It can be difficult to determine if you are prepared to permanently exit the workforce. You need to save enough to last the rest of your life—and you'll need to manage that money to beat inflation and minimize taxes. Retirees should also have a plan for remaining connected to others and staying relevant in this new life stage. Here's how to tell if you are ready to retire.
Establish a retirement budget. Retirees no longer have to pay for professional work clothes or transportation to the office. But unless you enter retirement newly mortgage-free, most of your other expenses are likely to remain the same after you leave your job. "I don't find that people's expenses go down in retirement," says Leisa Brown Aiken, a certified financial planner for Veo Financial Counsel in Chicago. "You're probably going to spend as much or more as you spend now." If you plan to travel or take up new hobbies, your expenses could even increase in retirement.
Examine your cash flow. Most retirees receive income from several sources, including Social Security, pensions, investments, and increasingly, a part-time job. You need to make sure you will receive enough income from these or other sources to pay all of your monthly bills. Less common sources of retirement income include home equity, annuities, insurance, royalties, and rental income.
Size up your nest egg. How much you need to save for retirement depends on what your retirement expenses are and how much income you have coming in from other sources. Your savings needs to fill in the gap between your monthly living costs and your Social Security, pension, and other guaranteed sources of income. Retirement savers should estimate how long they will live and take steps to protect that money from inflation. Donald Duncan, a certified financial planner for D3 Financial Counselors in Downers Grove, Ill., says healthy baby boomers should plan as if they will live until at least age 90, and perhaps 100.
Develop a withdrawal strategy. Retirees need a plan for drawing down their assets. Most financial advisers say that you can safely spend 4 percent of your nest egg each year. Withdrawals from tax-deferred retirement accounts become required after age 70 ½. The withdrawal amount is calculated by dividing your IRA and 401(k) account balances by the Internal Revenue Service's estimate of your life expectancy. The penalty for failing to take out the correct amount is 50 percent of the amount that should have been withdrawn, in addition to regular income tax.
Minimize taxes. Your entire nest egg isn't available for spending in retirement. When you take money out of tax deferred 401(k)'s and IRAs in retirement, regular income tax is due on the withdrawals. If your tax bracket fluctuates from year to year, you can time your retirement account withdrawals to minimize taxes. "Do withdrawals or convert to a Roth when you are in a low tax bracket and, if you can, withdraw less when you are in a higher tax bracket," advises Aiken.
Maximize Social Security. Retirees can sign up for Social Security beginning three months before their 62nd birthday. But annual payments increase for each year you delay claiming until age 70. Seniors who sign up at age 62 get smaller payments over a longer period of time. But retirees who delay claiming will get higher payments in old age when they are less able to work and more likely to develop health problems.
Get health care coverage. Many people delay retirement until they become eligible for Medicare at age 65. Sign up right away to avoid a Medicare Part B premium increase of 10 percent for each 12-month period of delayed enrollment. You'll also need to shop around for the Medicare Part D plan that best meets your prescription drug needs. Those who retire before age 65 need to have a plan to purchase health insurance. Consider whether your employer provides health coverage to retirees, you are eligible for COBRA coverage, or will need to purchase your own individual policy. Health insurance exchanges will become operational in 2014.