Many workers aim to retire in their mid-60s so that they can enjoy some extra years of leisure while their health is still relatively strong. Others, meanwhile, set their sights on retiring at or slightly after 70. But no matter when you're hoping to retire, there are certain factors that are pretty much guaranteed to derail that plan. Here are a few signs that your retirement is in jeopardy -- whether you realize it or not.
1. You're behind on savings
Though there's no single savings amount to aim for leading into retirement, it's pretty clear that approaching retirement with a mere $8,000 isn't great. Yet that's the median savings balance among working households aged 50 to 55.
Slightly older workers aren't doing much better. For households aged 56 to 61, the median savings balance is just $17,000.
So how much should you have saved going into retirement? Fidelity says that by age 55, you should have roughly seven times your income stashed away in an IRA or 401(k), and that's a pretty good benchmark to follow. This means that if you're earning $100,000 a year by your mid-50s, you should have a $700,000 nest egg. If you're nowhere close, then it's a good sign you won't retire 10 to 15 years later.
Of course, this doesn't mean you should give up, either. Rather, take steps to ramp up your savings game so that you end up retiring as close to schedule as possible. This could involve cutting living expenses to free up more cash for savings, or working a side job for a number of years to boost your savings rate that way. Remember, as of next year, workers 50 and over will get the option to stash up to $24,500 a year into a 401(k), and $6,500 a year into an IRA, so if you work on maxing out your contributions for a decade, you'll have a good shot at catching up.
2. You're saddled with debt
Carrying debt into retirement is a dangerous thing, as it can monopolize much of your limited senior income. But having too much debt during your working years can limit your ability to save for retirement, thus lowering your chances of getting to leave the workforce when you want to.
Now when we talk about debt, we're not just referring to credit card debt; having too high a mortgage can also ruin your long-term plans. Not only are 30% of seniors entering retirement with mortgage debt these days, but a good 19 million families of all ages are spending more than 50% of their income on housing -- and that's just a recipe for disaster.
Then there's credit card debt, which we all know is pretty much the worst type to have. And the later in life you continue to carry an outstanding balance, the harder it'll be to shake. The typical household aged 55 to 64, for example, has $8,158 in credit card debt, according to ValuePenguin, and even that small an amount can set back your retirement savings.
What's the solution? Come up with a plan for paying off debt before you throw away more money on interest (and that includes mortgage interest, too). Start with your credit cards, of course, because the interest you pay on them is not only costly, but devoid of tax breaks (whereas mortgage interest is at least tax-deductible). Once those are paid off, work an extra mortgage payment or two into your schedule each year. If you knock out your mortgage by, say, age 60, you'll have extra money to put into your retirement savings for the remainder of your working years, which will help you make up for any previous shortfall.
3. You don't have a financial plan in place
Retirement shouldn't be an arbitrary decision. You might think you'll retire at 67, but if you don't establish a financial plan to make that dream a reality, it's less likely to happen.
Once you determine when you'd like to retire, sit down and map out a financial plan that, ideally, you'll follow for many years leading up to that point. You can do this alone or with the help of a trusted financial advisor. Your plan should include a budget for your living expenses, a yearly savings target to hit, and an investment strategy that allows you to maximize growth while limiting your exposure to risk.
Remember, sticking money into an IRA or 401(k) isn't enough to ensure that you'll retire when you want to. You'll need to really put that money to work if you want it to grow at a strong enough rate to buy you the option to retire on time.
No matter when you're hoping to retire, make sure to avoid a few critical errors that can easily ruin those plans. Get ahead of your savings, be careful with debt, and create a financial plan that will bring you closer to meeting your goals. Otherwise, there's a good chance you'll end up leaving the workforce considerably later than you otherwise would've hoped.