Printer Friendly Version

After years of hard work, you are looking forward to retirement. Choosing when to retire is an important decision and involves a number of issues you may want to consider in your retirement planning. The more you know before you start making decisions, the better off you will be in retirement.

This retirement toolkit is brought to you by the three federal agencies involved in key elements of your retirement planning and security: the Department of Labor, the Social Security Administration, and the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

The toolkit includes a list of publications and interactive tools to help in your planning, plus information on how to contact us with your specific questions. It is important to start early and be well informed so you can make timely decisions and, if necessary, make changes while you still have time before retirement. The timeline below can help you plan for the kind of retirement you want.

Timeline for Retirement Planning
Begin making catch-up contributions, an extra amount that those over age 50 can add to 401(k) and other retirement accounts. Check your Social Security Statement online every year for earnings accuracy and to learn what your estimated benefits will be.No more tax penalties on early withdrawals from employer- provided retirement savings plans such as 401(k) plans and other individual retirement accounts, but leaving money in means more time for it to grow. Also, withdrawals will be taxed as regular income.Earliest age to collect Social Security retirement benefits; however, claiming before the full retirement age results in reduced monthly benefits.Sign up for Medicare and Medicare Part D.Start receiving Social Security full benefits, depending on your birth year.Earn Social Security Delayed Retirement Credits, which increase monthly benefits for each month claiming is delayed between the full retirement age and age 70.Beginning in 2024, start taking minimum withdrawals from most retirement accounts by this age; otherwise, you may be charged heavy penalties in the future.

Retirement Saving Plans

Your employer's retirement savings plan is an essential part of your future financial security. If you have a 401(k) or other retirement savings plan at work, sign up and contribute all you can. If your employer also contributes to the plan, sometimes as a matching contribution, find out how much the employer match is and how much you need to contribute to get all of it. As noted in the timeline, at age 50, you can begin making catch-up contributions to save even more for retirement. Don't touch your retirement savings. The longer you leave the money there, the more time it has to grow. If you take money out too early, before age 5912, not only do you lose principal and interest but you may have to pay a tax penalty. Beginning in 2024, at age 73, you will need to start taking a certain amount out, called a required minimum distribution, or risk paying a penalty.

It is also important to understand how your plan works and what benefits you will receive. Learn about the different features or provisions of your plan. Ask your plan administrator, human resource office, or employer for information. Also learn about the rights and responsibilities you have under the federal law that governs your plan, the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

While you are working, take a look at how much you have saved for retirement, how much you might receive in Social Security benefits, and what other assets you have. Also, look at your current expenses and think about what they will be in retirement. For instance, your work-related costs will likely go down, while health care costs likely will increase. Starting now can help you make changes while there is time before you retire to make up any savings gap or adjust your goals. Also remember to check your plan at least once a year to see if you need to make changes to stay on track to a secure retirement. Routinely monitoring your online account and information is also one of the basic steps you can take to reduce the cybersecurity risk of fraud or loss to your retirement account.

If your plan is a 401(k) or similar type plan, your individual benefit statement should include two illustrations of your account balance as a stream of estimated monthly lifetime payments. You can use the illustrations of your account balance as monthly payments in retirement to help you prepare for retirement.

Social Security

Choosing when to start receiving Social Security retirement benefits is an important decision. The month you choose to start receiving benefits could mean higher benefit payments for you and your family. You can receive Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. However, your benefit will be about 30 percent lower than it would be if you waited until your full retirement age. If you choose to start receiving benefits when you reach full retirement age, you will receive your full benefit amount. If you wait to apply for benefits after you reach full retirement age, you will earn credits that increase your monthly benefit by about eight percent for each year you delay applying, up to age 70. However, once you turn 70, you should apply for the benefits owed to you, because your benefits will not increase if you continue to delay them.

Your full retirement age depends on the year you were born. If you were born between 1943 and 1954, your full retirement age is 66. If you were born between 1955 and 1959, your full retirement age increases gradually by a few months until it reaches age 67 for people born in 1960 and later.

If you start receiving benefits before your full retirement age and continue to work, your income will be subject to the retirement earnings test. This means your benefits could be reduced if your earnings exceed a certain limit. However, once you reach full retirement age, your monthly benefit will be recomputed to give you credit for months you did not receive a payment because of your earnings. The retirement earnings test no longer applies once you reach your full retirement age and your benefit will not be reduced no matter how much you earn. Once you start receiving benefits, your payments will be adjusted annually to reflect changes in the cost-of-living or earnings that may increase your benefit amount.


