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5 Proven Ways to Boost Your Retirement Income

By Maurie Backman - Nov 11, 2018 at 7:54AM

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This handful of strategies can make a big difference.

Running out of money in retirement is a major concern, so much so that 60% of older Americans are more worried about spending down their nest eggs than about actually dying. If you're nervous about having enough money in retirement, rather than stress about it, take steps to increase your income while you still can. Here are a few effective ways to do so.

1. Take advantage of catch-up contributions in your IRA or 401(k)

One benefit of being 50 or older is getting more leeway from the IRS to fund your retirement plan. Currently, workers 50 and over get a $1,000 IRA catch-up and a $6,000 401(k) catch-up, either of which can result in a substantial increase in total savings. (Those catch-ups, keep in mind, come in addition to the standard savings limits for these accounts, which are currently $5,500 for the former and $18,500 for the latter.)

Senior couple at a laptop.


Now let's imagine you're 52 years old and want to retire at 67. If you were to increase your IRA contributions by $1,000 a year over the next decade and a half, you'd add $25,000 to your nest egg if your investments were to generate an average annual 7% return during that time. Meanwhile, if you were to increase your 401(k) contributions by $6,000 a year over that same window, you'd end up with $151,000 extra, assuming that same 7% return.

2. File for Social Security as late as possible

Though your Social Security benefits themselves are calculated based on your top 35 years of earnings, the age at which you file for those benefits can cause them to go up, go down, or stay the same. If you file at your full retirement age (which, depending on the year you were born, is either 66, 67, or 66 and a certain number of months), you'll get the exact monthly benefit your earnings record entitles you to. But if you delay benefits past full retirement age, you'll automatically boost them by 8% a year up until you turn 70.

Let's say you're entitled to a full monthly benefit of $1,600 at age 67. If you wait until you turn 70 to file, you'll increase each payment you get to $1,984. All told, you'll have an additional $4,600 per year from Social Security coming your way.

3. Load up on dividend-paying stocks

Not all stocks offer dividends, and those that don't won't pay you any money while you hold them. On the other hand, when you fill your portfolio with dividend stocks, you'll have quarterly payments to look forward to that can add to your retirement income. Another benefit of holding dividend stocks is that even when the stock market on a whole underperforms, you'll generally continue to see those dividend payments hit your account, thereby providing you with income at a time when you might otherwise be forced to sell investments at a loss to keep up with your bills.

4. Buy bonds

Like dividend stocks, bonds offer the benefit of consistent payments (albeit semiannual ones) that can serve as a critical source of income later in life. And because bonds themselves are considered less risky than stocks, they're a suitable investment for seniors. Better yet, consider loading up on municipal bonds. This way, you'll automatically avoid federal taxes on your interest payments, and if you buy municipal bonds issued by your home state, you'll be exempt from state and local taxes as well.

5. Change your housing situation

Just as housing is most people's greatest monthly expense in their preretirement years, so too might it remain your largest ongoing expense once your career ends. As such, lowering that expense could put a significant amount of money back in your pocket when you're older.

There are a couple of options you can consider. First, you might choose to downsize to a smaller home -- one that's less costly to heat, cool, and maintain. Or you might relocate to a less expensive part of the country -- someplace where property taxes aren't as high, for example. Going from being an owner to a renter might also save you money, especially if your home is older and needs lots of repairs, so it pays to look into the various ways you can get your housing costs to shrink.

Running out of money in retirement is a risk you can't afford to take. Follow these tips, and you'll have less to worry about once your golden years roll around.

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