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When can you hope to retire? This question is simple, but it spurs many others: Have you saved enough money for retirement? Can you keep working for as long as you'd like? Are you concerned about health care costs?
While many of us carefully plan out when we'll stop working, our best expectations don't always match up with reality. Gallup's 2021 Economy and Personal Finance survey found a two-year gap between the average age people planned to retire at and the average age of retirement. This gap has been fairly consistent since 2002: Working respondents plan to keep working longer than they actually stay in the workforce.
What Is the Average Retirement Age?
Among the respondents to Gallup's 2021 survey, the average retirement age was 62. The average age at which working respondents planned to retire was 64. Although Gallup says it's "unclear" why many Americans retired earlier than expected, unexpected job loss, health challenges or job market conditions may all be factors.
At 62, the average retirement age was the highest Gallup reported in its 20 years of tracking retirement trends. Even in pre-pandemic 2019 and in 2020, the average retirement age was 61. At the same time, 2021's expected retirement age of 64 was lower than in previous years: It was 66 in 2020 and 65 in 2019.
Sixty-two is also the earliest age at which you can collect Social Security benefits—a likely reason it's a popular age for first-time Social Security claims. According to data from the Social Security Administration cited by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, the most common ages to begin collecting Social Security are 62 and full retirement age. Here's how the numbers break down:
- About a third of eligible people—31% of men and 34% of women—begin claiming Social Security at 62.
- A slightly larger cohort—36% of men and 30% of women—begin collecting Social Security at full retirement age, which was 65 or 66 when this data was collected and 67 for people born after 1960.
- Much smaller numbers of people start collecting Social Security between 62 and full retirement age, or after full retirement age.
How Much Money You Should Have Saved for Retirement
What do these numbers tell you about when you can hope to retire? Not much. Your personal financial readiness is a more important factor in deciding when to stop working. There's no fail-proof predictor of how much money you'll need once you retire, but investment firm Fidelity has created savings targets by age to help gauge where you fall on the savings spectrum. According to Fidelity's guidelines, here's how much you should have saved if you want to retire at 67:
- By age 30: One year of your current annual salary
- By age 40: Three times your annual salary
- By age 50: Six times your annual salary
- By age 60: Eight times your annual salary
- By age 67: 10 times your annual salary
It may be reassuring to know that most retirees Gallup surveyed—80%—felt they had enough money for a comfortable lifestyle. But interestingly, only 53% of non-retirees believe they'll have enough money when they retire.
What to Consider Before Retiring
The size of your retirement account(s) is a key consideration when deciding when to retire, but it isn't the only one. If you're like the 53% of non-retirees who don't think they'll have enough money in retirement—or you simply aren't sure how you'll support yourself in retirement—start working out your retirement plan now.
Take stock of pensions and 401(k) accounts. When are you eligible to access your pension (if you have one)? Can you accelerate your 401(k) contributions to grow your nest egg faster?
Bulk up your retirement savings. Add to your retirement nest egg with a traditional or Roth IRA. Each has its own tax advantages, and both will help you create dedicated retirement savings. Contribution limits for 2021 are $6,000—or $7,000 if you're 50 or older. Read up for more ideas on how to save more money toward your retirement.
Take note of Social Security milestones. Although you can begin collecting early benefits at 62, you'll receive larger monthly payments if you wait until full retirement age—and even larger payments if you wait until your benefits max out at age 70. To estimate how much you'll receive at every age, check out the Social Security Administration's benefits calculator or visit the my Social Security page.
Consider health care costs and Medicare. If you retire before you're Medicare-eligible at 65, you may be on the hook for medical insurance as well as any medical expenses you incur.
Examine your lifestyle. It's important not to underestimate your expenses after retirement, but you may want to think about how you can reduce expenses once you stop working. Move to a smaller home or a less expensive community, for example. Or scale back discretionary spending. Also consider whether working for longer or continuing part-time employment after you retire might help supplement your income if you're not where you want to be.
Prepare Now, Enjoy Your Retirement Whenever
Whether you plan to retire at the "average" age of 62 or hope to work well into your 70s and beyond, the sooner—and more enthusiastically—you plan, the better your chances for a comfortable retirement. Gathering up your retirement resources, mapping out your projected expenses and fully understanding your choices can help you decide when the time is right.