How to Tell Whether It's Time to Retire

Woman working in wood shop

Trinette Reed / Stocksy United

Considering whether to retire is one of the most difficult career decisions a worker can make. Employees are often earning their maximum income at the point of retirement, so the financial implications can be profound.

Careful planning about the transition from full-time employment to retirement can enhance your chances of making a smooth adjustment. There are many elements to consider before making a final decision.

Be Sure You Really Want to Retire

Don't confuse an unsatisfying job situation with an imperative to retire. Ask yourself if you would still retire if you were carrying out your job duties in a better work environment.

Check Out Alternative Careers

Employees who are working in a job that is not a good match for their skills, values, and interests are more likely to rush a retirement. Make sure that you wouldn't be happier with a career change than with retirement. If you have any doubts, consult a career counselor and see if you come up with any inspiring alternatives.

Make Sure You Can Afford It

Track your expenses so that you have a realistic handle on how much income you will need to sustain your preferred lifestyle. One commonly cited goal is to have saved enough money so that for each year of your retirement, you'll have at your disposal 70% to 80% of the income you earned annually prior to retirement.

Factor in changes that you could reasonably anticipate after retirement. For example, you would no longer be shelling out money for work clothes or commuting costs but you might spend more on vacations, entertainment, and dining out.

Meet With a Financial Planner

Consult a financial planner for additional insights into whether you have the money you'll need to retire. Visit the Social Security Administration website or your local office to obtain an estimate of your benefits. Reach out to representatives from your pension or 401(k) plans to identify your income potential from those sources.

Phase in Retirement

If you need to generate some income or would prefer to continue with some employment to keep busy, explore the possibility of reducing your hours at your current employer to phase in retirement. Your employer might also consider retaining you in some other, lesser role or as a consultant.

Investigate Health Insurance

If you're not yet of the age when you're eligible for Medicare, consider your options for health insurance coverage and know the costs. Meet with a member of the human resources staff of your current employer so that you are fully aware of any post-retirement benefits offered and the implications for your transition.

And don't count on Medicare to cover all your medical expenses after you retire. Fidelity Investments estimates that about 15% of the average retiree's annual expenses will be related to health care, including Medicare premiums. Fidelity also estimates the average couple who are now 65 will need $285,000 to cover medical costs in retirement—and that doesn't include long-term care.

Talk to Your Spouse

You may have decided you're ready to retire and know what you'd like to do once you're done working. But is your spouse on the same page? Make sure your retirement goals and expectations are in sync.

Do a Test Run if Possible

Perhaps the best way to prepare for retirement is to do a trial run. Test out some of your planned retirement pursuits while taking some time off. Or you might start to volunteer or do some consulting on the side to explore the viability of those options.