Is Retiring Now a Smart Move?

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Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones who has defied all of the economic forces and come to the verge of retirement financially sound and ready to say goodbye to your coworkers at Consolidated Widgets Inc.

Well, congratulations! But before you put in your papers, take a reality check.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, unemployed workers are taking longer to find jobs than at any time since the department starting tracking this data in 1948. Nearly 46% of the unemployed have been out of work for at least six months.

So what? You won’t be unemployed, you’ll be retired. Right?

Sure, but what if something goes wrong? Older workers are having a harder time finding new jobs than younger ones. The average unemployed worker age 65-69 has been jobless for nearly 50 weeks, compared to about 22 weeks for all unemployed workers, according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal.

Any number of factors could force a retiree to look for work. Your spouse who’d planned to keep working may lose his or her job. Living expenses could turn out to be higher than you’d expected, or your investments could take a hit.

Before retiring, it makes sense to think about how solid your situation is. If you can count on a traditional pension and Social Security and have an emergency fund, retiring now may be perfectly safe.

But if you’re counting on investment income that could fluctuate, you need a bigger margin for error.

If you’d planned on downsizing to a cheaper home and using the difference to live on, will your home really fetch what you’d expected in today’s still-depressed market? Perhaps you should try selling before you retire, just to be certain of how much money you'll get out of your home.

Postponing retirement for only a year or two could significantly strengthen your finances. It would reduce the number of retirement years you’d have to fund, and give your home and other assets more time to grow in value. Use the Retirement Planner to play with the numbers.

The longer you wait to start your Social Security benefit the bigger it will be, rising by as much as 8% for every year you wait. For an explanation, check out the Social Security Web site.

Another option, of course, is to “downshift,” or keep working but at a slower pace. Maybe you can cut back to part time with your current employer, or share your job with a coworker.

Or you could look outside for a less rigorous or part-time job. But to be on the safe side in today’s weak economy, it would make sense to find the new job before you walk away from the old one.

—For the best rates on loans, bank accounts and credit cards, enter your ZIP code at BankingMyWay.com.

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