I was laid off from Rutgers. Should I retire or take unemployment?

Q. I just turned 66, and was notified by my employer, Rutgers, that I will be laid off in January. Should I retire before that? I worked there 15 years so I won’t get all the perks of retiring after working there 25-plus years. If I’m laid off, I think I can collect unemployment for at least six months. If I retire, I get three months of unused sick time and six weeks of vacation time. What should I do?

— Laid off

A. We’re sorry to hear about your job loss.

Here’s what you need to consider in terms of how unemployment would treat your sick and vacation time.

New Jersey pays unemployment benefits for 39 weeks if you are no longer being paid by Rutgers, said Jody D’Agostini, a certified financial planner with AXA Advisors/The Falcon Financial Group in Morristown.

Generally, this will provide 60% of your average wages to a maximum of $713 per week, she said.

You can apply online at myunemployment.nj.gov.

D’Agostini took an overall look at your options.

Given your age, you should be eligible to start your Social Security benefit this year depending upon the month of your birth — if you need it.

“You should explore if this makes sense in your overall retirement plan,” D’Agostini said. “You also qualify for Medicare at this point, so your medical needs could be met. Rutgers would not be required to extend health coverage and Medicare would become your primary insurance.”

If you retire, it appears that you would get a maximum of 18 to 19 weeks paid, but it depends upon your pay scale, she said.

If you are making substantially more than the $713 per week, then it might be more advantageous to go in this direction, she said. It would be worth inquiring as to any possible severance package to be sure there are not any added benefits that Rutgers is offering, she said.

“If you are planning on seeking other employment before the 39 weeks, then retiring would probably make more sense as the unemployment benefit would cease at that time,” D’Agostini said. “You should inquire if you are able to make any final retirement contributions to your plan to take advantage of any matching that Rutgers might extend.”

Email your questions to [email protected].

Karin Price Mueller writes the Bamboozled column for NJ Advance Media and is the founder of NJMoneyHelp.com. Follow NJMoneyHelp on Twitter @NJMoneyHelp. Find NJMoneyHelp on Facebook. Sign up for NJMoneyHelp.com’s weekly e-newsletter.

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