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No Retirement Savings? Here's How to Compensate.

By Maurie Backman – Aug 4, 2019 at 6:18AM

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It's not a great situation to be in -- but it can be salvaged.

Though Social Security provides a respectable amount of income to seniors, those benefits aren't enough to live on. The average recipient today collects just $17,532 a year, which might cover some basics, but doesn't make for a remotely comfortable lifestyle. As such, you'll need savings of your own to ensure that you have enough money to fund your golden years.

But what if the end of your career is approaching, and you don't have a dollar socked away in your IRA or 401(k)? Though your retirement might seem doomed, that's not necessarily the case. Here are a few ways to compensate for a lack of savings for your golden years.

Senior couple at laptop, with woman covering her face

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

1. Work full-time a few more years

Working longer can help make up for a major savings shortfall a couple of ways. First, if you extend your career, you'll have the opportunity to save something for your golden years. Maybe it won't be a lot, but when you're sitting on no savings at all, $5,000 suddenly seems like a big deal.

Just as importantly, working longer might allow you to hold off on filing for Social Security past your full retirement age. That's the age you're eligible to claim the full monthly benefit your earnings history entitles you to, and it's either 66, 67, or somewhere in between, depending on the year you were born. However, if you delay Social Security past full retirement age, you'll accrue credits that boost your benefits by 8% a year up until age 70. Better yet, that increase will then remain in effect for the rest of your life.

We just learned that the average senior on Social Security gets $17,532 a year, or $1,461 a month. If you're entitled to that same $1,461 a month at full retirement age, but you delay benefits for three years and boost them by 24%, you'll collect $1,812 a month instead, or $21,744 a year. And while that will hardly make you rich in retirement, it's better than collecting roughly $4,200 less.

2. Prepare to work during your golden years

Many people assume that once they retire, the option to work will be off the table. But unless your health prevents you from holding down a job, earning some amount of money in retirement could very much help compensate for a lack of savings. The best part? You don't have to do work you hate. You could start your own business, or turn a favorite hobby into an income stream. You might even decide to consult in your former field if you enjoyed what you did.

3. Rethink your lifestyle

Retiring with no savings means you might really struggle to pay your bills once the paycheck from your job goes away. In addition to the moves above, you may need to think about adjusting your lifestyle and slashing some existing expenses.

For example, if you own a larger home that's costly to maintain, downsizing might keep your housing expenses lower (not to mention put some money in your pocket, if you're able to sell that larger home for a decent profit). If you can get by without a vehicle in retirement, use your feet to get around town, or stick to the bus. It's not always pleasant making lifestyle changes when you're older, but if you're retiring without savings, you unfortunately may not have much of a choice.

Entering retirement with no savings at all isn't a great spot to be in. But if that's your reality, you can make up for it by extending your career, getting a job during your golden years, and adjusting your lifestyle. It's a far better bet than sitting back, crossing your fingers, and hoping for the best.

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