Skip to content

Five Best Jobs For An Early Retirement

Retiring early is a dream for many workers. According to research from Gallup, the average retirement age in the U.S. is 65, but one-third of Americans hope to retire by age 60. The thought of leaving the 9-to-5 grind decades before your friends and colleagues can be incredibly tempting. But early retirement doesn‘t come easy. It requires diligent financial planning, frugal living, and often choosing the right career path.

While any job can theoretically provide an early retirement with proper savings and investing habits, some careers make it significantly easier to retire young. If you‘re willing to make certain trade-offs and plan far ahead, the following five professions offer some of the best routes to retire before 65.

1. Military and Public Service

Jobs in the military, police force, fire department, and other public service roles offer early retirement options unmatched in the civilian workforce.

For example, members of the U.S. armed forces can retire with lifelong pension payments after just 20 years of service. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, over 44,000 military members retired in 2018 after 20 years of service, usually in their late 30s or 40s.

At 40 years old you could be looking at 30+ years of retirement. Current military pensions pay out 50% of final salary immediately upon retirement, increasing with cost of living adjustments over time. Based on average enlisted salaries, this can amount to roughly $25,000 per year or higher for retirees.

Public safety roles like police, firefighters, and EMTs often have similar (though less lucrative) pensions available long before private sector retirement ages.

According to research by the Fraternal Order of Police, over 80% of federal law enforcement retire before age 55, with an average retirement age of 51. And the National Fire Protection Association found that over 60% of firefighters retire before age 55 as well.

These careers trade higher risks and required dedication for improved retirement benefits. According to the non-profit group New Direction, nearly 80% of federal law enforcement and over 60% of firefighters retire before age 55, compared to just 20% of the general workforce.

The trade-off is low starting salaries in public service that require diligent saving and investing to build sufficient retirement funds. For those seeking early retirement through military or public service careers, maximizing thrift savings plans, IRAs, and other retirement accounts can help bridge the gap.

2. Railroad Industry

Railway careers such as locomotive engineers and conductors are known for providing early retirement options through railroad pensions.

The Railroad Retirement Board states that rail employees can retire at age 60 with at least 30 years of service. At age 62 they qualify for additional Medicare benefits. This is far earlier than Social Security retirement ages for most other workers.

According to the RRB, over 200,000 retirees currently collect railroad retirement benefits in the United States. The average retirement age for rail employees is 61, four years earlier than the general workforce. And career railroaders can expect average pension payments of around $3,075 per month.

Railroad pensions are funded by railroad employees, companies, and the federal government, providing reliable lifetime payments separate from Social Security.

The downside is railroad shift work requiring nights, weekends, and holidays away from home. But for those who enjoy travel and transportation, it can provide a route to retire five years earlier than most.

Maximizing a 401(k) plan through a railroad employer can help expand retirement savings beyond just the pension amount. Living frugally and taking advantage of geoarbitrage opportunities where the pension income goes further are other strategies to make early railroad retirement feasible.

3. Airline Pilots

Being an airline pilot demands extensive training and unforgiving schedules but enables above-average pay and early retirement prospects.

Most major airlines offer pension plans allowing pilots to retire between ages 50 and 60 once they have enough service tenure. In addition to pensions, pilot salaries reaching into the six figures allow for significant retirement investments.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers is over $130,000 per year. Reaching even higher levels like captaining major jets can mean salaries of $300,000 and beyond.

Data from Airline Pilots Central shows the average retirement age for pilots at the major U.S. airlines ranges from 60 years old at Delta to 63 at United. With the right planning, some pilots retire even earlier by building sizable nest eggs.

Combining the high pay with dedicated retirement saving and employer pension plans lets airline pilots retire decades before the average American. Though major airline consolidation has made these coveted pilot jobs highly competitive.

For those who achieve a commercial pilot career, maximizing 401(k) contributions through an airline employer and investing personally as well can lead to a seven-figure retirement portfolio. Living in low-cost areas, pursuing side gigs, and budgeting wisely are other tips for pilots aiming to retire by 55.

4. Physicians

There aren‘t many careers with higher earning potential than becoming a doctor or surgeon. While medical school loans can eat into compensation initially, doctors make up for it with salaries averaging well into six figures.

This high income allows them to save and invest substantial sums toward early retirement goals. And greater experience and specialization generally leads to higher pay over a medical career. Doctors who own their own practices also benefit from business profits.

According to Medscape data, the average annual salary for U.S. physicians ranges from around $200,000 for family medicine doctors to over $300,000 for surgeons and radiologists.

For specialists like orthopedic surgeons and cardiologists, pay can reach $500,000 annually and higher. This income combined with diligent retirement investing lets many doctors retire in their 50s or earlier.

But simply having a high physician salary alone doesn‘t guarantee early retirement. The key factors are avoiding lifestyle inflation, maximizing retirement accounts, and investing strategically. Living below your means and resisting temptations for luxury spending are critical.

One study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that nearly 80% physicians were not able to retire by age 65 due to poor financial planning. But those willing to live frugally and save can benefit enormously from compound investment growth.

For physicians seeking early retirement, opening a self-employed 401(k) plan, contributing to after-tax annuities, harvesting capital gains tax strategically, and earning side income can help accelerate reaching retirement goals.

STEM careers like dentistry, optometry, and pharmacology offer similar paths to early retirement as a physician. Just beware of chasing higher pay with a specialty that leads to excessive student debt and delayed retirement.

5. Law Partners and Senior Attorneys

Becoming an equity law firm partner or senior corporate lawyer provides high income potential coupled with retiring as early as the late 50s for some.

According to Glassdoor data, the average base salary for law firm partners exceeds $250,000, not including bonuses and profit sharing that can reach millions for top partners.

Law partners can earn well into the six figures while building reputations to retain clients. And senior corporate attorneys often earn large salaries advising high-paying business clients. Either career path can enable retiring decades earlier than the average 65+ retirement age.

According to industry surveys, the average retirement age for private practice attorneys is around 62, and corporate attorneys retire closer to 60. While not as early as some medical professionals, it beats most careers.

But the road to becoming a high-paid, early retiring lawyer is challenging. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says only about 40% of law school graduates end up working in law firms initially. And making law firm partner requires immense dedication early on while aspiring to retire young later.

For those who achieve high-earning legal careers, maximizing 401(k) plans, minimizing taxes, and diligently saving can make retiring in the 50s and 60s feasible. Just beware of living lavishly and avoid taking on excessive debt that could eat into retirement funds.

Final Thoughts

Achieving early retirement requires long-term planning and often picking careers with pension plans or high income. Those willing to exchange freedom later for hard work earlier can often retire young in careers like military service, railroad, piloting, medicine, and law.

But any career can potentially lead to early retirement with proper strategizing. Diligent savers that maximize retirement accounts, pursue side gigs, geoarbitrate or relocate to cut costs, and invest wisely can escape the rat race early.

With some sacrifice, proper planning, and dedication in the right career, an early retirement may be within your reach. The key is starting early, spending wisely, and being willing to make certain trade-offs for the reward of decades of freedom.



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.