2024 will be a record-breaking year for retirement in the U.S., with an average of 11,000 Americans a day expected to celebrate their 65th birthday from now until December.
Approximately 4.1 million Americans are poised to turn 65 this year and every year through 2027, according to a report from the Alliance for Lifetime Income. Dubbed by experts as “peak 65” or the “silver tsunami,” the figure represents the largest surge of retirement-age Americans in history.
If you’re one of the many riding the retirement wave this year or next, here’s what you should know, according to one expert.
Enrolling in Medicare
The age of 65 is “a critical year,” Elizabeth O’Brien, senior personal finance reporter for Barron’s, told CBS News.
“That’s the year you become eligible for Medicare, so most people when they care 65 can sign up for that, unless you’re still working and still in a job with health insurance,” she said.
Asked whether everyone who turns 65 should enroll in Medicare, even if they receive health care through their employer, O’Brien says in part, yes, but full enrollment also depends on the situation.
“First of all, Medicare has two parts: Part A [hospital insurance] and Part B. Even if you are working, you should enroll in Part A because you don’t pay premiums for that,” she said.
Medicare Part B covers medical services including certain doctor’s appointments, outpatient care and preventive services. For those who already receive health coverage through an employer, Medicare may be your “secondary payer,” that is, the secondary insurance plan that covers costs not paid for by the primary insurance plan, or “primary payer.”
Whether or not Medicare is your primary or secondary payer depends on coordination of benefits rules which decide which insurance plan pays first.
“Part B is a different story,” O’Brien said. “If you’re still working, and if your company has 20 people or more, then that is primary. If you’re working for a very small company, Medicare does become primary so there’s a little bit of nuance there, but basically, you want to avoid late-enrollment penalties if you miss your sign-up window which is right around your 65th birthday.”
While late enrollment penalties exist for both Medicare parts A and B, those for Part B are an even more serious issue. For each full year you delay enrollment once you reach eligibility at the age of 65, an additional 10% is added to your Medicare Part B premium. Unlike late enrollment penalties for Medicare Part A, which are temporary, late penalties for Medicare Part B are permanent.
In addition to health care decisions, there are also financial decisions that must be made at the pivotal age of 65, beginning with choosing whether or not to retire, O’Brien said.
“You’ve got to think about what you’re gonna do with your 401(k). If you’re still working and you’re retiring, are you gonna roll that over into an individual retirement account? Are you gonna leave that where it is with your company?” she said, adding that there are emotional factors to consider when deciding what’s right for you.
“If you leave your job, what are you going to be doing all day — it’s good to think of that before you get there,” she said.
“If you love what you do, there is no reason to stop at 65. You know there are financial benefits and cognitive benefits for continuing to work, so I would say absolutely keep working,” she added.
For those who have “had enough” of the daily grind, she suggests semi-retirement. “Maybe you’re ready to retire but you still want to do something, there’s a lot to be said about downshifting into a part-time job.”
Never too early to prepare
And to those for whom retirement still seems eons away, O’Brien says there are many advantages to starting on your savings sooner than later.
“One of the biggest mistakes is simply just to not start to save for retirement. And, you know, it’s understandable. When you are young there’s not a lot of extra money in your budget, you’re paying student loans, your rent is too high,” she said. “But that’s precisely when it’s important to start, because you really get more bang for your buck if you start young, do the compound interest.”
What’s more, while O’Brien assures young people that Social Security will most likely be around for them, she notes that it may pay out significantly less. That’s because the program’s trust funds are on track to be, unless lawmakers shore up the program before then, and which could lead to benefits getting shaved by about 20%.
But that forecast is another reason for younger generations to get an early start on savings, O’Brien said.
“You’re going to be able to count on Social Security, but probably less than today’s retirees do,” she said.