Ready, set, retire – 8 deadlines you need to know

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Ready for Retirement? Keep these deadlines in mind.
This guide to important dates for Medicare, Social Security and retirement may help minimize taxes and maximize income — for you or your parents.

Key points

  • Help avoid unnecessary additional taxes by knowing the dates for optional and required retirement plan withdrawals
  • Your Social Security income may decrease or increase depending on the age at which you choose to begin receiving benefits
  • Minimize Medicare premiums and ensure coverage by familiarizing yourself with the program's rules and deadlines
  • Get the View the Retirement Deadlines Checklist
At about age 50, the rules and deadlines for Medicare, Social Security, IRAs, 401(k)s and other employer-sponsored retirement plans start to kick in. Understanding those dates and processes is crucial, both for people who are approaching that age themselves as well as for those whose parents may need some help navigating and staying on top of these deadlines.
The decisions you or your parents make during pre- and post-retirement years can be important in determining how much money will be available during retirement. Debra Greenberg, director of IRA Product Management for Bank of America Merrill Lynch, offers this year-by-year guide.
The decisions you or your parents make can be important in determining how much money will be available in retirement.

Age 50

You're now eligible to make View the article about "catch up" tax-advantaged contributions to 401(k)s and other employer-sponsored retirement plans as well as to IRAs.Footnote 1 See the chart below for annual retirement plan contribution limits.
Contribution Limits
  Younger than Age 50* Age 50 and older
Traditional** or Roth IRAs
2017 Maximum Contributions***
$5,500 $6,500
2017 Employee Contributions
$18,000 $24,000
* You are treated as being age 50 or older if you will turn age 50 or older at any point during the calendar year.
** Contributions to Learn about our Traditional IRA accounts may be tax deductible. If you participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, the tax laws limit the deductibility of your contributions based on modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) ranges that are published annually and correspond to your federal tax filing status — if your MAGI is less than the lower limit, you are eligible for a full deduction for your contributions; if your MAGI is between the limits, you are eligible for a partial deduction; and if your MAGI is above the upper limit you are not eligible for a deduction. For 2017, the MAGI ranges are: $62,000-$72,000 (single and head of household); and $99,000-$119,000 (married filing jointly and qualified widow(er)). If you do not participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan but your spouse does and your filing status is married filing jointly, the deductibility of your contributions is determined based on the MAGI range of $186,000 - $196,000.
Generally, married couples filing separately are not entitled to a deduction for contributions to Traditional IRAs. However, if you are married and file separately but do not live with your spouse at any time during the year, your maximum deduction is determined as if you were a single filer.
If neither you nor your spouse is covered by an employer retirement plan, the maximum deduction is either $5,500 or $6,500, depending on whether you are age 50 or over.
*** You generally have until April 15 of each year to make your IRA contribution for the previous year. If April 15 falls on a weekend or a holiday, the deadline is typically the next business day. 401(k) contributions for 2017 can be made through 12/31/2017.

Age 55

If you separate from service with your employer during or after the year you reach 55, you may be eligible to take a distribution from your workplace 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan without paying an additional 10% tax for early withdrawal (on top of regular income taxes). Such distributions are allowed only if you've left the employment of the company sponsoring that plan. But it's generally better to keep your tax-advantaged retirement savings or investments intact, suggests Greenberg. Also, continuing to make contributions to retirement plans while you're working full time may help your retirement account balances continue to grow.

Age 59½

Once you reach age 59½, withdrawals from employer-sponsored retirement plans and IRAs are no longer subject to the 10% early withdrawal tax, though you still may owe regular income tax on the distributions.

Age 62

Age 62 is the minimum age at which you can choose to begin receiving Social Security benefits. But for each year you postpone taking this benefit (until age 70), your monthly check will be larger. "By age 62, you'll probably want to have determined your strategy — whether to start collecting Social Security, to keep working or to work and receive benefits, depending on your personal situation," Greenberg says. You can also choose to defer Social Security even if you are not working. If you continue to work and take Social Security, there are income limits that could reduce your benefits until you reach full retirement age.
Moreover, if you retire now and you do not work for one of the dwindling number of companies that provides continuing health coverage for retirees, you may be able to extend your group health benefits for a limited time through COBRA, a government program. However, you'll have to pay the full cost of COBRA benefits, and once they end, you'll probably need to purchase a private health insurance policy to tide you over until you're eligible for Medicare.

