Personal Finance

When Is the Best Time of Year to Retire?

Retiree in Florida
Lisa F. Young /

Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on Personal Capital.

We spend decades saving for a financially secure retirement.

So when the time comes, it can be exciting and a little bit overwhelming. With some serious financial considerations at play, deciding when to retire is a big decision.

In addition to carefully planning when you will retire, it’s also important to determine the best time of the year to quit work. The specific date on which you start your retirement could impact several different factors that affect your retirement finances. These include benefits from your former employer, Social Security distributions and taxes, to name a few.

Here are several factors to consider as you plan the best time of the year to start your retirement.

1. Do you have a pension?

Pensive senior woman
Potstock /

If you work for the government or an employer that offers a defined benefit pension plan, it might be smart to retire on the day that follows the anniversary of your first day working there.

This way, you’ll receive an extra year of service credit toward the calculation of your pension benefits.

2. Have you saved up any cash reserves?

Senior man with money
Drop of Light /

Some financial advisers recommend saving enough money in a liquid cash account to cover the first few years of living expenses after you retire. Then you won’t have to tap into your retirement accounts if the market is down at the time when you begin your retirement.

However, if you don’t have any cash savings and will need to start withdrawing money from your retirement account as soon as you retire, you may consider retiring either very early or very late in the year.

This could allow you to avoid making retirement account withdrawals in a year when you might have earned income that would push you into a higher tax bracket.

3. Are you retiring early?

senior making a decision
Syda Productions /

The age of 65 has long been considered the unofficial retirement age, but many people are deciding to retire sooner than this. If you plan to retire early, remember that you will be assessed a 10% penalty on withdrawals you make from a traditional IRA or 401(k) plan before you reach age 59.5.

So, if you will turn 59.5 at any time during the year you plan to retire, you should wait until after your birthday to retire and begin taking distributions from these accounts in order to avoid this early withdrawal penalty.

Read more: “When Can You Withdraw From Your 401(k) or IRA Penalty-Free?

4. Will you have to take required minimum distributions (RMDs)?

Sad senior man
lunopark /

Beginning in January 2020, the SECURE Act pushed the age at which individuals are required to begin withdrawing money from their retirement accounts back from 70.5 to 72. Additionally, the law allows working individuals to continue to contribute to their traditional IRAs past the age of 70.5.

Due to the coronavirus-relief CARES Act, required minimum distributions (RMDs) were suspended for 2020, allowing individuals to defer taking distributions from retirement accounts if desired. Did you take RMDs in 2020? You may be able to return those funds to your IRA and push any further distributions into this year.

5. Will you work on a part-time basis after you retire?

senior businessman
Rido /

Many people today are choosing to earn money as a freelancer or contractor after they retire. If you work part-time and elect to start receiving Social Security benefits before you reach your full retirement age (FRA) — which is between 66 and 67 years old, depending on when you were born — your Social Security benefits may be reduced based on your earnings.

If you will:

  • Be under full retirement age for all of 2021, you are considered retired in any month that your earnings are $1,580 or less and you did not perform substantial services in self-employment.
  • Reach full retirement age in 2021, you are considered retired in any month that your earnings are $4,210 or less and you did not perform substantial services in self-employment.

If you’re retiring before reaching FRA but expect to earn more than $1,580 a month in income, and you will reach FRA sometime during the year you plan to retire, you should probably wait until after your birthday to retire and claim Social Security benefits.

6. Do you have accrued vacation pay?

Senior couple at the beach
Day Of Victory Studio /

If you have accrued a significant amount of vacation pay with your employer, find out when they will pay you this money. This pay will be considered earned income and thus subject to the earnings rule explained above.

You might want to wait until after you’ve received the funds to retire and apply for Social Security benefits.

7. Will you turn 70 years old during the year?

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By waiting until after you reach your FRA to begin collecting Social Security benefits, you can increase the amount of your monthly payment when you do eventually start claiming benefits. But this is only the case up until age 70, at which time the increases stop.

So if you will celebrate your 70th birthday at any time during the year you plan to retire, you should consider retiring and filing for Social Security after your birthday. After you reach 70 years old, you won’t receive any additional benefit by waiting longer to retire and receive Social Security.

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