For Mark Roberts’ Use: With years of careful planning, many workers can be ready to retire by a pre-determined time. However, there are a few questions you should ask yourself along the way, which may prompt you to slow down and reassess your retirement plans. Retiring before you’re really ready could lead to serious problems in the future, whereas working just a few more years could make a large difference in your retirement lifestyle.

Have you reached the eligibility age for Social Security? For many workers, this feels like reaching the finish line in a race. About 50 percent of workers file for benefits as soon as they reach age 62*. However, this is often a mistake, because payments will permanently be lower than they would have been if the worker had waited just four more years until age 66. In order to retire at age 62 and rely upon a lower Social Security check, you should be sure to have another form of income such as a dependable retirement savings.

Are you counting on market growth? Take a lesson from the rapid stock values decline of the Great Recession. It may not be wise to count on high returns; in fact, when you’re close to retirement it is sometimes a good idea to shift assets into more conservative investments. Your principal will be secure, but you won’t be able to count on rapid growth. Therefore, it’s often best to wait and retire when you feel secure about the amount of interest income you will receive from a conservative strategy, rather than an aggressive one.

Are you prepared for medical costs? It’s important to consider worst-case scenarios such as the need for long-term nursing care, and to accurately estimate your out-of-pocket costs for healthcare.

How is your debt and other financial obligations? When estimating your living expenses in retirement, most people consider debt like credit card and monthly mortgage payments. However, there are other forms of financial obligations – like paying for your children’s college educations or helping your own aging parents – which have a serious impact on your financial outlook. These issues should be carefully considered when making retirement plans.


*, March 2, 2012