Brandy Decker

Brandy Decker

Some people start preparing for retirement as soon as they get their first part-time jobs in high school. Others wait until they pay off their largest bills, like house loans, car loans and student loans. Still others wait until they hit the senior citizen milestone.

No matter how early or late a person starts preparing for retirement, there’s only one way to do it wrong — and that’s to not do it at all.

“The key to it is planning,” said Brandy Decker, a branch manager at Carter Bank and Trust Bassett. “Consider how much you want to save or how much you need to save.”

It’s easier, of course, if a person starts early. Assuming a high school student puts 10% of their $7.25 per hour gross minimum wage earnings back for a year on an average 20-hour work week, he or she stands to put more than $750 into a retirement plan after only 12 months. If the student never went to college, never learned a trade, never got a raise and never received a full-time promotion, planning for retirement from age 16 to age 62 could land the individual more than $34,600 in personal savings in only 46 years.

If that same high school student were to put those  savings into an Individual Retirement Account, the sum could be even higher.

 “The younger you start investing, the more money you’re going to earn with an IRA because the interest will compound,” Decker said.

Putting a little money back each month could make a big difference later in life. This year, the average monthly Social Security benefit rounds out at $1,461 per person, which is calculated by combining a person’s 35 highest-paid years in the workforce. For many, Social Security benefits alone aren’t enough to get by on a monthly basis. That’s why it’s important to start planning early.

For those who waited, it might not be as easy to create a nest egg in only a matter of years, but it is certainly still possible.

At 62, when U.S. citizens can start collecting Social Security payments, it might dawn on some people that retirement is just around the corner. That’s just as good a time as any to sit down and create a financial plan for the golden years.

“As far as with IRAs, there are ways to make contributions yearly, and those amounts change,” Decker said. “With traditional IRAs, as long as you’re working, you can put $6,000 in an IRA. At 62, you could invest $7,000.”

With a traditional IRA, contributions can also be counted off as tax deductions.

A Roth IRA offers a little more flexibility.

“With a Roth, you can contribute at any age,” Decker said.

If a person puts his or her savings into a Roth IRA, taxes have been deducted before the money hits the account.

No matter when a person started saving or how much they’ve put back over the years, it’s important to take a realistic look at personal finances before turning in a resignation letter at work. There are several factors someone thinking about retirement should consider before making it official.

Someone experiencing a series of health issues may elect to stay at work for an extra year or two to keep their same insurance policy.

“The healthier you are, the less money you have to put out for your health,” Decker said.

She suggested going for routine checkups not only to stay healthy but also to avoid major health shocks right before or right after retirement.

Those taking medications should also look into health insurance outside of the workplace if retirement is in the near future.

For many people age 65 and older, selecting a Medicare plan offers a good health care arrangement. According to the Social Security Administration, most seniors 65 and older are eligible for free Medicare hospital insurance, which is Part A of a four-part option, if they have worked and paid Medicare taxes for a number of years.

Part A helps pay for inpatient care in a hospital or skilled nursing facility following a hospital stay, some home health care and hospice care. Part B helps pay for doctors’ services and an array of other medical services. Part C allows Health Maintenance Organizations, Preferred Provider Organizations and similar health care organizations to offer health insurance plans to Medicare beneficiaries. Part D provides prescription drug benefits through private insurance companies.

The SSA encourages people to apply for Medicare three months before their 65th birthdays regardless of whether or not they plan to receive retirement benefits right away.

Serving more than 50 million individuals a month, the SSA’s hotline suggests applying for benefits online at www.socialsecurity.gov. The process saves time by not waiting in long lines at a person’s local SSA office or holding on the phone for hours on end waiting for a representative.

When a person is ready to consider a retirement plan — whether at age 16 or 106 – Decker suggested setting up an appointment with a professional.

“I would recommend visiting you local financial partner,” Decker said. “Talk about IRAs. Discuss what works best for each person with a concentration on what you want.”

No matter when a person starts planning for their golden years, it’s never too early or too late to begin the process.

“The biggest key to planning is starting,” Decker said. “Don’t wait. Don’t hesitate. The key to it is to do it today.”