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If you don't set clear goals and stick to them, your retirement plans can easily go off track. Photo: Arne Huckelheim via Wikimedia Commons.

If you don't have quite as much saved for retirement as you would like, now is as good a time as any to start playing catch-up. The problem is that many people don't know the best way to get started.

Here are three great ways to give your retirement savings a boost.

Pay off high-interest debt
Before you even start saving more for retirement, you need to get your high-interest debt, such as credit card debt, under control.

Credit Cards

I realize that paying down your credit cards won't directly boost your retirement savings. However, setting aside more money for retirement while still carrying credit card balances can be counterproductive to your long-term goals.

Let's say you have $5,000 in credit card debt at 18% interest, which costs you $900 per year in interest alone. If you invest $5,000, you might reasonably hope to earn a return of about 10% per year, or $500. So if you invest your extra cash instead of paying down your credit card debt first, you are actually losing money.

So if you have outstanding credit card balances, make them your first priority. After all, the lower your debt, the less money you'll need to have saved for retirement in the first place.

The obvious answer: Save more
Saving is the obvious way to go, but many people don't know how to save more, nor do they know the "catch-up" savings options available to them.

Savings

Source: 401kcalculator.org via Flickr.

One of the easiest ways to save is to make it automatic. For example, if you raise your 401(k) contributions at work, the money will go into your savings before you even know it's gone.

At the very least, you should be contributing the maximum percentage of your salary that your employer will match, but you don't have to stop there. The IRS allows for $17,500 in elective (employee) contributions for the 2014 tax year, and this amount will go up to $18,000 for 2015.

If you're over 50 years old, you can save even more thanks to additional "catch-up" contributions. The 401(k) contribution limit goes up by $5,500 ($6,000 in 2015) for those aged 50 and older. For individual retirement accounts, or IRAs, the catch-up contribution is $1,000. If you're self-employed, all of the most common retirement savings options, such as the SEP-IRA, SIMPLE IRA, and individual 401(k) allow for additional contributions after your 50th birthday.

Consolidate your 401(k)s and other investments
While this technically won't help you save more, it will make it easier to keep track of where you stand. For example, if you have old 401(k) accounts from five of your former employers, it is much more difficult to keep track of your progress toward your retirement goals.

So consider consolidating all of your retirement plans into one place. If you participate in your current employer's plan, chances are that you can roll your old plans into your new one. Or if you'd rather have a little more control over your investments, like the ability to invest in any stock, fund, or bond you want, you can roll your accounts into a "rollover IRA" at a discount brokerage such as E*Trade or TD Ameritrade.

Every little bit helps
If you have fallen behind in your retirement savings, don't despair. Even if you can only afford to save a little bit of money now, it could make a big difference.

For example, if you are 40 years old now and want to retire at 65 but have nothing saved, start by saving $150 per month. If you just save this amount each month between now and retirement, you could end up with about $200,000 in savings, assuming you achieve the S&P's historical average returns.

While this amount of money won't support a comfortable and secure retirement in itself, it can be a big upgrade from relying on Social Security alone. Plus, as you get used to saving, you could increase your monthly contributions over time and end up building a pretty nice nest egg.

The point is that relatively small amounts of money can make a pretty big difference over time, so don't let excuses like "I can't afford to save" get in your way. With a little discipline and some good financial habits, a comfortable retirement could be a reality for you, even if you've had some trouble getting started.

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