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How to Boost Your Retirement Income When Social Security Only Covers 40%

By Ryan Downie - May 27, 2021 at 7:49AM

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These tips on retirement saving and investing can help retirees get more income than Social Security provides.

Most retirees rely on Social Security to cover expenses, but it might not be enough to meet your desired lifestyle. Your Social Security benefit depends on a number of factors, but the average benefit is around $1,500 per month. The maximum that can be received is around $3,900, and that requires a high-income career and waiting until age 70 to start taking payments.

If you want to afford the retirement lifestyle you've dreamed about, or if you just want to avoid worrying about healthcare expenses, you'll probably have to find some other sources of cash flow. The best strategies depend on your age and personal circumstances, but there are a handful of things you should consider to boost retirement income.

Retired couple going on vacation with luggage.

Image source: Getty Images.

Build retirement assets if you have time

If you have a few years left before you retire, then you have the opportunity to save your income and invest those savings for growth. Assets that you've accumulated over the years can be invested to generate dividends and interest, which provide monthly and quarterly cash flow. You're also free to spend from your accumulated savings.

Taking full advantage of your 401(k) match is a great place to start if there's one available. Many employers offer this sort of benefit, in which they make contributions to your retirement account that are proportionate to your own contributions, up to a certain amount. That's free money going into an investment account each paycheck, and it adds up over time.

You might also consider some of the tax advantages that might be available through traditional and Roth IRA accounts. Contributions to traditional IRAs are tax deductible, which allows you to save and invest on a tax-deferred basis. You'll have to pay taxes on IRA withdrawals in retirement, though, so take that into consideration. Roth IRAs don't offer any tax deductions up front, but qualifying withdrawals in retirement are made tax-free, meaning that you'll save on capital gains tax as your accounts grow.

For savers who are getting a late start, the IRS allows for catch-up contributions to retirement accounts. People ages 50 and up can contribute an additional $6,500 to their 401(k) and $1,000 to an IRA. That pushes the annual contribution limits to $26,000 for your 401(k) and $7,000 for an IRA.

Develop an income investment strategy

If you're already in retirement and have some savings built up, you can optimize those investments to generate income. Most retirees have a balanced portfolio of stocks and bonds, which provides growth without excessive volatility. If you have bonds, they are already producing interest for you. A diversified bond portfolio is a great tool for relatively low-risk returns, though bond yields aren't very high right now. If you want extra income today, you can elect to have that interest distributed to your bank account regularly, rather than having it reinvested.

Dividend stocks are another important piece of the retirement income puzzle. Retirees can benefit from investing in stable, dividend-paying companies with wide economic moats and strong balance sheets. Many of the Dividend Aristocrats fit this description, and those sorts of stocks produce reliable income for shareholders each quarter. In retirement, that's cash you can use for any purpose you choose.

Other financial products can help increase income as well. High-yield savings accounts offer better rates than checking accounts or savings accounts that don't prioritize interest rates. If you keep a lot of cash in the bank, high-yield products will get more cash flowing into your savings.

Retirees who want guaranteed income can also consider purchasing an annuity contract. These are financial products offered by insurance companies that pay a specified amount of periodic income, depending on how much the policyholder contributes to the contract. Many annuities carry hefty fees and can remove flexibility from your overall financial plan, so be sure to consider the pros and cons before using one of these instruments.

Minimize taxes on withdrawals

Finally, if you are retired, then it's important to minimize taxes on the income you're taking from investments. This helps you get the most out of your savings.

You might have the option to choose from assets in brokerage accounts, a 401(k), or IRA. Withdrawals from all of these are taxed differently, so take that into consideration. If you are making larger-than-average withdrawals one year to pay for vacations or medical bills, then it would be wise to source that cash from a Roth IRA or brokerage account, because they don't carry any income tax liability. Roth withdrawals are typically untaxed, whereas regular brokerage withdrawals incur capital gains only when you sell investments to come up with the cash, and then only on the appreciated portion.

Meanwhile, years with low withdrawal or expense totals could be advantageous times to tap into your 401(k) or traditional IRA. A low income tax bracket means that you'll surrender less of your savings to the government, and you can keep more tax-efficient accounts handy for years when you might move into a higher bracket.

The best moves depend on your individual circumstances, and it's always impossible to know what the future holds. However, having a tax-sensitive distribution strategy can still make a big difference in your retirement cash flows.

 

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