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How to Plan for Semi-Retirement

Geoff Williams

Tell your friends or family that you're semi-retired, and you may receive a look of pity or envy. After all, semi-retirement can describe a period of your life in which you're retired but are still working because you want to. Or you might be semi-retired because you need to work, although not as much as you used to. But what nobody wants is a state of semi-retirement in which you just want to sit or lie down all day, but you still work part time because you have to -- at least if you want to keep a roof over your head.

If you're thinking about semi-retirement, what should that look like? It's hard to say, of course, because everyone's financial portfolios are different, but presumably, we can agree on the following characteristics.

You planned. The best type of semi-retirement is the planned kind, where you don't mind, or at least don't hate, working while many of your peers are lounging on a beach in Florida (or at least that's what they're telling you on Facebook).

Whether on purpose or out of necessity, 42 percent of working-age Americans plan to semi-retire before fully retiring, according to a recently released report from the bank HSBC, which in August and September 2014 surveyed 1,000 Americans age 25 and up about their long-term financial futures.

Kyle Exline, executive director of The Clare, a continuing care retirement community in Chicago, says from his perch, the retirees who plan poorly don't have anyone advising them, like a tax accountant or financial advisor, and then wind up with more monthly expenses than income.

"As you near retirement, there are significant tax implications, depending on what you do with your money," he says.

Exline also says some retirees rely too much on their Social Security. "I don't think anyone can predict what the future is for Social Security, but relying on it as your only source of income is not a good idea," he says.

You found work you enjoy. Plenty of semi-retirees are working because they have to, and not every semi-retiree can make money doing something that interests them. But, as the 1937 song goes, it's nice work if you can get it.

If there's a model to follow, it's probably something close to the path Jerry Koncel managed to take. Koncel was a 67-year-old editor at Marina Dock Age, a magazine focusing on marina and boatyard management. Then another company bought the publication and moved it from Chicago to St. Louis.

Koncel was invited to work for the magazine if he was willing to move, but he declined. He was happy living in the Windy City and not at all upset about the idea of retiring. He had a lot of interests, from politics to volunteering at his church and numerous charities. He also wanted to write his memoirs and play a lot of golf.

But almost immediately -- he was only retired a week -- he was asked if he'd like to work as an associate editor for Great Lakes Boating, a magazine for boating enthusiasts.

"The boating community, in terms of writers, is a very small community," Koncel says of the quick invite to go back to work.

Koncel was inclined to decline until he and the publisher worked out an arrangement where he would only come in two days a week -- three if the editors really needed him. He didn't really need the work, or the money, but as Koncel says: "I like the creative process."

Your money has a purpose. Ideally, you aren't using your income for everyday bills and mindless spending without putting any away for savings, unless you've already saved up for retirement.

"An objective and advantage of semi-retirement should be to delay tapping retirement funds such as a 401(k) or Roth IRA," says Brian Porter, a professor of management who specializes in financial accounting at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.

With any luck, Porter says, you're either socking away all or most of your semi-retirement income into your retirement funds, or better yet, you're using your semi-retirement money for day-to-day living so you don't have to tap into your investments.

"Every year that one delays tapping retirement funds is one less year those funds need to last, increasing the likelihood that one does not outlive one's retirement savings," Porter says.

And if you're able, maybe you can use all or most your semi-retirement income to leave something to your kids and grandchildren.

"Most of my [semi-retirees] are working because they like to work," says John Voltaggio, a certified public accountant and managing director at Northern Trust, an asset management firm in New York City. Some of his clients who become involved with startup businesses end up transferring their interest in the company to a trust for their heirs.

You've thought through the unexpected. Anything can go wrong at any point in your life, but when you're in your 60s, 70s and beyond, one of life's more obvious tripwires is your health. That's why it's important not to rely too much on your semi-retirement income, and to be able to adjust quickly if you can't work as long as you planned.

"I know a lot of people who are retired and haven't been very happy," Koncel says. "They become grumpy old men or not very happy with their lives. They always worked very hard and got up every day and went to their jobs, and suddenly retirement came, and they didn't have any plans ... There's a real danger after you retire that you become -- to be perfectly honest -- fat and lazy, and I didn't want that to happen."

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