Q. I’m 30 and I love the idea of retiring at 55. My dad died young and never really got to enjoy himself. What do I have to do to retire early?
— Getting ready

A. retiring at 55 is an admirable goal. It’s not impossible, but for most people, it’s a tough one to reach.

“The clients that I’ve seen successfully retire at age 55 save early and often, do not live above their means and usually have at least one pension,” said Brian Power, a certified financial planner with Gateway Advisory in Westfield.

Unless you have a very big savings potential, it is very difficult to retire at age 55 without the combination of the those three variables, Power said.

Keep in mind that the earliest you can claim Social Security is age 62. This means someone retiring at age 55 will need to supplement their lifestyle solely on their investments —assuming no pension, because most employers do not offer pensions anymore — for seven years before they can get a little help from Social Security, Power said.

Then there’s your life expectancy.

“I’m sorry to hear about your father passing away at such an early age but a current 30-year-old should expect to live into their early 80s, so that could mean you would need to support a 25 to 30 year retirement if retiring at age 55,” he said.

Needing to supplement your lifestyle before Social Security kicks in will put pressure on your investments, he said, and the fact that you may live until your 80s and even 90s will require a very large portfolio to secure a comfortable retirement.

Plus, you won’t be able to access IRAs or 401(k)s easily or without consequences before age 59 1/2.

The only way you can be assured of not outliving your wealth is to establish income-generating assets in an amount large enough that the earnings they provide can sustain your lifestyle, said Steven Gallo, a certified public accountant with U.S. Financial Services in Fairfield.

He offered this example: Let’s say you determine you’ll need $100,000 a year to live a comfortable retirement.

“Current financial planning theory tells us that we can conservatively expect to earn 3.5 to 4 percent on retirement assets over a long period of time, therefore you would need approximately $2.5 to $3 million in income-generating assets at retirement to maintain your needs,” he said. “So you see the answer to your question depends entirely on you and your individual needs and wants.”

You haven’t said what your current financial position is, where you are in the process of accumulating assets or what your current employment situation is.

“Therefore I recommend that you first determine what your desired standard of living is and then you can calculate what your asset goal needs to be,” Gallo said. “Once that has been established you need to save aggressively using any retirement plans available to you at work first and then start a personal saving plan for any excess funds you may have available on a regular basis.”

There is another option.

Power said rather than leave work completely at 55, you may want to establish a plan in which you work and save as much as you can until age 55, and then you switch jobs or careers into a less stressful environment, taking a position that will at least cover your yearly expenses.

“In this scenario, you can have the best of both worlds,” Power said. “You can make sure you give your investments more time to grow and less time on the back end that you’ll be withdrawing from it and, if it’s part-time work, you can have more time to enjoy the things you like to do when you’re not at work.”

You might want to start working with a financial planner now for help in getting and staying on track to reach your goal.

Email your questions to Ask@NJMoneyHelp


Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for The Star-Ledger and she’s the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Click here to sign up for the NJMoneyHelp.com weekly e-newsletter. Like NJMoneyHelp.com on Facebook and follow it on Twitter.