According to the Center for Retirement Research, 85% of households would have enough to live comfortably if they quit at 70, vs. half of those who stop working at 66 (full retirement age for most people today) and just a third who quit at 62.
That’s partly because working longer means you’ll have fewer retirement years to fund and more years for your savings to grow. The critical advantage, though, is that you’ll be able to delay taking Social Security, which will dramatically boost your eventual payout. Start collecting at age 70 and your monthly check will be 32% higher than if you begin benefits at 66 and 76% more than if you take it at 62 (when most people do). Moreover, that income is adjusted annually to rise with inflation and guaranteed to continue as long as you live—both rare benefits. “Anyone who thinks they’ll live beyond average age should try to defer benefits,” says investment consultant Charles Ellis, co-author of Falling Short: The Upcoming Retirement Crisis and What to Do.
Yet extending your career beyond traditional retirement age isn’t always a matter of choice, as health problems or layoffs kick many people out of a job sooner than they’d planned. Meanwhile, if you’re in a job you don’t enjoy or work intense hours, the prospect of working until you’re 70 may sound pretty grim. These strategies can help you prolong the time you earn income and enjoy what you do.
The Key Moves
Get critical training. Once you reach a certain age, you may be branded with stereotypes that make you vulnerable: resistant to change, technologically challenged, complacent. In a survey by staffing agency Adecco, 39% of employers said the greatest challenge with older workers is their difficulty learning tech.
Don’t count on your experience and expertise to save you. Make an active effort to show you are keeping up with trends in your field. Sign up for training your employer offers, take courses at the local community college in social media and managing big data, and attend conferences to be up on the latest challenges in your industry.
Slow down. For some people, it’s not the job they hate; it’s the hectic pace and long hours. “If you like what you do, finding more flexibility may make it palatable to work a few more years,” says career coach Nancy Collamer, author of Second Act Careers.
That may be getting easier to pull off. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey of 650 human resources executives recently found that half of employers are willing to offer flexible arrangements, such as working part-time or job sharing, to their most skilled and experienced workers. And nearly 15% of employers now offer more formal phased-retirement programs that allow older workers to ease out of their jobs by reducing hours, responsibilities, or both, according to the Society of Human Resource Management.
Your employer is likely to be more open to giving you greater flexibility if the company already has options such as telecommuting in place or if your position involves project work that lends itself to a reduced schedule. Employers are also more willing to agree to phased retirement if the worker proposing it has a reputation for being productive and a work style that needs less supervision, a study for the Center for Retirement Research found.
Take an independent route. One of the advantages of being older is that you have 30-plus years of experience and contacts, says Collamer. That can make it easier to move into consulting or freelance work, which allows you to choose your assignments and gives you chunks of free time to enjoy other pursuits.
Line up clients before you quit and get a sense of how much you can earn. It’s easier to strike out on your own in certain fields, such as tutoring if you’re a teacher, designing websites if you’re a graphic artist, or tax prep if you’re an accountant. Employers are also warming up to older freelancers as a way to tap experienced workers without paying the higher costs associated with having them on staff. One-third of employers have hired retired employees as consultants or temps, a Society for Human Resource Management survey found. Sites such as FlexProfessionals, Retired Brains, and RetirementJobs can also help connect you with contract assignments.
Pursue a new path. If you’re instead eager to try something completely different, leveraging your existing skills is usually easier than starting from scratch. Nonprofits, for example, will need 640,000 new senior managers by 2016, reports the Bridgespan Group, creating opportunities for people with expertise in HR, finance, tech, and general management.
Or hook up with an organization that helps older people transition to new careers. You can find alternative teaching programs with accelerated certifications at ccteach.org. Other helpful groups include Encore.org and the Transition Network.
Get more answers to your retirement questions in MONEY’s Ultimate Retirement Guide:
Should I Delay My Retirement?
How Much of My Income Should I Save for Retirement?
What’s the Best Age to Start Taking Social Security Payouts?