Updated: 6/14/2012 3:25 PM ET|
6 keys to a great early retirement
Start thinking now about how to take your pension, set up Social Security and, yes, how you'll spend your time. You'll have much more fun later on.
It's every worker bee's dream -- to lie in a hammock or on a beach, to swing a nine iron or hit the open road in the ole Winnebago. Ah, to be free from the workaday world while you're still young!
Maybe for you it's not just a dream. Let's assume for a moment that your insurance policies are in order and you've got enough money socked away to trade your power suit for some baggy Bermuda shorts. That's excellent.
Before you slam that file cabinet drawer and turn in your parking pass, though, let's go over the details one more time. After all, you may live 30 years or more in this state of retired bliss, and a mistake now -- like failing to plan for emergency expenses or long-term care -- could make things a lot less blissful later.
Let's start with the most basic question: resources.
Somewhere in all of the paperwork you'll sign before you walk out the door may be a form that asks whether you want your accumulated pension to come to you in one big chunk or in monthly payments. Talk this over with your accountant or financial adviser, because there are a lot of things to consider.
"Annuity payments are steady, which is a positive, and they last a lifetime, but you don't know where you're going to be 15 years down the road," says Robert Doyle, the president and CIO of Doyle Wealth Management in St. Petersburg, Fla. "You may have a catastrophic need, and a $500-a-month annuity payment isn't going to help you if you have a $20,000 emergency medical bill. If you take a lump sum, you're in the driver's seat."
Make sure your pension plan deposits that windfall directly into an IRA, though, or you'll get hit with a 20% withholding tax.
A downside of taking a lump sum is that it may sever your relationship with the company's entire retirement plan, including any health insurance that may have been included.
As for monthly payments, there are nearly as many options as there are types of pension plans, so take the time to read the fine print and ask questions. You can take higher payments now and have payments end when you die, or take a slightly smaller amount now and have payments continue to your surviving spouse after your death. Those survivor benefits are usually only half of what you were getting, but they may be better than nothing. Again, read the fine print.
Once your old pension has rolled into your new IRA, you theoretically can't touch it until you're 59-1/2 without paying a penalty and taxes. But that's not exactly true in all cases. You can take some of it out if you become disabled, or to pay certain medical expenses. You can even use it to buy a home or pay for a family member's education. Or you can use IRS Rule 72t, which allows you to set up a monthly payment plan that you commit to for a minimum of five years. It's based on your life expectancy and how much you've got in your IRA, but under the right circumstances, you actually could decide to take out, say, $1,000 a month for five years, without any penalty, as long as you committed to doing it regularly for five years. You'd pay taxes on it, of course, but you would in effect have created your own annuity. Just remember that everything you spend is not going to be available to you later in life.
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Don't retire too early. Your Social Security payment is based on the average of your best 35 years of work, adjusted for inflation, so if you retire too soon some of those 35 years will be computed as zeros. Let's say, for example, that you started work after college, at age 22. That means you won't have 35 years of earnings on the books until you're 57, and those zeros can put a big drag on your average income.
So if you earned an annual average of $60,000 over your best 35 years, your benefit will be computed on that $60,000. If you worked only 30 years and then went to lie on a beach somewhere, your Social Security benefit will be computed as the average of those 30 years at $60,000 plus another five years at a whopping $0. That brings your best-35-years' average down to just over $51,000, which, depending on the age you retire, could cut significantly into your benefit.
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This piece started with something few will have - a pension choice (much less one including health). Why not start with a plan for withdrawals from a pre-taxed source that was separately saved in conjunction with retirement contributions? If you are retiring early, some sort of 'bridge' has to be in place to get you from the starting point to 65 or 67. A bridge that is not part-time work (work does not necessarily sound like retirement if it is needed to survive). That bridge also needs to be enough to cover health insurance. I have one of these, it isn't so substantial right now, but in a couple of years when the house is paid for, a greater amount will go in - about 8 to 10 additional years worth of full mortgage payments put away as the 'bridge'.
The remainder of the piece, can't argue too much, although it irks me to read of reverse mortgages - which should be reserved for only the most dire of circumstances. At least there wasn't mention of an inheritance.
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