Retirement by the numbers

4 MIN READ | #blog

The trickiest thing about retirement is that the numbers are always changing. Did the latest headlines touting a “magic number” for retirement leave you in awe? Do you expect retirement to begin at a specific age?  As you near the mid-point in your career (or later), you’ll discover it’s not quite so simple. Planning for retirement is like a chess game; you need a strategy and you’ve got to think two steps ahead.

The good news is everyone follows the same rules. The difference in outcomes depends on how early you make your moves and how well you know the game. Here’s your quick reference guide to important ages throughout retirement planning, and information that can help you determine how you stack up against the field.

Make the move: Key ages in retirement planning

Retirement isn’t tied to a certain age, but specific benefits and savings advantages are. Improve your retirement savings plan by taking note of these key ages:

  • Age 50 – You qualify to begin making catch-up contributions to your IRAs and 401(k) savings accounts. For 2021, those aged 50 and older can make a $7,000 contribution to an IRA and a $26,000 contribution to a 401(k).
  • Age 59 ½ –You become exempt from tax penalties on early withdrawals from retirement accounts.
  • Age 62 – You are the minimum age to qualify for Social Security benefits. Note that your benefits will be permanently reduced if you start them now. You can maximize your benefits if you wait until you reach your full retirement age.
  • Age 65 – You become eligible for Medicare benefits. You must enroll in Medicare to receive benefits. However, if you are still employed and have health insurance or a Health Savings Account, ask your insurance company how enrolling in Medicare will affect you.
  • Age 66 – If you were born between 1943 and 1954, you become eligible for full Social Security Benefits. Full retirement age ranges from 65-67 depending on the year you were born.
  • Age 70 – If you qualify for Social Security, you must begin taking withdrawals at this age. The maximum benefit for someone who waits until age 70 is $3,895 per month in 2021.
  • Age 72 – There is no age limit on making regular contributions to traditional or Roth IRAs. However, you will need to begin taking required minimal withdrawals (known as RMDs) from most retirement accounts.

Across the playing field

If you’re adjusting your retirement plans and expectations to better match your financial preparedness and work outlook, you’re not alone.

  • 39% of workers today expect to retire after age 65. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), that’s more than triple the figure from 1991 when 11% of workers expected to retire after age 65. Why do we expect to work later? Workers cite a hardship such as a health problem or disability not related to the coronavirus, not being able to afford to retire, and a change in their employment situation as top reasons for their delays.
  • Nearly three-quarters (72%) of workers report that they expect employment will provide a major or minor source of income in retirement. Currently, 30% of retirees report that employment is a major or minor source of income.
  • Over the past 10 years, the number of employed adults aged 65+ has increased 49%. Many older Americans are working longer in order to save more for retirement, or to delay their first Social Security withdrawal or private savings withdrawal. Older adults are also choosing to retire from their industry or occupation but are pursuing alternative employment options for social interaction and the pursuit of personal interests.

While the retirement numbers game is governed by ages and contribution limits, the trends will continue to grow and change. You can balance your strategy by knowing the rules of the game and taking advantage of the opportunities that mean the most to you.

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SOURCES: “IRA Contribution Limits” Accessed: Aug. 19, 2021

U.S. Department of Labor “Taking the Mystery Out of Retirement Planning”  Table 1, Timeline for Retirement, 2018.

EBRI 2021 Retirement Confidence Survey –  2021 RCS Fact Sheet #2 – Expectations About Retirement.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Databases Tables & Calculators by Subject; Employment Level – 65 years and over.  Accessed August 19, 2021 via


Material discussed is meant for general informational purposes only and is not to be construed as tax, legal, or investment advice. Therefore, the information should be relied upon only when coordinated with individual professional advice.  Guardian, its subsidiaries, agents, and employees do not provide tax, legal, or accounting advice. Consult your tax, legal, or accounting professional regarding your individual situation