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3 Common Retirement-Planning Mistakes -- and How to Fix Them

By Maurie Backman - Jun 20, 2021 at 5:48AM

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Don't let these blunders wreck your senior years.

Retirement isn't the sort of thing you should just dive into. In fact, you should really spend most of your working life planning for that milestone, and that includes saving steadily, investing wisely, and, as you get older, narrowing down the right age to bring your career to a close.

But even if you make a solid effort to plan for retirement, you may run into some snags. Here are a few all too common mistakes people make on the road to retirement -- and how to avoid falling victim to them.

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Image source: Getty Images.

1. Relying too heavily on Social Security

Many people assume that once they retire, Social Security will allow them to cover most or all of their bills. In reality, the average senior today collects $1,543 a month.

If you're an average earner and your Social Security benefits end up constituting the bulk of your retirement income, you could be headed for trouble. Furthermore, just because the typical senior on Social Security gets $1,543 a month doesn't mean that's what your benefit will look like. You may be entitled to a lot more money than that, or much less.

That's why it's a good idea to get an estimate of your monthly benefit ahead of time, and you can do so by accessing your Social Security earnings statement, which is issued to you once a year. The closer you get to retirement, the more accurate that estimate will be, but even if you're in your 30s or 40s, you can use it as a starting point.

If you're at least 60, your earnings statement should arrive in the mail each year. Otherwise, you can create an account on the Social Security Administration's website and look at it there.

Keep in mind that your Social Security filing age will also determine what your monthly benefit amounts to. But having an estimate in advance can help you better plan for the future.

2. Setting a random savings target

Many people, in the course of their planning, set a retirement savings goal that's arbitrary. For example, you'll often hear that $1 million will guarantee you financial security for the rest of your life. But rather than fixate on a specific number, like $1 million, you should aim for a savings total that's a multiple of your income.

A good rule of thumb is to retire with 10 to 12 times your ending salary saved. If you earn $100,000 a year, then yes, you may want to aim to retire with $1 million. But if you earn $50,000 a year, you could end up living a very comfortable lifestyle as a senior if you manage to close out your career with $500,000 to $600,000 in your IRA or 401(k) plan.

3. Forgetting about taxes

A lot of people figure their taxes will go down in retirement, or that they won't need to pay the IRS any money at all. But that's far from true.

First of all, retirement plan withdrawals count as taxable income if you don't have a Roth savings plan. Also, Social Security benefits can be taxable, depending on your total income. And then there are pension payments -- if you're fortunate enough to have some to look forward to, you should expect to pay taxes on them as well.

To avoid a financial crunch later in life, read up on taxes in retirement and work with an accountant or financial advisor to see what strategies you can employ to keep your IRS burden to a minimum. You may want to move some of your savings from a traditional retirement plan to a Roth account, for example, to get yourself into a lower tax bracket as a senior.

While planning ahead for retirement is a smart move, falling victim to these mistakes could really set you back. Now that you know what blunders to avoid, you can continue to focus on saving and investing so that you're all set for your senior years.

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