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This is a retirement surprise you're probably not planning for

Key Points
  • Today's retirees stopped working at age 59, on average, according to a new survey.
  • Some of those individuals were forced to retire either because of their health or job loss.
  • Here's how to plan for the possibility that you may not be able to work as long as you want.

Early retirement may sound like a dream.

However, if today's retirees are any indication, you may want to rethink how you plan financially.

Photo taken in Big Island, United States
Shawn Walters / EyeEm | EyeEm | Getty Images

A new survey from NerdWallet finds that today's retirees stopped working at 59, on average.

That is much lower than the traditional retirement age, which many still consider to be 65. Because full Social Security retirement benefits don't kick in until as late as 67 for many, a number of experts recommend pushing retirement off even later.

Some of those retirees — 36% — said they didn't have a choice as to when they retired. What's more, 18% said they had to stop working because of their health, and 9% said a job loss forced them into retirement.

While you may think of retirement as far off in the future, planning for the fact that you may be forced into early retirement would have a dramatic impact on how you save.

Take a 25-year-old with pre-tax income of $40,000 and $10,000 in savings who expects to live to 95.

Assuming a 6% return, that 25-year-old needs $483 in savings per month in order to retire at 67, according to NerdWallet's retirement calculator. Changing that retirement date to 59 — eight years earlier — would bump their savings target up to $883 per month.

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The savings hurdles are even higher for a 35-year-old because they have less time until retirement.

Take an individual who is making $80,000 in pre-tax income with $87,000 in savings who also expects to live to 95.

To retire at 67, they would need $1,267 a month in savings, assuming a 6% return, according to NerdWallet's retirement calculator. That gets kicked up to $2,767 a month in savings if they instead retire at 59.

The key takeaway: Even if you don't plan to retire early, you should save like you may have to.

If you're in your 20s, putting more money away now means that you will have to save less over time, noted Arielle O'Shea, investing and retirement specialist at NerdWallet.

Even if the idea of retirement itself doesn't motivate you, the flexibility that having those funds will give you should.

"You're giving yourself options," O'Shea said, including the ability to pursue a different career if you choose to.

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If you're in your 30s or 40s, do not get discouraged, O'Shea said.

Take advantage of any changes to your expenses, like children switching from private day care to public school, to invest that extra money toward your retirement.

Bottom line: "Save as much as you can," O'Shea said.

One thing all retirement savers should do: Calculate how much you need to save for based on multiple retirement ages. Non-retired survey respondents most commonly said they expect to retire between 60 and 66.

By moving your target retirement date higher and lower, you can see how that changes your retirement savings targets, O'Shea said.

"Americans aren't saving enough for retirement, and we're hoping to open their eyes about that and do whatever they can to boost those numbers," O'Shea said.

NerdWallet's online survey was conducted by the Harris Poll in July. It included 2,027 individuals ages 18 and up, 1,605 of whom are not currently retired.