Retirees wish they had more time on the front end, when they were healthiest.

If they could have retired with the same amount of money, current retirees wish they had stopped working about four years earlier than they did, a survey by New York Life found. The survey found 46% of current retirees wish they had retired sooner.

Among those who were 60 or older when they stopped working, more than half wish they had retired earlier.

Respondents were between ages 62 and 70, and had at least $100,000 in investable assets.

“Much of the dialogue around retirement has been focused on people enjoying longer lives and ensuring they don’t run out of money. What the survey shows is that retirees, if given the opportunity, would want four or five years at the front end of their retirement, when they are healthiest, most active and able to get the most out of their retirement savings,” said David Cruz, senior managing director at New York Life. 

Ross Goldstein, managing director for New York Life, told ThinkAdvisor that hindsight may be playing a role in respondents’ regret over when they began their retirement; now that they’ve seen what their life is like, they wish they had started earlier.  

Other studies have found that boomers tend to work longer or begin second careers after retirement not necessarily because they have to but because they want to. Goldstein noted that although about half of retirees in the survey wish they had retired earlier, “the other half is happy with when they retired, and that may have included working longer.”

The key for advisors, he said, is building a plan that’s flexible enough to let a client retire earlier than planned.

“Their responsibility is to provide the financial future that the client is looking for. It’s very hard to get into their psyche and understand what their emotional preferences are,” he said.

However, advisors who have engaged in education around retirement income planning “are actually very good at getting what their clients want,” he said. “I think the real challenge and the lesson here is people don’t necessarily know what they want in term of their lifestyle until they’ve had a chance to experience it.”

The survey started as an investigation into the value of lifetime income, Goldstein said. “When New York Life got into this business, we started out thinking lifetime income is for people who are worried about running out of money. Then we said, you know, not everyone is worried about running out of money, either because they haven’t really thought about it or they’ve got the financial means or because they’ll be conservative and they won’t run out of money.”

However, some people may be more conservative with their money than they really need to be out of fear that one day it’ll all by gone. “If you give them a guaranteed lifetime income stream, they don’t have to be as conservative with the remainder of their assets and maybe they can have a more fulfilling, more exciting retirement,” Goldstein said.

“We took that one step further and hypothesized, ‘What if people don’t need more money? What if they need time?’” he said. “Everybody, especially as we age, wants to buy more time. We can’t give people time on the back end, but we can potentially give them time on the front end of their retirement. By giving them a stable income stream, they can start earlier.”

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