If you want to ensure that your retirement will be financially comfortable, there's no alternative to starting to set money aside as early as you can. The more you're able to put away, the greater the likelihood that you'll have enough money to cover not only your anticipated living expenses but also the inevitable surprises that can create havoc during retirement.
To save as much as you can, it's useful to have some help. Fortunately, there are a few ways that many people can get some extra money as a result of saving for retirement. You might not be able to use all three, but even one or two can make a big difference in how big your nest egg gets. Below, we'll look in more detail at these ways to score some extra cash to put toward retirement.
1. Tax-deductible retirement plan contributions
The most obvious benefit that retirement savers get is a tax break from the federal government. You can choose from a number of tax-favored retirement accounts -- including traditional IRAs, 401(k)s, and similar employer-sponsored retirement plans -- that will give you the ability to deduct the amount you contribute from your income. That in turn will typically cut your tax bill by an amount that's determined by your marginal tax rate, ranging from 10% to 37% of the amount that you contribute.
The IRS won't automatically add your tax savings to your retirement account. Instead, that money will come back to you. However, if you're in the 24% tax bracket and contribute $5,000 to a traditional IRA, then you can choose to think of $1,200 as coming from the federal government. That means you'll have a net cost of $3,800 -- but still end up with $5,000 in your account at the end of the day.
2. Matching 401(k) contributions from your employer
The federal government isn't the only source of extra cash for retirement savings. Some workers are fortunate enough to have employers who want to help their employees provide for their retirement, and one way that many employers provide that help is by making matching contributions. For instance, if you make $40,000 and contribute $2,000 toward a 401(k), then your employer might choose to match the entire contribution with an extra $2,000 from the employer's own pocket. Some plans have the employer do a 50% match instead of 100%, but even then, an extra $1,000 in the example above would still be useful.
To keep your matching contribution money, you'll usually have to stay in your current job for a set period of time, typically ranging from two to five years. Yet once you've met the qualifications, that money is yours to keep -- even if you switch to another employer later and move your 401(k) elsewhere.
Not everyone has access to a 401(k) or similar retirement plan at work, and among those who do, not every employer offers matching contributions when you take money out of your own paycheck to put in a 401(k). But for those who are fortunate enough to work for someone willing to make 401(k) matching contributions on your behalf, it's almost always the best move to contribute enough to the 401(k) to claim that match in full.
3. Saver's credit
Finally, low-income taxpayers get an extra incentive for contributing to retirement accounts. The saver's credit can pay you up to $1,000 back in the form of a tax credit if you save $2,000 of your own money in an IRA, 401(k), or similar employer retirement account.
The exact amount of the credit depends on your income. Those with extremely low incomes get the 50% credit, while successively higher tiers of income can qualify for a smaller 20% or 10% saver's credit.
Again, the IRS won't deposit the credit amount in your retirement plan, but it will include the amount in a refund check if you owed enough tax to put the credit to use. As such, you can think of it in terms of the federal government funding as much as half of your retirement savings for the year.
Get the money that's coming to you
Getting a helping hand with your retirement savings is extremely useful. If you can take advantage of one or more of these three ways to score some extra retirement cash, it's worth the effort -- and could add thousands of dollars to your total savings in the long run.