A:

When considering how to plan for retirement, firstly think about the age at which you want to retire and the lifestyle you want to enjoy. The older you are when you retire, the longer you have to save and the fewer years you have to support yourself out of savings; however, the older you are when you retire, the less you might be able to physically do and enjoy. The younger you are at retirement, the less time you have to save money, the less you may get in Social Security and the longer you must support yourself through savings.

Once you've settled on an appropriate age, you must consider the lifestyle you want to live. If you want a glamorous lifestyle with expensive homes and vacations, you must have the savings set aside to support that lifestyle. The more moderate your post-retirement financial expectations are, the less money you need to have saved.

After you've figured out your personal balance between lifestyle expectations and retirement age, you'll be able to work on a budget that illustrates the amount you'll want saved before you take the leap. Remember to factor in living expenses, long-term care needs, possible prescriptions, healthcare, relocation costs and more. Include your Social Security income as well as the continued, conservative growth of your savings and employer-sponsored accounts. After all, you won't be emptying out your IRA or 401(k) the day you retire; you'll simply start taking distributions, thereby allowing the remaining balance to continue earning interest and investment growth.

When the time comes to actually retire, consult your employee handbook to find out what the requirements are in terms of giving your notice. Generally, you can expect to be asked to give two weeks to one month's notice in order to prepare your 401(k), profit sharing or other employer-sponsored plans. Your employer may also have a special seminar or meeting you need to attend in order to understand how your specific benefits work.

If you are 62 or older and you'd like to start receiving Social Security benefits, you can visit your local office to get the appropriate application form. Call your IRA custodian to get the appropriate forms to receive one-time or repeating distributions from your IRA, should you need them, and to set up your bank account for automatic deposits.

Finally, consider your healthcare needs. If you are age 64 and 9 months you should sign up for Medicare benefits; if you have a health savings account (HSA) call the custodian to find out how you can start taking distributions, once you are 65 and covered by Medicare.

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