Retirement was once a destination — a goal post to mark the end of a long, productive career.
But research indicates that retirement is becoming much more fluid in America.
A 2017 survey from RAND Corporation, a nonprofit research firm, found that almost 40 percent of workers over age 65 had previously retired — only to rejoin the workforce.
And for those still in retirement, roughly half said they would return to paid work if the right opportunity presented itself.
According to researchers: “The fact that these individuals have access to Social Security benefits and possibly other retirement income suggests they can afford to demand working conditions that more closely match their preferences in order to participate in employment.”
So, what motivates people to “unretire” or start an encore career?
“If you’re thinking about returning to work, one of two things has happened,” Accredited Financial Counselor Susan Greenhalgh told RetireGuide.com. “You’ve either been struck with a severe case of boredom and miss the sense of purpose working gives you — or you’re feeling a financial pressure to go back, maybe due to an emergency.”
Financial Considerations of Working After Retirement
Returning to work is a unique, personal decision.
But before you head back, experts like Greenhalgh say it’s essential to get a firm grasp on your current cash flow and budget.
“You need your eyes wide open to your own financial situation,” said Greenhalgh, who started her business, Mind Your Money LLC, in 2018 at the age of 62. “You need to be honest with yourself about your needs and your capabilities.”
Working in retirement can supplement your income but it’s important to understand what you’ll be gaining — and potentially losing — in the process.
“It’s important to do a deep dive into these things first,” Greenhalgh said. “Otherwise, you’re going to be surprised at how your benefits may be impacted.”
“You need your eyes wide open to your own financial situation.”
If money is your primary motivator, look for jobs with wages and benefits that fill your income gaps without jeopardizing your benefits or negatively affecting your bottom line.
How Working Affects Your Social Security Benefits
You can return to work and still collect Social Security retirement benefits.
But certain limits and rules must be followed.
Adrienne Ross is a financial planner in Spokane, Washington. She told RetireGuide.com that many people take Social Security benefits at age 62 — even if they have money saved in a retirement account.
“It often seems like a safe, secure idea to take those benefits as soon as possible,” said Ross, founder of Clear Insight Financial Planning.
But starting Social Security when you’re first eligible reduces your benefits by as much as 25 to 30 percent.
“People may claim Social Security at 62 only to go back to work a few years later because they’re not getting as much money in benefits as they anticipated,” Ross explained.
Your age determines how much you can earn.
|Year of Birth||Full Retirement Age|
|1955||66 years and 2 months|
|1956||66 years and 4 months|
|1957||66 years and 6 months|
|1958||66 years and 8 months|
|1959||66 years and 10 month|
|1960 and later||67|
In 2021, you can earn up to $18,960 without impacting your benefits before full retirement age.
However, once you hit that threshold, your Social Security check goes down $1 for every $2 earned.
For example, you start collecting Social Security benefits at age 62. At age 64, you get a part-time job and earn $25,000 in a year.
This is $6,040 over the limit. Your Social Security check will be reduced by $3,020 that year — or $1 for every $2 earned.
In the year you reach your full retirement age, you can earn up to $50,520 in 2021 before your benefits are docked. After the $50,520 threshold, your benefits are reduced by $1 for every $3 earned.
Finally, once you hit full retirement age, working won’t affect your Social Security benefits — no matter how much you earn.
Social Security Benefits and Taxes
If Social Security is your only source of income, you don’t need to worry about paying taxes on your benefits.
But things get more complicated if you return to work and start making money.
The Social Security Administration uses a term called “combined income” to determine how much of your check can be taxed.
- Adjusted gross income (This is the amount you get paid at work — before taxes are taken out — minus adjustments, such as contributions to certain retirement accounts, HSAs and other applicable deductions).
- Nontaxable interest.
- One-half of your yearly Social Security benefit.
If that combined income number is less than $25,000 for an individual, then your Social Security benefits aren’t taxable.
If your combined income is between $25,000 and $34,000 for a single filer, you may owe income tax on up to 50 percent of your benefits.
If your combined income is more than $34,000, up to 85 percent of your benefits can be taxed.
Each January, you’ll receive a Social Security Benefit Statement, Form SSA-1099. Use this when you complete your federal return to see if you owe taxes on your benefits.
Social Security benefit taxation is complicated. Reach out to a tax professional or financial planner if you need help.
