Retirement Income Planning: 4 Steps to Take Now

Retirement income planning is a key part of preparing for the next chapter in life.
Josh Garber
By Josh Garber 
Edited by Tina Orem

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Retirement income planning is the process of assessing your anticipated retirement income and expenses to ensure that you’ll have sufficient resources to maintain your lifestyle during retirement.

Here are four steps to take to start planning your retirement income.

1. Identify your sources of retirement income

The first step in retirement income planning is to become aware of where you’ll get your retirement income. People’s sources of retirement income vary. Typical sources of retirement income include:

  • Social Security. Starting at age 62, you may qualify for Social Security retirement benefits.

  • Retirement accounts. This includes money you’ve saved in 401(k)s and IRAs (Roth, traditional and SEP). These accounts typically have required minimum distributions.

  • Brokerage accounts. Money in brokerage accounts, including dividends from stocks held in those accounts, can be a source of retirement income. 

  • Pensions. Depending on where you’ve worked, you may have a pension plan that provides retirement income.

  • Savings. This includes money you have in savings accounts, certificates of deposit or checking accounts.

  • Rental income. If you own a rental property that you plan to keep during retirement, your rental income should be part of your retirement income.

Estimate your Social Security retirement benefits

Your actual benefit may be lower or higher than estimate made with this calculator, because it does not take into account your actual earnings history.

We assume you have earnings every year until you begin receiving Social Security benefits. If you had several years of noncovered employment or your earnings changed significantly from year to year, this calculator will overestimate or underestimate your benefit.

Desired age to begin Social Security

You will qualify for benefits at age 62.

2. Estimate your retirement expenses

The next step in retirement income planning is to estimate your expenses in retirement so you can determine whether your retirement income will cover them. Typical expenses in retirement can include:

  • Mortgage, rent and other property-related expenses. You’ll need a place to live, so be sure to consider your mortgage and/or rent, property taxes, repairs and other property-related expenses. 

  • Taxes. Aside from withdrawals from a Roth IRA after age 59½, most (if not all) of your retirement income is taxable (even Social Security)

    Social Security Administration. Income Taxes And Your Social Security Benefit. Accessed Apr 9, 2023.

  • Medical expenses. According to a 2022 study from Fidelity, the average retired couple at 65 may expect to spend $315,000 on medical expenses in retirement

    . Fidelity is a NerdWallet partner.

  • Car payments. Typical car-related expenses in retirement include car loan payments, repairs, fines and insurance.

  • Food and personal items. You’ll still need to eat, bathe and clothe yourself in retirement, so be sure to budget for those expenses. 

  • Travel. Unless you plan on staying put for all of your retirement, travel is another expense you’ll typically have in retirement.

  • Entertainment. This includes things such as subscriptions, movie tickets and social events.

🤓Nerdy Tip

Did you know that Medicare Part B premiums are usually automatically deducted from your Social Security retirement checks? Learn more about how much Medicare actually costs.

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3. Find ways to increase or supplement your retirement income

There are a number of ways you can increase or supplement your retirement income, which can be especially helpful (and even necessary) if your retirement income doesn’t fully cover your anticipated retirement expenses.

  • Delay collecting Social Security retirement benefits. You can claim Social Security as early as age 62, but you don’t receive 100% of your benefits unless you wait until you reach full retirement age (full retirement age varies with birth year, but it is 67 for people born in 1960 or later). If you can hold off even longer (say, to age 68 or 69), your monthly benefit could increase by as much as 8% a year. (There is no financial incentive to wait past 70 to start taking Social Security

    Social Security Administration. Starting Your Retirement Benefits Early. Accessed Apr 9, 2023.

  • Rent out a room in your home. Not only does renting a room provide additional income, but it can help prevent loneliness and isolation in retirement. 

  • Buy and rent out an investment property. Purchasing and renting out an investment property can supplement your retirement income if the rent is more than what you pay for the property’s mortgage and other expenses (such as property taxes, repairs and rental management fees).

  • Capitalize on your hobbies. Hidden talents can turn into income, such as turning a love for gardening into cash from selling your crop at your local farmers’ market. 

  • Set up a stream of passive income. Rebalancing your investment portfolio toward high-dividend ETFs or stocks can generate a regular stream of income. 

  • Borrow money. This may not always be the best or easiest option. For one thing, it can be harder to borrow money when you’re retired, because your retirement income may be lower than your working income. Additionally, you’ll likely pay interest, which can decrease your income in the long run. 

4. Look for ways to decrease your retirement expenses

If your retirement expenses are greater than your retirement income, you may need to decrease your expenses. And even if your anticipated retirement income is higher than your anticipated expenses, you may find more financial security by lowering your retirement expenses anyway.

Below are some ways you can decrease your expenses in retirement:

  • Pay off the mortgage before you retire. Not having a mortgage payment can help keep your housing expenses low during retirement.

  • Enroll in Medicare. To help with medical expenses, be sure to enroll in  Medicare (you can first enroll in the three months before turning 65)

    U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. When does Medicare coverage start?. Accessed Apr 9, 2023.

  • Downsize your home. Selling your home and moving to a smaller one or even an apartment or condo can reduce costs. 

  • Move to a cheaper city. Although jobs in bigger cities sometimes come with bigger salaries, when you retire you don’t need to worry about a salary. Consider reducing your expenses by moving to a city with a lower cost of living.

  • Drive a less expensive car. Unless your car is already paid for in full, consider trading in your car for one with a lower monthly payment.

The bottom line

Retirement income planning is essential if you want to ensure that you’ll be financially secure in retirement. Steps you should take include calculating what your retirement income and retirement expenses will be, then finding ways to both increase your income and decrease your expenses.

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