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A Retirement Checklist for Soon-to-Be Retirees

David Ning

Many soon-to-be retirees should spend more time planning their retirement. The financial benefits of a retirement spending plan can be enormous. Having a solid plan can also provide guidelines to turn to when times seem tough. Here are a few steps to take before you quit your job:

Determine your vesting schedule at work. Employer contributions can take time to vest, which can derail retirement plans if you aren't careful. If you are thinking about retiring, find out when you will become fully vested in your retirement benefits. In some cases, hanging on for a few weeks or months longer can result in a significant portion of money being released to you.

Figure out how much you will spend regularly. If you don't determine your expenses, you'll never know if you have enough to maintain your current spending in retirement. Take the time to think about future expenses so that you will have a clear understanding of whether your assets can survive your retirement lifestyle.

Make sure to get medical coverage. Hospital charges can be devastating to your finances. That's why it's crucial to have continuous health insurance coverage immediately after you quit. Things will be easier starting in 2014 when health insurance companies are not allowed to charge you more (or deny coverage) because of any pre-existing conditions. In the mean time, factor the need for health coverage into your retirement plans, and don't spend even a day without being covered. The risk of receiving life-changing bills is simply too great to ever go without health insurance.

Have a workable withdrawal plan. Many workers already have some type of an investment plan in place, but do you have a plan for withdrawing from your assets? How will you take money from your investments and turn it into cash so you can pay your bills? You might need to sell investments or use your dividends or bond interest income to pay for living expenses. You also need to remember to take required minimum distributions on your tax-deferred assets and to pay the resulting income tax bill.

Just because you are retiring doesn't mean you won't save money by spending a bit of time on your finances. Develop a plan to draw down your assets, and give it a test by withdrawing a small amount of money before calling it quits so you don't run into any unforeseen issues.

Take a hard look at your retirement asset allocation. Hopefully, your investments have been adjusted to become more conservative as you aged, but make sure you take another look now that you are thinking about quitting. Assuming you have already accumulated what you need for retirement, is risking a comfortable retirement worth seeking a higher balance?

Take time to understand Social Security. You should definitely have an idea of when you'd like to take Social Security. Before you sign up, take a few minutes to make sure your earnings history has been recorded correctly. An incorrect earnings history could cause you to miss out on some of the money you would otherwise be entitled to.

Think about what you will do all day. Some people dive head first into retirement and figure they'll have lots of time to think about what they'll do every day once they get there. But that makes spending all day in front of the TV a real possibility. Dreaming about how you'll spend retirement is probably one of the most exciting things you'll do in the whole process, so why not stretch out the fun by starting this exercise while you are still working?

Talk to other retirees about retired life. Not only will retirees give you ideas about how you can spend your retirement, but they will also tell you potential pitfalls to avoid. And who knows? You might even meet some friends who you'll be able to spend time with in retirement.

David Ning runs MoneyNing, a personal finance site that shares money moves you can make to significantly increase your chances of having a comfortable retirement. He likes to share simple changes that anyone can make, such as picking the best online savings account and figuring out whether a 0 percent balance transfer credit card makes sense.

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