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Only contributing to tax-advantaged accounts

There are many benefits to saving for retirement through an IRA or 401(k) plan. With a traditional IRA or 401(k), contributions up to the annual IRS limit may be tax-deductible, and your investment grows tax-deferred.

But if you have all of your money in these accounts, you could run into trouble if you decide (or are forced) to retire early. In fact, according to Edward Jones, financial advisers across the industry report that 40% of their clients were forced into retirement.

But there is a 10% early withdrawal penalty for removing funds from these accounts before you turn 59 and a half. In addition, withdrawals must be reported as income and taxed when you take the money out. These factors may put you in a bind if your retirement plans change.

With a Roth IRA or 401(k), contributions are made with after-tax dollars, but investment gains and withdrawals are completely tax-free. This offers flexibility in case your retirement plans shift.

For this reason, it’s good to diversify your savings vehicles.

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Choosing overly risky investments for higher returns

You may be tempted to build a stock portfolio designed to beat the market, which is to say, delivering returns higher than the S&P 500 index.

But while you want to take on some risk when saving for retirement, you don’t want to go overboard. Properly assembling a portfolio of individual stocks requires a lot of time and research. You also need to be willing to monitor your investments and rebalance your portfolio from year to year as needed.

For most investors, a more passive approach may be safer, such as investing in broad-based index funds, ETFs or index mutual funds. It’s a low-cost way to invest, and you’re getting an instantly diversified portfolio. You’re also relying on the power of the broad market to get you to your goals.

The stock market’s historical return is about 10%, and loading up on S&P 500 index funds might achieve similar results. Even if you end up with a slightly lower return — say 8% — if you invest $500 a month over 40 years, you would retire with a little more than $1.5 million.

A higher-risk portfolio containing individual stocks might leave you with a higher balance — or a much lower one. So if you can be happy with returns that mimic those of the broad market, then it pays to stick to S&P 500 index funds.

Sacrificing your near-term happiness to save more for the future

“Save now to enjoy life later.” The phrase is often uttered to motivate people to build large retirement nest eggs.

The problem with this mindset is that you don’t know what curveballs life has in store. So, while it certainly pays to prioritize retirement savings throughout your career, you also don’t want to sacrifice every other life goal you have just to build wealth for your senior years.

A better bet is to strike a balance. Sit down with a financial adviser to determine how much you should save each year. Then automate contributions to various accounts to hit that goal. But from there, give yourself permission to spend some of your money.

You don’t want to give up important moments, such as travel or time with family, during your working years. Come retirement, you never know whether mobility or health issues will prevent you from doing that. So look toward the future, but don’t forget about the present.


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Maurie Backman Freelance Writer

Maurie Backman is a freelance contributor to Moneywise, who has more than a decade of experience writing about financial topics, including retirement, investing, Social Security, and real estate.


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