Retirement may look different in 2021 than it has in years past. The severe economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic could push many people to consider retiring early, with less saved than they may need. Here are 10 tips to help you tune up your retirement planning in the new year. All of them are essential—as is getting started on them as soon as possible.
- Be Ready for Early, Unplanned Retirement
According to a 2019 Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) survey, nearly half of retirees left the workforce before their target retirement age. And that was before the pandemic. So, even if retirement seems far off, now is a good time to start making a strategy for early retirement.
- Deal with Your Debt Immediately
The best time to pay off debt is while you’re still working. Prioritize eliminating and credit card balances, student loans, auto loans, and even mortgages to ease the debt burden later.
- Prepare a Health Insurance Strategy
Fidelity estimates that a typical American couple will spend almost $300,000 on things like co-pays, additional premiums and other uncovered medical expenses during their retirement years. Make a plan to sign up for Medicare in the months leading up to your 65th birthday, giving the coverage time to kick in. Have your retirement savings ready to help with expenses as well. If you’re forced to retire before age 65, make a plan to find coverage before you’re eligible for Medicare.
- Maximize Your HSA Contributions
A health savings account (HSA) is a great way to pay for health insurance premiums or other uncovered expenses later in life. If eligible, your contributions could grow tax free providing a great pot of emergency cash later in life.
- Understand Your Retirement Income Options
It’s best to get started on spending plans well in advance of retirement. Even if you can start collecting Social Security or taking 401(k) distributions, many people are better served putting off both for as long as possible. Make a long-term plan with a financial advisor who understands these choices’ nuances, including the tax and estate planning consequences. Retirement can last for decades, so you need to keep investing for the future, even as you begin to spend your savings.
- Practice Retirement Spending Now
Keep track of your spending to provide yourself a realistic picture of your income requirements in the first year of retirement. Make adjustments as needed—you might not spend as much on commuting costs when you aren’t working; perhaps you’ll spend more on travel—but you’ll find this to be a good guide to what life may cost during early retirement.
- Did You Take Out a Coronavirus Hardship Withdrawal?
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES) Act eased the rules for taking early withdrawals from tax-advantaged retirement accounts. People who were impacted by Covid-19 were permitted to withdraw up to $100,000 from retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs. CARES waived early withdrawal penalties, but you still owed any applicable income taxes on the amount—although you had the option to spread the tax bill over three years. If you took the withdrawal, consider paying the tax bill all at once since your tax bracket is likely to be lower in 2020 than afterward.
- Reassess Your Post-Crisis Risk Tolerance
How would you respond to another financial crisis? Think about building your safety net to prepare for the next inevitable emergency. While retirement tools like Certificates of Deposit (CDs) are a traditionally safe option, start by being honest with yourself about when and where you can afford to take risks.
- Consider Part-Time Work for Retirement
Whether you’re already retired or you’re making plans for retirement, now’s a good time to think about how you might earn additional income in retirement by taking a part-time job. Take on gig work or figure out how to turn a hobby or skill into extra income. Every extra dollar you earn is a dollar that can keep gaining value in a retirement account for potentially decades.
- Should You Postpone Retirement?
Take some time to review where you stand. Given all the current economic uncertainty, it is perfectly understandable to consider postponing your retirement plans. Regardless of your particular financial situation, the same retirement principles apply as always: reduce spending, plan for surprises, make conservative decisions on retirement savings and Social Security, and keep earning income if you can.
- Be Ready for Early, Unplanned Retirement