Planning to retire in 10 years or less? Find out what you need to know and do for a smoother transition.
If you’re thinking of retiring within the next 10 years, you may feel like you’re confronting quite a few “what ifs” and unknowns.
“Many retirees say transitioning from saving to living off their savings is one of the biggest challenges of retirement,” says Rob Williams, CFP®, RICP® Financial Research.
“But thinking through some of the most critical questions early on—like how much you’ll have, how much you’ll need, when to take Social Security, and how taxes could affect your savings—and then putting a realistic plan in place can help take some of the pressure off.”
Taking steps toward the retirement you want while you’re still working can give you time to identify shortfalls and make adjustments—which could increase your probability of long-term success.
Here are six things you can do now to set yourself up for a smoother retirement when the big day comes.
#1: Find out where you stand
According to Schwab’s 2021 Modern Wealth Index survey, over half of Americans with a written financial plan feel “very confident” about reaching their financial goals, compared to only 18% of those without a plan. If you don’t have a retirement plan yet, now is a good time to create one. If you do, check it at least once a year to make sure it matches your needs and goals. Details you may want to adjust include your expected retirement date, future expenses, and your expected savings and income sources.
It’s also a good idea to put your plan to the test from time to time. You can use a retirement calculator to see if you’re saving enough. But you’ll get more comprehensive, personalized results if you use a reliable digital planning tool or work with a financial planner or advisor. Both can help you look at a range of scenarios and your probability of success given your unique set of variables (for example, plans to relocate or start a small business in retirement, gift and estate plans, life expectancy, and other personal factors).
In addition to checking your retirement plan, Rob suggests checking your portfolio once a year to be sure it still makes sense for you. Things that may change as you near retirement include your time horizon, including when you might start needing money, risk tolerance, desired asset allocation, diversification of investments, and your plan for regular rebalancing.
#2: Boost your savings, if you need to
Whether you find yourself in catch-up mode or just want to save as much as you can before you stop working, there are things you can do to help your nest egg grow.
“First, contribute at least up to the amount your employer will match, and certainly more if you can, in an employer-sponsored account—401(k), 403(b), 457(b) or Thrift Savings Plan,” says Rob. “In 2023, you can contribute up to $22,500. If you’re at least 50 or will be by year’s end, you can also make a catch-up contribution of $7,500, for a total of $30,000.”1
“Once you’ve contributed to your employer account—or if you don’t have one—consider contributing up to the maximum amount in a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. Or invest in a brokerage account. If you’re eligible, you can also use a Health Savings Account (HSA) to save for future health care costs.”
You can also make catch-up contributions to your IRA starting the year you turn 50. And for your HSA, they’re allowed starting the year you turn 55.2
How much could you contribute in 2023?
|Type of account||2023 contribution limit||2023 catch-up contribution||Total allowed for 2023 with catch-up contribution|
|Employer retirement plan—401(k), 403(b), 457(b), or Thrift Savings Plan||$22,500||$7,500 (starting the year you turn 50)||$30,000|
|Traditional IRA, Roth IRA||$6,500 (across all of your IRAs)||$1,000 (starting the year you turn 50, across all of your IRAs)||$7,500|
|Health Savings Account (HSA)||$3,850 (self-only)
|$1,000 (starting the year you turn 55)||$4,850 (self-only)
|Brokerage||No limit||No limit||No limit|
#3: Plan ahead for Social Security
While you can start taking Social Security as early as age 62, you’ll receive a smaller check each month than you will if you wait until at least full retirement age. Every year you wait increases future benefit payments. If you wait until after your full retirement age, your Social Security income will increase up to 8% for every year you delay, up to age 70. After age 70, there’s no further increase for delaying.
“The decision of when to take Social Security depends heavily on your specific situation, including other income sources, life expectancy, and your spouse’s needs and circumstances,” says Rob. “While there is no correct age to take it for everyone, we generally suggest that if you’re in good health and can afford to wait, do so, at least until full retirement age if you can (and to age 70 at the latest) since delaying it can pay off and provide higher income over a long retirement.”
