Most people in their fifties and sixties have a very specific vision of their retirement. But if you find yourself unexpectedly getting laid off at age 55, or 63, you are probably feeling extremely stressed about your plans being thrown off course. The reality is that many people retire earlier than they had originally intended due to being laid off, or because of health or family reasons.
We build detailed retirement analysis packages looking at when you can retire, how much you can spend, and how long your money will last. As much science and math goes into those calculations, we should recognize that things don’t always go as planned and that we may have to adjust our plans. If you find yourself unexpectedly out of a job, I want you to know that things will be okay and we can help give you a more informed dissection of what to do next. Here are five steps to get started:
1) Address immediate needs
- Figure out your health insurance. COBRA may be very expensive, so take the time to compare COBRA to an individual plan. A lay-off is a qualifying event, so you may be eligible to join your spouse’s health plan without waiting until the next open enrollment period. Avoid gaps in your coverage. Researching your health insurance will likely take more hours than you want to spend, but it’s important to get it right.
- Please note that if you are over 65 and did not sign up for Medicare because you had employer group coverage, that post-employment, you have an 8-month Special Enrollment Period to sign up for Medicare without incurring the lifetime surcharge. COBRA is not considered group coverage and will not delay the start of this 8-month window.
- File for unemployment benefits so you can receive benefits as soon as you are eligible. You should never quit a job in advance of a layoff; doing so could jeopardize your eligibility for unemployment.
2) Create your household budget
- Are you burning cash? How much money will you have left in 6, 12, or 24 months? Making a budget is how you will know. Uncertainty creates fear; planning creates clarity.
- Can you live off one spouse’s income? Can you cut expenses? This is often not that difficult to do, but we resent it, because it was unplanned and forced upon us against our wishes. But we cannot stick our heads in the sand and ignore a new financial reality. If you are going to make changes, make them without delay.
3) Start your job search immediately
- You have to document weekly job search activity to receive unemployment benefits, so you might as well get started!
- It may take you much longer than expected to get your next job. Some of this may unfortunately be due to age discrimination, so I would not discount that consideration. However, many veteran employees have a skill set that was unique to one employer. You may need other skills for what the marketplace requires today. Lay-offs typically occur in jobs where there is a reduction in demand. Your next job may need to be very different.
- Be careful of anchoring to your past income. If you are holding out that your next job will be the same work at the same pay as your old job, that may not be a realistic expectation.
- Polish your resume and application; consider getting professional help with these materials. Most applications are done online today, so your words represent you. Practice your interview skills and be prepared to answer any question. Network with colleagues and meet with someone every week to chat about your next steps.
4) Consider retiring early
- Maybe you are 63 and were planning to retire at 65. The layoff could be a blessing in disguise and will allow you to retire now. Make your budget and let’s take a look at your retirement plan. If you can afford it, why not go for it?
- You may realize that you don’t enjoy your work as much as you used to and have other interests now. If you used to make $100,000, you might not be willing to work 50 hours a week for $65,000. Or you may decide that starting a new career isn’t going to be very fulfilling, if all you are doing is marking time for 2-3 years. Consider all your options.
5) Delay spending your nest egg
- Can you hold off on withdrawals for a few years and get by on a spouse’s income or from existing cash and unemployment benefits? Postponing withdrawals by even two or three years can have a significant impact on the longevity of your portfolio.
- Try to avoid dipping into your IRA and 401(k) at age 60, if you were not planning to touch those monies until age 66. The best withdrawal strategy remains to wait until age 70 1/2 and then take only your Required Minimum Distributions.
- Lay-offs are one of the most common reasons people start Social Security benefits early. If you have longevity concerns – and most people should – you want to delay those benefits for as long as you can, even to age 70. You get an 8% increase in benefits by delaying for each year past full retirement age. Patience pays.
- Take a part-time or seasonal job if it means you can avoid tapping your retirement accounts. Unemployment benefits are based on weekly income, so you would be better off working 40 hours in one week and zero the following week, versus working 20 hours both weeks.
Bonus: 6) Take care of your emotional needs
- It’s easy to focus on the financial aspects of a lay-off, but the emotional impacts are even greater. If you are not yet financially ready for retirement, a very real concern is running out of money in your seventies or later. We need to address those fears with a revised financial plan.
- It’s natural to feel resentment and even betrayal when you were planning on giving a company the rest of your working years, and they decide instead to kick you to the curb. It’s important to not take this personally. A lay-off does not have anything to do with your value as a human being, a parent, or even as an employee. If you still feel enthusiasm, optimism, and joy in your work, then your positive attitude will be as valuable to your next employer as your experience!
- We need to have a sense of identity, self-worth, and purpose that is not tied to our job. We are more than just an accountant, teacher, or engineer. Many people who are laid off go through the same work withdrawal they would have experienced at retirement. They don’t have their old routine, colleagues, or sense of belonging. Can you fulfill those needs in another way, such as through part-time work, free-lancing, or volunteering? What exactly is it that you miss?
While you can do all these steps on your own, what may give you the most confidence to move forward is to meet with me and prepare a new financial plan. I’ve met a lot of folks in the same situation and can help. We will put together a detailed analysis reflecting your new situation, evaluate all your options, and chart a new course.
Sometimes we choose change and sometimes it is thrust upon us. Change isn’t always easy or what we would have preferred, but ultimately, it’s our attitude that determines how successfully we can adapt.