If you’re approaching retirement age, you might be thinking about how long you’ll need to continue working to ensure you have the finances to last throughout your retirement. Unfortunately, you might not have much of a say in the matter.
A recent analysis from ProPublica and the Urban Institute shows that more than half of older U.S. workers are pushed out of their jobs before they plan to retire – even those who are in steady, long-held positions.
Many of these workers find it difficult or even impossible to get back to their previous income level, putting their financial health at risk. Some of these individuals will have to take on new, lower paying positions just to make ends meet, finding themselves working twice as hard just to make half as much as they did at their previous positions.
Those who have to leave the workforce due to personal issues that prevent them from taking on new work are faced with the difficult task of making their already lackluster retirement savings stretch even thinner.
What can older workers do if they find themselves out of a longtime job they relied on and facing a suddenly uncertain retirement? Let’s look at some steps you can take in the short and long term to ensure your financial security.
Why Are Americans Being Forced into Retirement?
The majority of job losses among workers over 50 are employer-driven, not due to personal issues like ailing health. This often comes in the form of layoffs or deteriorating work conditions that, intentionally or not, subtly edge out these workers.
While age discrimination in the workplace is illegal, it unfortunately does happen. If you believe you have sufficient evidence that you have been a victim of age discrimination, you may want to speak with a lawyer.
Another reason workers retire earlier than planned is personal circumstances that prevent them from continuing work, often due to poor health or having to take care of a family member, like an ill spouse.
File for Unemployment
If you plan on staying in the workforce, rather than retiring early, you should focus on making sure your finances are set in the short term while you look for a new job.
If you were laid off, you may be entitled to unemployment insurance benefits, and you should file as soon as you lose your job. Additionally, if you left for medical reasons or to care for a family member, you may be eligible for benefits. Contact your state’s unemployment insurance program to determine your eligibility.
Employment insurance benefits are temporary (usually lasting around 26 weeks) and are meant to provide a small financial cushion to those who lost their job through no fault of their own while they find new work.
To receive benefits, you’ll likely need to provide proof that you’re actively searching for a new job. Make sure to file as soon as possible. It may take around 2 – 3 weeks after filing for you to receive your first check.
Look at What You Have
If you lose your job late in your career, you may be wondering if it’s financially feasible for you to retire. If you have sufficient savings, you might be able to make the situation work with a few tweaks to your budget.
The problem with being forced into retirement before the typical retirement age, aside from having less time to continue saving and letting your savings grow, is that you may not yet be old enough to tap into the savings you do have.
Typically, you aren’t allowed to tap into 401(k) or IRA savings until you reach age 59 1/2, with a 10% penalty for early distributions. However, if you leave your job when you are 55 or older, you’ll be able to access your 401(k) without the penalty. Roth IRAs allow you to withdraw contributions at any time, although you may pay taxes and penalties on any accrued earnings. Traditional IRAs don’t allow penalty-free early withdrawals, except in a limited number of circumstances, such as disability or for large medical expenses.
If you need to access your retirement savings early, it’s best to speak with a tax professional to find out what penalties and taxes apply to your individual circumstances.
You can start receiving your Social Security benefits at age 62. However, keep in mind that your benefits will be reduced if you choose to take them before your full retirement age (full retirement age is dependent on the year you were born, but ranges between 65 and 67).
Find New Employment
If your savings aren’t sufficient to last through retirement, you may want to start looking for new work.
Lauren Klein, certified financial planner, is the founder and president of Klein Financial Advisors in Newport Beach, California. Her advice for those who are looking for a job after being pushed out at an older age is to learn how to market yourself online.
“If your last job search involved printing and mailing out resumes, times have changed! Today, a great LinkedIn profile that uses keywords that match your skill set is the key to connecting with employers seeking a ‘you,’” Klein says.
According to the ProPublica analysis, workers over 50 who’ve been laid off may find it more difficult to pick up where their previous job left off. If you can’t find a position similar to the one you were previously at, you may need to think outside the box.
Klein advises those in this situation to be flexible and open to getting involved in the gig economy. Once you’ve got money coming in again, she says, start saving ASAP.
“Do whatever you can now – including reducing your spending! – to create a sizable emergency fund to help cover any gaps in income. Once that fund is in place, turn your focus to your retirement savings to be sure you have a big enough nest egg to support your retirement, even if it’s years longer than planned,” she says.
Look for Ways to Lower Spending
Luckily, cost of living in retirement already tends to be lower. However, if you’re facing a lengthy retirement, you may want to look for additional ways to cut costs and stretch your retirement savings.
If you live in a home that has more space than you need, you could consider downsizing. If you can find a smaller home in a less expensive area, you’ll be able to put some of the proceeds from the sale into your savings.
If you’re able, you should also focus on paying down debt. If you aren’t able to pay off high interest debt like credit card debt, you may want to look into debt consolidation options that will help you save money on interest.
Take a look at your monthly budget and analyze what you tend to spend money on. Are there areas where you could be saving money, such as cutting back on how often you eat out? If your city has robust public transportation, utilizing it more frequently could help lower your gas costs. Eliminating or reducing some of your regular expenses can help create a little extra room in your budget so you aren’t struggling to keep up with your basic living expenses.
Figure Out Health Insurance
If you relied on your job for health coverage, you’ll need to get that sorted out.
First, find out if your employer provides health coverage for retirees.
If retirement health insurance isn’t a benefit provided by your employer, you can still stay on your current plan for a limited amount of time while you search for an alternative. Under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, also known as COBRA, you’re able to stay on your employer-sponsored insurance plan for up to 18 months after you lose your job.
If you’re able to afford it, you can purchase your own health plan or sign up with your new employer if you plan on finding another job.
If you’re 65 or older, you’re eligible to get your health insurance through Medicare, the federal health care program designed for older adults. To receive Medicare benefits under age 65, you have to meet certain criteria.
If you aren’t eligible for Medicare, you can see if your income qualifies you for Medicaid, another federal health care program. If you meet the age and income requirements, you may be able to qualify for both at the same time.
Apply for Assistance
If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. The government has many programs available to help those in need, particularly for aging individuals.
If you’re leaving your job for medical reasons, you may be able to receive some form of disability benefits. If your employer provides disability insurance, now is the time to tap into that. Otherwise, you may want to look into qualifying for Social Security disability benefits or other public assistance programs that can help provide you with a small income.
You may also be eligible for food assistance benefits if your income and resources are limited.
If you need guidance, your local Area Agency on Aging can assist you. They can help you determine if you’re eligible for help and guide you toward programs that fulfill your specific needs.
Retirement, planned or not, is a big financial step for anyone. Being prepared and knowing what your options are when the unexpected happens will help make the curveballs life sometimes throws at you a little more manageable.
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