It has become commonplace for people to retire at a younger age than they originally planned. In 2009, a whopping 47% of retirees left the workforce earlier than they expected.

It would be great if most of these people were retiring early because they had plenty of money and no longer needed to work, but this simply isn’t the case. Ninety percent gave negative reasons for retiring early, citing such causes as health problems, company downsizing and/or closure, outdated skills, and the need to care for a family member.

The news here is not that planning to retire at a particular age is a waste of time, but that it may be a good idea to prepare for the possibility that you may be forced into retirement as early as five years before your ideal retirement age.

Hallmark of Uncertainty

Did you know that only 10% of current retirees were still working after age 65, even though 31% of workers expect to stay with it past 65? If you keep telling yourself that you can make up for a potential shortfall by working longer, it could be an indication of how you view your financial situation. In general, people who lack confidence in their retirement security expect to retire later than people who are more confident.

Retiring in a Recession or a Bear Market

One good reason to be prepared early is the possibility that you may be forced into retirement during (or because of) a recession or a bear market. If you are trying to make up for lost time by working longer, you may also be tempted to take investment risks that can cause havoc for your finances if a downturn occurs when you are close to retirement.

Many of the recommended steps to take during the final years before retirement are designed to help protect you from dramatic swings in the market or the economy, in order to help insulate your long-term outlook from short-term developments. These steps usually include a gradual migration away from riskier assets seeking capital appreciation and toward more conservative, income-producing investments.

Finding Out Too Late

Another risk of planning to work longer is the possibility that you could overestimate the benefits of doing so and, as a result, fail to evaluate exactly how far behind you are and what steps are necessary to reach your goals. Any options that you have to make up for a shortfall could be limited by a shortened time horizon.

Obviously, there may be no way to see a forced retirement coming. But by recognizing the risk now, you may be able to take steps to help ensure that your retirement is everything you dreamed it would be.