Age 65

This is the age at which most Americans are eligible for Medicare, the federal government's retirement health insurance program that covers much of the cost of physician and hospital care and other health services. But Medicare comes in several segments — parts A, B, C and D — and the rules for signing up and receiving benefits through each one are complex. Getting Started With Medicare on the site provides basic information about the program, with links to details about premium costs, enrollment deadlines and other important things to know. Age 65 is also when you need to consider purchasing a private "Medigap" insurance policy to help with copayments and deductibles not covered by Medicare.

Age 66

If you were born between 1943 and 1954, age 66 is your "full retirement age" for Social Security. Your "full retirement age" is the age at which you may first become entitled to full or unreduced retirement benefits. (Different age requirements apply to those born before 1943.) For those born after 1954, full retirement age will increase by two months a year until the current maximum of age 67, for those born in 1960 and later.
Full Social Security benefit payout depends on your year of birth
Note: People who were born on January 1 of any year should refer to the previous year.
Source: Social Security Administration, Social Security Retirement Benefits, (accessed August 2017).

Age 70

If you've waited until your 70th birthday to begin taking Social Security, you'll now get the biggest possible monthly benefit, which may be as much as 76% larger than if you had started receiving payments at age 62. Any further delay in beginning payments won't increase benefit amounts.
Annual Social Security benefits increase up until age 70
Source: Merrill Lynch Investment Management & Guidance calculations based on Social Security Administration calculator at (accessed August 2017).
* Full Retirement Age is the age at which a person may first become entitled to full or unreduced retirement benefits.

Age 70½

When you reach age 70½ you must begin taking View the article about required minimum distributions, known as RMDs, from Traditional 401(k)s or Traditional IRAs. Learn about how RMD amounts are calculated as a percentage of your account balances and are based on your life expectancy. If you don't take the full amount of these annual distributions within the required time frame, you'll incur a significant additional tax of 50% of the difference between what you received and the required amount you should have withdrawn. Your first distribution is actually due by April 1 of the year after you reach 70½. However, if you wait until that year to take the first withdrawal, you'll have to take a second one by December 31 of the same year. The additional income from that second distribution could put you in a higher tax bracket and has the potential to substantially increase your tax bill. Subsequent annual distributions are required by the end of each calendar year.
There's an exception to the RMD rules: If you continue to work, and you own less than 5% of the business sponsoring the plan, the plan may allow you to delay taking distributions from your 401(k) or other employer-sponsored retirement plan until the year you retire. However, you'll still need to start RMDs from all traditional IRAs according to the normal schedule. (There are no RMDs for Roth IRAs or Roth 401(k)s.)
Merrill Edge offers two services to help simplify this process for you:
  1. You can complete distributions online from a Merrill Edge® IRA to a linked Bank of America checking, savings or Merrill Lynch non-retirement account.
  2. The Merrill Edge RMD Service allows you to authorize Merrill Lynch to automatically calculate and distribute your annual RMD from your Merrill Edge IRA to your non-retirement account.
Be sure to speak with your tax advisor about requirements that may be specific to your situation.
Depending on your age, these deadlines could affect you, your older parents or your adult children nearing retirement age. Sharing this article with family members could help them prepare and make the most of opportunities to increase retirement income.
Next steps

Footnote 1 Consult your tax advisor as there are phase-out ranges for IRA contribution deductibility based on your age; tax filing status (married, filing jointly; married, filing separately, single, spousal IRA, filing jointly); and whether or not you participate in an employer-sponsored retirement plan.

Neither Merrill Lynch nor any of its affiliates or financial advisors provide legal, tax or accounting advice. You should consult your legal and/or tax advisors before making any financial decisions.