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Blindsided by Retirement? Here's What to Do

Follow these tips if you find yourself suddenly and unexpectedly retired

Chatzky: Blindsided by Retirement

R. Kikuo Johnson

According to a recent study, half of workers leave their jobs sooner than originally planned.

En español | You plan and plan and plan for retirement. But what happens when it takes you by surprise?

Two new surveys say that's not unusual. Research from Voya Financial says that for 60 percent of retirees, the timing of retirement was somewhat or completely unexpected. And the Employee Benefit Research Institute reports that half of workers leave their jobs earlier than expected because of health issues, the need to care for a family member, job elimination or the need, at work, for skills they don't have.

Get retirement savings tips in the AARP Money Newsletter

So what should you do if you're blindsided by sudden retirement?

Breathe

Before you can figure out where you're going, you need to ascertain where you are, says New York financial adviser Gary Schatsky, president of ObjectiveAdvice.com. Take a complete inventory of your financial world to get a grip on six aspects: assets, debts, the interest rates on those debts, income (or cash flow), what your expenses are and, of those things you're spending money on, which are important and which are not.

Figure out funding

Next, determine whether you can cover those costs. That means a deeper dive into your sources of income, says Tim Maurer, a financial adviser in Charleston, S.C. First, look at your retirement accounts. Multiply your balance by .04, or 4 percent. That's the approximate amount you can pull from those accounts annually with the expectation that the money will last 30 years. Add to that your annual pension income, if any, and what you expect to get from Social Security each year. (Note: You get an 8 percent bump in benefits for each year between ages 62 and 70 that you wait. That argues for delaying Social Security, Schatsky points out.)

Deal with the gap

If your cost of living is greater than your income, there are two ways to close the gap: Spend less or earn more. "The most dramatic improvement most people can make is to downsize," Maurer says, "and to consider moving to an area with a lower cost of living." Also, as long as you are able, explore possibilities for earning a paycheck, even if it's a part-time job, he adds.

And finally, Maurer says, the easiest way to prepare for sudden retirement is to practice. Estimate the income you'd have coming in during retirement, and try living on that amount. If you can't, start saving more. —With additional reporting by Arielle O'Shea

Want more advice? Jean Chatzky talks dollars and sense at aarp.org/jeanchatzky.

The retirement dream is to live on the golf course or sail the world, but making the transition from having income and no time to having some income and lots of time can take three to five years.

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