Saving for retirement is a struggle for a lot of people, but there are others who seem to breeze through it easily. Having a higher income helps, but that alone isn't a guarantee of retirement savings success. The following three habits of top savers are much more likely to lead to a large nest egg.
1. They max out their retirement accounts
Retirement super savers try to contribute as much as they can to their retirement accounts every year. They understand that doing so, particularly when they're young, will give their money more time to remain invested before they need to withdraw it. This will result in more investment earnings that help maximize their nest egg long term.
How much you're able to contribute to retirement each year depends in part on which accounts you have access to. You can contribute up to $19,500 to a 401(k) in 2021, for example, or $26,000 if you're 50 or older. These limits rise to $20,500 and $27,000, respectively, for 2022. But IRAs enable you to contribute only up to $6,000 in 2021 and 2022, or $7,000 if you're 50 or older.
You're also limited in terms of how much income you earn throughout the year. If you only earn $15,000, that's the maximum you could contribute to your retirement accounts, even if you have savings from other sources you'd like to set aside.
While setting aside $10,000 or more for retirement annually isn't feasible for a lot of people, you can still make a lot of progress toward your retirement goal with regular contributions. Put aside what you're able to, and try to increase your contributions whenever you get a raise or pay off a debt.
2. They claim their full employer 401(k) match
Workers who are eligible for a 401(k) match through their jobs should put their retirement savings here first until they've claimed the full match. If you skip this, you miss out on hundreds or even thousands of dollars every year.
Over a few decades, a 401(k) match could easily grow to be worth tens of thousands of dollars. If you qualify for a $1,500 401(k) match and claim this every year for 30 years, you're looking at close to $150,000, assuming a 7% average annual rate of return. And that's before you count any of your personal contributions. That can go a long way toward helping you cover the cost of your retirement.
If you're unsure how your company's 401(k) matching system works, talk to your company's HR department or your 401(k) plan administrator. Learn about how much you have to contribute personally to get the full match and how much you've already received this year. If possible, try to increase your contributions for the rest of 2021 to get the full match.
You should also ask about the plan's vesting schedule if you're thinking about leaving your job. This determines when you get to keep your employer-matched funds if you leave. Quitting before you're fully vested could cost you some or all of your match, but your personal contributions are always yours to keep.
3. They choose low-cost investments
Investment fees can eat into your profits over time, so smart investors try to keep them to a minimum. But fees are not always easy to spot. For mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, fees usually come in the form of an expense ratio, which is listed as a percentage. This can be confusing to those who are new to investing.
The expense ratio indicates the percentage of your assets invested in the fund that you owe annually. For example, if a fund has a 1% expense ratio and you have $100 invested in it, you'd owe $1 per year to the fund manager. Ideally, you don't want to exceed a 1% expense ratio, but there are some mutual funds out there with expense ratios of 2% or more. This can seriously hinder your savings efforts, forcing you to put aside even more each month to reach your goal.
A better alternative is to look for low-cost investment options like index funds. These are bundles of stocks designed to mimic the performance of a market index. These funds see less turnover than actively managed mutual funds, and that means there's less work for fund managers to do. They're able to pass those savings along to you in the form of lower expense ratios. In some cases, they can be as low as 0.03%.
These tips aren't the only way to increase your wealth, and they won't make you a millionaire overnight, but they are sound strategies when consistently applied. Now that the end of the year is in sight, it's a great time to review your retirement plan to see if you can apply any of these strategies to help make 2022 your best year yet.