One of the earliest lessons in life is that actions have consequences, and approaching retirement age without a substantial nest egg is one of those consequences. But if you are in this situation, you are not alone, as millions of other Americans are faced with the same need to save enough to retire comfortably.
Our priorities shift throughout our lives. Early in the life cycle, home ownership is a priority; that is usually followed by raising and educating children. However, as retirement approaches, the focus needs to shift toward retirement funding. By the time most people are 45 or 50, their children are on their own, the mortgage is close to being paid off, and there is more discretionary income to set aside for retirement.
If you are starting to think about retirement, there are three pitfalls you need to avoid: (1) Retiring on your birthday instead of your bank account, (2) not properly managing your risk and (3) retiring with too much debt.
A frequently asked question is How much do I need to put aside for retirement? The answer to that question varies with each individual. There a number of factors to consider: current income, existing savings, assets, how many years until you plan to retire, the lifestyle you want in retirement, and what you can afford to put aside.
If you want to make a rough estimate of the savings needed, determine your approximate income needs and calculate the amount of money you will receive, aside from your savings. These other sources could be your Social Security benefit, a pension, or an IRA or a 401(k) plan.
Add up all of the funds that will come from your Social Security benefit, pension, etc., and determine a savings goal that will, after retirement, provide the additional income needed for retirement. Be sure to factor in inflation and a reasonable rate of return, taking into consideration today’s tough economic environment. Also consider your existing savings and assets that help fund retirement.
Then start figuring out how to make up for the difference. Here are some suggestions:
1. Check to see whether your employer offers a 401(k), a 403(b), or some other type of voluntary contribution retirement plan. Take advantage of these plans and contribute the maximum you can afford up to the annual limit, which for 2011 is:
- $16,500 for taxpayers below 50 years of age, and
- $22,000 for taxpayers 50 years of age and over.
The contribution is before taxes, so making the contribution will lower your gross income and reduce your current tax bite. Also, if your employer matches a percentage of your contribution, that is free money for you.
2. If you have earned income (or receive alimony) but don’t have an employer plan to contribute to or if you can afford to set aside additional funds, you might consider an IRA. Here, you have a choice between a traditional IRA and a Roth IRA. Traditional IRA contributions can be tax deductible or not, depending on your income and whether you have an employer retirement plan. Roth IRAs are not tax deductible, but accrue earnings tax free. However, contributing to a Roth IRA can be complicated for higher income taxpayers. The IRA contribution limit for 2011 is $5,000 ($6,000 if age 50 and over). In some cases, a spouse can also contribute to an IRA based on the other spouse’s earned income.
3. Self-employed individuals can take advantage of a variety of available defined contribution retirement plans that allow contributions nearing 20% on the self-employed individual’s net income, limited to a maximum of $49,000 for 2011. There are also more complicated defined benefit plans available that allow substantially higher contributions.
4. There’s always the option of acquiring a second job or having the spouse acquire employment to generate more income. Invest your additional earnings or use it to pay off any outstanding debts. By getting rid of credit card balances, you also avoid unnecessary interest charges and free up your money for retirement savings.
5. Consider downsizing your home. You can potentially save on utility bills, repairs, and, perhaps, property taxes. Put those savings toward retirement. You might even think of relocating, if you live in an area with a high cost of living. Needless to say, proceeds from the sale that aren’t needed to pay off the old mortgage, other debt, etc. or used to purchase the new home should be put into savings for your retirement years.
Be sure to periodically review your goals, as your financial situation and the economic climate may change and the plan may need to be adjusted. Please call this office for assistance in terms of assessing your financial resources and to help you plan for a financially secure retirement.