5 Things You Must Do Before You Retire
Make these moves before you punch out to avoid nasty financial surprises and help your money last
Do you have an ample nest egg, wisely invested? Check.
How about firm plans to play golf (or otherwise enjoy your new leisure time) at least twice a week? Check.
It sounds like you’re well on your way to a happy retirement. To ensure a truly stress-free future, however, you should also check these tasks off your pre-retirement to-do list.
Pay off debts, including your mortgage
Coping with high-interest credit card debt is stressful even when you’re earning a paycheck. Imagine how it feels when you’re living on Social Security and your savings. So pay it off before you retire.
Also consider paying off your mortgage before you call it quits. Are you reluctant to give up the mortgage interest tax deduction? Look at it this way: Even if you’re in the lofty 35 percent federal tax bracket, you’re still shouldering 65 percent of the cost of your mortgage. That’s more than you may be able to afford on your retirement budget.
Figure out how much money you’ll need to pay your bills
Some financial experts say you’ll need 70 or 80 percent of your current income to live as well in retirement as you do now. Others argue you’ll require even more money after you retire because you’ll spend a fortune on health care as you age.
Of course everyone’s situation is different. If you’ve paid off your mortgage and your kids are self-supporting by the time you retire, you’ll need less cash than a retiree who still has a home loan and children in college.
The best way to avoid nasty surprises later is to carefully evaluate how much you’ll spend after you retire. Take the time to fill out a detailed retirement spending worksheet, like the one available online from the Vanguard Group investment company.
Shop for health insurance before you give up your group coverage
Figuring out how much you’ll pay for health insurance is simple if you’re 65 or older and eligible for Medicare. Most people currently pay $104.90 a month for Part B, which covers doctors’ visits and other outpatient services. But people with incomes above $85,000 a year ($170,000 for married couples) pay higher premiums, plus a surcharge for Part D, which covers drugs.
If you retire before you’re eligible for Medicare and your employer doesn’t offer retiree health insurance (most don’t) — and your spouse is also retired or works for a company that doesn’t provide health insurance — you’ll have to choose between COBRA and the Health Insurance Marketplace.
Under COBRA, companies that employ 20 or more workers must let those who have left or lost their jobs continue the same group insurance coverage for themselves and their families for up to 18 months. COBRA is convenient but pricey; you’ll have to pay the full premium, plus a 2 percent administrative fee.
You may find a better deal on the Health Insurance Marketplace. If you leave your job and lose eligibility for employer-sponsored health insurance, you qualify for a special 60-day enrollment opportunity.
If your income is at or below 400 percent of the federal poverty level (currently $15,930 a year for a family of two), you may snag a tax credit that reduces your monthly premium and out-of-pocket health care costs.
Maximize your Social Security benefits
You can start collecting at age 62 (and receive reduced benefits), but you’ll get a bigger monthly check if you hold off until your full retirement age (age 66 or 67 for most people). To find out how much you’ll collect at different ages, go to the Social Security Administration’s Web site.
You can try out different strategies for taking Social Security benefits with the help of online calculators.
Round up pensions from your old employers
If you’re super-organized, you already have file folders full of information about any pensions you’ve earned during your career. It’ll be a snap to get in touch with pension plan administrators when you’re ready to start collecting benefits.
You shredded all of that stuff the last time you cleaned out your desk? No worries; you can hunt down missing pensions.
Searching is easy if you earned benefits from a pension plan that no longer exists. Go to the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporations’ Web site and click on “Find an Unclaimed Pension.”
You’ll have to do more legwork if you earned benefits from a plan that still exists. Start by tracking down your former employer, which may be challenging if the company has merged or gone out of business. For detailed instructions, read the booklet “Finding a Lost Pension” on the PBGC’s Web site.