Although we think of retirement as a specific point in time, it is really a process with key retirement dates that begin just before age 60 and end just after you turn 70. Understanding what those milestones are is vital in determining when you can retire and what sort of retirement you can afford. Here is a list of milestones in chronological order:

59.5 – once you reach the age of 59.5, the IRS will no longer levy a 10% penalty for withdrawing funds from your IRA or 401k. If you’re taking funds from a traditional IRA or 401k (as opposed to a Roth), the withdrawal will still be taxed as income, but the IRS will no longer tack on a penalty.

62 – if you have qualified for Social Security, you can begin drawing Social Security at age 62. 62 is well before what the Social Security Administration considers full retirement age (or FRA), and the benefit you would receive at 62 is a good bit less than what you would receive were you to begin drawing at your full retirement age, which ranges from 65 to 67. You can find your full retirement age as well as estimates on the impact of drawing benefits early here.

An additional benefit for Georgia residents 62 or older is the state tax exemption on retirement income. This first $35,000 in retirement income is exempted from state tax once you turn 62, and the amount increases to $65,000 per individual by age 65. Finally, many counties and municipalities begin offering age and income related homestead exemptions once you reach 62.

65 – Medicare eligibility begins at age 65, and reliable, cost-effective healthcare in retirement is crucial. In most instances, if you’re still working and have healthcare from your employer, you don’t have to switch to Medicare (more on that here). Even in that instance, it’s worth comparing the insurance you have to Medicare to confirm which is more cost effective and provides the coverage you need.

At age 65, your standard deduction also increases, so if you don’t itemize, you’ll get a bit of a tax break.

65 to 67 – full retirement age for Social Security. At this point, you’ll receive your full Social Security benefit, although the benefit can increase beyond this amount if you delay further as detailed below.

70 – once you reach full retirement age, you can elect to delay taking Social Security. If you do so, the Social Security Administration will apply delayed retirement credits to the benefit you will draw when you begin to receive Social Security. That can increase your payout by up to 8% per year as detailed here, so if you can afford to wait to draw, it can make sense to do so. However, there are no delayed retirement credits for waiting beyond age 70, so it typically makes sense to begin drawing Social Security no later than 70.

70 1/2 – if you have an IRA, Simple IRA, SEP IRA or retirement plan account, the IRS typically requires that you begin withdrawing from those accounts when you reach the age of 70 1/2. The amount that you must withdraw is based on your age along with the balance of the accounts as of the end of the prior year, and failure to take your RMD can lead to a penalty of 50% of the amount you should have taken. Your retirement plan should include these RMDs to account for the taxes associated with the withdrawal (because withdrawals are taxable). Depending upon your specific situation, retirement income planning can help you efficiently manage RMDs in retirement.

In addition to the above milestones, your plan may have additional key retirement dates. Those who have pensions – like Federal Government employees – should understand how pensions are calculated, and there are also esoteric rules around Social Security and spousal benefits. Still, if you start with the milestones above and then dig into the particulars of your situation, you’ll have taken an essential step in understanding when you can retire.