Unretirement: Working after retirement

For lots of people, the employment phase of life can be measured in big milestones. Getting hired for a first job can be one. Climbing the ladder and steadily making more money can be others on the way to retirement—maybe even early retirement

But people who’ve retired sometimes choose to unretire and reenter the workforce. Learn more about what unretirement is, why it’s done, and what its potential benefits can be.  

Key takeaways

  • The idea of retiring early may appeal to some people, like those who follow trends like the FIRE movement based around early retirement.
  • People who’ve retired sometimes choose to unretire and start working again. They can make this choice at any time and for a number of reasons.
  • Some people unretire out of financial necessity. Others may unretire because they enjoy working or want more social interaction.
  • To decide whether unretirement is right for you, you may consider a few things: how much you want to work, how much you need to work, and how much you’re physically able to work.

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Can you unretire?

In short, yes. Retirement doesn’t have to be a permanent state. Willing and able retirees are generally free to return to the workforce whenever they want. 

For some people, the choice is typically about whether working again serves their goals for their retirement years. For others, there isn’t much choice because their return to work is driven by financial need.

Why are some retirees going back to work?

There are lots of reasons why someone might unretire, including: 

  • Wanting to add to the income they receive from their retirement savings, pension plan or Social Security payouts
  • Experiencing the effects of inflation or cost-of-living increases that limit how much their retirement savings can be stretched
  • Having medical bills that Medicare doesn’t sufficiently cover, potentially resulting in high out-of-pocket costs
  • Lacking passive income streams to supplement their retirement savings
  • Setting new financial goals that their current retirement savings might not be able to support
  • Being attracted by incentives or fringe benefits offered by an employer that outweigh the appeal of staying retired
  • Reacting to shifts in the labor market creating opportunities to do remote work instead of unretiring at an in-person job
  • Wanting to go back to work to boost their sense of purpose or to increase social interaction

Going back to work after retirement: How to decide if unretiring is right for you

Is unretirement right for you? To help you decide, you may want to ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I want to work? If you have the desire to return to work, you might consider a part-time or a full-time position in your former professional field—or an entirely new one.
  • Do I need to work? If you’re not yet 62, the youngest age for collecting Social Security, unretiring could make sense for you. The same could apply if you’re too young to take funds from your retirement accounts without paying penalties. Ask yourself whether it makes sense to go back to work until you can take advantage of your various retirement benefits. The added bonus is that the extra income could help alleviate financial stress.
  • Am I able to work? Are you physically capable of working outside the home? If so, returning to work could give you the chance to be more physically active and increase your social interaction. If you’re not, you may still have options. You could work from home via a remote position and prioritize your physical needs while still interacting with coworkers. 

Unretirement in a nutshell

The choice to unretire can be driven by all kinds of reasons, from the desire to connect with others to the need to supplement retirement savings. 

If you’re still working and interested in planning ahead, you may want to review your retirement savings. If you’re retired and thinking about unretirement, you may want to do the same. Check out Capital One’s guide on how to save for retirement to find out more.

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