Most Americans have been told that one of the most important pieces of advice about saving for retirement is to start early. While some heed that recommendation as soon as they hear it, others need to be reminded to save. In fact, more than 38 million people (that’s 45% of working-age households in the U.S.) have no retirement savings at all.1
Depending on when you stop working, your retirement years can last for decades. Whether you are just starting out or are closer to retirement, you’ll want to make sure that your income lasts as long as you need it. The encouraging news is that, wherever you’re at – whether it’s ahead or behind – there are some simple things you can start doing today to better prepare for a comfortable retirement.
Some rules apply, no matter when you start.
Adjust some habits today
- Start saving early, and consistently – When it comes to saving for retirement, the early bird usually does wind up with the best nest egg. Thanks to compounding, the money you invest produces earnings, and if you reinvest that money, it will generate more. Additionally, gradually putting your money into investments and keeping it there through market ups and downs tends to make better sense for most long-term investors.
- Track your current spending – Even if you haven’t created a formal budget for yourself, you can look broadly at your monthly income and expenses. From there, figure out if there are any easy ways you can cut back on needless spending, and save that newfound money in a retirement fund.
- Eliminate personal debt – Credit card debt can be a major setback to retirement planning. If you have credit cards with high interest rates, pay off the debt as soon as possible so that instead of paying the large interest rates on your bills, you can add that money to a retirement savings account.
Do your homework and investigate savings options
Plan for your future now – You’ll want to consider several factors – your present income and savings, the age at which you plan to retire, the lifestyle you expect to have, and what you think your Social Security benefits and other future income sources will be – so you can estimate how much you’ll need to save.
Learn about where to invest – There are many easy ways to build your retirement savings:
401(k): Take advantage of your company’s 401(k) match
A 401(k) plan is a retirement plan that only your employer can offer. You can elect to automatically contribute a percentage (or fixed dollar amount) of your salary into the plan each month, and the plan may provide significant tax benefits. Many employers match some of the contributions you make to your plan. If you’re lucky enough to get matching contributions, be sure you take full advantage of that. It’s the equivalent of being given free money to add to your retirement savings.
IRA: Play catch-up with your plans
An Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a personal savings and investment account that helps you save money for retirement in a tax-advantaged way. Even if you already own a 401(k), an IRA can enhance your nest egg. And if you’re 50 or older and missed contributing to your IRA earlier in life, you can enhance your savings by making annual catch-up contributions.
Annuities: Find ways to generate lasting income
Annuities are a great way to guarantee a lifetime stream of income during retirement. Basically, you pay the insurance company a set amount, and they will send you a check that can serve as another source of guaranteed income in addition to Social Security. There are a few different types that you can choose from. Immediate annuities create a guaranteed cash flow, starting within as little as a month. Or, if retirement is further off, you can receive guaranteed income in the future with deferred annuities.
Whole life insurance: Build an asset you can use in your retirement
Whole life insurance is a type of permanent life insurance, meaning it never expires, provided you make the required payments. One of the advantages of whole life insurance, in addition to the set amount of money your beneficiaries receive when you pass away, is that it builds a tax-favored cash-value asset, which is money you can use during your lifetime for things such as paying for a child’s college education, or supplementing your retirement income.
Keep tabs on your retirement savings
Look to the pros for help
It’s important to talk to a financial professional, who can advise you about the tax advantages of all your options, and recommend the ones that best meet your individual needs.
Check up on your portfolio periodically
Whether you’ve already started planning for retirement on your own, or with the help of a financial professional, it’s important to go back and check at least annually on how your 401(k), IRA, and any other savings plans you have are doing. Did you know that you can check online and, based on your actual earnings record, get an estimate of how much Social Security benefits you can expect to receive?
Make adjustments as your circumstances change
Keep in mind that major life events, such as a new job, marriage, baby, or purchase of a home, will shift your entire financial equation. These events are the times you need to fine-tune your portfolio to make sure you’re still on the right track.
Everybody has different requirements, and life doesn’t always follow the schedule you may have set out. By keeping certain principles in mind and making sure you get some planning help along the way, you can get much closer to a retirement you can enjoy.