Countless Americans look forward to retirement and the lifestyle change it offers. But a large number of workers may be forced to postpone retirement and wait to realize that particular dream. In a study last year by human resources consulting firm Willis Towers Watson, 25% of American workers felt they wouldn't manage to retire until age 70. And in a TD Ameritrade study, 25% of employees felt they'd never manage to retire at all.
But while never retiring is a bit of an extreme, those folks who predicted their late retirement may be on to something. In fact, there's a good chance a large number of Americans won't retire on time unless they take steps to overcome the obstacles holding them back. Here are a few common barriers to retiring on time -- and what you can do about them.
1. You started saving late in life, and aren't compensating
Many workers come late to the retirement savings party and therefore find themselves with limited IRA or 401(k) balances once they reach their 50s. In fact, the Economic Policy Institute reports that baby boomers aged 56 to 61 have a median retirement savings balance of just $17,000, which is considerably less than what an older worker with an average income should have at that point. Even more frighteningly, over 40% of baby boomers nearing retirement have no savings at all.
Now if you're behind on savings but are willing to push yourself to catch up, you still stand a chance at retiring on time without having to heavily compromise your quality of life as a senior. But if you don't take steps to ramp up your savings during your last decade or so in the workforce, then postponing retirement is practically inevitable.
Say you're 52 with the goal of retiring at 67, and your savings to date are nonexistent. If you max out your 401(k) at $24,000 a year for the next decade and a half, and your investments deliver a relatively conservative 6% average annual return, you'll go from having no money set aside for retirement to having a $558,000 nest egg. And that's probably enough to salvage your retirement, and then some.
2. Your living expenses are high
Many people expect to get away with little IRA or 401(k) savings because they assume they'll live a frugal lifestyle in retirement to compensate. But if your living expenses remain at an all-time high in the years leading up to retirement, there's a good chance you'll end up postponing that workforce exit for a number of reasons.
First, if you're spending your entire paycheck to keep up with your bills, you'll have less money available for savings, which will hurt you if your nest egg is lacking. Second, once you grow accustomed to a certain lifestyle, making drastic changes overnight becomes easier said than done. What's more likely to happen is that you'll realize you can't give up that nice house, or fancy car, or nightly takeout order, and so you'll be forced to keep plugging away on the job so you have enough money to pay for it all.
On the other hand, if you work on reducing your living expenses in the years leading up to retirement, you'll not only free up more cash for savings, but you'll also train your brain to enjoy a less extravagant lifestyle. Many people who retire on time don't necessarily have million-dollar nest eggs, but rather, have respectable savings balances coupled with modest expectations. If you get used to the idea of living below your means while you still have a paycheck, you'll have an easier time retiring on schedule and making do with whatever sort of budget your savings allow for.
3. You don't have a plan
Many workers pick an age that sounds right for retirement without giving it further thought. But if you don't devise an actual plan for retirement, as that age draws closer, you may come to find that you're just plain not ready. Now that may be because your savings aren't adequate, or it may be because you suddenly realize you have no idea what you'll do with your time, and that scares you.
On the other hand, if you map out a solid retirement plan, you'll be better positioned to retire on time without the upheaval that comes with being unprepared. Your plan should include a budget that details your retirement expenses, the income sources you'll have available in retirement (whether it's savings, Social Security, or part-time work), and the things you'll do with your newfound free time. The more you think about retirement in advance, the greater your chances of it going off without a hitch.
Of course, if retiring on time doesn't end up being feasible, postponing for a few years certainly isn't the end of the world -- especially if that means working a few extra years to save more money, getting your expenses under control, and figuring out what you want out of your senior years. But if you do want to retire on schedule, make sure to address these key issues while you're still working and have time to sort them out. Otherwise, there's a good chance you'll end up delaying retirement, whether you like it or not.