Parts A & B

If you're already getting Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits before you turn 65, you'll automatically get Medicare Part A (Hospital Insurance) and Medicare Part B (Medical Insurance) starting the first day of the month you turn 65. If your 65th birthday is on the first day of the month, Part A and Part B will start the first day of the prior month. Medicare will mail you a Medicare card and general information before the date you become eligible.

People under 65 with certain disabilities who've been entitled to Social Security disability benefits for 24 months are enrolled in Medicare automatically. People of any age who have End-Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) also qualify for Medicare, but must file an application to enroll.

In most cases, you usually don't pay a monthly premium for Part A coverage if you or your spouse paid Medicare taxes while working. If you aren't eligible for premium-free Part A, you may be able to buy Part A. Medicare Part B is a voluntary program that will normally require you to pay a monthly premium. If you get automatically enrolled and don't want to keep Part B, you must follow the directions when you get your Medicare card to let Social Security know that you don't want it. Otherwise, keep your card and you'll be charged the Part B premium.

If you aren't receiving Social Security or Railroad Retirement benefits by age 65 and you want to enroll in Medicare, you should contact Social Security and sign up during your Initial Enrollment Period (IEP). In most cases, this is the seven-month period that starts three months before the month you turn 65, includes the month you turn 65, and ends three months after the month you turn 65. If you don't enroll during your IEP you can enroll during the Medicare Special Enrollment Period (SEP), or during the Medicare General Enrollment Period (GEP).

You can choose how you get your Medicare coverage. There are 2 main ways to get Medicare:

  • Original Medicare
  • Medicare Advantage (also known as Part C)

Original Medicare

  • Coverage includes Part A and Part B.
  • You can join a separate Medicare drug plan to get Medicare drug coverage (Part D).

Medicare Advantage (also known as Part C)

  • A Medicare-approved plan from a private company that offers an alternative to Original Medicare for your health and drug coverage. These "bundled" plans include Part A, Part B, and usually Part D.
  • Part D is Medicare drug coverage. It's an optional benefit available to all people with Medicare. If you sign up for Original Medicare and you want drug coverage, you must join a Medicare drug plan (also known as PDPs). You usually pay a monthly premium for the drug plan.
  • You can get Part D through Medicare drug plans and Medicare Advantage Plans with drug coverage (also known as MA-PDs).

Note: These eligibility rules are general and apply to people who are nearing their 65th birthday. Visit Medicare's website to learn about eligibility rules for other situations.

Elder Rights and Protection against Fraud and Abuse

Elder abuse, including financial exploitation and fraud, is a growing problem. Financial exploitation can take many forms, including cashing checks without permission; misusing or stealing money or possessions; coercing or deceiving an older person into signing a legal document; and the improper use of conservatorship, guardianship, or power of attorney. Concerned individuals who spot the warning signs of a possible problem can call state and local agencies for help.

Additional Information on: Retirement Savings Plans, Pensions, and Health Plans

Taking the Mystery Out Of Retirement Planning – This publication assists individuals who are within 15 years of retirement to calculate their income, savings, and likely expenses in retirement in order to understand how much more they need to save.
Also available in Spanish.

Savings Fitness: A Guide to Your Money and Your Financial Future – This financial planning tool provides an easy-to-follow process for setting goals and priorities, as well as how to include a secure retirement as part of an overall financial plan.
Also available in Spanish.
Also available in Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Tagalog.

Top 10 Ways to Prepare for Retirement – This publication provides 10 steps to help you get started preparing for retirement.
Also available in Spanish.
Also available in Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Women and Retirement Savings – This publication gives helpful tips for women.
Also available in Spanish.

Filing a Claim for Your Retirement Benefits – This publication describes the plan's obligations and briefly explains the procedures and timelines for filing a claim for retirement benefits.
Also available in Spanish.

What You Should Know About Your Retirement Plan – This booklet helps you understand your retirement plan and explains what information you should review periodically and where to go for help with questions.
Also available in Spanish.
Also available in Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Can the Retiree Health Benefits Provided by Your Employer Be Cut? – This publication explains how some employer-provided health care plans can carry over to retirement. It is important to understand how secure those benefits are.

