Evaluating an early retirement offer

In general

The decision of whether to accept an early retirement offer is not an easy one to make. Your company’s personnel department may provide either individual or group counseling to guide you during this important decision-making process. If counseling is not available, you should speak to the person in charge of employee benefits at your company. Find out what amount you can expect to receive each year after you retire. Then, figure out the difference between what you would collect if you retire early and the amount you would earn if you continue working. Because they’re often the numbers used by employers to calculate how much money you’re going to receive, be sure that your company has your correct date of birth and starting date of employment.

Tip:     If you choose to accept an offer for early retirement, some companies may pay (in the form of a bonus) all or part of the difference between what you would collect if you retire early and the amount you would earn if you were to continue working.

Caution:           You should discuss your situation with an attorney and/or financial professional. Although a company-paid consultant may provide valuable information, they may not necessarily be acting in your best interest.

Tax/retirement plan implications

If you accept an early retirement offer, you should be aware of any possible tax implications. Defined benefit plans often contain provisions that reduce your monthly benefit when you begin distributions before a certain age. As a result, early retirement can result in lower monthly retirement benefits. Taxable distributions from employer-sponsored retirement plans (such as 401(k)s) and IRAs are generally subject to a 10 percent premature distribution tax if made before age 59½. However, there are a number of exceptions to this rule. One important exception is for distributions made from 401(k)s and other qualified plans as a result of separation from service in the year you reach age 55 or later (age 50 for qualified public safety employees participating in governmental defined benefit plans). Another important exception from the 10 percent premature distribution tax is for substantially equal periodic payments (sometimes called SEPPs). Substantially equal periodic payments are amounts you receive from your IRA or qualified retirement plan not less frequently than annually for your life (or life expectancy) or the joint lives (or joint life expectancy) of you and your beneficiary. There is no minimum age requirement for this exception, but distributions from qualified retirement plans are eligible for the exception only after you separate from service.

Provided that you’re over age 59½ or meet one of the exceptions, you can make penalty-free withdrawals from your account/plan. However, you may still have to pay income tax on all or part of the withdrawal. Distributions from employer-sponsored plans are usually taxable, since contributions to most of these plans are made on a pretax basis (although qualified distributions from Roth 401(k)s and Roth 403(b)s are free from federal income taxes). IRA distributions may or may not be taxable, depending on whether or not the contributions you made to the account were tax deductible. Roth IRAs are subject to special rules of their own.

Tip:     While withdrawals from an IRA or retirement plan can be a valuable source of retirement income, the need for current income should be weighed against issues such as: (1) the desire to defer income tax for as long as possible, (2) the desire to preserve the assets for your beneficiaries, and (3) the possibility that, with life expectancies on the rise, you may live into your 80s or 90s and may, therefore, need to draw on those retirement assets for a long period of time

Consequences of saying no to an offer

If you’re thinking about turning down your employer’s offer to retire early, be aware of the consequences. If you’re holding out for a better offer, keep in mind that the first offer is oftentimes the most generous. Also, if you think there is a good chance you might be let go anyway further on down the road, you may want to accept a sure thing right away rather than face the uncertainty of your company’s future plans.

Consequences of saying yes to an offer

In general

After careful consideration, you may find that early retirement is the way to go. However, before you jump right into retirement, you’ll want to be aware of the consequences of saying yes.

Less time to save for retirement

If you accept an offer to retire early, say at around age 55, you could be giving up 10 years or more of saving for retirement. Less time to save means you will have fewer savings available during retirement.

Example(s):     John saves $700 a month in a tax-deferred retirement plan at a 7 percent annual return for 20 years. At age 55, his retirement savings will have grown to approximately $366,780. If John leaves that money in his account for another 10 years and earns the same 7 percent annual return, even without any additional contributions his savings will grow to approximately $737,100. If John keeps contributing for the additional 10 years, his retirement savings could be even more. (This is a hypothetical example, and is not intended to reflect the actual performance of any specific investment, nor is it an estimate or guarantee of future value. Investment fees and expenses have not been deducted; if they had been, the accumulation totals would have been lower.)

