“Take This Job and Shove It,” sang the (ironically named) Johnny Paycheck, a No.1 hit on the singles chart back in 1977. It’s a sentiment many people fervently share as they go about their workday grind. For many, retirement is the way out – and it’s something they would like to achieve sooner rather than later.

Sadly, that dream is all too often pushed aside when what should be the light at the end of the tunnel turns out be the headlight of a financial locomotive, bearing down with the combined weight of inflation, healthcare, food, clothing, shelter and all the other expenses that empty wallets and keep people trudging backing to work day after day.

Is there any hope for an early escape from the rat race? Let’s take a look at the realities of retirement for the average worker in the United States.

Standard Retirement Age

Age 65 was once the magic number for retirees. Once you hit that age, you were eligible for full Social Security benefits and could trade your day job for a paycheck from the government. For younger workers, that’s no longer the case. A graduated scale of eligibility, shown below, increases the age for eligibility to receive full retirement benefits from age 65 for workers born in or before 1937 to age 67 for workers born in 1960 or later.

Year Of Birth Age To Receive Full Social Security Benefits
1937 or earlier 65
1938 65 and 2 months
1939 65 and 4 months
1940 65 and 6 months
1941 65 and 8 months
1942 65 and 10 months
1943-54 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 or later 67

Early Out

If you wish to quit earlier than your full retirement age, partial Social Security benefits are available at age 62. Just be aware that not only are your benefits cut if you take this option, but so are your the spousal benefits due your significant other (assuming if your spouse has earned little or no benefit on his or her own). Your spouse is eligible to receive 50% of your benefit amount, based on the amount you would receive at full retirement age. That 50% is then reduced by the amount listed in Figure 2, below.

If your spouse earned enough income to receive a benefit of his or her own that is larger than the amount provided under your benefits, the larger benefit applies. (Read Retiring Early: How Long Should You Wait? for insight into how to maximize your Social Security benefits by choosing when you retire.)

Year Of Birth Approximate Reduction For Primary Wage Earner Spouse Reduction
1937 or earlier 20.00% 25.00%
1938 20.83% 25.83%
1939 21.67% 26.67%
1940 22.50% 27.50%
1941 23.33% 28.33%
1942 24.17% 29.17%
1943-54 25.00% 30.00%
1955 25.83% 30.83%
1956 26.67% 31.67%
1957 27.50% 32.50%
1958 28.33% 33.33%
1959 29.17% 34.17%
1960 or later 30.00% 35.00%

If you have an employer-sponsored tax-advantaged retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k) plan or 403(b) plan, age 59½ is when you can generally access your money with no penalties for early withdrawal. Caveat: It has to be from a previous employer’s plan (no problem if you’re retired); if you’re still employed, you may or…