Thinking Retirement? Planning on just “letting it happen?” Go ahead. Give it a little thought – and these tips can really help!
Have a discovery phase
Call it an assessment, checkup or discovery, but a key part of planning for retirement is taking an overall look at what’s going on. See where your money is invested, check the performance and scrutinize your contributions. Online tools, such as Bankrate’s best retirement calculator or retirement income calculator, can help you to see if you are on track to accumulate enough money to meet your expenses and the live you want to live in retirement.
Learn the rules
The rules of retirement financing are complicated, but you don’t have to be Einstein to learn them. Get the lowdown on a couple of specifics. Should you be in a Roth IRA or a traditional IRA? One has tax-deductible contributions; the other has tax-free withdrawals.
Social Security has different claiming strategies, and one notable loophole — “file-and-suspend” — is over. As you prepare for retirement, check your Social Security account to see how you might claim a bigger benefit by waiting until your full retirement age. At the very least, you should know that for every year past 62 you delay benefits, your monthly check increases.
Have a cash cushion
Going into retirement 100 percent invested in the stock market is a bad idea.
Imagine you plan to retire on Sept. 30, and on Sept. 29 the market plummets. Or that there’s a big crash any time after you retire. Buffer against a bear market by having two years’ worth of liquid savings, so you can meet your expenses and not have to sell your investments at the worst possible time.
A few years before you plan to retire, redirect your contributions for retirement into cash investment options, such as money market funds or CDs, instead of mutual funds. This may be an easy way to build cash and ramp down on equities.
Retirement savers often don’t know if they should put their salary deferrals into a 401(k) or, if it’s available, a Roth 401(k) — a workplace account that combines the after-tax features of a Roth IRA and a traditional 401(k). “If we knew exactly what your tax bracket is going to be 20 years from now, we could tell you,” Sommers says. “But we don’t.”
Instead of choosing one or the other, hedge your bets by diversifying and keeping some of your retirement money tax-deferred and some in a Roth account. When you mix things up across the different categories, you’ll have more flexibility when it comes time to pull the money out.
Fill in all account beneficiaries
Make sure you designate beneficiaries. Otherwise, your family members could wind up spending months in surrogate or probate court. “Why even go through that?” Another benefit (to designations)? Doing so just may be help avoid emotional trauma for your loved ones.
Set aside a few hours to go through your planning documents to see if your 401(k)s, life insurance and IRAs have clearly named beneficiaries. Make sure your wishes are explicit. An attorney’s letter is not enough.
Pay down debts
It’s easier to save for retirement when you don’t have student debt hanging over your head. One study has found that more than half of workers (51 percent) with outstanding student loans contribute no more than 5 percent of their salary to retirement savings.
It’s not just younger workers who carry student debt. Though millennials are likeliest to have student loans, 26 percent of Generation X and 13 percent of baby boomers still have student loan obligations.
When you’re about to enter your retirement years, credit card debt — and any student debt — should be paid down.
Get to know the fees in your retirement accounts
Whether you prefer passive funds tied to the stock market or actively managed funds, find out how much you pay in fees. The difference between an investment with a 1 percent fee and an investment that costs 0.05 percent can add up to thousands of dollars over the decades.
Aside from how much you decide to save, the cost of investments is one of the few things you can control when it comes to saving for retirement. If you are in higher-cost investments and you’re satisfied with the performance, that’s fine. But know how much you’re paying so you can decide if the return is worth it.
Save more today
Financial experts now recommend that you savie 15% of salary for retirement. The way to get there? Increase the amount you save by a one or two percentage points at a time. Some workplace retirement plans have an auto-increase feature. If yours doesn’t, raise your contribution yourself on your birthday, after New Year’s or any other significant day. Set a reminder on your calendar. If you get a raise, boost your savings by that amount — or at least by a portion of that amount.