Retirement should be a wonderful time in your life, but far too many people struggle to save for it. The good news is, there are simple steps you can take to help get prepared for your golden years.
In fact, if you just follow these retirement tips in 2019 and beyond, you'll set yourself on the path to a much more secure future when you're a senior.
1. Take advantage of tax breaks for retirement savings
While the government doesn't directly provide cash to put into your retirement account, it makes investing for your future much easier by giving you tax breaks.
In 2019, you can invest as much as $19,000 in a 401(k) account with pre-tax dollars, or as much as $25,000 if you're 50 or over and are eligible to make catch-up contributions. Depending on your income level and whether you or your spouse have access to a retirement plan at work, you may also be entitled to claim a tax deduction for a maximum of $6,000 in contributions made to an individual retirement account -- or $7,000 if you're eligible for catch-up contributions.
If you're in the 22% tax bracket, just making a $6,000 investment could save you as much as $1,320 on your taxes. Your contribution would effectively reduce your take-home income by just $4,680.
Each tax break is use-it-or-lose-it. So if you don't invest in 2019, you'll be forever forgoing the help the government is offering this year. Don't miss out on this free money.
2. Invest more than the conventional wisdom suggests
You've probably heard you should save 10% of income for retirement. The problem is, this likely won't be enough.
In 2018, the median household income was $40,247, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. If you make the median, you're 30 when you start saving, you get 2% annual raises, and you earn a 7% return on investment, you'd end up with about $700,000 for retirement at 66, if you followed the 10% suggestion.
While this sounds like a lot, it would produce only around $28,000 in income if you followed the 4% rule, which says you won't run out of money if you withdraw 4% in year one of retirement and adjust withdrawals for inflation annually.
Most financial experts suggest you need to replace around 80% of pre-retirement salary when you leave the workforce -- which, in this example, would be just over $80,000. Even when you factor in Social Security benefits of around $30,000, you'd be $22,000 short.
And your shortfall would likely be even greater for two reasons. First, most experts believe following the 4% rule is no longer safe and you need to withdrawal less. And second, many seniors end up spending more -- not less -- than pre-retirement income after leaving work.
To avoid the big financial problems that could result from such a large shortfall, aim to save 15% to 20% of income instead of just 10%.
3. Don't forget to plan for your biggest retirement expense
When you get to retirement, do you believe Medicare will cover most of your healthcare costs? Unfortunately, this is a common misconception. In reality, Medicare has big coverage gaps, doesn't pay for lots of things seniors need, and has high coinsurance costs.
There are various estimates for how much seniors should plan to spend on healthcare, but virtually every study shows out-of-pocket expenses totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars. If you aren't prepared for a substantial portion of your nest egg to go toward medical care, you aren't preparing properly for retirement.
If you have a qualifying high-deductible health insurance plan, you can invest in a health savings account to cover medical expenses as a senior. If you aren't eligible to contribute to an HSA, earmark some of your 401(k) funds for care needs, or consider opening a separate retirement account that serves as your healthcare fund. That way, medical bills won't make you broke.
4. Don't sacrifice your retirement savings for your kids
Surveys have shown around three-quarters of parents sacrifice their retirement savings to help cover costs for their kids -- including college education expenses. While it may seem helpful to spare your kids from the scourge of student loans, it's a very bad idea to compromise your own financial security for your children.
Student loans can be paid back over a lifetime, and your kids have their entire careers to set themselves up for the future. If you're nearing retirement, though, time is of the essence for you. You need to be proactive about achieving your own financial goals -- even if that means closing the bank of mom and dad for good.
5. Understand how Social Security works
Social Security benefits are designed to replace only around 40% of pre-retirement income so if you're counting on living on them as a senior, you're making a big mistake.
It's important to not only know that Social Security will play a limited role in retirement. You also need to understand how to maximize benefits. If you claim Social Security before you've worked for 35 years, for example, you'll receive smaller benefits because the Social Security Administration determines your monthly income based on your highest 35 years of earnings, adjusted for inflation. If you haven't worked 35 years, some years of $0 earnings are factored in.
Claiming Social Security prior to full retirement age -- which is between 65 and 67, depending on your birth year -- can also result in a permanent reduction to your monthly check. While the system is designed so beneficiaries generally get the same lifetime benefits no matter what age they first claim them, research from Stanford experts suggests you should wait until age 70. This allows you to get the largest possible checks, which protects you from running out of money later in life.
Start following these retirement tips today
By keeping these tips in mind in 2019 and beyond, you can maximize your chances of a secure retirement and minimize the likelihood you'll experience serious financial problems as a senior. You only get one shot at preparing for retirement, so take the right steps today to assure yourself a better tomorrow.