Many folks dream of retiring and enjoying their golden years to the fullest. But inadequate savings on older workers' behalf puts them at an increased risk of falling into or near poverty by the time their golden years roll around.

Specifically, 40% of older middle-class Americans -- those aged 50 to 60 -- risk creeping toward, straddling, or dipping below the poverty line by the time they turn 65, thereby creating a situation where they have far less income during retirement than they do during their working years. This data comes from a study by the Schwartz Center for Economic Policy Analysis at the New School, which blames the downward mobility trend on insufficient savings more so than any other factor.

Senior couple looking at documents with concerned expressions

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Currently, the poverty limit for singles is $12,490, while it's $16,910 for couples. But due to poor levels of savings, 2.6 million older middle-earners will see incomes below the poverty level in retirement. Meanwhile, the typical single worker earning $25,000 to $64,000 today can expect an annual income of $18,000 in retirement -- more than $12,490, but hardly enough to live comfortably on. And given that the average Social Security recipient today collects roughly $17,500 in benefits, that means middle earners aren't expected to see a whole lot of annual income from savings.

If you're nearing retirement and don't have much independent savings to show for, it's crucial that you take steps to compensate immediately. Otherwise, you risk struggling financially during your golden years at a time when you should be making the most of them.

Save aggressively for the remainder of your career

If you don't have much to show for savings-wise but are still working, you still have a reasonable opportunity to catch up -- provided you're willing to cut back on expenses, work a second job, or do whatever it takes to boost your nest egg. Currently, workers 50 and over can contribute up to $7,000 a year to an IRA and $25,000 a year to a 401(k). If you max out the former for 20 years, you'll be looking at $287,000, assuming an average annual 7% return on investment. Max out the latter, and you'll have $1 million to work with, all other things being equal.

Of course, if you're a middle-earner, maxing out a 401(k) might not be feasible. But that doesn't mean you can't max out an IRA (or save the equivalent amount in an employer-sponsored plan). Doing so would put you in a far less precarious situation, especially if you're willing to retire at 70 (or later) rather than at some point in your 60s.

Get more out of Social Security

If you're low on savings, Social Security might very well constitute your greatest source of retirement income, and so it pays to do what you can to boost those benefits. One easy way to get an instant raise from Social Security is to hold off on filing for benefits past your full retirement age. If you were born in 1960 or later, that age is 67. For each year you delay past that point, you'll increase your benefits by 8% up until you turn 70, at which point there's no sense in waiting any longer. But if you're looking at a full monthly benefit of $1,400 at a full retirement age of 67, waiting until 70 will increase each payment you get to $1,736 -- for life.

After decades of hard work, the last thing you want is to struggle financially during retirement. If your savings are virtually nonexistent today, it's time to ramp up to salvage your golden years. At the same time, plan to delay Social Security so that your benefits come in as high as they possibly can. Otherwise, you might join the ranks of the millions of older workers who risk slipping into poverty once their careers come to a close.

 

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