Other Social Security Considerations
It’s smarter financially to delay Social Security benefits until your full retirement age, Ross said.
Still, there’s a couple ways to recoup at least some of those losses.
First, if your benefits were reduced because you made more than the income limits mentioned earlier, you actually get that money back — eventually. It isn’t gone forever.
Here’s how it works.
Let’s assume you take Social Security at age 62 and receive a monthly benefit of $1,000. At age 63, you decide to go back to work.
You work for 12 months and earn more than the $18,960 income limit. Your Social Security benefits are reduced to $500 for 12 months as a result.
Once you hit full retirement age, those 12 months of reduced benefits are paid back to you.
In this case, you’d receive your normal $1,000 monthly benefit plus $500 for 12 months.
After that, your benefit goes back to your standard $1,000 a month.
Here’s something else to keep in mind: Your Social Security check is based on your top 35 years of earnings.
If your latest year of work turns out to be one of your highest, Social Security will refigure your monthly benefit and you may see a boost in your check once you hit your full retirement age.
This is different than recouping your reduced benefits, and it likely won’t affect you if you returned to work for a low-paying or part-time job.
For more information about working and Social Security benefits, check out the SSA’s How Work Affects Your Benefits booklet.
Medicare, Private Insurance and Post-Retirement Work
If you’re 65 or older, you likely get health insurance from Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan.
Original Medicare is made up of two parts — Part A hospital insurance and Part B medical coverage. You may also choose to purchase a standalone Medicare Part D prescription drug plan or a Medigap supplement insurance policy.
If you return to work for an employer who offers private health insurance, you can take it and still keep your Medicare coverage. You’re allowed to have both.
Medicare may act as your primary coverage or your secondary coverage.
You may consider dropping Medicare Part B if you return to work. Some people do this to avoid paying the $148.50 monthly premium in addition to any employer health care costs.
However, this can be tricky. If you’re not careful, you may owe penalties and face other issues down the road.
First, your employer must have more than 20 employees. If that’s not the case, you may be penalized for dropping Medicare Part B.
If you have active employer coverage, you can choose to disenroll from Medicare Part B.
Once you lose your employer health insurance or return to retirement, you must sign up for Part B again within eight months.
Otherwise, you may face a lifetime late enrollment penalty.
Meanwhile, you only get two months to sign up for a standalone Part D plan once your workplace coverage ends. You can face a late-enrollment penalty for this, too.
To disenroll from Medicare, you’ll need to submit a form, CMS-1763, and it must be completed during an interview with a Social Security representative.
Medicare Coverage for High-Income Earners
Let’s say you return to work after age 65 and keep your Medicare coverage.
If you land a lucrative second career or consulting position, you may enter a higher income bracket and face Medicare surcharges.
That’s because, by law, high-income earners pay more for Medicare Part B and Part D.
If you’re single and earn more than $88,000 but less than or equal to $111,000 a year, you must pay an additional $59.40 a month for your Part B premium in 2021.
For a married couple filing jointly, extra charges start at incomes above $170,000.
A similar, smaller surcharge applies to Part D premiums.
In 2020, an individual who makes between $87,000 and $109,000 a year will owe a $12.20 income-related monthly adjustment amount in addition to their standard Part D premium.
Pensions and Retirement Accounts
Pensions and retirement accounts are two additional ways people supplement income in later life.
But certain tax rules and conditions need to be considered if you’re rejoining the workforce.
How Returning to Work Can Impact Pensions
Returning to work after retiring may affect your pension.
Each pension is different, so it’s important to look at your plan’s details.
Sometimes, you must be rehired as a part-time or contract worker if you want to work for your former employer and still receive pension benefits.
Other times, returning to work for a former employer will suspend your pension benefits.
You can usually still collect a pension and work full-time so long as it’s with a different company.
Check with your human resources department and your pension plan provider first to understand any potential penalties.
Retirement Accounts and Required Minimum Distributions
This requires retirement plan account owners to withdraw money starting at age 72.
Even if you continue working past 72, you must take a RMD from your IRA.
If you don’t, you’ll face a potential 50 percent tax penalty.
You might be able to delay taking RMDs from your current employer-sponsored retirement account, such as a 401(k) or 403(b).
- Still be working.
- Have an employer-sponsored retirement account with the business you work for.
