For Mark Roberts’ Use: Most of us love surprises – the good kind, anyway! And you might think on the surface that a “surprise” retirement sounds like a great thing. It could be, if you win the lottery or otherwise receive a windfall that allowed you to retire earlier than expected. But of course, it might be because of illness, a major life change, or some other unfortunate circumstance.

It happens more often than you probably think. In 2016, a survey by the Employment Benefit Research Institute found that nearly half of current retirees (46 percent) had retired earlier than originally planned.

These retirees gave reasons that were largely beyond their control, such as company downsizing, health problems, disability, needing time to care for an ailing family member, or changes in the skill sets required in their industries.

Not all of the reasons were based in misfortune; some retirees said that they found they could afford to retire early, or wanted to change and do something entirely different with their lives. Hopefully, if you do retire earlier than planned, it’s because you are one of these lucky ones… But it couldn’t hurt to plan for the alternative, either.

Watch your debt load. If you haven’t already begun doing so, pay down credit cards and other outstanding debt throughout your forties and fifties. If you ever do need to retire earlier than expected, at least you won’t carry large, unnecessary payments into the next stage of your life.

Take care of your health. More than half of current retirees (55 percent) said that they left the workforce due to their own health issues, while 17 percent cited the need to care for a spouse or family member. Sometimes these issues can happen spontaneously, but often we know that our health is in jeopardy long before we reach that tipping point. If you’re starting to see those signs, follow your doctor’s instructions to take care of yourself, but also begin to craft a backup plan for retirement.

Calculate your income stream. In the years leading up to your expected retirement date, meet with us frequently so we can review your financial outlook. You need to know how much income you could expect from all sources, in the event that you need to retire early.