4 Steps to Take If You Are Forced Into Early Retirement

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Every year, many retirees are forced into an early retirement. In fact, according to a data analysis conducted by ProPublica and the Urban Institute, 56% of workers over age 50 have been fired from or have likely been pushed out of a job at least once.

Other workers retire early because they're no longer healthy enough to work or they need to take care of an ailing family member.

No matter what circumstances lead you to retire earlier than planned, you may need to rethink your financial plan for both the short and long term. Your original plans may have to be totally reworked, and you may find that things you had accounted for are no longer needed. Regardless, there are steps you can take to move from the defensive to the offensive with your financial strategy.

1. Review Your Benefits

While you probably didn’t anticipate needing them yet, you'll need to consider when and how to begin tapping any benefits that are available to you. That includes things like Social Security, options for health care, and your spouse’s benefits. If you're not able to claim Social Security yet because you haven't reached age 62 and you're waiting until age 65 to be eligible for Medicare, you may need to look into alternative options for health care.

2. Review Your Investments

You’ll need to make some decisions about your 401(k), IRA accounts, and other investments. It may be best to postpone withdrawing any money from these sources to preserve your retirement savings. Otherwise, you’ll need to start curbing your expenses to match your income from your investments.

If some investments aren’t giving you the returns you expected, it may be best to sell them and save the money. Remember, however, that selling investments can trigger a capital gains tax if you're selling at a profit.

You should also think about the order in which you should withdraw from your investment accounts. From a tax perspective, it typically makes more sense to withdraw from taxable accounts first to allow your 401(k) or IRA to continue growing tax-deferred.

3. Consider Your Pension Payments

If you have a pension, you need to consider whether to take it as a lump sum or receive it in monthly installments. Both of these options could work well, but it depends on your situation.

If you are an experienced investor or are working with a financial advisor, you might find that a lump sum is beneficial so you can build on it with the right assets. If you want to rely on it as part of your monthly income, taking it in installments may be best.

Keep in mind that if your pension was funded even partially by you using before-tax dollars, your pension payments are partially taxable. This is important to keep in perspective as you manage withdrawals from various accounts to minimize your tax liability.

4. Estimate How Long Your Money Will Last

Look at all of your available income and estimate how long that money will last based on your expenses and budget. You’ll see where you need to make adjustments and how they’ll affect your lifestyle.

Focus on the larger expenses first, such as housing and health care. Then zero in on the other expenses in your budget, such as transportation, food, entertainment, personal care, and travel.

Compare the total monthly cost of running your household to the amount you may be drawing from Social Security and from your retirement accounts. Then factor in your anticipated life expectancy to get an idea of how long your money is likely to last, based on your estimated withdrawal rate.

If you risk coming up short, you may need to review your spending or consider how you can generate additional income, either through full- or part-time work or by investing in an income-producing product like an annuity.