Preparing for retirement can feel like a daunting task. But the reality is, you don't have to devote hours to poring over financial documents to develop a sound approach to building financial security in your later years. In fact, there are many different retirement planning steps that can make a huge difference in your life and that take mere minutes.
Not sure where to start? Three Motley Fool retirement experts have some advice on important tasks you can check off your to-do list in the time it takes to walk your dog.
Learn your full retirement age for Social Security
Maurie Backman: There's a good chance you'll rely on Social Security to at least some degree in retirement. You may even rely on it quite a lot, especially if you kick off your senior years without much in the way of savings. And that's why it's crucial to sign up for benefits at the right age.
Your monthly benefit will hinge on how much you earned during your 35 highest-paid years in the workforce. From there, you'll determine how much money you ultimately collect each month based on your filing age.
You're allowed to claim Social Security as early as age 62. However, you won't get your complete monthly benefit -- the one you're entitled to based on your earnings history -- until you reach full retirement age.
Full retirement age isn't a universal number, which is why some seniors may get confused as to when they can claim their monthly benefit in full. You can consult this table to see your full retirement age:
Year of Birth
Full Retirement Age
66 and 2 months
66 and 4 months
66 and 6 months
66 and 8 months
66 and 10 months
1960 or later
You should also know that you're allowed to delay your filing beyond full retirement age, and for each year you do, your benefits will grow by 8%, up until you turn 70 and that incentive runs out.
The Social Security filing age that's right for you may not be the right age for someone else, and it can pay to claim benefits early, late, or right on time, depending on personal circumstances. But either way, it's important to know what your full retirement age looks like before making that decision. This especially holds true if you think you'll fall back on those benefits a lot in the absence of a robust IRA or 401(k).
Check your estimated Social Security benefit amount
Katie Brockman: Most retirees are entitled to Social Security benefits, but you don't need to wait until you retire to find out how much you'll receive. In fact, it's possible to check your estimated benefit amount online in just a few minutes.
To do this, you'll first need to create a mySocialSecurity account. From there, you can find out approximately how much you'll receive each month in benefits based on your real earnings throughout your career. You can also check your earnings record to make sure there are no mistakes -- if your income has been misreported, it could affect your future benefit amount.
Remember, as mentioned above, your estimated benefit amount is the amount you'll receive if you claim at your full retirement age (FRA). If you claim benefits before or after your FRA, it will affect how much you receive each month. By claiming as early as possible at age 62, your benefits will be reduced by up to 30%. But if you hold off on claiming until age 70, you'll receive your full benefit amount plus up to 32% extra each month.
By checking your benefit amount now, it can make it easier to plan for retirement. Social Security benefits can make up a sizable portion of your retirement income, but you'll still need savings to make ends meet. Once you know how much you can depend on Social Security, you can determine how much you'll need to save on your own.
Finally, it's important to remember that your benefit amount may change between now and when you retire. Your benefit amount is based largely on your income, so if your income changes substantially in the future, it could impact your benefits.
Your estimated benefit amount is just that -- an estimate. But it can give you some insight into your future retirement income. By checking your benefit amount now, you can better prepare for your senior years.
Estimate how much you'll need invested for retirement
Christy Bieber: Social Security checks are going to be an important income source, but can't be your only source of funds in retirement. In fact, these retirement benefits are only designed to replace about 40% of pre-retirement income and you'll need more than that to live a comfortable life as a senior.
It'll likely be up to you to invest enough in a 401(k) or other retirement account to provide the necessary amount of supplemental income since chances are good your employer isn't going to provide guaranteed pension funds. And fortunately, you can estimate the amount you'll need to save for retirement in just about the time a dog walk would take.
There are a few quick and simple approaches to do that, but one of the easiest is to multiply your final salary by 10. That's the salary you'll be earning at retirement. You can estimate it by taking your current salary and assuming a 2% annual increase each year until you leave the workforce. If you're making $50,000 now and retiring in 10 years, you'd assume you'd be making about $59,754 in 10 years. Multiply that number by 10 to determine you need $597,540 invested for your senior years.
Once you've got this number, you can use one of many different investment calculators online to see how much you need to invest each month to reach your target. It's a crucial first step in setting your savings goals and making sure you're on track.
Once you know how much your Social Security benefits will provide, when you can claim your full benefit, and how much to save for retirement to supplement that income, you'll be well on your way to being prepared for a secure future in your senior years.