Among the most important financial-planning milestones, and what you can and should do when you reach them…
"Catch-up" contributions. The calendar year in which you turn 50 is the first in which you can make extra annual contributions to your qualified retirement plans. In 2011, that means you can contribute an extra $5,500 to a 401(k) or SEP IRA…an extra $2,500 to a SIMPLE 401(k)…and/or an extra $1,000 to an IRA, above the usual limits, tax-deferred.
Disabled survivor benefits. Permanently disabled widows and widowers are eligible to begin receiving Social Security survivor benefits based on their former spouses’ earnings. Survivor benefits are instead of, not in addition to, benefits based on your own earnings, but they could be larger than your own benefits if your late spouse earned more than you.
These monthly survivor benefit checks will be permanently reduced if you begin them before reaching normal retirement age, however, which is between 65 and 67, depending on your year of birth.
Retirement plan withdrawals. Age 59½ generally is the earliest that savers can withdraw money as needed from qualified retirement plans without incurring a 10% "early withdrawal" penalty. Before that, to avoid any penalty, you typically must commit to a schedule of "substantially equal periodic payments" based on your life expectancy (or your joint life expectancy together with your beneficiary) for at least five years or until you reach 59½.
Penalty-free IRA withdrawals also might be possible before age 59