I'm a Nurse Ready to Retire: What Do I Do Next?

Carolyn Buppert, MSN, JD


December 30, 2014

Nurses: Poised to Retire in Droves

According to news reports, many nurses are reaching retirement age—if not now, then in the next 15 years.[1] Much has been written on whether an individual or a couple has enough money to retire,[2,3] and on the impact of the retirement of a large segment of the nursing workforce on healthcare.[4,5]

Those topics won't be addressed here; they are worthy of an entire separate article. What this article covers are the considerations that all nurses should make before retiring, and a checklist of things to do before your retirement date approaches.

What to Consider Before Retiring

Am I going to fully retire from nursing? Or will you semi-retire: that is, cut back to working a day or two a week, or on an as-needed basis? All nurses who do any professional nursing work, even on a volunteer basis, will need a license and insurance coverage.

If I fully retire, do I want to keep my options open to return to nursing later? If you want to keep your options open, then you will want to keep your license and any professional certifications active. Some states and certification agencies allow a nurse to put a license or certification on inactive status, with reactivation as an option. There can be conditions to reactivating licensure and certification, such as retaking a test. It may be more cost-effective and time-efficient just to keep the license and certifications active, even if these have yearly contact hour requirements.

Can I afford to retire? Although this article is not about retirement finances, a few considerations are in order. For example, for nurses born between 1943 and 1954, it's important to look into how much your Social Security benefit will pay if you retire and begin to collect Social Security at 70 years of age vs 62 or 66 years of age. This can be a complicated calculation. The general principles are:

If you file for Social Security at age 62-65 years, you receive less per month from Social Security than if you wait to file between the ages of 66 and 70 years. For more information and a table showing how the monthly payment increases with increasing age at which one files for Social Security, visit Full Retirement Age: If You Were Born Between 1943 and 1954.

An individual who has paid enough months into Social Security to qualify for benefits (generally 10 years of work) can file for Social Security at age 62 years or later. One can keep working from age 62 to 66 years, but after the individual makes a certain amount from earnings (with the threshold amount depending on the year of birth and the age at which one begins to take Social Security), the monthly Social Security payments will be reduced. Social Security does not count pension payments, annuities, or the interest or dividends from savings and investments as earnings. However, Social Security payments may decrease if an individual takes a pension from a workplace (such as the government) that isn't covered by Social Security.

Full retirement age is 66 years. Once you reach age 66, you can receive Social Security benefits and work, and your Social Security benefits will not be reduced because of your earnings. For more information on this, visit Retirement Planner: Getting Benefits While Working.

So, it may be worthwhile to keep working for a few more years. The bottom line is going to be determined by the answer to these questions:

Can you live on Social Security?

Do you have enough investments or savings to support the gap between Social Security payments and what you need to live comfortably?

Does your employer offer any retirement benefits? If so, when do your employer's retirement benefits begin?

Is your employer the government, or another entity not covered by Social Security?

How much will you get through the employer's retirement plan?

For answers to frequently asked retirement questions, visit the Social Security website.


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