The fact that you want to work to 58 or 65 or 70, or that you want to be partially employed well past a mandated corporate retirement age in your 60s, doesn’t mean those things will happen. Job losses, health problems and more confound those wants and plans all the time.

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Most people have a retirement age in their head.

It’s some combination of what their job allows/encourages, mixed with health, wellness, family and financial considerations.

But having an idea in your head is very different from having one built into a financial plan, and new research shows that most investors don’t have a real clue about when they really will retire, and thus both their financial and retirement plans are in jeopardy of not working out.

The latest survey connected to the Wells Fargo/Gallup Investor and Retirement Optimism Index showed that only 28 percent of nonretired investors have given a lot of thought to the best age for them to retire. More than 40 percent of the nonretirees have given little or no thought to their potential retirement.

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“The actual age you retire is a really important factor in determining your monthly income and how long it will last,” said Joe Ready, head of Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust. “The sooner you start to plan your retirement age, the more you can control while you still have a long runway ahead of you to make adjustments to your strategy.”

There’s a Yiddish proverb which says that God laughs when we make plans, and that seems clear when it comes to retirement issues.

The fact that you want to work to 58 or 65 or 70, or that you want to be partially employed well past a mandated corporate retirement age in your 60s, doesn’t mean those things will happen. Job losses, health problems and more confound those wants and plans all the time.

That may be why nearly half of the nonretirees in the Wells Fargo survey said that knowing the age at which they plan to retire would make no difference to their planning.

Yet picking a retirement age — one in keeping with your professional/work, health, family and social lives — can set the finish line for your savings lifetime. It gives you a target to aim for; where you stand in relation to that target also can confirm whether your target age is the right and/or responsible choice.

Failing to factor an actual retirement age into financial plans ultimately leads many people to fall short of their savings goals by the time they hit the age number that’s in their head, and it’s why they work a year or two or 10 longer so that they won’t outlive their savings.

“People really discount the age component,” Ready explained in an interview on my MoneyLife radio show /podcast ( “A lot of times people see 65 as a common point where they might retire but they say ‘Oh what’s another two years or what’s two years early because I am fed up with the work?’ It makes a big difference.

“Let’s not wake up at 60 and say ‘When do I want to retire?’” he added. “Do the math. Look at the implications for Social Security and your savings rate. … It allows you to control your point of view around the age of retirement, rather than having it dictated to you [by circumstances] if you wait too long.”

In its survey, Wells Fargo examined steps investors should take in determining the right retirement age.

Discuss your retirement age with friends and family. This was the step that was taken the most by nonretirees, with 63 percent of respondents talking about when they might retire.

Estimate retirement income based on different ages when you might stop working. Nearly 60 percent of survey respondents had played what-if games looking at what they might have to live on if they advance or put off their retirement. Half of the survey respondents had used online tools and calculators to do the math; half also said they had manually crunched the numbers, though it is likely that a lot of people go from online estimates to pulling out statements and getting exact figures.

Talk to a financial adviser about it. Just under half of the nonretirees surveyed had talked to a planner, although coming up with an appropriate retirement age is a key part of the planning process.

Countless surveys show that investors who work with advisers — whether it is on an ongoing account-management basis or on a make-a-plan/set-the-course path where the individual implements advice on their own — are more confident about their ability to retire comfortably. It’s about knowing where you are going, and how and when you will get there; having a plan for your retirement age sets those parameters.

Review options for Social Security, and your likely benefits. Less than one-third of the Wells Fargo nonretirees had looked at the Social Security website to see the impact of timing on their benefits. Studies show that delaying Social Security benefits for as long as possible tends to provide the greatest lifetime benefits, but that retirees are more likely to take lesser benefits the moment those payouts become available.

Better timing on Social Security can change a lifetime financial picture; reviewing the benefits statement the Social Security sends individuals annually is a start; the organization’s online tools are an additional key tool for determining whether your savings, retirement accounts and government benefits will add up to a comfortable retirement.