Editor's Note: This story originally appeared on SmartAsset.com.
Can I retire at 55? It’s a question you might be asking yourself if you’re hoping to make an early exit from the workforce.
While normal retirement age for most people usually means 65 or older, early retirement could give you more time to do things you enjoy or explore new interests. But it’s important to build a solid financial foundation before leaving your day job behind.
Running the numbers can help with deciding if retiring at 55 is a realistic goal. A financial adviser can help you get a realistic estimate of when you may be prepared to retire.
Following are some key questions you may have about retiring at age 55.
Can I Legally Retire at 55?
There’s nothing in the retirement rulebook that says you can’t retire at 55 years old. In fact, some members of the FIRE (financial independence, retire early) movement aim to retire as early as 40. So it’s perfectly legal to retire in your mid-50s if that’s your goal.
But it’s important to keep in mind that retiring at 55 isn’t the norm for most people. If you’re going by the normal retirement age prescribed by Social Security, for example, that usually means waiting until you’re 66 or 67. And some seniors may choose to delay retirement to their 70s or simply keep working indefinitely.
Can I Retire at 55 and Collect Social Security?
Social Security retirement benefits can be an important part of your financial puzzle. These benefits are designed to provide monthly income in addition to any income you have from qualified retirement accounts, taxable investment accounts, annuities or other sources.
So can you retire at 55 and collect Social Security? The answer, unfortunately, is no. The earliest age to begin drawing Social Security retirement benefits is 62.
But there’s a catch. Taking Social Security benefits prior to reaching your normal retirement age results in a reduction of your benefit amount.
Your benefits can also be reduced if you start taking them at age 62 but are still working in some capacity. So, say you retire at 55 from your full-time job but you want to do some consulting work on the side. Once you turn 62, you could claim Social Security retirement benefits but your earnings from consulting work could affect how much you collect.
The flip side to Social Security is that you can be rewarded with a larger benefit amount by waiting to claim them. If you wait until age 70 to take Social Security, for example, you can receive a monthly payment that’s equal to 132% of your regular benefit amount.
So if you’re asking, can I retire at 55? it’s important to know that you won’t have Social Security as a source of income for a few years. And that if you decide to take those benefits as soon as you’re able to, they’ll be less than what you’d get if you waited until full retirement age instead.
Can I Retire at 55 and Take Money From a 401(k) or IRA?
Saving money in a 401(k) and/or Individual Retirement Account can help to fund your early retirement goals. But you may run into a snag when trying to take money from those accounts before age 59 ½.
First, there’s the Rule of 55. This IRS rule says that if you get fired, laid off or quit your job in the year that you turn 55 you can withdraw money from your current 401(k) or 403(b) without a penalty.
But you still wouldn’t be able to tap any money in 401(k) plans you had at former employers without a penalty before age 59 ½. The only way to work around this would be rolling your old 401(k) or 403(b) into your current one before you retire.
If you have a traditional IRA, you generally can’t take money out of it before age 59 ½ without a penalty unless you qualify for certain exceptions. With a Roth IRA, you can always withdraw your original contributions tax- and penalty-free.
But to do that, the account must have been open for at least five years beforehand. Otherwise, you’ll need to wait until age 59 ½ to withdraw earnings without a penalty unless you qualify for an exception.
This means you’ll need to have savings and investments outside of these plans you can tap. An online brokerage account could be a good place to start.
But remember that selling investments at a profit can trigger capital gains tax. You could also supplement a brokerage account with regular savings accounts, money market accounts, cash value life insurance or an annuity.
Annuities can provide a steady stream of income in early retirement. This type of insurance contract allows you to pay a premium to the insurer. This allows you to collect regular monthly payments later beginning at a date you choose.
An annuity is something you might consider if you want a backup source of income until you’re eligible to withdraw money from qualified accounts or claim Social Security benefits.
How Much Money Do I Need to Retire at 55?
Planning to retire at 55 is different from planning to retire at 65 or older for one very important reason: You’ll need more money to last you through your old age. If you were to retire at 65 and live to age 90, your money would need to last 25 years.
But if you’re retiring at age 55 instead, your savings now needs to be able to stretch for 35 years. And that assumes you stay healthy and don’t require long-term care at some point, which could significantly drain your assets.
So how much money do you need to retire at 55? The short answer is that it depends on the type of lifestyle you want to have. If you plan to scale back and live a very minimalist lifestyle that allows you to keep expenses low, then you may be fine with less money.
On the other hand, you may need a larger nest egg if your early retirement plans include traveling, buying a home or starting a business.
When preparing a budget to retire at 55, consider:
- Your current monthly expenses
- What you estimate your expenses would be if you were to retire early
- How long you expect to live in retirement
- What your main income sources will be before you’re eligible for Social Security benefits or to make penalty-free withdrawals from a 401(k) or IRA
- How much you currently have saved outside of a 401(k) or IRA
- How long you still have to save and invest until age 55
Pinpointing a specific number to aim or gets easier when you take time to answer these questions. For example, you may be wondering if it’s possible to retire at 55 on $500,000 or $1 million. Or you may think $2 million is closer to the mark.
Using some basic rules of thumb can help you come up with an answer. For example, a commonly accepted piece of retirement planning advice suggests having seven times your annual income saved by age 55.
So if you make $100,000 a year, you’d need $700,000 saved by your 55th birthday.
But that’s only part of the equation. You also have to figure out how long that $700,000 will last and how much more you may need to save, based on your estimated retirement budget.
Health Care and Early Retirement
One expense you can’t afford to overlook when retiring at 55 is health care. Medicare can pay for certain health care expenses in retirement, but you won’t be eligible to enroll until the year you turn 65.
So that leaves a 10-year gap in which you’ll need to make other plans for paying health care expenses.
Your options for paying for health care may include:
- COBRA coverage
- Purchasing coverage through the health insurance marketplace
- Enrolling in a spouse’s plan
- Health care sharing
- Going without insurance
In terms of cost, COBRA coverage may be the most expensive option, depending on the type of plan offered by your employer. Getting covered under a spouse’s plan could be the most cost-effective way to manage health care costs until you’re Medicare-eligible.
But if you’re unmarried or your spouse isn’t covered this may not be an option.
You’ll also need to consider how long-term care needs might affect your plans to retire at 55. Long-term care can easily siphon away thousands of dollars a year from your savings. While you could qualify for Medicaid to help pay for these costs, that usually requires spending down some of your assets first.
A Medicaid asset protection trust could help you to avoid that scenario. Talking to your financial adviser or an estate planning attorney can help you decide if it’s right for you.
The Bottom Line
Retiring at 55 is something of a lofty goal, but it’s achievable with the right financial plan in place.
When considering early retirement, remember that it can affect how much you need to save and where you’ll need to keep those savings. Also, consider what types of investment vehicles or planning tools, such as annuities or cash value life insurance, could help with reaching your goals.
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