- Pension Annuity vs. Lump Sum – For retirees who get to choose a pension payment option, this can be one of the most important decisions they ever make. Actuarially speaking, there’s a good chance that your employer is thinking they are offering you the same amount of money whether you elect an annuity or the lump sum, but there are still things to consider. A lump sum offers a surge of money at retirement that can be more easily passed on to your heirs and better protect your purchasing power against inflation if it is properly invested, but a majority of clients I work with seem to find comfort in choosing the annuity option. In most cases, the monthly annuity amount will remain the same until the day you die. This may not help you against inflation, but if you live long enough, it could eventually mean more total money for you. In the meantime, an annuity feels like a paycheck, which is what retirees are used to, and the mental comfort that brings is the main reason I am usually a supporter of a pension annuity election. I also advise most clients to select a “joint and survivor option” if it is available so that a surviving spouse won’t lose their loved one and the benefits of their loved one’s annuity at the same time. This tactic usually costs the spouse whose pension it is a little bit of cash each check, but it can be a tremendous comfort to the other spouse.
- Required Minimum Distribution Planning – I’ve discussed this before, but age 70 ½ is an important half-birthday! I won’t take you back through all of the details we covered in my post “Required Minimum Distributions,” but I will say that you should factor this into your retirement planning. If things are a little tight on you before you have to start these distributions, or if the distributions are going to put you in a higher tax bracket once they begin, it may make sense to start prudently withdrawing from your retirement accounts before 70 ½. This could save you tax dollars and allow you a steadier lifestyle throughout retirement as opposed to cutting it close in your 60s and rolling in cash in your 70s. It’s just a thought, but one you should consider if you’re over 59 ½ (there could be penalties if you withdraw from retirement accounts before 59 ½).
- Social Security Strategy – Many people, including me, are concerned about the long-term solvency of the program as we know it going forward, but there are some Social Security strategies you should consider if your retirement cash flows are doing just fine when you turn 62. If you decide to claim Social Security retirement benefits at age 62 (the earliest applicable age), you are deemed to be collecting benefits “early,” and will only receive around 75% of the benefit you would receive at your “full retirement age.” (Currently, full retirement age is usually between age 66 and 67 for most people, but take a look at this chart to find your specific full retirement age.) If you wait until your full retirement age, you can receive 100% of your benefit, but if your retirement cash flow is still doing just fine at your full retirement age, it might be worth waiting until age 70, when you could receive around 132% of your benefit! That’s around 8% growth per year from age 66 to age 70, and that’s not a bad investment return if you ask me! Putting off claiming Social Security could provide you with more money in retirement if you live long enough, but at the same time, you could be shooting yourself in the foot if you end up passing away relatively young. I would suggest you consider your health and family history, and then consider how much Social Security income at age 62 would help before you decide to delay filing. If you do decide to delay, you can always start before your full retirement age or age 70 if you need to with a partially higher amount of benefits, but it’s probably not worth having beanie weenies in your 60s so you can have filet mignon in your 70s.
I hope you’re beginning to see that if you consider your spending and saving now versus later, the importance of starting off strong, your humble abode(s), your health insurance, and your retirement cash flow strategies, that there are many things you can do to put yourself in the position of having a chance to retire early. That being said, I’ve met plenty of people who could retire early but don’t and plenty of people who did retire early and wish they hadn’t. Some even went back to work! The How to Retire Early Series will conclude next week with a look at why you might not want to retire early even if you followed the advice of my previous posts and could. I hope you’ll check it out.