When Do You Become a Senior Citizen?

Here’s how to tell if you have reached senior citizen age.

THERE IS NO CLEARLY defined age when you become a senior citizen. Some people might consider themselves seniors when they retire from the workplace, sign up for Social Security or begin to spend their retirement savings, but others aren’t ready to call themselves a senior citizen yet.

Here are some milestones that could indicate you’ve become a senior citizen:

  1. Qualifying for senior benefits.
  2. Spending retirement savings.
  3. Stepping away from work.
  4. Changes in health.
  5. A change in priorities.
  6. Rethinking age stereotypes.
  1. Qualifying for Senior Benefits

There are very specific ages when you qualify for various types of retirement benefits. In some aspects “society makes it very clear when we become senior citizens,” says Mimi Secor, a nurse practitioner and national speaker in Upton, Massachusetts. “We know that at age 65, we qualify for Medicare.” Social Security benefits can begin as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. Senior discounts begin at some retailers and restaurants for those who are 55 or older. Anyone who is 50 or older is eligible to become an AARP member.

  1. Spending Retirement Savings

Retirement accounts are designed to encourage workers to save for the long term. As such, accounts like a 401(k) plan or IRA usually include a penalty for early withdrawals. If you take money out before age 59 1/2, you will typically need to pay a 10% penalty. You may consider yourself a senior citizen when “you no longer have to worry about the 10% penalty for early withdrawals from your IRA or 401(k),” says Guy Baker, founder of Wealth Teams Alliance in Irvine, California.

When you reach a certain age, you will need to take required minimum distributions from retirement accounts. Known as RMDs, these withdraws from traditional IRAs and 401(k) plans must be taken each year after age 72. Once you reach 72, you may view yourself as a senior citizen because “you have to start taking your RMDs from your retirement account,” Baker says.

  1. Stepping Away From Work

After you retire from a long career, your family and friends may consider you to have reached senior citizen status. The transition might bring on a feeling of meaning and purpose. “Younger people often have angst about ‘Who am I?’ or ‘Who do I want to be?’,” says Jim Collins, a gerontologist in Youngstown, Ohio. “Once you hit a certain age you look back and go through self-reflection.” As you move away from the office, you might feel a sense of gratitude for the years you were able to work and pursue a passion.

  1. Changes in Health

Medical conditions such as arthritis, hypertension or hearing loss may cause you to feel like you have crossed the senior citizen line. “A person that is battling several age-related medical issues can feel older just by the number and type of medications or medical devices they use,” says Cindy Moore, co-founder and managing partner at Senioridy, an online directory for senior resources based in the Birmingham, Alabama area. “It’s hard to feel young when you are being fitted with a walker or hearing aid.” In addition, feeling fatigued or ready for bed by 9 p.m. might be indicators you are getting older.

  1. A Change in Priorities

You may have spent years chasing after work-related or family goals and striving to meet deadlines. Your schedule during your working years could have been packed full of events and social engagements. However, once you reach a certain point, you may find yourself with more hours in the day to spare. “Time becomes especially important,” Collins says. “Money and resources and the square footage of your home will matter much less than the amount of time you have and what you do with it.” You might use your extra hours to spend more time with family. You could also volunteer at a local charity, join a walking group or start a card club.

  1. Rethinking Age Stereotypes

Even if you qualify for senior discounts, age isn’t necessarily an indicator of what you must do or avoid. “At the age of 59, I took on the challenge of pursuing my doctorate while most of my friends were preparing for retirement,” Secor says. “At the same time, I decided to become healthy and fit.” Secor tackled some of the unhealthy habits she had developed and replaced them with better ones.

“When I graduated at age 61, I had lost 30 pounds,” Secor says. She now exercises nearly every day, eats a healthy diet most of the time and drinks plenty of water. “Because I try to stay as active as I can on a daily basis, most days I feel much younger than my stated age of 66,” she says. “Deep in my core, I believe age is just a number.”

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