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5 things near-retirees need to do before calling it a career

There’s tons of data out there about Americans and retirement, and the numbers aren’t good. But for those on the cusp of retirement, there are some essential courses of actions to take to make sure they can survive and thrive in their golden years. Ross Kenneth Urken, TheStreet’s personal finance editor gives advice.

Some folks may feel they’re day late and a dollar short, but even those on the verge of retirement can still salvage a healthy post-work life. But especially those who are late to the retirement saving party need to make the right steps.

Step 1: Update your retirement plan
Some of us dutifully contribute to our employer-sponsored 401(k) up to the company match. That’s a start, but it’s not good enough. You need to have a clearly defined goal for how much you need in retirement to survive and how your investments can replenish themselves despite your withdrawals. For a good idea of that estimate, your retirement portfolio – including assets not in a dedicated retirement account — should be 10 to 15 times your annual expenses in retirement.

Step 2: Prepare a cashflow report
This is absolutely essential. A cash flow report will evaluate your assets, expenses, and expected future income to determine if your assets and income will allow for a certain level of spending. Often a financial planner will run multiple iterations to reflect various spending levels, lifestyle adjustments, and market returns in different environments. Once their report is completed, you’ll have a general understanding of what your financial future holds. If cash flow is a problem, you might think about downsizing your home or taking a part-time job in retirement.

Step 3: Bullet-proof your investment portfolio
As you approach retirement, start reducing volatility in your investment portfolio. dramatic loss in the years leading up to retirement can equal additional years spent working to make up for that loss, rather than enjoying the retirement you have dreamt about. This typically involves shifting your asset allocation from stocks to bonds.

Step 4: Get some professional advice
There’s no need to be a hero and go it alone. Even if you don’t typically meet with a financial advisor, it may well be worth your while to meet with one to create a strategy for your retirement. Consider it a check-up on your financial health, the way a doctor might take a more serious during a physical as you age. Make sure your asset allocation is correct.

Step 5: Get rid of debt
When you enter retirement and won’t have a steady salary from a job, it’s best to be unburdened by debt. Money not going out is the same as money coming in. Excess debt and expenses steal retirement dreams. Help that process by finding 20 ways to cut expenses, even if you think you have plenty of money. Look at your cable bill for the stations you’re not watching – maybe think of cutting the cord. Pay off those credit cards. Pay off that mortgage. It starts now, even if you’re five or ten years from the gold watch, you want to set yourself up for a fulfilling retirement with more financial freedom.