Saving for retirement can seem difficult, but it doesn't need to be. With a good working knowledge of a few key retirement savings concepts, you can put yourself in a position to know how much you'll need to save and to maximize the long-term potential of the money you set aside. With that in mind, here are three retirement planning tips all Americans should know and use.
Know the basics of asset allocation
There are plenty of things you can invest in: stocks, bonds, real estate, precious metals, collectibles, etc. However, when it comes to retirement savings in a 401(k), IRA, or other retirement-specific account, it's generally wise to stick to just the first two.
Stocks, also known as equities, have the best long-term return potential, hands down. Over long periods of time, stocks have historically returned about 10% per year, on average. However, stocks can be rather volatile and risky over shorter periods, making them less appropriate for retirees and older savers.
On the other hand, bonds, also known as fixed-income investments, don't have quite as much long-term potential as stocks. However, as the name "fixed income" implies, they can produce reliable cash flow and tend to fluctuate in value less than stocks do over short periods, making them more appropriate for older investors.
Because of these two principles, it's important to construct an age-appropriate asset allocation in your retirement accounts. One good rule of thumb is to subtract your age from 110 to find your approximate stock allocation, keeping the remainder of your portfolio in bonds. For example, if you're 40, this rule implies that you should keep about 70% of your retirement assets in stocks, with the remainder in bonds.
Consider a combination of tax strategies
When saving for retirement, it's important to understand (and plan for) the tax implications of your eventual retirement withdrawals.
If your retirement savings are in a traditional IRA, or a tax-deferred employer-sponsored account like a 401(k), 403(b), or 457, your withdrawals in retirement will be considered taxable income. In other words, if you withdraw $30,000 from your 401(k) during your first year of retirement, it will be treated by the IRS as if you had earned that much from an employer.
One important implication of this is that it could potentially make your Social Security benefits taxable as well. When determining the taxability of Social Security, the IRS considers other sources of taxable income, including IRA withdrawals, and the thresholds are relatively low.
On the other hand, Roth IRA and Roth 401(k) withdrawals are generally not taxable. So, not only will your withdrawals not result in a tax bill, they also won't contribute to your Social Security benefits becoming taxable either.
For this reason, many people choose to save money in both tax-deferred and tax-free retirement accounts in order to give them better control over their tax situation after they retire.
Prepare for healthcare costs
Most Americans don't need to be told that healthcare is expensive. However, many don't realize just how much they'll end up spending on healthcare during their retirement. Seniors tend to utilize healthcare quite a bit, and there's a pretty extensive list of expenses that Medicare doesn't cover.
According to Fidelity, the average 65-year-old couple in 2018 can expect to spend a staggering $280,000 out of pocket on healthcare expenses throughout their retirement. And this is after taxes, meaning that if you withdraw the money to pay healthcare expenses from a tax-deferred account, you'll need significantly more than this.
It also doesn't include potential long-term care costs, which 1-in-4 retirees will incur at some point. A year in a nursing home can easily exceed $100,000 in many parts of the country, so this can be a significant expense.
Here are the tips. First, consider saving some money specifically for healthcare costs in retirement. A health savings account is an ideal choice if you qualify for one, but setting aside money in any retirement account earmarked for healthcare costs is a smart idea. And, as you get closer to retirement age, it might be a good idea to consider purchasing long-term care insurance to ensure that your nest egg is protected if you or your spouse end up needing long-term care services.
Three things you really want to get right
While there are obviously more than three considerations when saving for retirement, these are certainly some of the more important topics to know. Maintaining a proper asset allocation allows you to maximize the potential of your retirement savings while simultaneously ensuring you aren't exposed to excessive risk as you get older. Smart tax planning can help you avoid paying taxes on Social Security benefits and gives you a better level of control over your overall tax situation later in life. And finally, planning for healthcare costs can help you avoid a six-figure surprise after you retire.