Though many of today's older baby boomers have already retired, a large percentage of younger boomers are now gearing up for their final few working years. Whether retirement is two, five, or 10 years away, if you've reached the point where you can start counting down toward the end of your career, here are some key money moves you really ought to prioritize.
1. Complete your emergency fund
In a 2016 GoBankingRates survey, 33% of baby boomers aged 55 to 64 had no money stashed away in savings, while 36% had less than $1,000. Only 17%, in fact, had $10,000 or more. It's true that if you've been saving for retirement and are already 59-1/2, you can access your IRA or 401(k) if you find you need money in a pinch. But if you take a withdrawal at the wrong time, you could end up losing money if you're forced to sell investments at a loss in order to do so. That's why, regardless of age, you still need enough emergency savings to cover three to six months' worth of living expenses. Furthermore, that money should be held in an accessible savings account, where you can withdraw funds at any time without having to worry about a loss of principal.
If your emergency fund is lacking, amassing some extra savings should be your top financial priority. That way, the money will be there for you not only in the near term, but also in retirement, when a big unplanned expense can be much harder to deal with.
2. Ramp up your retirement savings
The benefit of being an older worker is that you get an even greater opportunity to sock away money for retirement. Currently, anyone aged 50 and over can put up to $6,500 a year into an IRA and $24,000 a year into a 401(k). Even if you've been saving throughout your career, now's the perfect time to boost your retirement savings rate because, conceivably, you only have a few more years to fund your account. Furthermore, if you have a 401(k) and your employer offers a match, you'll get a chance to snag some free money before you stop working altogether.
Also keep in mind that even if retirement is right around the corner, you can still invest whatever additional money you save in your 401(k) or IRA and grow it into an even larger sum. Imagine you have five years left on the job and you manage to max out your 401(k) during that time. If you invest that money and bring in an average annual 4% return, which is a pretty conservative figure even for a near-retiree, you'll have an extra $130,000 in your nest egg by the time you retire.
3. Work on paying off your mortgage
It's an unfortunate statistic that 30% of homeowners 65 and older continue to carry mortgage debt. If you have a fully loaded emergency fund, and your IRA or 401(k) balance is healthy, it pays to pump some extra money into your mortgage so that it's paid off by the time you retire. This way, you'll be able to stretch your retirement income further once you do stop working. And as an added benefit, the sooner you pay off your mortgage, the less interest you'll end up paying over the life of your loan.
4. Get out of credit card debt
Believe it or not, seniors aged 65 and over carry more than $6,300 of credit card debt on average -- and that type of debt can be a huge drain on your limited retirement income. That's why it's crucial to eliminate that debt before your career comes to a close.
According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, 46% of retirees wind up dying nearly broke, and one reason is that so many seniors carry high-interest credit card debt with them into retirement. To avoid becoming part of this statistic, you'll need to focus on paying off your balance while you're still working. You can start by identifying your costliest debts (i.e., the ones with the highest interest rates) and paying those down first. You might also look at transferring your existing debt to a credit card with a lower interest rate, which will make it much easier to pay off.
5. Sign up for long-term care insurance
It's estimated that 70% of seniors will eventually wind up needing some type of long-term care. And without insurance, the cost of that care could be astronomical. In fact, Genworth's 2016 Cost of Care Survey estimates that it typically costs more than $43,000 a year to reside in an assisted living facility, and $82,000 a year or more to live in a nursing home.
That's why it pays to sign up for long-term care insurance in your 50s, when it's cheapest to secure coverage. The American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance reports that while more than 50% of applicants in their 50s qualify for health-based discounts, that percentage drops down to 42% for those in their 60s. The longer you wait, the higher a premium you stand to pay -- assuming, of course, that you're approved in the first place -- so if you're already in your 50s, it's time to start doing your research.
The money-related decisions you make at the tail end of your career could change your senior years for the better. Focus on these critical moves and, with any luck, you'll enjoy a financially secure retirement.