I am 50 years old and have been offered an early retirement package by my bank. What factors should I consider in deciding whether to accept it?

- Undecided

Dear Undecided:

There are three key elements you should weigh: your bank's financial condition, your financial condition, and your career objectives.

Let's take your bank first. If it's in turmoil and the future is uncertain, hanging on could be more risky than getting out.

Down the road, your company might end up reducing your salary and moving you to Gopher Gulch. Or your job might be eliminated outright. Under such circumstances, early retirement might be attractive - if you can afford it.

That brings us to perhaps the most important factor: your financial condition. Would the retirement package plus your savings leave you secure enough to walk away from your job?

Ready for Joblessness?

In other words, can you take the risk of not being able to find another job for some time in this dismal employment market?

The answer, obviously, varies widely among individuals. "Some people at age 50 have two kids in college, others have $1 million in the bank," observes Joe Duffy of Drake Beam Morin, an outplacement firm that runs career decision workshops for banks offering early retirement.

Next, think through what you want to do with the rest of your working life.

Of course, many people who take early retirement plan to look for new jobs. Others who can afford to stop working jump at the chance, but only because of a misguided view of retirement life.

"People are often hasty," says James E. Challenger of outplacement firm Challenger, Gray, & Christmas in Chicago. "Early retirees often become bored and miss the workplace relationships that have been established over the years."

On the other hand, many executives have found there is life after banking. Some people are happy to be liberated from the corporate world and have a chance to open, say, a bicycle shop.

Anita Lands, a career and early retirement counselor, has heard bankers say that early retirement "was the boot they needed to make a lifestyle change."

Some early retirees find happiness volunteering. Chase Manhattan just launched a pilot program to link up retired employees with volunteer opportunities in the New York City area.

About 15% of the participants had taken advantage of the bank's voluntary retirement program, says Kerry Yeager, volunteer coordinator.

Other Factors

Here are some other things to consider:

* Be aware that retirement packages get smaller with each round. So waiting could be costly. You might do half as well six or eight months later, says Mr. Duffy.

* Don't expect to negotiate a sweeter package, especially if your bank is offering a large-scale voluntary retirement program.

You might ask if you can stay on for a year and then get the same deal. But get the agreement in writing.

* If you are leaning toward accepting the package, ask about consulting opportunities. Your bank might be willing to rehire you on that basis.

* At the very least, you should know your rights if you are part of a group being offered early retirement.

According to the law, you have 45 days in which to make a decision and seven days to revoke it if you choose to sign. And you are legally entitled to be told the job titles and ages of those who are offered the same package.

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