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6 Age Milestones That Impact Your Retirement

Legally significant ages seem to cluster early in life — you can drive at 16, vote, smoke, and enlist at 18, and drink at 21. After that, you might think that there are no more important age milestones to reach.

But there are more important milestones you’ll reach as you near retirement. Here are the important ages that can impact your retirement, and the reasons why they were chosen.

Age 50 — Take advantage of catch-up contributions

IRAs and 401(k) retirement plans are tax-advantaged, which means you receive a tax-break by contributing to them. For traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, you contribute pretax income, which means you lower your overall tax burden for the year, and the money grows tax-free. With Roth IRAs and 401(k)s, you contribute post-tax dollars, and the money still grows tax-free. Since high income earners could potentially avoid paying any taxes at all if they simply contributed a large enough portion of their income, there are limits to the amount of money you can contribute each year. As of 2017, you can contribute an annual total of $5,500 to an IRA and $18,000 to a 401(k).

However, there is something called a catch-up provision for anyone over age 50. If you’ve reached your half-century mark, you can contribute an additional $1,000 to an IRA (for a $6,500 total contribution) and an additional $6,000 to a 401(k) (for a $24,000 total contribution). Taking advantage of these catch-up provisions can help you to make sure your retirement is more secure.

Age 59½ — Take penalty-free withdrawals from tax-sheltered accounts

Since you fund traditional IRAs and 401(k)s with pretax income, every withdrawal you make will be taxed at your ordinary income tax rate. But if you try to withdraw money from either of these types of accounts before you have reached age 59½, then you will also owe a 10 percent early withdrawal penalty on the amount you withdraw, in addition to the ordinary income tax.

You are not required to take withdrawals as of age 59½ — that is just the earliest age that you are allowed to do so without incurring a penalty.

You might be wondering why 59½ is the magic number. Congress decided to use this age because life insurance actuarial tables consider you to be 60 years old once you have reached age 59 and six months, and at the time that the rules were put in place, 60 was a relatively common age for retirement.

Age 62 — Take early Social Security retirement benefits

Social Security beneficiaries reach eligibility as of age 62. This is the very earliest that you can access your benefits from Social Security, although taking your benefits the moment you’ve blown out 62 candles is not necessarily a good idea.

Social Security changes the benefit amount based on whether you retire before or after your full retirement age. This means the longer you wait, the more money you will see in your benefit checks — to the tune of about an additional 8 percent per year. If you take benefits before hitting your full retirement age, your payments will be permanently reduced.

These early benefits have been around for quite some time. Early retirement at age 62 was introduced for women only in 1956, and the option was extended to men in 1961. Women were offered this benefit first because of the concern for widows without an income, although it became clear that men were also very interested in the option of taking early benefits.

Age 64 and 9 months — Enroll in Medicare

The initial seven-month enrollment period for Medicare spans from the three months before your 65th birthday, through the month of your birthday, and the three months following your birthday. Enrolling during this period means you will pay no fees or penalties for enrollment, and enrolling within the three months before your 65th birthday means that you will have Medicare coverage starting on the first day of your birthday month. Enrolling during your birthday month or afterward will result in a delayed start for coverage.

If you miss the initial enrollment period for Medicare, you can still sign up during the general enrollment period between January 1 and March 31 of each year, and your coverage will begin July 1 of that year. However, there is a late penalty for missing your initial enrollment period. For Medicare Part A, your monthly premium will increase by 10 percent for twice the number of years that you could have had Part A but didn’t sign up.

If you miss the initial enrollment period for Part B, you will have to pay the late enrollment penalty for as long as you are a Medicare beneficiary. The monthly premium will increase by 10 percent for each full 12-month period that you were eligible for Part B but did not sign up.

Age 66 or 67 — Reach full Social Security retirement age

Your full retirement age is the point at which you receive your full benefits from Social Security. When Social Security was first enacted, 65 was chosen as the retirement age. In 1983, to deal with the coming demographic shift that would occur when baby boomers started to retire, Congress gradually increased the full retirement age from 65 to 67, based on birth year:

Birth Year Full Retirement Age
1943-1954 65
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 and later 67

Age 70½ — Begin taking required minimum distributions

When you put money into a tax-deferred account like a traditional IRA or 401(k), you don’t have to pay taxes on that money until you withdraw it. While this helps your tax burden during your career, you do need to remember that Uncle Sam will want his cut eventually.

This is why the IRS requires each account holder to begin withdrawing money during the year he or she reaches age 70½. There is a minimum withdrawal you must take, and failing to take out the minimum means the IRS will take 50 percent of the amount you should have withdrawn.

To figure out your required minimum distribution (RMD), you need to calculate it based upon the balance of each of your tax-deferred accounts as of December 31 of the previous year, and the correct IRS distribution table. These tables calculate life expectancy based upon your age and give you a number (corresponding to the number of years they expect you to live), by which you will divide your balance to determine your RMD.

It may seem that 70½ is an arbitrary number, but there is a lot of thought put into this milestone age. The IRS makes a distinction between people born in the first half of the year, and those born in the second half. If your birthday falls between July 1 and December 31, you don’t officially have to take an RMD until the year you turn 71. This means that those with birthdays in the first half of the year take their first RMD the year they turn 70, and those with a later birthday take their first RMD the year they turn 71 — which averages out to 70½.


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