BERKELEY HEIGHTS, N.J. (TheStreet) -- Workers considering retiring before age 65 need to understand what, if any, health coverage they will have.

Remember, retirees are not eligible for Medicare coverage until they reach age 65, so before considering early retirement people need to assess health care coverage options -- and, more importantly, their cost. Failure to do so can lead to a very rude awakening, as cost may represent a much larger earmark on retirement funds than expected.

Monthly bills for a couple in early retirement can be upward of $2,000 until Medicare kicks in, but the cost of going without can be far greater -- all calculations a pre-retiree must take into account.

Workers considering early retirement should first check with their employer and determine if there's a retiree health care program to opt into. Some workers in the public sector get retiree health benefits at zero cost to them and their families as long as they met the service requirements. Public-sector workers with free retiree health benefits are set and can move onto other issues.

Private-sector workers may not have the same option; employers who provide retiree health coverage typically have employees cover a portion of the cost.

Pre-65 retirees without employer retiree health coverage need to get a private health care policy until they reach age 65. In New Jersey a private health insurance policy for a 60-year-old couple ranges from $871 to $2,187 per month depending on the plan particulars.

The key question early retirees need to ask themselves: "Do I have the resources to pay for retiree health insurance expenses until I am Medicare eligible?" Assuming a $1,000-a-month premium over five years is a $60,000 earmark to a new retiree's resources right out of the gate -- not an insignificant amount of money.

Retiring early is great only if you have the resources and means to do so. Who wants to retire early only to find out you have no discretionary income because of lack of planning for health care expenses?

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Michael Maye is the founder and president of MJM Financial Advisors (, a registered investment advisory firm in Berkeley Heights, N.J. He is a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA) and has been a speaker covering tax topics at NAPFA's national and regional conferences. Maye has also been a frequent contributor to the Star Ledger of New Jersey's "Biz Brain" and "Get With the Plan" articles. In addition to NAPFA, he is a member of Financial Planning Association, American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, New Jersey State Society of CPAs and the Estate Planning Council of Northern New Jersey.