Deciding When to Retire

Remember being a high school kid and trying to decide whether to go to college, and if yes, then which college? Or at the end of college, trying to decide what job to take (or struggling to find one)? Up to that point in life, Mom and Dad provided lots of direction. Until one day in your life when they eventually said those dreaded words, “do what you think is best.” How was that supposed to help you choose a college, a major, where to live, which job to take, a spouse???

Well, as an adult, we’ll all probably need that advice again when it comes to deciding when to retire. There aren’t any fixed rules, and probably “do what you think is best” works pretty well there also. But I can at least give you a few more variables to consider in the equation, as you make up your mind about exactly when to retire.

For instance, when to start Social Security benefits is one factor. Is it better to draw smaller benefits early at 62 or wait and take bigger benefits at 70? Or should you just wait until your so-called “full retirement age” which is now somewhere between 65 and 67? There are pros and cons to any approach, and the picture is more complex if you are married.

How about your health? Some folks keep working in their 60s because they feel good and enjoy their work. Others retire in their 60s because their health is good, and they want to “do more while they can enjoy it.” Some folks retire in their early 60s because their health is bad and life is short. Others with poor health don’t retire because they want to keep their health insurance benefits as long as possible.

What about your marital status? If you are married, is your spouse retired? One of you has to go first into the un-chartered waters of retirement. For some reason, if your spouse is already retired, it seems to make the decision of retiring yourself a little easier. Maybe you want to retire now so you can spend more time with your retired spouse. Or maybe your retired spouse wants you to keep right on working, so you won’t be underfoot at home.

Mortgage debt is another big factor to consider. In general, the smaller your mortgage debt, the easier it is to retire. Once the mortgage is paid off, there goes one of the big financial worries in life.

So how will you know when you should retire? There are lots of variables to consider. But that old parental advice may still be the soundest wisdom out there—do what you think is best. Or when in doubt, get a second opinion from professional retirement advisors you can trust. Planning ahead now will help you to maximize your retirement readiness later!


About Mike Wilson

Michael L. Wilson, MBA, CFP®, CRC®, is the owner of Integrity Financial Planning. Prior to founding Integrity in 1998, he worked for two years as a faculty member at the College for Financial Planning in Denver, training other financial advisors. Mike has 10 years of experience in the mutual fund industry, having worked with Fidelity Investments and Invesco Mutual Funds. He holds an MBA in Finance from Baylor University. Learn more about his work at
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