- Own less than 5 percent of the company you work for.
If you go back to work, consider adding money to your retirement accounts.
A law known as the SECURE Act of 2019 makes this possible. It allows all retirees to contribute to traditional IRAs and 401(k)s if they earn wages.
People over age 50 can contribute up to $7,000 a year to an IRA. And if your company offers a 401(k) match, take it. It’s essentially free money.
“This can help increase your savings if you maybe didn’t have much money in savings before returning to work,” Ross told RetireGuide.com.
Contributing to a retirement account can also help offset taxes owed on your Social Security benefits because adding money to an IRA or 401(k) plan shrinks your adjusted gross income, Ross added.
Finding the Right Post-Retirement Job
Retirement can be a great time to pursue what you love and make money at the same time.
Due to the pandemic, an increasing number of part-time jobs and side hustles can be done remotely at home, making them ideal for seniors.
According to a July 2020 research paper by Harvard University and University of Illinois professors, remote work is most common in industries with better educated and better paid workers.
More than a third of firms that switched employees to remote work said they think it will remain more common — even after the COVID-19 pandemic ends.
Online tutoring, freelance content writing and customer service positions are just a few virtual ways older Americans can supplement their income.
And if you’re not sure where to start, or need help finding a job, organizations like Goodwill Industries have expanded their online services to help people build resumes, polish dress etiquette and find employment at no cost to jobseekers.
According to Lauren Lawson-Zilai, senior director of public relations at Goodwill Industries International, 70 percent of locations have transitioned at least some of their career services online.
“The future of work and skills is changing fast,” Lawson-Zilai told RetireGuide.com. “If you’re only looking in your local classifieds for your next job, you’re missing out on a large number of opportunities.”
Ask an Expert: Tips for Working After Retirement
Liz Lopez founded her company, Captivate Your Audience Business Services, 13 years ago in Tampa Bay, Florida. She provides resume design, job search strategies, LinkedIn training and other services to clients who want to stand out in a competitive, 21st century job market.
Think about what you want to do. What brings you joy in the workplace? Too often professionals make themselves miserable because they go after what they think is available rather than what makes them happy.
Late career is a lousy time to be stuck in a job you don’t enjoy. Figure out what feels rewarding, then do the research to determine what jobs or businesses align with your goals and skills.
Embrace how things work now. The job market changes constantly. There is more automation, it’s a lot less personal and it can move very slowly. By marketing yourself strategically, you can land an opportunity where you make a meaningful impact and leave a valuable legacy.
Be prepared to develop a resume, cover letter and LinkedIn profile that aligns with current job market trends. Then learn how to interview effectively via video. You need to powerfully show that you are relevant in today’s world.
Focus on your history and achievements from the last 10 to 15 years. Otherwise, you can age yourself out of consideration if you insist on talking about work you did 30 years ago. Ageism is sadly very real.
If you are not sure how to get started, find a career coach experienced with mature and late-career professionals. Whichever route you take, consult with your accountant or tax professional to understand the impact of any new income.
- CareerOneStop is a comprehensive career, training and job search website sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor. It offers many free online tools, including a job board, articles, training resources and more. You can also find local help by entering your city or zip code into the American Job Center finder on the website.
- Goodwill Industries
- Local Goodwill employment specialists can provide a blend of in-person and virtual services, classes and training programs in various fields. They also offer resume assistance and virtual job fairs. Call 1-800-466-3945 or visit goodwill.org to search for your local Goodwill by zip code.
- Senior Community Service Employment Program
- The Senior Community Service Employment Program connects low-income, unemployed adults age 55 and older with community service work at nonprofit and public facilities, such as schools, hospitals and senior centers. Participants work an average of 20 hours a week at minimum wage and are provided free training as a bridge to unsubsidized employment. For more information, call 1-877-872-5627, or visit the online Older Worker Program Finder.
- Launched in 2007, WorkForce50.com allows mature workers to browse a wide range of job postings and explore companies specifically interested in hiring older employees. The website also features an extensive library of articles on relevant career topics.
25 Cited Research Articles
- Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. (2020, November 6). 2021 Medicare Parts A & B Premiums and Deductibles. Retrieved from https://www.cms.gov/newsroom/fact-sheets/2021-medicare-parts-b-premiums-and-deductibles
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