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Guess How Many Working Americans Have Less Than a Year's Worth of Income Saved for Retirement

By Maurie Backman - Sep 26, 2018 at 6:04AM

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Hint: It's a higher number than it should be.

There's no single retirement savings number that guarantees financial security for the rest of one's life. However, according to Fidelity, it's smart to have 10 times your ending salary socked away by the time your career comes to a close.

It's therefore disturbing to learn that 80% of working Americans have less than a year's worth of income saved for the future, according to the National Institute on Retirement Security. Not only that, but 57% of working-age Americans don't have any money set aside in an employer-sponsored retirement plan like a 401(k).  

Clock, three stacks of coins, a glass jar labeled retirement filled with coins


Now before we get into a collective panic about the state of Americans' retirement savings, let's take this data down a notch. First, while it's not encouraging to see that so many Americans don't have a year's worth of income in a retirement plan, let's remember that a large chunk of those same workers are fairly young -- young enough to build a healthy level of savings and then some. Secondly, while 57% of working age adults aren't saving in an employer plan, that doesn't mean they're not saving in another type of plan, like an IRA.

Still, given the number of older adults who are active members of the workforce, you'd think more people would have a year's worth of earnings socked away somewhere. If you're in your 50s (or worse yet, 60s) without much in the way of savings, it's time to turn things around. Otherwise, you may come to find that retirement is a much more stressful concept than you bargained for.

Making up for lost time

Reaching the latter stages of your career without much in the way of savings isn't a great spot to be in. The good news, however, is that if you commit to saving aggressively from this point on, you have a shot at salvaging your retirement.

For one thing, begin contributing as much as you can to either an IRA or 401(k) effective immediately. If you don't have an employer-sponsored plan and are limited to an IRA, you can set aside $6,500 a year if you're 50 or older. Max out an IRA for 15 years, and you'll be sitting on $163,000 for retirement if your investments generate an average annual 7% return during that time, which is doable if you load up on stocks.

Now keep in mind that while $163,000 is better than nothing, it isn't a whole lot in the grand scheme of retirement. Remember, most financial experts recommend that you withdraw roughly 4% of your savings' value each year. There's some wiggle room with that formula, but if we take 4% of $163,000, we arrive at $6,520 -- hardly enough to live on, even when we factor in the $17,000 or so per year the average Social Security recipient collects. Therefore, if you don't have a 401(k) at your disposal, aim to max out an IRA but also save additional money elsewhere, such as a traditional brokerage account. Though you won't get any tax benefits there, you'll still get a chance to build wealth.

If you do have access to a 401(k), you have an even greater opportunity to save. The current annual limit for workers 50 and over is $24,500. Now that is a lot of money to part with on a yearly basis, but if you're able to do so over a 15-year period, you stand to retire with $615,000, assuming that same average annual 7% return. And that, frankly, is a decent sum to take with you into your golden years.

Another option you might consider? Working longer. Doing so achieves two purposes: allowing you to save for a few extra years, all the while leaving your nest egg intact for longer, thereby stretching the savings you have accumulated.

If you're 30 years old with less than a year's worth of income in a retirement plan, you don't need to panic. But if you're in your 50s or beyond, consider it a wake-up call that you need to do better. And the sooner you do, the more positive your long-term financial outlook will be.

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