Unplanned retirement? Here are 10 tips to protect your nest egg while you consider your next career move.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused the biggest disruption in the U.S. jobs market in a century, with millions of Americans laid off or furloughed over the past few months. Losing your job is a huge setback at any stage of life – but finding yourself out of work in your 50s can seem an even bigger blow, with worries about securing a new role in today’s fast-changing world or how to bridge the income gap until Social Security kicks in. 

The good news is the new normal may mean more flexibility around the types of work available. To ensure you’re in the best possible financial and emotional position while you consider your next career move, consider these 10 tips to protect your nest egg:

  1. Make a financial plan

    Review your finances and determine which expenses are fixed or discretionary. Then make a realistic monthly budget and stick to it. Consider creating your budget around some goals – for example, paying off debt or setting up college savings for the kids, so you have a focus. To make a plan that works for you, speak with a financial planner to see when you can comfortably retire and what your gap to goal really is. You may not need to earn as much in your next job to reach your target, which could increase your options.
  2. Review your debts

    If you are carrying a lot of debt, you want to limit discretionary spending until you start to enjoy regular income again. Some mortgage and credit card companies will allow you to reduce or halt payments for a time. Personal loans and credit cards are usually more expensive, so tackle them first. You may be able to consolidate payments or move some to a zero-interest credit card. Try to avoid taking on any new debt if possible.  
  3. Tap into savings

    Hopefully you have some emergency savings that can be easily accessed. A good rule of thumb is 3-6 months of your fixed expenses. If you don’t have enough resources to cover ongoing bills, it might be reasonable to tap your 401(k). The CARES Act passed by Congress in March contains temporary changes to the rules, meaning a withdrawal makes more sense than usual. But in order to qualify, you’ll need to prove you’ve been financially hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. 
  4. Take stock of healthcare options

    If you're forced into early retirement and waiting for Medicare to kick in at 65, usually the most cost-effective health insurance option — if available — is joining a spouse's employer-sponsored plan. Otherwise, consider continuing coverage through a former employer under COBRA or browsing options with potential subsidies through the Affordable Care Act marketplace. If you have been laid off due to COVID-19, there’s a "special enrollment" period on the federal exchange, which may offer cheaper options. You could also consider part-time work. Even if it pays less, the health benefits are key and reduce what you would spend out of pocket. 
  5. Claim your benefits

    Make sure you file for benefits with your state’s unemployment office. You must be unemployed through no fault of your own, and meet the minimum wages earned before the time of claim and any specific state requirements. The U.S. Department of Labor offers more guidance at CareerOneStop. Some good news is that individual states have greater flexibility to offer benefits in light of COVID-19, and the CARES Act has expanded the unemployment program.
  6. Leave the door open

    Carefully review all the information your employer has given you for any discrepancies. Note when your last paycheck is dated and see if you’re owed any unpaid compensation in the form of bonuses, stock options, commissions or other benefits. Despite your disappointment, always try to leave on good terms. There may be a chance to get rehired or consult one day. Additionally, you will likely want a recommendation in the future from them.
  7. Explore your network 

    Make sure to update and refresh your résumé with your skills and qualifications to emphasize your experience and achievements. Practice your interviewing techniques, update your social media profiles and start networking through sites such as LinkedIn to make new connections and touch base with old ones who might know of potential opportunities. Many jobs aren’t advertised and are instead found through word-of-mouth.
  8. Consider a career pivot

    Finding employment is like a job itself in many ways, requiring time and effort. It’s never too late to learn new skills – look for online courses that will equip you for the new future of work. A severance package could help fund training for a new career or, with the valuable experience you have gained in your field over many years, you might decide to set up on your own as a consultant. 
  9. Don’t forget your mental health

    Be sure to take care of yourself. Losing your job creates negative emotions that you’ll need to overcome. Talk about it with family and friends so they can help you tackle any financial or emotional worries, and consider counselling if needed. Staying active is a simple way to boost your mood – virtual exercise classes, or just getting outside for a walk, can really optimize your health and well-being.
  10. Turn an early retirement into a positive

    Challenges and setbacks are also opportunities for new beginnings. An unexpected retirement in your 50s can give you the space to explore new avenues you would have otherwise been too busy to consider. Turn it into a catalyst for positive changes in your working life and career plan. 

    The more flexible you can be about types of work and locations, the better the chance of landing a new position as quickly as possible. Some sectors will bounce back from the current economic turmoil quicker than others – try to identify which of those need your skills or experience. The best years of your working life may still lie ahead.
Equitable is the brand name of the retirement and protection subsidiaries of Equitable Holdings, Inc., including Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company (NY, NY), Equitable Financial Life Insurance Company of America, an AZ stock company with main administrative headquarters in Jersey City, NJ, and Equitable Distributors, LLC. Equitable Advisors is the brand name of Equitable Advisors, LLC (member FINRA, SIPC) (Equitable Financial Advisors in MI and TN). 
GE-3219590 (08/2020) (Exp. 08/2022)