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My Company Gave Me an Incentive to Retire. Now What?

By JJ Burns

August 22, 2018

Early retirement incentive programs (ERIPs)—commonly referred to as buyout packages—are hardly new, but that doesn't make it any less jarring to be on the receiving end of one. A thousand thoughts will likely rush to the forefront of your mind:

  • Why are they offering this? Is my job unsafe?
  • Does my employer think I'm disposable?
  • Is the package enough to really see me through retirement?
  • Will I regret it if I decline?

Take heart in knowing that this a perfectly normal reaction! The decision to accept an early retirement incentive is indeed a huge one that could have potentially lifelong repercussions on your financial life. In all my years serving clients and helping them manage and grow their wealth, what I've learned time and time again is that knowledge is power. Financial awareness is by far your best weapon when it comes to navigating the tricky terrain of retirement, especially if your employer just threw an unexpected wrench in your plans by dangling an ERIP in front of you.

The most important thing is to go into these discussions with both eyes open and a firm grasp of what's being offered. Here's how to evaluate the package details so that you can make an informed decision.

What Is an Early Retirement Incentive Program?

These programs often come out of the woodwork when a company is hoping to dial down their internal roster (a.k.a. downsizing). ERIPs, by design, are meant to entice employees into making a voluntary exit. They come in all shapes and sizes, but most include a variety of attractive incentives to sweeten the deal, from additional severance pay to an extension on the employee's medical benefits to help bridge the gap to Medicare.

What Questions Do I Need to Ask?

Of course, not all ERIPs are created equal. This is why it's always wise to read through every line of the proposal with a compassionate and knowledgeable financial advisor by your side. This is the pro you want in your corner because they can calm your emotions and evaluate the package like any other financial document. Whether or not you should accept the offer hinges on your current nest egg, which requires running some numbers.

If you accept the package and begin drawing on your other retirement funds, will it be enough to see you through your golden years? Or will the ERIP be more of a springboard between your current job and your next career move, like pursuing work at another company, venturing out as a consultant in your industry, or starting your own business altogether? Depending on the terms of the offer, it could provide a very nice cushion if you were already hoping to retire sooner rather than later.

Should I Negotiate My Early Retirement Offer?

The driving force that I echo to all my clients in this position is that it all comes down to what matters to you and your family. If you accept the package as is, will your health care needs be covered? After breaking down all the numbers with your advisor, does the math come out in your favor, or do you run the risk of outliving your money? If the proposal itself doesn't come with substantial incentives to make it worth your while, you may want to call on the power of negotiation. Remember, they want you to take the offer, so you do have some degree of leverage.

If you have a robust nest egg as is, but are concerned about rising health care costs in retirement, maybe your employer would be open to, say, swapping additional severance pay for extended medical care, or some such deal. Again, everyone's needs are different. The main takeaway here is that you're under no obligation to blindly accept the initial package, and there may very well be room for negotiation.

What Are the Risks?

We're human beings, which means that, to some degree, we're wired to fear the unknown. Uncertainty, especially where our financial health is concerned, can be a terrifying prospect. Most people fear that if they're being offered an early retirement incentive, it must mean they're already on their employer's chopping block. What if they decline the offer only to be let go later down the line—and with a less attractive severance package?

The truth is that there's really no way to know any of these things for sure, which makes the weight of the decision all the more heavy. However, what we can be sure of is whether or not the deal they're offering supports your big-picture retirement strategy. If you're on the home stretch anyway, an attractive package could hold you over (with some nice extras thrown in to boot).

No matter what decision you make, be sure to take your time so that you thoroughly understand what you're agreeing to when you sign on the dotted line. If you have your sights set on starting your own business, for example, you'll want to make sure the agreement doesn't include a non-compete clause. The thing to remember is that you're not alone, and if something doesn't feel right, it never hurts to seek out an employment lawyer.

At JJ Burns & Company, you can rest easy knowing that you're with a financial advisor who empathizes with your position and is truly putting themselves in your shoes. We're dedicated to helping you make your way through these unknown waters with your retirement goals intact.