• 4-Minute Article
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  • Apr 24, 2018

5 Things to Consider if You Want to Retire Early

Retiring in your 50s or early 60s might be appealing, but it requires careful planning. Consider these five factors to help determine whether an early retirement might make financial sense.

Smiling woman in white shirt featured in an article about things to consider in retiring early

Working until at least age 65 is a common assumption when planning for retirement,1 but some people dream of retiring earlier than that. In fact, a recent survey found that 26% of people working today say they expect to retire before age 65.2 Whether early retirees hope to use that additional time to pursue passions outside their career or simply to enjoy more time for travel, family, or hobbies, early retirement requires careful consideration and planning.

Here are five factors to consider that can help make an early retirement achievable.

Desired Retirement Lifestyle

Lifestyle choices can have a big impact on retirement expenses. An early retirement filled with travel and expensive hobbies might require more savings compared to one focused on volunteering or part-time work.

Share a detailed vision of your retirement lifestyle with a financial advisor, who can help determine estimated savings needs. It’s also important to consider the impact of inflation on future expenses — especially when planning for a retirement that might last 40 years or more. Consider something that costs $100 today: At a 3% average inflation rate, that item would cost more than $300 at the end of a 40-year retirement.

Strategy for Accelerating Savings

Early retirees have fewer working years to save, and they will need those savings to last potentially 40 to 50 years, versus a more typical estimate for a retirement that might last 20 to 30 years, based on average life expectancies.3 For that reason, an aggressive strategy to maximize savings can help meet an early retirement date. Potential approaches include:

  • Make catch-up contributions to retirement accounts. IRS regulations allow people over age 50 to contribute extra money to their 401(k)s and IRAs. Those catch-up amounts were $6,000 for 401(k)s and $1,000 for IRAs in 2018, but the amounts can change from year to year.
  • Save additional money outside of traditional retirement savings accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs, which penalize withdrawals taken before the age of 59½. With investments such as stocks, bonds, and CDs, assets are available for withdrawal without age restrictions.

Work with a financial professional to develop a strategy for boosting retirement savings while still having enough money to meet short-term goals. (See our article on balancing competing financial priorities for more information.)

Guaranteed Sources of Retirement Income

Early retirees have special needs to consider when developing an income strategy. They may have to wait to access certain income sources, as people under age 59½ can’t tap savings from qualified retirement accounts such as a 401(k) without paying a 10% early withdrawal penalty (as well as income tax on their withdrawals). In addition, people under age 62 can’t claim Social Security benefits, and those who claim Social Security before full retirement age (which ranges from age 65–67, depending on birth year) also will receive a smaller monthly benefit.

Drawing on savings earlier and for a longer duration may increase the risk of outliving retirement savings, known as longevity risk. To help work around these factors, people planning an early retirement may want to consider additional income sources to help cover expenses. Some approaches include:

  • Turn a hobby or passion into a side business for additional income, or pursuing part-time work in an area of interest outside of an existing career.
  • Put a portion of savings into an annuity. Early retirees could begin collecting guaranteed income right away with an immediate annuity , or use a deferred annuity to begin providing income on a future date of their choosing. Some annuities offer guaranteed lifetime income payments, which can help protect against longevity risk. Withdrawals can be made before income payments begin, but that approach reduces the account value and could result in surrender charges or other fees.

Amount of Debt

Eliminating as much debt as possible before retirement frees up cash flow that can be used to cover other expenses. People considering early retirement can examine whether they can afford the same level of monthly debt payments if they have less monthly income once they stop working full time.

For those who need help reducing their debt load, here are a few options:

  • Consider paying off higher interest debt, such as credit cards.
  • Also consider paying off a mortgage ahead of retirement. The average mortgage payment for people over age 65 accounts for about 14% of their annual pre-tax income,4 so eliminating that debt can reduce expenses significantly. Read our other article on important considerations when trying to decide whether to pay off a mortgage before retirement.

Consult a financial professional to help develop a personalized debt management strategy.

Coverage for Medical Costs

Healthcare planning is also slightly different with an earlier retirement date. Many early retirees are no longer covered by employer-sponsored health insurance plans, but may be too young to qualify for Medicare. However, there are ways to help bridge potential health insurance coverage gaps.

For those with employee-sponsored health insurance, COBRA benefits allow employees to keep their health insurance for the first 18 months after leaving a job. COBRA can be expensive, though, as employees must pay for all of their monthly premiums (including the amount the employer used to cover) plus a 2% administration fee.

People who choose a high-deductible health insurance plan also might qualify for a health savings account (HSA), which allows account holders to make contributions until age 65 that grow tax-free — plus, funds can be withdrawn tax-free to pay for qualified medical expenses. Once HSA owners reach the age of 65, these funds can be used for any use without penalty (however, withdrawals for non-medical expenses will be subject to income taxes).

Choosing the right retirement date depends on a range of factors, but considering these factors can help determine whether an early retirement is a viable option. If early retirement sounds appealing, a financial professional can help craft a detailed plan to help achieve that goal.