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Preparing for a Smooth Exit

Create a game plan to make the transition to retirement easier.

Take the time to ponder your retirement in advance and you won't feel rushed into making last-minute decisions when it's time to quit. The sooner you start planning, the easier it will be to make financial adjustments, if necessary.

How will you spend your time? Do you plan to travel, or will you take up a new, less-expensive hobby close to home? Your goals will affect your income needs in retirement. In general, it's safe to assume you'll need about 85% of your pre-retirement income. If you pay off your mortgage, you might need less. If you travel overseas or need to buy your own health insurance, you might need more.


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Where will you live? If you plan to stay put, consider paying off your mortgage before you retire. Moving to a less- expensive area or a smaller house could trim your monthly costs and give you more money to invest. Unlike previous generations of retirees, more than half of baby-boomers expect to move to a new home in retirement, according to a 2005 Del Webb baby-boomer survey.

Review your investment strategy and scale back your riskier investments. You should keep at least 50% of your investments in stocks so your assets can continue to grow over a retirement that could last 30 years or more.


Pay off debts, particularly credit cards and car loans, before you retire. More than 60% of households headed by someone 55 or older increased their debt level from 1992 to 2004. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, the biggest jump was among households headed by someone 75 or older.

Build your emergency fund to cover three to six months or more of your current salary. Consider parking your cash in a savings account at an online bank, such as HSBC Direct or Emigrant Direct, that pays 5% or more.

Add up your sources of guaranteed income, including any pension or Social Security benefits. Get a benefit estimate online at and make sure it accurately reflects your employment history.

Buy an annuity. If you don't have a pension, you can guarantee a stream of income that you can't outlive by using some of your nest egg to buy an immediate-payout annuity. To see how much income you can buy, go to


Figure out how much you'll need in personal savings to make up any gap between your expenses and guaranteed income. To make sure you don't outlive your money, you can safely withdraw about 4% from your nest egg the first year and increase that dollar amount each year afterward to compensate for annual inflation.

Consider working a little longer if you come up short. Earning even $20,000 a year at a part-time job is the equivalent of having an extra $500,000 in retirement savings. Even if you don't need the money, you might want to keep busy. Go to for help in finding work that matters in your second half of life.