and going without health insurance is particularly risky right now. Health insurance can be incredibly costly, too, so be sure you've built that expense into your budget if you're choosing to retire before age 65.

Which is the right option for you?

Ultimately, the decision to go back to work or retire early is yours and yours alone to make. If you have an extremely healthy nest egg and your health insurance needs are covered, there may be no harm in retiring a little earlier than planned. But if you're not 100% ready for this next chapter of your life, it may not be the best time to retire.

Keep in mind, too, that retiring early or going back to your old job may not be your only options. For example, you might start searching for a job that allows you to work remotely from the safety of your home. That will give you more time to save and prepare for retirement while avoiding many of the health risks of going into work.

Another option is to talk to your employer about setting up extra safety precautions. If you can't work from home, your employer might allow you to take a position that doesn't involve as much contact with the public or other employees -- thus limiting your risk of contracting COVID-19.

These are uncertain times, and if you're nearing retirement age, the coronavirus pandemic could throw off your plans. By weighing all your options and creating a strategy, however, you can go into your senior years as prepared as possible.

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