Retirement savings will have to last for a longer period of time

A lower retirement age, coupled with generally increasing life expectancies, can result in your retirement years making up one-third of your total life span. In other words, you could spend as many years in retirement as you did in the workforce. Your retirement savings will have to last for a longer period of time than if you had retired at the normal retirement age. In addition, you should consider the effect of inflation, which could eat away at the purchasing power of your retirement savings.

Your pension may be smaller

If you participate in a traditional defined benefit plan, also known as a pension plan, accepting early retirement could result in a smaller pension. You should determine whether it is more valuable to have a smaller benefit over a longer period of time rather than a larger benefit over a shorter period of time. Generally, defined benefit plans are based on two factors: (1) length of service, and (2) salary during your highest earning period. If you retire early, your years of service are reduced. In addition, most employees’ highest earning period occurs just before retirement, so early retirement can force you to give up your highest earning period. Furthermore, many companies impose early withdrawal penalties that can equal 5 to 7 percent of your pension for each year that you retire early.

On the other hand, employers sometimes sweeten early retirement packages, increasing your pension benefit beyond what you’ve earned by adding years to your age, length of service, or both, or by subsidizing your early retirement benefit or your qualified joint and survivor annuity option. These types of pension sweeteners are key features to look for in your employer’s offer–especially if a reduced pension won’t give you enough income.

Psychological impact

In addition to determining whether or not you have the financial resources to retire, you should also consider the psychological impact of retiring early. One of the first questions that you need to ask yourself is: Am I really ready to retire? Early retirement thrusts you into a lifestyle change that you may not have expected to encounter for another 10 to 15 years. You may find it difficult to adjust from a working environment to a relaxed, laid-back lifestyle. While many people will find it easy to adjust to a lifestyle that includes vacations and golfing, others may have a hard time dealing with all the free time.

Fortunately, there are ways for people who have a difficult time coping with this sudden change in lifestyle to ease themselves into retirement. Not only can a part-time job provide you with extra cash, but it can also help keep you busy.

Career counseling

What if you can’t afford to retire? Finding a new job

You may find yourself having to accept an early retirement offer, even though you can’t afford to retire. One way to make up for the difference between what you receive from your early retirement package and your old paycheck is to find a new job, but that doesn’t mean that you have to abandon your former line of work for a new career. You can start by finding out if your former employer would hire you as a consultant. Or, you may find that you would like to turn what was once just a hobby into a second career. Then there is always the possibility of finding full-time or part-time employment with a new employer.

If you have been out of the job market for a long time, you might not feel comfortable or have experience marketing yourself for a new job. Some companies provide career counseling to assist employees in re-entering the workforce. If your company does not provide you with this service, you may want to look into outplacement firms and nonprofit organizations in your area that deal with career transition.

Caution:           Many early retirement offers contain noncompetition agreements or offer monetary inducements on the condition that you agree not to work for a competitor. However, you should be able to work for a new employer and still receive your pension and other retirement plan benefits.

Retirement planning issues

Medicare–age 65

Even though you can receive early Social Security retirement benefits, you are not eligible for Medicare benefits until age 65. If your early retirement package does not include post-retirement medical coverage, you may have to look into alternative methods of obtaining health benefits, such as through COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Reconciliation Act of 1985) or private health insurance, until you are eligible to begin receiving Medicare benefits.

Social Security–age 62

If you accept an early retirement offer, you’ll want to consider applying for early Social Security retirement benefits. The Social Security Administration allows any individual who is eligible to receive Social Security benefits at the normal retirement age the option of receiving benefits beginning at age 62. However, if you decide to receive Social Security benefits before the normal retirement age, the benefits you receive will be reduced.

Tip:     If you accept an early retirement offer from your employer, you are not required to begin receiving early Social Security retirement benefits before normal retirement age.

Can you afford to retire early?

Whether or not you have the financial resources to retire early depends on how much you have in retirement income and how much you plan to spend when you retire. Your early retirement income includes your early retirement package (severance payments and retirement benefits), Social Security (if you receive benefits before the normal retirement age), personal savings and investments, and wages (if you work after early retirement). To determine how much you will spend, you must estimate your annual living expenses for early retirement.

