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Conventional wisdom compares life to a journey, saying it’s not the destination but how you get there that matters. Indeed, the longer we live, the more we may appreciate how our lives are enriched when we are fully open to, and mindful of, the people and experiences we encounter along the way.

The metaphor is also apt for retirement, although retirement is more like a decades-long odyssey around the world than a summer spent abroad. Since living comfortably is likely a top priority, taking a well-planned route over the course of many years is tantamount to success.

Sure, you can still “go with the flow” (as conventional wisdom recommends) and enjoy exploring the new paths you will discover on this epic journey. Just be certain to follow these eight age-based retirement income planning guidelines and you'll be well on your way to the financially secure future you want.

Age 50+: Seize opportunities

Now is the time to start thinking about key retirement details. Where do you want to live? How much income will you need? How long will you need your money to last? Are you saving enough?

Starting at age 50 you can contribute more to your retirement accounts, which could help boost the size of your nest egg later. The “catch up” contribution limits are $1,000 for individual retirement accounts (IRAs) and $7,500 for qualified employer-sponsored retirement plans such as a 401(k).

As your risk tolerance and goals begin to change, adjust your asset allocation (mix of stocks and bonds) as well as the types of investments you own (mix of growth or income assets).

Age 55: Think strategically

In terms of retirement funding strategies, the Separation from Service After Age 55 option under Internal Revenue Service Code 72(t) may allow you to make a penalty-free withdrawal from your qualified plan (ordinary income taxes still apply). If you have low-basis company stock in your NUA-eligible qualified retirement plan with your employer, consider taking advantage of the NUA tax break on a lump sum distribution of the employer stock.

Regarding your income needs, look at your retirement health care choices and what they may cost, including how a long-term care event might affect you. Also look at whether there may be a gap between your projected essential expenses (housing, food, health care) and your assured income sources that will last a lifetime (Social Security, pension, annuity income). Then take time now to develop an income-producing strategy to help cover that gap.

Age 59-1/2: Act tactically

The federal tax code allows penalty-free distributions from your IRA or qualified plan any time after age 59-1/2. Of course, you will need to pay ordinary income taxes on any withdrawals. Before taking money out, consider the advantages and disadvantages, including whether converting some of these assets to a Roth IRA may be prudent.

If you have not done so already, begin shifting your focus from growing wealth to preserving wealth and planning how to use it to create income. Your asset allocation decisions and the tax status of the accounts you use to hold assets will become important in the coming years to help manage taxes.

Age 62: Begin transitions

According to the 2022 Employment Benefit Research Institute’s Retirement Confidence Survey, 47 percent of Americans retire earlier than planned. The main causes are loss of employment, health problems or disability.

Because of these trends, the Social Security Administration allows qualified individuals to start claiming early Social Security benefits beginning at age 62. However, if benefits are claimed early, the amount of each payment is permanently reduced, compared with the amount that would have been received had payments begun at full retirement age. Employment income received prior to full retirement age may reduce benefits further.

Before you fully transition from earning a living to receiving income from other sources, you may want to take your retirement for a “test-drive.” By living for a month on your projected retirement income, making adjustments and testing again, you may be better prepared when you leave the workforce. You should also understand how new laws may affect Social Security claiming strategies available to you.

Age 65: Enroll in Medicare

Mark your calendar and be sure to sign up for Medicare benefits during the three months leading up to your 65th birthday. There are many different options to carefully consider based on your health care needs and financial situation.

Ages 66-67: Take full benefits

Congratulations! Depending on what year you were born, you reach your full retirement age and qualify for your full Social Security benefit, should you decide to take it at this time.

Ages 68-70: Take delayed benefits

If you choose to defer taking your Social Security benefits until after your full retirement age, the base amount you earn each month will increase eight percent for each year you delay, with the maximum benefit reached at age 70. These are also years when you can reposition assets to a Roth IRA prior to taking required minimum distributions (RMDs).

After age 73: Manage taxes

Annual RMDs from your qualified retirement accounts are required no later than April 1 of the year after you become 73. Your RMDs will affect your taxable income and are taxed at your ordinary income tax rate. Calculating RMDs can be complicated. Plus, the IRS assesses a 50 percent penalty on any unsatisfied RMD.

Producing a dependable income throughout a long and happy retirement may be one of the most rewarding adventures you undertake. By following these eight guidelines, you can work to make sure you’re as prepared as possible for your retirement years ahead.


RBC Wealth Management is not a tax advisor. All decisions regarding the tax implications of your investments should be made in consultation with your independent tax advisor.


RBC Wealth Management, a division of RBC Capital Markets, LLC, Member NYSE/FINRA/SIPC.


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