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Median savings vary by age

Of course, the Fed’s numbers are an aggregate of all ages. So, if you’re just starting out in the workforce, you may not yet have a retirement account and your savings are likely to build as you get older. You might be curious, then, how you stack up against other people in your age bracket.

According to the Fed’s data, the percentage of people with retirement accounts increases until the 55-64 age bracket. Savings are greater for older age brackets until people reach 75+, when it’s likely that drawdowns to fund retirement reduce their savings.

Here’s a breakdown of the data by age bracket, including the median value of retirement accounts and percentage of those with such accounts.

  • All families: $87,000, 54.4%
  • Under 35: $18,880, 49.6%
  • 35-44: $45,000, 61.5%
  • 44-54: $115,000, 62.2%
  • 55-64: $185,000, 57%
  • 65-74: $200,000, 51%
  • 75-plus: $130,000, 42%

If you’re way behind others in your age bracket, these numbers could spur you to action. But the amount of savings needed at any age varies by individual — and you may be doing just fine even if you’re saving less than others in your age bracket. On the flip side, you may be falling short in reaching your retirement goals even if you’re ahead of others in your bracket.

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Developing a retirement plan

The first step in developing your savings plan is to determine how much money you’ll need for retirement. Consider how old you are now, when you plan to retire, where you plan to retire, how you plan to spend your retirement and how many dependents (if any) you’ll need to support.

Also consider that your expenses may change but won’t necessarily disappear in retirement. For instance, you may have paid off your mortgage, but your medical expenses could increase. The size of your nest egg will depend on these expenses and how much you’ll need to withdraw each year to fund them.

Strategies include the 4% rule, where you live on a 4% withdrawal from your assets each year. Other approaches rely more on total returns, which adapt to market fluctuations (as well as your personal circumstances, such as long-term care or other medical expenses).

It's possible to catch up

A 2024 study published by Northwestern Mutual revealed that Americans expected they would need $1.46 million in savings in order to retire comfortably. If you put that figure next to the Fed data, it seems a lot of people are falling well short. But there may be hope yet.

How much you can save will depend on your income and expenses during your working years, as well as the return on your investments. A financial planner can be invaluable in helping you map a strategy and keep you on track.

But don’t despair if you’re way behind — it’s not easy, but it’s possible to catch up. This requires paying off your debts, determining the best investment vehicles for your goals and exploring additional sources of income. Even if you’re aged 55 or at retirement age with no savings, you could downsize your home, consider a home equity line of credit, cash in an insurance policy or sell assets such as a second vehicle.

Your retirement savings plan will be unique to you, but as you age your nest egg should be getting bigger. If you’re behind, now’s the time to formulate a plan to catch up.

Editor's note (May 13, 2024): The first sentence has been updated to clarify that almost half of American families don't have a dedicated retirement savings account.

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Vawn Himmelsbach Freelance Contributor

Vawn Himmelsbach is a journalist who has been covering tech, business and travel for more than two decades. Her work has been published in a variety of publications, including The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, CBC News, ITbusiness, CAA Magazine, Zoomer, BOLD Magazine and Travelweek, among others.

Disclaimer

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