4 unexpected sources of retirement income

Retirement planning amid coronavirus crisis

Barron’s senior writer Reshma Kapadia and Barron’s Roundtable discuss how coronavirus upended some people’s retirement plans and what can be done to make up for that lost capital.

For most people, there are two primary sources of income in retirement: Social Security and retirement savings. Some people also get pensions from their employer, although defined benefit pension plans that provide guaranteed sources of income are few and far between for today's workers.

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But these may not be the only places where you can get retirement money. In fact, there are four possible sources of unexpected income that you could receive in your later years.

1. Your home

Your house can provide you with income in multiple different ways. Most obviously, you could rent out a room, or your entire home, to earn reliable steady income.

If you have an expensive home, you could also sell it and downsize. If you're able to walk away with a lot of money from your sale, you could use some of the money to buy a more affordable place and invest the extra to pad your retirement accounts.

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You may also be able to take a reverse mortgage to get some of the equity out of your home, although you need to carefully consider the pros and cons of this approach.

2. Part-time work

Some seniors are able to transition to part-time work after leaving their jobs. While earning income from work in retirement isn't common, even non-traditional jobs can make a big difference in your retirement security. You could even try out some other ways of making money beyond the work you were doing pre-retirement.

While COVID-19 has increased the risk of some common side gigs, such as driving for ride sharing services, there are still options available, including freelance writing, performing customer service via phone, or even working as a coronavirus contact tracer.

Just be aware that if you're under full retirement age and you work while collecting Social Security, you could temporarily forfeit some of your benefits — although in most cases, you'll get this money back eventually.

3. Your life insurance policy

If you have a whole life insurance policy that has accrued a cash value, you may be able to borrow against your policy or cash it in.

While you may pay a penalty for surrendering your policy — and you'll leave loved ones without the protection of a death benefit — this is an option if you want to get a lot of cash at once and invest it or use it for large retirement expenses.

Borrowing against your policy is also a great option, as you can usually take a tax-free loan — but remember that the death benefit could be reduced if you don't pay back what you've borrowed.

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4. The government 

Some elderly retirees qualify for tax credits that put more money in their pockets.

Retirees under 65 who have limited income, for example, could potentially qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), as could older retirees caring for a qualifying child such as a grandchild. Joe Biden also wants to make the EITC available for workers 65 and older who qualify based on income, even if they don't have eligible dependents. If he's elected and that change occurs, many more seniors could be eligible.

The EITC is a refundable tax credit, so if you're currently allowed to claim it or you become eligible to do so if Biden becomes president, it's possible you could get more money back than you've paid into the system in taxes.

The government, of course, also provides other common benefits retirees depend on, including Social Security retirement and survivor benefits. You should make sure to try to max out these traditional income sources in addition to looking for alternative ways to make some extra cash.

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