This Week's Must Read

If you are one of the millions of Americans with a retirement-savings account, three of the most important letters in your financial life might be these: RMD.  They stand for required minimum distribution, which is something that the nation’s baby boomers now need to grapple with for the first time. It refers to an annual payout that savers must take from their retirement kitty at a certain point, as required by law.

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Required minimum distributions first. Taxable accounts next, followed by traditional IRAs and 401(k)s. Roth IRAs and 401(k)s last.  That’s the standard sequence for tax-efficient portfolio draw down during retirement. The overarching thesis is to be sure to tap those accounts where you’ll face a tax penalty for not doing so (RMDs) while hanging on to the benefits of tax-sheltered vehicles for as long as possible. Because Roth assets enjoy the biggest tax benefits–tax-free compounding and withdrawals–and are also the most advantageous for heirs to receive upon your death, they generally go last in the withdrawal-sequencing queue.

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Under the original rules for Social Security, workers became eligible for a benefit upon reaching their full retirement age of 65, with a slight increase in benefits if the worker delayed until as late as age 70. However, full retirement age itself has always been a moving target. It was pushed from 65 to 67 in 1983, and Congress frequently raises the specter of pushing it even later — which, if acted on, could diminish the utility of a retiree delaying his/her Social Security disbursal. What follows is a look into how to navigate the knowns, and unknowns, of Social Security payouts.

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Congress has periodically looked at the idea of simplifying tax-sheltered savings, but for now investors have to wend their way through a dizzying maze of tax-advantaged investment wrappers: multiple types of IRAs, company-retirement plans, and college-savings accounts, each with its own tax treatment, its own set of rules governing who can contribute and how much, and its own policies on distributions. It’s all enough to make you wish for the good old days of certificates of deposit and passbook savings accounts.

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They’re questions nearly every young and middle-aged worker has asked themselves: Should I leave my job and retire early? What would I need? How do I know I’m ready?

If you’re considering retiring early, you’ll forego not only the headaches of working, but also the additional money earned that could have made your retirement even more comfortable. To help you decide, here are six signs you may be able to retire early instead of continuing to work.

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