It's no secret that many Americans struggle to save for retirement. In fact, an estimated 33% of Americans have no retirement savings whatsoever, and that statistic includes older workers with limited time to catch up. But while Americans have different reasons for why they can't manage to save, not having access to a 401(k) is a more popular one than you may have thought. According to a recently released Wells Fargo study, 41% of workers don't have the option to participate in an employer-sponsored 401(k) plan. And it's unquestionably restricting their ability to save for the future.
A huge impediment to saving
The benefit of 401(k) plans is that they make saving for retirement relatively easy. If your employer offers a 401(k), then all you need to do is decide how much of your paycheck to allocate to retirement savings, fill out some paperwork, and let your company's payroll team take care of the rest. So it's no surprise that workers with access to a 401(k) are saving much more than those without. Wells Fargo reports that the median amount saved for retirement among workers with a 401(k) is $87,000, compared to just $10,000 for those without 401(k)s.
Not only that, but 70% of workers who have consistently saved for retirement since the beginning of their careers are those who had access to a 401(k) plan throughout. Furthermore, 73% of workers admit that they wouldn't have saved as much for retirement without a 401(k), and 71% of current retirees feel the same.
Of course, it's not just the convenience of 401(k)s that helps workers save; employer matching dollars play a big role as well. Though not all companies offer this benefit, the average employer match is estimated at 2.7% of compensation. A worker earning $50,000 a year would therefore be eligible for up to $1,350 a year with this type of match -- and that's essentially $1,350 in free money.
But while saving for retirement may be more challenging in the absence of a 401(k), there are other tools out there that can help you achieve the same goal. You may just need to be a bit more proactive in pursuing them.
Other savings avenues
If you don't have the option to participate in a 401(k), an IRA could be your next best bet. Traditional IRAs offer the same up-front tax benefits as 401(k)s: The money you contribute goes in on a pre-tax basis, but you pay taxes on your withdrawals in retirement. Roth IRAs work the opposite way: Your contributions are made with after-tax dollars, but your withdrawals aren't taxed down the line. Whether you choose a traditional IRA or a Roth, you can put in up to $5,500 a year if you're under age 50. If you're 50 or older, you're allowed to pitch in a total of $6,500. Though these limits are lower than those for a 401(k) -- $18,000 if you're under 50, $24,000 if you're 50 and over -- you can still amass a sizable amount for retirement if you start saving early on.
Depending on your circumstances, you may also be eligible for a less common type of IRA: The SEP IRA. Short for Simplified Employee Pension, the SEP IRA allows self-employed individuals to save for retirement and benefit from up-front tax breaks. The primary benefit of the SEP IRA is its generous annual contribution limit. You can currently put in up to 25% of your earnings or $53,000 -- whichever is lower.
Another option to consider is the SIMPLE IRA. Short for Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees, the SIMPLE IRA also comes with an annual contribution limit that's higher than that of traditional and Roth IRAs. Currently, anyone under 50 can contribute up to $12,500 per year to a SIMPLE IRA, and if you're 50 or older, you can put in up to $15,500. Furthermore, with a SIMPLE IRA, employers are obligated to match part of their employees' contributions, and if you're self-employed, you get to contribute as both employer and employee.
Furthermore, if you're self-employed, you can also consider a solo or individual 401(k). The annual contribution limits for solo 401(k)s are the same as those of regular 401(k)s. The major difference, however, is that if you're self-employed, you can also allocate up to 25% of your business's earnings on top of your own contribution, up to $53,000 per year if you're under 50 or $59,000 per year if you're 50 or older.
While opening up any one of these retirement plans may require more legwork than signing up for a traditional 401(k) at the office, the time you put in will be well worth the effort in the long run. After all, your financial future is at stake, so you shouldn't hesitate to take matters into your own hands.