It is important to note that your annual living expenses during early retirement are likely to differ from your expenses later in retirement. During early retirement, you may find yourself still paying off a mortgage, funding your children’s education, and paying for medical coverage. The worksheets that follow can help you to estimate your early retirement income and living expenses, and determine whether or not you can afford to retire early.

 

Annual Early Retirement Living Expenses
Housing (mortgage, rent, homeowners/rental insurance, maintenance, furnishings, property taxes)$
Utilities (electricity, heat, water, phone, cable)$
Transportation (car payments, insurance, gas, repairs, etc.)$
Food$
Insurance (medical, dental, disability, life)$
Taxes (Federal/State income taxes, Social Security if you plan on working after early retirement)$
Education$
Clothing$
Travel and recreation$
Debts (loans, credit card payments)$
Gifts (charitable, personal)$
Savings and Investments$
Miscellaneous$
TOTAL$

Caution:           If your early retirement package does not include medical coverage, remember to calculate the cost of health care into your early retirement living expenses.

Early Retirement Income
Early retirement package (severance payments, retirement benefits)$
Social Security (if you receive your benefits before normal retirement age)$
Personal savings and investments$
Wages (if you work after early retirement)$
TOTAL$

Tip:     When you estimate your early retirement living expenses and income, it is important to consider inflation, which has historically averaged three percent annually.

Financial concerns

Loss of health insurance

If your early retirement package does not include company-paid health benefits, you still may be eligible for health insurance through COBRA. You are entitled to COBRA coverage if you work for a company that provides employees with a group health plan and has 20 or more covered employees. COBRA allows you to pay for your health insurance at the same rate your company pays, plus a small administrative fee. COBRA coverage generally lasts up to 18 months from the date of retirement, and does not require you to qualify for coverage or worry about pre-existing conditions. Once your COBRA coverage runs out, you will have to purchase private insurance if you want to continue health insurance coverage until you are old enough to qualify for Medicare coverage.

You also may shop for and purchase an individual health insurance policy through either a state-based or federal health insurance Exchange Marketplace. In any case, it’s important to remember that as of 2014, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act requires that everyone have health insurance unless an exception applies.

Reduction in Social Security benefits

Your Social Security benefits are based on what is known as the primary insurance amount (PIA). The PIA is based on your average indexed monthly earnings (AIME). If you retire at the normal retirement age (see the following Social Security Administration table), your monthly benefit will be equal to your PIA. However, if you receive your Social Security retirement benefits early, your monthly benefit will be less than your PIA.

 

Age for Receiving Full Social Security Benefits
Year of BirthNormal Retirement Age
1943 – 195466
195566 and 2 months
195666 and 4 months
195766 and 6 months
195866 and 8 months
195966 and 10 months
1960 and later67

If you elect to receive Social Security retirement benefits early, you can receive more benefit checks than if you retire at normal retirement age. While this might seem profitable, you will suffer a permanent reduction in your monthly benefits. The reduced benefit is based on a deduction of approximately 5/9 of 1 percent (.0056) for each month you receive benefits before the normal retirement age up to 36 months, and a deduction of 5/12 of 1 percent thereafter. Your total lifetime benefits would remain the same based on standard life expectancy assumptions. However, your benefits are spread out over a longer period of time, which results in lower monthly benefits.

Example(s):     Mary retires from the local utility company at age 62, and elects to receive her Social Security benefits early. If Mary had waited to receive her Social Security benefits until her normal retirement age of 65, she would have received 100 percent of her primary insurance amount (PIA) benefit, or $800. Because Mary elected to receive her benefits at age 62, there is a reduction of 5/9 of 1 percent (.0056) for each of the 36 months that she receives benefits prior to the normal retirement age. Thus, Mary will receive approximately $640, or 20 percent less (.0056 x 36), than she would have received at normal retirement age.

Tip:     The application process for early Social Security retirement benefits can take as long as three months. The Social Security Administration recommends that you contact its office prior to your 62nd birthday.

 

Securities offered through Securities America Inc., Member FINRA/SIPC and advisory services offered through Securities America Advisors, Inc. Armstrong Advisory Group and the Securities America companies are unaffiliated. Representatives of Securities America, Inc. do not provide legal or tax advice. Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2014.  Please consult with a local attorney or tax advisor who is familiar with the particular laws of your state. April 2015 AT1148875.1