6 Important Retirement Milestones by Age

From Social Security eligibility to required minimum distributions (RMDs), find out more about six key ages retirees should know.

6 important retirement milestones by age graphic

A lot has changed since the Social Security Administration set the retirement age at 65 in 1935. The average life expectancy for a person born in 1930 was only 60. 1^Social Security Administration, “Social Security history“The life expectancy for Americans today is 78. Those turning 65 now are expected to live to 85, and one in three 65 year olds will live past age 90.2^Social Security Administration, “Benefits Planner: Life Expectancy”As retirements have evolved, so have the guideposts that mark the way through the golden years. 

Most of us are familiar with the early retirement milestones where benefits begin. Below, we highlight six important ages on the retirement path and take a closer look at managing the potential pitfalls of required minimum distributions (RMDs). As part of the SECURE Act, the age requirement for RMDs was raised to 72, which applies to those who turn 70 ½ in 2020 or later.

The CARES Act waives certain RMDs during 2020. For more information on the CARES Act, please click here.

Retirement Milestones by Age

Age 59 ½: Penalty-free withdrawal

Generally, owners of a qualified retirement account, such as a 401(k), who take withdrawals before the age of 59 ½ must pay income taxes on the withdrawal, including an additional 10% tax penalty for the early withdrawal. Owners of a qualified retirement account who take withdrawals after the age of 59 ½ must still pay income taxes on the withdrawal, but no longer have to pay the 10% additional tax penalty. 3^Internal Revenue Service, “Retirement Topics-Significant Ages for Retirement Plan Participants”

Age 62: Social Security eligibility 

You are eligible to claim Social Security, but benefits are reduced if taken prior to full retirement age.4^Social Security Administration, “Benefits Planner: Retirement | If you were born between 1943 and 1954” For more information on Social Security eligibility, visit https://www.ssa.gov/

Age 65: Medicare enrollment 

Medicare eligibility begins at 65, and enrollment is open during a seven-month period that begins three months before turning 65. Timely enrollment is important, as a premium penalty of 10% for each 12-month period of eligibility may apply to late enrollments. This enrollment period applies regardless of whether a person is retiring at 65.5^Medicare.gov, Part A and Part B sign up periods For more information about Medicare enrollment, visit https://www.medicare.gov/

Age 66-67: Retirement age

Full retirement age depends on a sliding scale from whether you were born in 1960 (67) or between 1943 and 1959 (66+10 months).6^Social Security Administration, “Benefits Planner: Retirement”

Age 70: Maximized Social Security benefits

Social Security claims delayed past full retirement age receive monthly credit that permanently increases the Social Security benefit. After age 70, it is no longer financially beneficial to delay the benefit.6^Social Security Administration, “Benefits Planner: Retirement”

Age 72: Required minimum distributions

By delaying taxes on money in a tax-deferred retirement vehicle, your funds grow faster than a taxable account, allowing for increased assets and lower taxable income. To ensure money is eventually taxed, the IRS requires annual withdrawals from tax-deferred accounts as of a designated age. RMDs are withdrawn each year and are included as taxable income along with any other income generated in retirement, except for any income that was previously taxed.

For anyone who turns 70 ½ on or after Jan. 1, 2020, RMDs begin at the age of 72.8^The SECURE Act signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019. Generally, the initial RMD must be taken no later than April 1 the year after turning 72, and subsequent RMDs are due by Dec. 31 each year. This means retirees who wait to take their first RMD the following April 1 will need to take two taxable distributions in the same year. The price for not satisfying an annual RMD requirement can be costly, up to a 50% penalty on top of original income tax amount. 

It's important to note, the IRS has rules on calculating RMDs. These are unique to each situation, but they are based on the following factors, including the value of the amount on Dec. 31 of the previous year, divided by the IRS's life expectancy factor. This factor is found on tables published by the IRS, such as the most commonly used Uniform Life table.7^Internal Revenue Service, “IRA Required Minimum Distribution Worksheet” It is important to note the life expectancy factor decreases with age, resulting in a growing RMD. 

Between withdrawals and taxation, RMDs can put a strain on your retirement income and taxation strategy. Any planning done now to prepare for these distributions can ease undue burden later in life. The IRS.gov site has helpful resources for calculators and deadlines. Speak with a tax or financial expert to help you manage your RMDs and minimize tax consequence.

A lot of emphasis is put on planning and preparing for retirement, but there are important milestones to keep in mind to help protect assets and maximize benefits. Talk to your financial or tax professional to learn more about how these age requirements may impact you and better prepare you for the milestones ahead.



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