If you're one of the millions of Americans worrying that your savings will come up short in retirement, there are steps you can start taking today that could help ensure financial security in your golden years.
These steps don't involve fly by-night schemes or lottery tickets. Instead, they're simple, yet potentially game-changing, actions that you can begin taking immediately.
1. Make time to consider what you'll need
If you're like me, a typical day includes cramming an endless amount of work into a nine-hour period so you can rush out and ferry your kids to little league games, soccer practices, and trumpet lessons.
But just because your life is busy today doesn't mean you shouldn't make the time to take a good, hard, and honest look at your financial future. In fact, I'd argue that making time for financial planning isn't just important, it's critical. If you don't, you could discover that life moves so quickly that you end up only a few years shy of retirement with little savings to show for your years of working.
Consider this: the average person between the ages of 55 and 64 has just $103,200 in retirement savings. That might sound like a lot, but in terms of retirement savings, it's not.
Because most retirees follow the 4% rule and withdraw 4% of their savings for retirement income every year, having a nest egg of this size isn't likely to provide for your dream retirement.
Before you say "but, Social Security..." remember that Social Security wasn't designed to be the primary source of retirement income and that the average person will receive less than $16,000 in benefit payments this year.
If you agree you'll need more than that in retirement, then it's time to consider consulting any one of the number of retirement planning calculators that are available online to see how much money you need to set aside.
Personally, I like Bankrate's fairly comprehensive retirement calculator, which allows you see how long your money will last into your golden years by entering your age, income, the amount of your savings, and your expectations regarding the percentage of your current income you would like to receive in retirement.
2. Follow through on your plan
Unfortunately, many people do the research necessary to determine how much they'll need in retirement and then fail to follow through and make the investments necessary to reach their retirement savings goals.
Don't be one of them.
Instead, put your money to work by maxing out your retirement plan through work. In 2015, individuals can set aside $18,000 in a 401(k), 403(b), or in most 457 plans, and people over 50 can sock away as much as $24,000.
Also, consider supplementing your employer retirement plan with a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. If you qualify, you can invest up to $5,500 in either of those retirement accounts ($6,500 if you're over 50) this year. If you're covered by a retirement plan at work, income starts limiting the tax deductibility of a traditional IRA when it eclipses $61,000, and the ability to make after-tax contributions to a Roth IRA starts phasing out when annual income heads north of $183,000.
If your income is too high for you to qualify for the tax deduction on a traditional IRA or to make a Roth IRA contribution, a backdoor Roth IRA could still be an option. Because traditional IRAs don't have an income limit for non-deductible contributions, contributing to a traditional IRA and then converting it to a Roth IRA to enjoy tax-free withdrawals in retirement might make sense. Rules and restrictions apply to this strategy, however, so check with your accountant if you have questions.
3. Commit to debt-free living
The average American household has $32,000 in student loan debt and $15,706 in credit card debt, and that means thousands of dollars are padding bankers' wallets instead of heading to investment accounts.
Because debt is a big reason why people aren't saving, increasing payments to pay down your obligations and free up money to invest is a key step toward financial security.
Admittedly, tackling a mountain of debt can seem daunting, but small changes can make a big difference in how quickly you get to debt-free living.
For instance, let's assume that a hypothetical person named Sarah pays the current national average interest rate of 15.07% and that she is paying $300 per month on her $15,706 credit card balance. If she continues to make payments at that pace, she'll pay off that credit card debt in six years. However, if Sarah were to increase her payment to $500 per month, her balance would be paid off in less than three and a half years instead.
Achieving financial security becomes far less frightening when you have a plan in place that can help you achieve your goals. While following this advice won't guarantee you a carefree retirement, it's a great place to start.