Worried that you don't have enough saved for retirement? You're not alone.
A recent Gallup survey found that Americans list retirement savings as their top financial concern, with 64% saying they were "very worried" or "moderately worried" about having enough money to support themselves in their golden years.
Experts often advise young people to start their retirement savings early in their careers, but those who are closer to retirement can take important steps to shore up their finances as well. If you're a few years away from retirement, here are some key moves you should consider to secure your financial future.
Decide the actual age of your retirement
It's easier to plan for retirement when you know your timeline. While 65 may be the typical retirement age, some workers choose to retire at other ages that coincide with the availability of specific benefits and income streams. For instance, those who retire at a younger age may do so in part because 401(k) and IRA savers can start withdrawing from their retirement plans at age 59-1/2 without facing a tax penalty. Those who wait until they're older, meanwhile, might be motivated by the fact that waiting until age 70 to claim Social Security benefits will leave you eligible for maximum benefits. Plus, those extra years can be an important time to shore up existing retirement savings plans. The average retirement age in the U.S. is 62 for women and 64 for men, according to The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
Estimate your retirement income
Life on a fixed income requires a good deal of planning, but it's hard to plan if you don't know how much money you'll actually have coming in the door each month. To learn roughly how much you can expect to receive in monthly Social Security payments, check out the Social Security Administration's Retirement Estimator tool. The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority's Retirement Calculator and AARP's Retirement Calculator can also be good tools to help you estimate how much you need to save annually to meet a specific retirement income goal. These calculators take into account other sources of retirement income beyond Social Security.
Ramp up your savings
Many who use online retirement calculator tools are disappointed to learn that they have too little saved. Experts recommend that your retirement savings total an amount equivalent to about eight to 11 times your annual salary, yet 62% of working households age 55 to 64 have retirement savings that are equal to less than one year of their annual income, according to research by the National Institute on Retirement Security.
If you're part of the majority of workers who should be saving more, then that will likely require cutting back on your current spending in order to sock away more money in your retirement accounts. Fortunately, doing so will afford you more than just healthier retirement savings, said Diane Oakley, executive director of NIRS. By "challenging yourself to live on less," Oakley said, you can establish thrifty habits that continue into retirement and ensure that the savings you do accumulate last longer.
The good news is that Uncle Sam lets you play catch-up with your retirement savings if you are 50 or older. Once you reach age 50, as of the 2016 tax year, you can contribute an extra $6,000 to your 401(k) and most other employer-sponsored retirement plans, for a maximum contribution of $24,000 per tax year.
Consider lowering your housing costs
One key way to cut expenses is to find a less expensive living situation. Some 19.8 million Americans -- about 17% of the U.S. population -- spend at least half of their income on housing costs such as mortgage payments or rent, according to the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
Reducing housing costs often requires either moving to a less expensive home -- perhaps a smaller one where rent or (if you own) the mortgage and property taxes are lower -- or refinancing your current mortgage. Refinancing, said Oakley, may be particularly attractive today thanks to low interest rates.
You'll want to get a handle on the costs of refinancing -- and when refinancing might not be such a good idea. "If you haven't refinanced your mortgage and you have a high interest rate, you should be asking, 'Should I refinance?' and [if you do] maybe put some of that money you save toward your retirement accounts," notes Oakley.
Learn about more important steps to consider in the years leading to retirement in Part 2 of our series.
This article originally appeared at The Alert Investor.
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