Retirement 101: Can I Actually Retire at 65?

Since the mid-1980s, the average retirement age has been rising. With younger generations facing a student loan crisis and the future of social security in question, there’s no reason to expect that trend to slow down any time soon.

So is retiring at 65 still a reasonable goal for most people? That depends on your life circumstances, your age, and your willingness to sacrifice right now in order to reap the rewards when you get to retirement age. Here’s what you need to know.

What Affects Your Ability to Retire?

There are several factors that can delay your retirement timeline. These include:

Divorce

Chris Chen, CFP at Insight Financial Strategists said divorce is a huge factor that can decimate retirement portfolios – even with investors who thought they were on the right track.

“There is an epidemic in gray divorce in this country,” he said.

When you get divorced, your bills suddenly increase. If you have an acrimonious divorce, you may owe thousands or tens of thousands of dollars to lawyers. Divorce could be even more cost-prohibitive if children are involved.

Not Enough Income

Consumers who work in low-income jobs or live in expensive cities may find it difficult to save for retirement. Yes, saving $100 a month is better than nothing, but it likely won’t be enough to retire at 65.

Negotiating your salary regularly and starting a side hustle can help close the gap between how much you can save now and how much you should save every month. Keeping a budget and decreasing your monthly expenses will also help.

Health Issues

Every year, millions of people retire unexpectedly because of health issues. If you retire before the age of 65 because of health problems and don’t qualify for disability, you’ll have to pay for health insurance out-of-pocket.

If you already have chronic health problems, you may want to save more for retirement in case you’re forced to retire early.

Children

Silvia Manent, CFP® of Manent Capital said many parents prioritize saving for their child’s college education instead of saving for their own retirement.

“It’s important for parents to realize that you can’t take a loan for retirement, but you can take out a loan for education,” she said. “This is the first thing I always tell my clients.”

It may feel selfish to save for your retirement, especially when our society constantly reminds us that good parents put their children ahead of themselves. That may be true, but sabotaging your own financial future won’t help your children – especially if it means they’ll have to support you financially in old age.

Starting Too Late

One of the biggest mistakes is waiting too long to start saving for retirement. If you start at age 25, you’ll have to save $400 a month to reach an $801,680.19 nest egg.

If you wait until 35, you’ll need to save $794 – or almost double – to end up with the same amount. Those who wait until age 40 will need to stash a whopping $1,151 a month. That reflects the power of compound interest – it’s easier to save for retirement when you start young and save consistently over time.

It’s almost impossible for the average middle-class person to save that much every month, which means someone in this position will likely be forced to work well past the average retirement age.

How to Retire at 65

While there are more than a few obstacles to retiring at 65, there are some key strategies that can help you reach that goal. Here are the most important.

Start Saving Now

No matter how old you are, start contributing to a retirement account now. The sooner you begin, the more likely it is that you’ll reach your goal.

Every year, try to increase your contributions by 1%. If you get a raise, sock away half of that toward your retirement. When you receive a windfall like a tax refund or bonus, add most or some of it toward your retirement account. A general rule of thumb is to save between 10-15% of your salary for retirement.

If you have access to an employer-sponsored retirement account, see if they match contributions. This is free money that should always be taken advantage of.

Invest Wisely

A common mistake that many investors make is saving money every month toward retirement, but not utilizing their retirement account correctly.

“We have seen people who assume that their 401(k) account or IRA is being invested appropriately for their time horizon and risk tolerance, but sometimes people will find themselves simply sitting on a pile of cash that never had the chance to grow tax-deferred,” said financial planner Elliot J. Pepper, CFP® at Northbrook Financial.

If you’re having trouble getting started, consult a fee-only financial planner. They can advise which investments are appropriate and how much to save every month.

A key to retiring at 65 is to invest consistently and avoid reacting emotionally to market swings. No matter what happens economically, the most successful investors are the ones who don’t withdraw money from their retirement accounts when the market dips.

You’re likely better off choosing index funds instead of individual stocks. Yes, it’s tempting to try to pick the next Tesla or Apple stock, but you’ll almost certainly have more success investing with an index fund.

Plan for Healthcare

Many investors incorrectly assume that their healthcare costs will be negligible in retirement. But Medicare isn’t free, and the average 65-year-old will still pay hundreds of dollars a month in premiums. That doesn’t include out-of-pocket expenses for prescriptions, lab work, and hearing aids.

You can plan ahead for these expenses by saving in a Health Savings Account (HSA). Money in an HSA is tax-deductible and tax-free when used for qualified medical expenses.

Be Patient

It’s still worth investing in a retirement account, even if retiring at 65 is a pipe dream. You’ll still want to retire at some point, even if it’s closer to 75 than 65.

If you can’t quit working entirely at 65, you may still be able to switch to part-time work or freelance consulting. Alternatively, you might be able to take a paycut and work full-time at a job with less stress.

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