Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been impacting our world for over two years now, there is still a great deal of uncertainty regarding when—or if—it will ever end. Because of that, many people have been re-evaluating and re-prioritizing different areas of their lives, including work and retirement goals.
Regardless of the ways in which you and your loved ones have been impacted by COVID, you (and perhaps your partner) may be among the growing number of individuals considering early retirement, even if you are still many years away from qualifying for Social Security, Medicare, and penalty-free withdrawals from your retirement savings plans.
And with the right strategies in place, you could find that financial security isn’t just a distant dream, but rather a very real possibility—as well as a way to promote self-care and self-love.
Re-evaluating Big and Small Goals
When COVID-19 initially hit the U.S. in early 2020, the severity of the pandemic caught most people by surprise. With millions of lives lost and countless jobs terminated, our previous notions of “financial security” have been severely challenged.
Given that our world will likely never be the same, more and more people are now realizing just how precious life can be. Even more than money or property, time is a valuable commodity, and once it has passed, it is gone forever.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has prompted many people to rethink their retirement timelines and how they live. But before jumping ship and taking early retirement, it is absolutely essential that you (and perhaps your spouse or partner) have a good, solid financial plan in place.
Taking Control of Financial Security
Having true financial security can allow you to worry less about paying your bills, so you can concentrate on more important areas of your life such as spending time with your loved ones. Personal goals that you have pushed to the back burner because of work-related demands, such as going for a daily hike, volunteering at a favorite charity, writing that book you’ve been meaning to complete, or visiting all 50 U.S. state capitals, can become real possibilities with a solid financial plan.
With that in mind, many financial planners agree that it is extremely important to review and revise your plan in light of our “new normal” and the associated changes in priorities that have come with it. Doing so can help you work toward staying on track and not letting future uncertainty derail your goals.
Enjoying Life at Any Age
Creating financial security is no longer just a nice goal “for the future.”So if you want to retire early, how can you ramp up your savings and reach your objectives sooner?
There are actually several potential strategies available. While some of these may not seem like they would make a big difference, even small changes can really add up. These could include:
• cutting expenses and creating a spending plan,
• downsizing sooner rather than later,
• having a plan to cover future healthcare costs,
• being more mindful of current and future tax obligations,
• gradually easing into retirement.
While many people don’t like the thought of using a budget, having a spending plan in place can help you curb expenses and divert more of your income into savings. Even the little things can make a big difference, such as cutting your cable TV bill by just $25 per month. And more dramatic changes, such as downsizing your home or apartment now rather than in the future, can reduce major expenses such as your monthly rent or mortgage, utilities, and home maintenance bills.
As we get older, healthcare costs tend to rise. Many individuals are eligible for Medicare when they turn 65, and if you have worked and paid enough taxes into the system, you will qualify for premium-free Medicare Part A (hospitalization). Married same-sex couples are now entitled to the same rights as opposite-sex spouses, so your spouse may also qualify for Medicare based on your work credits, or vice versa.
If you leave your job and lose your healthcare coverage prior to age 65, you may have to purchase an individual insurance policy, or it may be possible to get coverage through your spouse or partner’s employer-sponsored plan.
Another key area that can make or break your financial security is taxes. That’s because the more income tax you have to pay, the less net spendable income you’ll have available for paying your bills.
Over the past century, the top federal income-tax rate has vacillated between a low of just 7 percent and a high of 94 percent. And in 49 of the past 109 years, it has been 70 percent or more. It is believed that tax rates will go up again in the future, so taking advantage of tax-free savings accounts like the Roth IRA, or other tax-free strategies, can make a tremendous difference in how well you are able to live.
When it comes to income taxes, your tax rate depends on your income amount and your filing status. In some cases, it may make sense from a tax perspective for same-sex couples in long-term committed relationships to get married.
In other instances, particularly for higher-income earners, LGBTQ couples could obtain more tax breaks if they wait to marry until after one (or both) retires. Each case is different, though, so it is important to work with a tax advisor and a financial-planning professional who can guide you with this type of planning.
If you aren’t financially ready to completely exit the workforce, you could instead ease into retirement by generating some passive income from your investments or other financial vehicles, while at the same time working a part-time or freelance job. For many people, retirement doesn’t mean leaving the workforce altogether, but simply focusing more on things that they enjoy. Going this route could provide you with a steady income and more time to spend in the way you choose. Picking up a part-time job or freelance gig could also provide you with a way to save extra retirement money while you continue to work full-time for a while longer.
Staying on Track
If you want to shave several years off of your retirement timeline, you will most likely need to make some significant changes now. But because everyone’s goals and timelines differ, there isn’t just one single plan that will work for all individuals or couples across the board.
In order to come up with the right plan for you (and your partner, if you are in a relationship), you should first meet with a financial-planning professional who can evaluate your situation and map out a plan based on where you want to go.
This article appears in the February 2022 edition of OutSmart magazine.