A Look at 401(k) Plan Fees – More and more employees are investing in their futures through 401(k) plans. The publication highlights the most common fees to help 401(k) plan participants to make informed investment decisions.

Life Changes Require Health Choices...Know Your Benefit Options – This booklet addresses marriage, divorce, loss of a spouse, and other life events that may require changes in your health coverage.
Also available in Spanish.
Also available in Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

Work Changes Require Health Choices – Protect Your Rights – This booklet addresses retirement, job loss, and other work events that may require changes in your health coverage.
Also available in Spanish.
Also available in Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tagalog, and Vietnamese.

QDROs – Qualified Domestic Relations Orders – This publication provides information about the division of a participant's interest in a retirement plan during separation, divorce, and other domestic relations proceedings.

Online Security Tips – Basic steps you can take to reduce cybersecurity risks of fraud or loss to your retirement account.

Social Security Benefits

Retirement Benefits – This publication provides an overview of Social Security retirement and Medicare benefits.
Also available in Spanish.

What Every Woman Should Know – Social Security plays an important role in providing economic security for women. This publication provides information about eligibility for Social Security retirement, disability, divorced spouses, and survivors benefits.
Also available in Spanish.

When To Start Receiving Retirement Benefits – In this publication, you will find information that explains your options in deciding when to start receiving benefits.
Also available in Spanish.

How Work Affects Your Benefits – This publication explains the earnings limit for people who are under full retirement age when they begin receiving retirement benefits and continue to work.
Also available in Spanish.

Windfall Elimination Provision – This publication explains how your retirement benefit may be reduced if you worked for an employer, such as a government agency, who did not withhold Social Security taxes from your salary.

Government Pension Offset – This publication explains how your Social Security benefits (survivors, spouses) may be reduced. This applies if you receive a pension from a federal, state, or local government based on work for which you did not pay Social Security taxes.

mySocial Security – A free and secure my Social Security account provides personalized tools for everyone, whether you receive benefits or not. You can use your account to request a replacement Social Security card, check the status of an application, estimate future benefits, or manage the benefits you already receive.

Retirement Benefits Website – The Social Security website provides detailed information about Social Security benefits under current law. It also highlights important factors you need to consider as you prepare for the future.
Also available in Spanish.

Apply Online for Retirement Benefits – When you are ready to apply for retirement benefits, apply online from the comfort of your home or office. It's easy and secure.

Multilanguage Gateway – Our website offers a wide range of publications, many of which are available in more than a dozen languages. Please visit our Multilanguage Gateway to learn more.

Medicare Benefits

Medicare (SSA Publication No. 05-10043) – This booklet provides basic information about what Medicare is, who is covered, and some of the options you have for choosing Medicare coverage.
Also available in Spanish.

Medicare & You (Publication No. CMS-10050) – This general guide provides more information on the benefits available under Medicare and the eligibility periods. It is mailed to individuals after they enroll in Medicare. An updated version is mailed each fall.
Also available in Spanish.

Enrolling in Medicare Part A & Part B (Publication No. CMS-11036) – Learn more about enrollment in Medicare Part A and B, including who can sign up, when you can sign up, and how the timing can affect your costs.
Also available in Spanish.

Get Help with Your Medicare Costs – To get help with Medicare costs, you must be on Medicare, have limited income and resources, and reside in one of the 50 states or the District of Columbia.
Also available in Spanish.

Plan for Medicare – This webpage provides information on the types of Medicare coverage, when and how to sign up, and how to apply for the Medicare Part D Extra Help program.
Also available in Spanish.

Help in Other Languages – Many Medicare publications are available in other languages. Please visit Medicare's publications page to learn more.

Elder Rights and Protection Against Fraud and Abuse

National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA) – NCEA has resources and information on financial exploitation and fraud. Individuals who suspect elder abuse or neglect can find state resources, helplines, and hotlines, or can call the Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116 for state-specific information.

National Elder Fraud Hotline – The U.S. Department of Justice provides a free hotline to report fraud against anyone 60 or older. Their experts will help you navigate the process at the local, state and federal levels. Call 833-FRAUD-11 or 833-372-8311.

Contact Us

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services
1-800-MEDICARE (1-800-633-4227)
TTY: 1-877-486-2048

U.S. Department of Labor

Employee Benefits Security Administration
TTY: 202-501-3911

U.S. Social Security Administration

TTY: 1-800-325-0778