How to figure out the right time for retirement

Dear Liz: I hear so much talk about waiting to collect Social Security. What are good reasons to start collecting Social Security at age 62? I recently retired from the military with a monthly retirement of $4,400. I plan to work a civilian job until I'm 62 (eight more years).

I'm in fairly good health now, but decades of military service and multiple deployments overseas put a lot of miles on my chassis. I truly hope I do, but I don't know if I will live until I'm 80 or 90 years old.

Answer: None of us knows how much more time we have on this Earth. The primary reason for delaying Social Security is to decrease the odds of running short of money if we (or our spouses) happen to live a long time.

Think of it as a kind of longevity insurance because the longer you live, the more likely you are to use up your savings and to rely on your Social Security check for most, if not all, of your income. The wealthier you are — in savings and in pensions — the less important it may be to delay Social Security.

Your military pension provides a substantial monthly check and (presumably) survivor benefits for your spouse. These benefits will rise with inflation. You also have retiree health insurance at reasonable rates. You’re better off than most people approaching early retirement.

Still, your pension may not cover all your expenses and it’s not clear how much you have in other savings. Also, consider that your survivor would get about half (or less) of your pension check if you die first. So you may still want to hedge your bets by waiting at least until your full retirement age of 67 to start Social Security.

In addition to increasing your benefit, delaying to that age means you won’t be subject to the earnings test that can reduce your check by $1 for every $2 you earn over a certain limit (currently $17,040). You may think now that you’ll be ready to stop working at 62, but many early retirees find they miss the stimulation and social contact work provides. More on that:

When considering retirement, money isn’t the only factor

Dear Liz: You answer many questions about whether people are ready to retire. But there's one other thing to consider besides money, and this is more important.

Folks need to seriously ask themselves whether they can handle being retired. I know I can't stand it.

I have more than enough assets, plus a pension, plus healthcare, plus no debts or bills. I'm young and healthy. But I find happiness in work.

Unfortunately, I had to leave my job owing to conditions outside of my control. I now live in a beautiful house at the beach, with all my money and all the things I like to do — and I'm miserable. I'm looking for a part-time job. I live in a small community and there aren't many jobs, but I'm hopeful to find one.

Tell your readers that it's not only the advice of a financial planner, but also some good soul-searching that they'll need, especially if someone is a manager or a highly educated professional. You can't just give that up and go from full time to no time. At least work part time before retiring to make sure it's what you want.

Answer: That’s excellent advice. Not everyone derives meaning and purpose from work, but many do, and an abrupt adjustment can be painful. Good luck in your search for a job that gives you a reason to get up in the morning.

Government financial help after disaster may come as a loan

Dear Liz: With all the recent hurricanes and other natural disasters, people are being helped by the Federal Emergency Management Agency with money for rentals or home replacements. What repayment does the government expect? Are there taxes owed by the recipients of that money?

Answer: FEMA grants aren’t taxable, but they’re typically not enough to replace a home. FEMA may provide up to $33,000, but the typical grant is much smaller — in the $3,000-to-$8,000 range, according to recent data from the agency.

Most financial assistance after a disaster comes in the form of low-interest loans to renters and homeowners, offered through the Small Business Administration. Recipients are expected to repay those loans.

Liz Weston, certified financial planner, is a personal finance columnist for NerdWallet. Questions may be sent to her at 3940 Laurel Canyon, No. 238, Studio City, CA 91604, or by using the "Contact" form at asklizweston.com. Distributed by No More Red Inc.

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