About half of all households headed by someone age 55+ have no retirement savings, according to the Government Accountability Office (March 2019). If you’ve fallen behind on retirement savings goals, here are steps you can take to build up your savings:
- Tighten your budget. Decrease spending and put extra saved income toward retirement savings. It may mean cutting back on small luxuries, like dinners out, but you’ll be glad you did once you’re in retirement.
- Contribute the max to tax-advantaged retirement plans. If you have a 401(k), increase your annual savings to the max contribution of $19,500 in 2021 and $20,500 in 2022, or consider signing up with your company to automatically raise your contributions at regular intervals. If you have a traditional IRA, the money may be deductible from your taxable gross income for the current year as it grows tax-deferred, and you can contribute up to $6,000 in 2021 and 2022. View contribution limits and rules at IRS Retirement Plan Rules.
- Take advantage of “catch up contribution” limits on your 401(k) or IRA. Once you turn 50, you’re allowed to contribute more to retirement savings plans. If you can afford to contribute more to your traditional IRA or 401(k) plan, you can build up savings faster while possibly enjoying the benefits of a greater reduction in your gross taxable income for the current year. For traditional and Roth IRAs in 2021 and 2022, the contribution limit for those 50 and over is $7,000 (versus $6,000 for those under 50). For 401(k) plans, those 50 and over may contribute an extra $6,500 a year over limits in the section above. Certain restrictions may apply. For more information, go to IRS Retirement Plan Rules.
- Get the employer match. Many firms with 401(k) plans will match all or part of your contributions up to a certain percentage. Contribute enough to get the full match — it’s free money and it grows tax-deferred! For example, if your company matches 100% of your contribution up to 5% of your pay, that equates to a 5% raise.
- Become vested. You may have to stay with a company for five or six years to receive your full 401(k) match, but that extra match – which often adds up to 5% to 6% of your annual salary – may be worth your time if you’re close to the mark.
- Consider holding investments focused on long-term growth. Individuals tend to become more conservative in their investment approaches as they enter retirement. But as people are living longer, consider keeping a portion of your portfolio invested for long-term growth rather than putting all your money in low-yielding investments to allow your portfolio the potential to continue to grow as you start to draw from it in retirement. This approach may not be appropriate for everyone, so it is important to consider your own risk tolerance and specific objectives in determining the appropriate asset mix for you.
- Reduce high-interest debts. If you can transfer your credit card balance and any other high yielding debt to a low interest account – or, better yet, pay it off – you’ll have more cash available to add to your retirement savings.
- Consider additional income sources. If you can work a second job or start a business that brings in some additional income, that will help bolster your savings. The longer you can put off tapping into your retirement dollars, the longer it could grow.
- Stay with your job longer. If your employer allows you to stay on the job until your late 60s or 70s, that could make a dramatic difference in your retirement savings plan. It means you would be able to live off your salary for a few more years while continuing to invest more into your retirement plan.
- Downsize if possible. You may be able to sell your home and buy a smaller one to cut your expenses, and possibly get additional cash in the sale of your larger home to add to your retirement.
- Set retirement expectations. Once you set your retirement budget, you may not be able to fund all the things you’d hoped for, but you could still experience an active life with a variety of enjoyable activities.
Tightening your budget, saving more, working a bit longer, downsizing your living quarters, and modifying your lifestyle expectations could all contribute to increasing your retirement savings – and hopefully living a more fulfilling lifestyle.