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5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Make Retirement Easier

By Selena Maranjian – Feb 23, 2020 at 12:21PM

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Don't take chances with your retirement -- it may last decades and you'll want to be comfortable and financially secure.

Life can be hard, and planning and saving for retirement can be stressful and difficult, too. Fortunately, there are ways to make life easier, such as using nail polish to paint your keys different colors, so you can quickly tell them apart. Even better, there are ways to make retirement easier, too.

Here's a quick look at five things you can do to improve your future financial security and even your future comfort.

A middle-aged couple smiling and each giving the thumbs up sign.

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Make a plan

Too many people have no plan for retirement, and are not saving much or anything for it. According to the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies, the median retirement savings balance of Baby Boomers (those aged about 56 to 74) is $152,000, which isn't very much when you consider that our retirements may be 20 years long or longer. The median for Generation X (those aged around 41 to 55) is only about $66,000.

Unless you're independently wealthy or are expecting a fat pension income in retirement, you need to spend some time figuring out how much money you'll need for retirement and how you'll amass that sum. Many experts recommend aiming to have 70% to 80% of your pre-retirement income as your retirement income, though it's smart to crunch some numbers and see what makes the most sense for you, given the estimated costs of your planned retirement lifestyle and a hefty sum available for healthcare needs -- among other considerations.

Once you know how much income you'll need, you can work backwards to determine the size of your needed nest egg. You'll need to have a planned withdrawal rate first, though. If you plan to withdraw, say, 4% of your nest egg in retirement, there's a simple rule you can follow: just take the amount of income you want in your first year of retirement and multiply it by 25. Want $60,000 in income, and expect $25,000 from Social Security? That leaves $35,000 in needed income. Multiply that by 25, and you get $875,000. 

How are you going to get from your current savings to that $875,000? Do a little experimenting with an online calculator. The table below offers a rough idea of how much you might amass socking away various sums over various time periods while getting an average annual return of 8%:

Length of time invested

$10,000 invested annually

$15,000 invested annually

$20,000 invested annually

5 years

$63,359

$95,039

$126,719

10 years

$156,455

$234,682

$312,910

15 years

$293,243

$439,864

$586,486

20 years

$494,229

$741,344

$988,458

25 years

$789,544

$1.2 million

$1.6 million

30 years

$1.2 million

$1.8 million

$2.4 million

Data source: Calculations by author.

2. Consult a financial advisor

If all that is making you break into a sweat, or you're just realizing that you might have a lot of work to do and you're not sure how to come up with an achievable plan, consider consulting a professional. There are lots of financial advisors and financial planners out there who may be able to put your mind at ease by showing you what you can achieve -- and how to do it.

Consider using a fee-only advisor, who won't be collecting commissions for selling you on various investments. That is, he or she will charge you for the time spent consulting with you or working for you. Note that some advisors will take a percentage of your invested assets each year while managing your money for you. You don't necessarily need that if you can just get your ducks in a row and execute a plan you and your advisor designed.

3. Make the most of retirement accounts

Making good use of tax-advantaged retirement accounts available to you -- such as IRAs and 401(k)s -- can be a smart move in retirement. They come in traditional and Roth formats, with the former offering upfront tax breaks by letting you deduct the amount of your contribution from your taxable income, thereby shrinking your tax bill for the year of the contribution. The Roth version offers a back-end tax break: It doesn't change your upcoming tax bill, but if you follow the rules, your account can grow over many years and then you can take withdrawals tax-free.

The contribution limit for IRAs for both the 2019 and 2020 tax years is $6,000, plus an additional $1,000 for individuals 50 or older. (And note that you have until April 15, 2020, to make a 2019 IRA contribution -- it's not too late!) Contributions to 401(k) accounts can be made until Dec. 31 each year for that tax year, and for 2020, the limit is $19,500, plus $6,500 for those 50 and older.

4. Don't forget (or underestimate) healthcare costs

One of the biggest blunders you can make when retirement planning is ignoring how much healthcare may cost you in retirement. Estimates vary, but consider this one from Fidelity -- which is lower than some other reputable estimates: A 65-year-old couple retiring this year can expect to pay, out of pocket, an average of $285,000 on healthcare expenses -- and that doesn't even include long-term care. Learn more and be smart about your Medicare moves, too.

You can aim to keep your healthcare costs low by getting healthy and staying healthy as much as possible -- now and throughout retirement. Eat nutritious foods and exercise regularly, and visit your doctor regularly, too.

5. Make smart Social Security decisions

Finally, be smart about your Social Security decisions, too. Know that while Social Security income is critical for most retirees, it's not likely to be nearly enough. The average monthly retirement benefit was recently $1,506, or about $18,000 annually.

You can find out how much you can expect by setting up a "my Social Security" account at SSA.gov. You can also review your earnings record there and correct errors that might erroneously shrink your benefits. There are ways to increase your benefits, too, such as delaying before you start to collect them. You can delay up to age 70 in order to maximize your checks -- though starting to collect as early as age 62 is sometimes the better strategy.

A little time spent learning about retirement and how to plan for it can make a world of difference in your future financial security.

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