For Mark Roberts’ Use: Most of us plan to retire around age 65 to 67. This makes sense because you become eligible for Medicare at 65, and your “full retirement age” as defined by Social Security falls between 65 and 67 (depending upon when you were born). This is the age at which you can access your full scheduled benefits, which provide an important supplement to retirement income.

But as we all know, life doesn’t always go exactly according to plans. Sometimes workers need to retire earlier than planned, due to their own illness or the need to provide care for a spouse or parent. Occasionally, a poor job market triggers layoffs and difficulty finding another position. And sometimes we’re just tempted to retire earlier than planned, because we feel ready.

But before you take that leap, consider this: You’re not eligible for Medicare until age 65, so what will you do about health insurance?

Until recently, larger companies often provided healthcare benefits to their retirees. But those are going the way of the dinosaurs, along with pension plans, due to the rising cost of maintaining health insurance benefits. Only about half of large companies still offer retiree benefits, and those numbers are shrinking.

You could consider shopping for your own health insurance plan through your state (or the federal) exchange. But keep in mind that premiums are rising faster than the pace of inflation right now, so you could see a dramatic increase in prices up until you’re finally eligible for Medicare. Your early retirement plan should account for these increases when you calculate your expected budget.

A few retirees have opted to go without health insurance until age 65, but this is a dangerous gamble that we would never recommend. Even if you enjoy terrific health now, that can change quite rapidly in your sixties, and put your entire income plan at risk.

Research this issue carefully, and stay in touch with your company’s human resources department regarding retiree health benefits. As with all other considerations involving retirement planning, never make assumptions. And of course, give us a call if you’re considering an early retirement. We can help you decide how to incorporate healthcare in your budget, and plan for other issues regarding this major life change.