Countdown to Retirement

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Is that the end-of-the-day bell ringing? The freedom of retirement entices you more with each passing day. You may even be counting down the days until retiring. To ensure that your retirement is all that you imagine, take a few final steps before walking out the door.

1. Investigate your retirement accounts. Start with your CalSTRS or CalPERS retirement benefits. You’ll find links to benefits counseling, workshops, benefits calculators and more at www.calstrs.com and www.calpers.ca.gov.

You may also have pensions and retirement accounts from past employers. Round up information about all of them. You can search for lost pensions at the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (www.pbgc.gov). Then, determine how you want to take your proceeds – as a lump sum, systematic payments or monthly annuity. Consider hiring an actuary, financial planner or CPA to help you decide which option gives you the best outcome.

2. Develop a budget. Review your anticipated expenses once you retire. Include new activities and potentially higher health care costs. Next list your income sources: Social Security, pensions, retirement accounts and other assets.* Then work out a monthly budget. Also, decide if you are prepared to manage your money. If not, consider hiring a professional, qualified financial planner and stay informed about your investments and expenses.

3. Apply for Social Security if you paid Social Security taxes at any time during your career or if you are eligible on a spouse's record. If you are eligible for Social Security, submit your application three months before you expect payments to begin. To learn more about enrollment and your eligibility, visit www.socialsecurity.gov and use the site’s “Benefit Eligibility Screening Tool.”

4. Plan your health-care coverage. Find out if your employer will continue to cover you and your spouse under its insurance plan and what is included in that policy. Learn about your Medicare options, their costs and when you can apply. Even if you’re ineligible for full Social Security benefits at age 65, you probably qualify for Medicare. The  Medicare Web site has several helpful pages explaining Part A, Part B, Part D prescription drug coverage and Medicare + Choice coverage and costs. You can also download a booklet that explains about Medicare (PDF). Apply for Medicare about three months prior to your 65th birthday at your local Social Security office or call 1-800-772-1213.

Depending on your Medicare choice, you may want to supplement your coverage with a Medigap policy. Consider how various plans fit into your retirement budget and the coverage you need. The Medigap open enrollment period lasts six months, starting on the first day of the month that both these requirements are fulfilled: you are 65 years old and enrolled in Medicare Part B. You can learn more about Medicare and Medicare Part D prescription coverage on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Web site.

5. Update your estate plan. Due to changes in your personal and financial situation, you may need to adjust your estate plan. Make sure that primary and contingent beneficiaries on retirement plans, brokerage accounts, life insurance and other assets not controlled by your will are up-to-date. An estate planning professional can help you ensure that your plan meets your goals.

* CalSTRS participants will not receive Social Security based on their CalSTRS employment.

2013 Medicare Premiums

Part A Coverage. Most people are eligible for Part A coverage at no cost because they paid Medicare taxes while working. If you are not eligible, you can purchase Medicare Part A coverage, which costs up to $441 per month.

Part B Coverage. The standard monthly premium is $104.90. Individuals making more than $85,000 or married couples filing jointly earning more than $170,000 pay a higher premium based on income.

Part D Coverage. The average monthly premium in 2011 was $31.08.