Retirement ages for full Social Security benefits
|If you were born in…||Your full retirement age is…|
|1954 or earlier||You’ve already hit full retirement age|
|1955||66 and 2 months|
|1956||66 and 4 months|
|1957||66 and 6 months|
|1958||66 and 8 months|
|1959||66 and 10 months|
|1960 or later||67|
#4: Consider tax-smart strategies now
One of the most important things to consider while you’re still saving for retirement, is how manage taxes on retirement withdrawals and increase withdrawals, and wealth, after tax. While tax laws and rates are likely to change, there are ways to plan for these unknowns and set yourself up for a potentially better tax outcome.
“One approach is to spread your savings across a diverse selection of accounts with a variety of tax treatments,” says Rob. “Saving in a mix of tax-advantaged and taxable accounts—for example, a 401(k), Roth IRA, HSA, and a brokerage account—can give you more flexibility and help you better control your taxable income when it’s time to take money out in retirement, because each is taxed differently or, in the case of Roth accounts, free from tax at withdrawal.”
- If you’re in a lower tax bracket (0%, 10%, or 12%), consider contributing the maximum to Roth accounts since your tax bracket in retirement is likely to be the same or higher.
- If you’re in a middle tax bracket (22% or 24%), it may be more difficult to predict your future tax bracket. Consider splitting your retirement savings between tax-deferred and Roth accounts so you can benefit from both tax treatments.
- If you’re in a higher tax bracket (32%, 35%, or 37%), your tax rate in retirement is likely to be the same or lower than it is today. So it may make sense to maximize your tax-deferred accounts—such as your 401(k), 403(b), 457(b), or Thrift Savings Plan.
Should you consider a Roth conversion before you retire?
#5: Get a head start on future health care costs
Medicare is a big piece of the retirement health care puzzle. But it won’t cover everything, and there are out-of-pocket costs.
Rob says, “Be sure to include the costs of premiums and out-of-pocket expenses in your retirement budget. When Medicare kicks in at age 65, it’s reasonable to plan on spending about $450−$850 a month.”3 But where you live, inflation, and other personal factors play a role, so consider talking to a financial planner for a more accurate estimate.
If you’re eligible, a Health Savings Account (HSA) can help you save for health care costs before and after you retire. An HSA lets you set aside pre-tax dollars to pay for qualified medical expenses (including Medicare premiums and out-of-pocket costs). Money you save and invest in your account also grows tax-free, and as long as you use it for qualified medical costs, you won’t owe taxes on it. At age 65, you can no longer contribute to your HSA, but you can use any money you’ve saved in it to pay for qualified health care costs tax-free. After age 65, you can also use the funds for non-medical expenses without a penalty—you’ll just owe ordinary income tax.
If you’re receiving Social Security at age 65, you’ll be enrolled automatically in Medicare Parts A (hospital) and B (medical). You can also add Part D (drug coverage). If you’re not yet receiving Social Security, you’ll need to sign up on your own. Keep in mind, Medicare has special enrollment periods, and signing up late can lead to penalties or gaps in your coverage.
Costs for Medicare include a deductible and coinsurance for Part A, and premiums, deductibles, and coinsurance for Parts B and D. You can also purchase Medigap to help with out-of-pocket expenses using Medicare. Medicare Advantage is another option that covers Medicare Parts A and B, and often includes services original Medicare doesn’t cover, like routine dental and vision, through a private company.
About 60% of people over 65 will also need long-term care at some point, and the costs can be high.4 If you’re not sure how you would cover these expenses, long-term care insurance might be worth considering. It can help cover costs if you or your spouse need in-home care or nursing (because you’re unable to do basic daily activities), or if you need care in a nursing or assisted-living facility.5 At minimum, it makes sense to complete or update a retirement plan and then stress-test it to see how you would manage potential long-term care costs.