A significant birthday can lead you to take stock—and take action, research has found. In this series of stories, you’ll see how to apply that newfound motivation to your finances at age 50, 60, and 65.
When you turn 60, all the retirement planning you’ve been doing for decades no longer feels like a drill. Your last day at the office isn’t so far off, you can already pull money from your retirement plans penalty free, and you’ll be able to collect Social Security in just two years (not that you should).
Still, you’re not retired yet. But you are at a point when you need to get serious about key retirement decisions, including when you’ll retire, where you might live, and what you’ll live on. And it may be time to bring in professional help.
1. Get specific with your retirement wishes
You’ve probably chatted about retirement with your family, but have you gotten down to the brass tacks—and do you know what your significant other wants, if you’re part of a couple? When do you both hope to retire, and will you do so at the same time? What will retirement will look like? Lots of travel? Volunteering? Moving? A part-time job?
“You’d be shocked at the number of married couples who sit down with me, who do not have a consensus on when they want to retire,” says Kristi Sullivan, a financial planner in Denver. “They don’t even talk about it at all.”
In the most recent Fidelity Couples & Money Study, 43% of couples disagreed when asked at what age they planned to retire—including a third of baby boomers—and 54% had different answers on how much they needed to save.
Planning together can be fun, and should be thought of as a series of conversations you’ll have over time rather than a one-and-done deal. You might start with a simple exercise: Jot down when you want to retire, what your top three activities will be, where you imagine living, and whether you’ll do any work for pay, and write down what you think your spouse will answer as well.
Have your partner do the same thing, and then exchange papers. Your answers, especially the points of diversion, will help drive a discussion of your retirement hopes and dreams. A glass of wine or a cold brew might facilitate it as well.
2. Get on top of the numbers
Think about it. How much will you spend a year in retirement? “Most people go through their whole lives and careers not knowing how much they spend regularly,” Sullivan says. “Look at your expenses realistically. That’s really not going to change in retirement.”
Knowing how much you’re spending now will help you figure out if your retirement savings are on track—or if you have to make adjustments like working longer or saving more.
The 2018 Transamerica Retirement Survey found that even older worker guess about how much they need for retirement. Among baby boomers, 45% admit to guessing, while only 27% are basing their savings target on estimated expenses. Fewer than one in 10 have used a retirement calculator.
To put together a simple budget, sign up for Mint, which lets you link your financial accounts and track your spending by category. Want more in-depth tracking, along with access to financial workshops? You might try You Need a Budget ($6.99 a month, with a one-month free trial).
While you’re on a roll with this get-on-top-of-your-numbers stuff, plug your savings and other key info into a retirement calculator like this one or this one to see if you’re setting aside enough for retirement.
3. Pick your best date for Social Security
You’re only two years away from being able to claim Social Security—but will you? Since the earlier you start the lower your benefits will be for the rest of your life, financial experts say to wait as long as possible.
If your full retirement age is 67 (or 66 and change, if you were born between 1955 and 1960) and you retire at 62, your benefits will be 28% to 30% lower than at full retirement age. And for every year you wait after full retirement age until age 70, your benefits go up another 8%.
Sounds nice, but most people don’t wait that long, and you may have good reasons not to (for questions to ask to determine what’s best for you, go here). Key considerations include your work plans, your health, and what other assets you have to support you while you wait.
For basic assistance, you can start with the Social Security Administration (SSA)—reach them at 800-772-1213. “They’re not going to help you game the system, but if you ask them good questions, they’re going to give you good feedback,” says Gregory Ostrowski, a financial planner in Annapolis, Maryland.
Or you can use SSA’s Retirement Estimator tool to run various scenarios based on different claiming ages, using your actual earnings record. One downside: The tool doesn’t take your spouse’s benefits into account.
Two other free calculators that do take marital considerations into account may also be helpful: Planning for Retirement from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Target Your Retirement from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
Or, for a $40 annual subscription fee, you can get an in-depth analysis, considering all factors, and a recommendation about the best age for you to claim at MaximizeMySocialSecurity.com, developed by Boston University economics professor Laurence Kotlikoff, co-author of the best-selling Get What’s Yours: The Secret to Maxing Out Your Social Security.
4. Map out an income plan for retirement
While you can now tap retirement accounts such as your 401(k) or IRA without owing a 10% early withdrawal penalty since you’re older than 59 1/2, it’s still best to wait and not touch them until you’ve stopped working.
What you do want to do now: Work out a plan for your drawing down these accounts for income when you do retire—one that will help ensure your money lasts as long as you do. That way, you still have time to adjust the age when you stop working, if your calculations suggest you might run short.
As a rough rule of thumb, experts suggest a “safe” amount to withdraw is about 4% of your balance, with the amount adjusted annually for inflation. Studies, such as this Vanguard report, suggest that, to minimize taxes, you should probably first take money from taxable accounts before withdrawing from your 401(k), IRA, and other tax-deferred or tax-free savings.
It’s complicated stuff, and the stakes are high. Which is why the smartest decision of all at this point might be to meet with a financial advisor, either for a one-time consultation or on an ongoing basis, to assess where you stand and devise a game plan.
You can search for a planner through the Financial Planning Association or the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA), as well as the Garrett Planning Network. Look for a fee-only planner, who charges either a flat fee, an hourly rate, or a percentage of your assets for services rather than taking a commission.
5. Think about where you’ll live
While you may not be in a rush to move at age 60, now’s the time to start thinking about whether your home is practical for you at age 70 or 75, or once there’s only one of you left in the house. Do you want to live there indefinitely?
If downsizing is in the cards, make sure your plan is realistic. You may be mentally mapping out a retirement where you live in a smaller house and see your home expenses shrink, but that may not be as easy as you think.
“There are many things in life that seem a lot better on paper than they are in practice, and downsizing is one of those things,” says Sean Pearson, a financial planner with Ameriprise Financial in Conshohocken, Pa. “When people downsize, they look for these smaller houses, which aren’t being built, and if they’re being built, they’re on golf courses and they cost more than your current house.”
Make sure you and your partner agree on where you hope to live later, and research home prices now. You can use this calculator from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College to estimate how your monthly housing expenses could change if you move, and this tool from Bankrate lets you compare the cost of living in various U.S. towns.
6. Research retirement communities
Even if you’re not considering moving into a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) until your 70s, these senior facilities frequently have years-long waiting lists and require a deposit.
If this is part of your game plan, start your research now. Cary Carbonaro, a financial planner in the New York City area suggests peppering any potential community with questions: “Do they do a million day trips? How are the facilities? How’s the food?” Plus ask to look at the financials, she says. You don’t want to wait a decade to join a CCRC that goes bankrupt in the meantime.
7. Take care of the big expenses
Are you going to need a new car soon? How’s the roof on your house? Is there a home remodel you’ve vaguely planned? Get the ball rolling on large one-time outlays while you still have a salary.
“Get the big expenses out of the way before retirement,” Sullivan says. “But don’t raid your 401(k) to do it. Do it from current income.”