Early Retirement Offer

Most of the time, we decide when to retire. It helps us know how to save for retirement and plan for an exciting beginning to the rest of our lives. But sometimes, an early retirement offer throws those carefully laid plans into disarray, suddenly presenting new options full of possibility as well as potential financial liabilities.

Unlike the more traditional retirement route, it's difficult to plan for an early retirement offer: just by definition, you don't know when to expect it! For the sake of preparation, though, let's assume your company is restructuring and has offered you an early retirement package.

Here are a few tips to help you evaluate what for many is a difficult and often emotional decision.

Early retirement 101

Questions to ask include: Is there a severance package? How does the retirement offer affect my pension? How does it affect my Social Security benefits? What about my company health insurance? Finally, how "optional" is the offer? If the financial health of your company is suspect or you think you stand a good chance of losing your job in the near-term, that should influence your thinking. Finally, what are your other employment opportunities?

This last question is more important if you are in your 50s. In the years following the recent recession, the unemployment rate for those 55 and older reached record levels for a few years. The result is that to secure a job after being laid off or taking a severance package, many older workers are re-entering the workplace in a position and salary lower than what they previously enjoyed. That might be something to consider when evaluating any early retirement offer.

Let realistic expectations drive how to save for retirement

When planning for retirement, many assume that their income will continue to rise well into their 50s and 60s right up until the moment of retiring: the truth is a bit different. For most people, their earning tends to plateau when they reach their 40s. It can be a sobering realization — and the effects on your retirement planning scenario can be profound.

Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey back this up. Whether you are an executive, middle manager or wage earner the last 15 years of your career typically do not increase much beyond a level that keeps pace with inflation. It is a sobering thought but one well worth considering when planning how to save for retirement.

When to retire?

Each decision is based on your individual situations but a comparison of the two scenarios of early retirement vs. a scheduled retirement can illuminate many concerns. Examine how a longer retirement will impact your financial standing, especially when you consider that today many are experiencing 20, 30, even 40 year retirements.

Social Security benefits begin at age 62 though they increase at 65 and beyond. Most IRAs and 401(k) plans cannot be used without a penalty before you are 59 ½. Other points of comparison to consider are the years of retirement contributions you will no longer be making to your nest egg, which is a hidden cost to taking early retirement. At this point, it's time to do some serious financial projections, possibly with the help of a financial advisor and/or tax professional to determine just how much you'll need to draw from your retirement funds over the rest of your life.

Final thoughts

Make a counter offer to any severance package. What can it hurt? Also, under the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act, if you are over 40 years old, you must be given 21 days to consider an early retirement offer. Additionally, you have seven days after agreeing to such an offer to revoke your decision.

It could be one of the most significant decisions of your life, deciding when to retire. Take all the time you can to weigh all your options and decide if early retirement is the right move for you.