The COVID-19 pandemic brought major changes to work, school and social life in 2020, and it's also affected how we make financial decisions.
Some people cut back on saving for retirement or delayed retirement altogether. Others, though, are moving forward with their plans to retire in 2021. If you're one of them, you might have different financial considerations than you did just a year ago. To help guide your decision-making, here are five things to consider before retiring in 2021.
1. Consider Rebalancing Your Portfolio
Planning for retirement is an ongoing process, especially as you get closer to your retirement date.
Whether you plan to retire early in 2021 or later in the year, now's the time to look at your investment mix and the percentage of your retirement savings allocated to stocks and bonds. As you near retirement, your investments typically get more conservative — which means putting more of your savings into bonds (which are loans to a government or a business) to protect against dips in the market. Bonds are generally considered a safer investment than stocks, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission notes, because they return interest payments over the life of the bond. There are no interest payments on stocks — and there's a chance you might not get any return on your investment at all.
Work with a financial advisor or review your investments on your own and make adjustments to prevent your retirement savings from taking a significant hit from unpredictable swings in the market.
2. Account for Interest Rates
Interest rates are at historic lows — which is great if you want to borrow money, but not ideal if you have money in a high-yield savings account or are invested in bonds.
As you near retirement, you might not be as concerned about the interest your money earns. You might only care that you can keep it in a safe place. However, as the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania notes, low interest rates often yield lower returns, especially if you're invested in bonds. Your money won't grow at the same rate it would in an environment with a high interest rate.
Keep this in mind as you draw down your retirement savings, and consider taking out less money than you'd planned. If you have money in other accounts, like a checking account or savings account, you might want to tap into these reserves during the early part of your retirement and explore other investments, like an annuity, that can provide guaranteed income in retirement.
3. Don't Forget About Social Security and Medicare
If you're 62 or older, you can start collecting Social Security benefits early. Just keep in mind that this will reduce your monthly benefit, as you'll start collecting before you hit full retirement age, which is based on the year you were born. If you want to begin collecting Social Security benefits, you have to sign up four months in advance, so build that time into your retirement timeline.
To start receiving Medicare benefits, you'll need to sign up three months before your 65th birthday. Health care costs are one of the most important retirement variables; by ensuring that you can access benefits you qualify for might help offset some of your health care expenses — and protect more of your retirement savings.
4. Make Catch-Up Contributions
If you plan to retire toward the end of 2021, consider making catch-up contributions and taking advantage of any match your employer might offer. In 2021, you can contribute up to $6,000 to an individual retirement account, or $19,500 to a 401(k) or a 403(b) plan. If you're over 50, you can make an additional $6,500 in catch-up contributions to a 401(k) or another qualified retirement plan, or an additional $1,000 to an IRA, the IRS says.
5. Reassess Where You Want to Retire
The COVID-19 pandemic pushed people out of large cities and into the suburbs in 2020, according to a study from MYMOVE. It also brought the travel industry to a grinding halt. If your retirement plans were to be a city dweller or a world traveler, you might want to think about whether you still want to retire in an urban area or travel extensively if the amenities you'd have enjoyed aren't available right now.
Getting Ready to Retire in 2021
2020 forced everyone to adapt. If you planned on retiring in 2021, you might have to adjust, too. Revisit your investment strategy, sign up for Social Security and Medicare in advance if you're eligible, and take advantage of catch-up contributions you can make to buttress your retirement income. Taking these steps now could put you in a better position to enjoy a comfortable retirement when the time comes.