It's no secret that the average American's retirement savings aren't up to snuff. The U.S. Government Accountability Office even goes so far as to say that nearly half of Americans over the age of 55 have no retirement savings at all.
There are a multitude of reasons why people are falling behind on their savings. Oftentimes planning for retirement gets put on the back-burner while more pressing financial priorities get pushed to the top of the list. Sometimes, though, it's simply due to a lack of understanding.
Finance is a complicated topic, and there are several myths that can further complicate things. But while these myths may seem innocent enough, they can easily hurt your chances at enjoying a comfortable retirement.
1. Investing in the stock market is too risky
If you were burned by the Great Recession, you may think twice about investing in the stock market. However, the stock market isn't generally as risky as you may think. Sure, if you invest your life savings into one stock and that company goes under, you can kiss that ideal retirement goodbye. But as long as you diversify your investments and are strategic about where you put your money, the stock market can supersize your savings.
Historically, the S&P 500 has yielded average annual returns of around 10%. While you may be in for a rollercoaster of ups and downs during individual years, over several decades the stock market has been proven to produce positive returns. There may be extreme down periods, but given enough time to recover you'll see your savings bounce back again.
It may seem safer to stick your money in a savings account and leave it alone until retirement, but believe it or not that may actually be a dangerous decision. Even the highest-yielding savings accounts have interest rates of just 2%-2.5%. For short-term needs, these accounts can't be beat. But for long-term saving, these yields won't even keep up with inflation. In other words, your money may actually be losing value if you keep it in a savings account long-term. Although there is more risk involved in the stock market, there are also far greater rewards that make the risk worth it.
2. You need to have a lot of money to start investing
When you think of investing in the stock market, you may picture a Wall Street broker scurrying around the trading floor making million-dollar trades. But the truth is that you can invest in the stock market through an app from the comfort of your couch.
While some of the more traditional brokerages may require large minimum deposits in order to open an account, there are plenty of options for new investors just getting their feet wet. If you have a 401(k) through your employer, that's often the best place to start -- it's already set up for you, and all you have to do is decide how much of your paycheck you want transferred into your account.
If you don't have a 401(k), your next best bet is a traditional IRA or Roth IRA. There are a slew of brokerage options for these types of accounts, and online brokerages often offer the lowest fees and $0 account minimums. Even if you don't have thousands of dollars to put aside right now, it's better to save a little at a time than to save nothing at all.
3. You don't have to start saving for retirement until you're older
Retirement may be decades away still, but now is the time to start saving. That's because the earlier you start saving, the easier it will be to grow your nest egg over time. If you wait until you're close to retirement age to begin funding your retirement account, you're going to have a much harder time getting it where you want it to be.
For example, say you start saving at age 25. You can only set aside $150 per month, but you continue saving at that pace for the next 40 years. Assuming you're earning a 7% annual return on your investments, you'd have accumulated around $360,000 in that time. However, if you waited until, say, age 40 to begin saving, you'd need to save just under $500 per month to have that same amount saved by age 65.
When you have time on your side, it's far easier to save for the future -- and every little bit counts. So even if you're stretched thin and think you can't afford to save for retirement, even setting aside a small portion of every paycheck can go a long way over several decades.
Saving for retirement may not be the most exciting thing you'll do with your money, but it is one of the most important things. And the more you understand how investing works and how to avoid falling prey to common financial myths, the easier it will be to make your money work harder.