More and more people are not asking themselves when to retire, but if they can retire.
Most of our ideas about retirement were based on the '50s industrial model, with a company pension after a lifetime of work supplemented by Social Security. That model began to break down in the '70s, as old-fashioned pension plans proved to be unsustainable, companies downsized, workers changed jobs more frequently and life expectancy increases led to higher retirement ages and/or reduced pensions. After the economic turmoil of the last decade, the old expectation of retirement funded by employers and the government is gone.
Today retirees must look to their 401(k) plans, their savings and their Social Security. The problem that many face is that the economic ups and downs of the past 30 years have left them with no employer retirement benefits and little savings going into retirement. Many are also in debt. As a result, they will not be able to make ends meet with only social security to fall back on, which averages only $2400 per month for a married couple.
For those seduced by the expectations of the old system or upended by the economy, a good place to start is by examining the whole concept of retirement. Retirement is not a biblical concept, and for good reason. The truth is that people were never intended to quit all productive activities, and that is why so many people die immediately following retirement. Those who reach old age with adequate financial resources can afford to invest their efforts in their families, their church, and other socially beneficial activities in order to remain healthy and productive. These who lack sufficient resources just have to add some amount of work to that mix.
Once the necessity of continuing work is recognized, the most crucial step is to adjust attitudes and expectations based on the new reality. Look for work which will meet your need for income but will also give you the opportunity to use your experience and wisdom. For some, this means continuation of an existing career or business. For others, there is the opportunity to move into a less stressful or more satisfying, if lower-paying, job. A few even start new and successful careers in their old age, like Colonel Sanders, who started Kentucky Fried Chicken at age 70.
Be sure to coordinate your working strategy with your Social Security takedown. For example, if you take early Social Security beginning at age 62, your earnings over a floor amount of around $15,000 will cause a 50 percent drop in your Social Security benefits until you reach retirement age. Since you must reduce your annual benefits to take early retirement, losing these benefits would be especially costly. On the other hand, you can increase your annual benefits by delaying your retirement until age 70. You should also consider the possibility that your Social Security income could be subject to income tax if, for a couple, other income plus half of their Social Security exceeds $36,000.
You should also develop a debt relief plan so that your retirement income is not burdened with debt. An exception would be your home, if you have equity, because your equity will increase as you pay down your debt and the real estate market continues its recovery. Some folks even file bankruptcy as a preparatory step to retirement.
The bottom line is the you can live and prosper in the new age of working retirement. Just take charge of your financial future, get out of debt and find something you can enjoy doing.
Then you can put the gold back in your "Golden Years."
Ron Allen is a Christian businessman, CPA and author who serves in local, national and international ministries spreading a message of reconciliation to God, to men and between believers. He is founder of the International Star Bible Society, telling how the heavens declare the glory of God, and the Emancipation Network, which helps people escape from financial bondage, and co-founder with his wife, Pat, of Corporate Prayer Resources, dedicated to helping intercessors.
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