Americans aren’t saving enough

First, a hard truth: Regardless of timelines, too many working adults aren’t saving enough for retirement. A Society of Actuaries study revealed that nearly half of surveyed Gen X-ers — those born between 1965 and 1980 — reported having saved between zero and $100,000 in investments and retirement savings. That’s far below what many financial advisors recommend given how close they are to retirement.

Nearly 40% of “early boomers” — folks who would’ve been in their teens or young adults in the 1960s — reported similar savings levels.

With some planning and persistence — and perhaps some savings catch-up — you can retire comfortably.

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Gather your information

Take a little time to do a quick estimate of how much you may need in retirement. It’s good to begin with the commonly-advised 80% of your current annual income, but the real number will depend on your answers to questions about your anticipated post-work life: Do you expect to travel frequently? Will you work part-time to stay busy? Do you want to leave money to relatives?

Then it’s time to review your current assets: savings accounts, 401(k) balances, Roth IRA contributions, etc. Have some debt? That will factor in, too.

Make a plan

While it helps to understand general market dynamics, there’s no need to be a financial expert to gain control over your retirement plans. That’s where a certified financial advisor comes in. If you think you can’t afford one, there are free options.

An advisor is likely to say that it pays to pay yourself first, and the easiest way to do that is through automated, tax-friendly investment vehicles like 401(k) accounts that are supercharged by employer matches. No access to a 401(k) plan? Consider automated bank transfers into a Roth IRA, which will put your money to work before you can fritter it away on lower priorities.

It’s important to be your own best advocate. Start with asking questions of your employer’s 401(k) plan administrator to see what options exist that can accommodate your retirement horizon and/or your investment risk tolerance.

That tolerance is critical: If you have 10 or more years left in your career, you might be more willing to invest in your plan’s more aggressive funds — and reap the long-term rewards of recovering markets — versus someone who’s closer to retirement and should consider more conservative holdings.

You may also want to consider taking advantage of online banks, where savings accounts are now returning 2.5% or more, which is a huge advantage over brick-and-mortar banks.

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Max out your savings

If you can satisfy your monthly bills, pay down your debts and still have money left over, consider maxing out your savings plans.

Beginning in January, individuals can contribute up to $22,500 to their 401(k) accounts, and contribution caps for Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) are rising to $6,500. Investors 50 and over can make “catch-up” contributions to 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government's Thrift Savings Plan, meaning they can save as much as $36,500 annually.

While you may not be able to save that much, coming as close as you can to maxing out your plan will put you in the best position to be retirement-ready.

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About the Author

Chris Clark

Chris Clark

Freelance Contributor

Chris Clark is freelance contributor with MoneyWise, based in Kansas City, Mo. He has written for numerous publications and spent 18 years as a reporter and editor with The Associated Press.

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