You may not have put much thought into retirement back when you were in your 20s, 30s, or even 40s. But if you're in your 50s, retirement is probably just a decade or so away, and that means it's time to start focusing on your golden years. Here are a few questions to ask yourself about retirement as that milestone slowly but surely gets closer.
1. Do I have a lot of debt?
Retirees today certainly aren't strangers to debt -- in fact, an estimated 20% will ultimately end up taking that debt with them to the grave. Not only do 30% of seniors aged 65 and older continue to carry mortgage debt, but early retirees aged 65 to 69 owe an estimated $6,876 in credit card debt, on average.
If you have a large amount of debt, whether it's the good kind (like a mortgage) or the bad kind (like credit card debt), now's the time to work on eliminating it. Once you retire and switch to a fixed income, you'll have less flexibility for paying down debt, but if you get rid of those pesky mortgage and credit card payments during your working years, they won't be a drain on your limited resources during your golden years.
2. Am I maximizing my retirement plan contributions?
One major benefit of being 50 or older is that you get to contribute more money each year to a retirement plan than your younger counterparts. Currently, the annual contribution limits for those 50 and over are $24,000 for a 401(k) and $6,500 for an IRA. And while not everyone can max out these limits, if you have the option to do so, you'll be thankful for it later on.
The more money you put into your retirement plan, the more opportunity you'll have to benefit from compounding -- even if you're only looking at a decade and change of growth. Let's imagine you're 55 years old and are contributing $15,000 a year to your 401(k). If your investments bring in a somewhat conservative 6% average annual return, in 10 years' time, you'll have an additional $198,000 in your nest egg. That's $48,000 in growth on top of the $150,000 you invested.
But watch what happens when you increase that contribution to $24,000 a year. Not only will you have an extra $316,000 for retirement, but you'll benefit from $76,000 in growth. Talk about impressive!
3. Am I investing my savings wisely?
In our example above, we talked about a 6% average annual return on investment. While you can certainly play around with that number and even aim a bit higher, your 50s aren't the time to get overly aggressive with your portfolio. A 12% yearly return might sound appealing, but if there's a huge risk involved, you're better off sticking to a more traditional mix of stocks and bonds.
On the other hand, you don't want to get too conservative with your investments if you still have a number of years to grow your wealth. Though it may be tough to strike that ideal balance, now's the time to focus on asset allocation and determine whether your savings are properly positioned.
4. Am I enjoying my career?
It's an unfortunate statistic that just over 50% of Americans identify as being unhappy at work. On the other hand, almost half of employees have positive feelings toward their jobs, and if you're one of them, you may want to plan for a slightly longer career and a slightly shorter retirement.
For every extra year you spend in the workforce, that's a year in which your limited savings won't need to pay your costs of living. Additionally, some studies have shown that working longer can actually be good for your health.
On the other hand, if your job is a source of stress -- or, worse yet, if it's negatively affecting your health -- you might reach the point where you feel the need to call it quits early, and that will have the opposite effect on your nest egg. That's why it's important to take stock of your career and try to determine how much longer you'll keep at it. If you think you might feel compelled to retire early, you'll want to ramp up your savings rate immediately to compensate for a little less time on the job.
5. Do I have an actual plan for retirement?
Though you may not manage to nail down every detail, your 50s are the right time to develop an actual retirement plan. This means not only coming up with a prospective retirement age, but also figuring out how you'll spend your time and where your income will come from. If you put some thought into the specifics of retirement now, you'll still have time to make adjustments as necessary during the tail end of your working years.
For example, if you decide that you really want to spend your first year of retirement traveling the globe, you may need to save more money to achieve that goal. But if you wait until you're actually retired to come to that conclusion, you'll have less opportunity to amass the cash to support that objective.
Though you may still have a decade or more to go until retirement kicks off, your 50s are the ideal time to focus on your long-term plans, needs, and savings. The more you think about retirement ahead of time, the greater your chances of eventually getting to enjoy your golden years to the fullest.