It's bad enough that investors saving for retirement have had to deal with the worst bear market in decades. For most people, the real challenge is still ahead -- and no matter which way the market goes, it's only going to get worse. But there is one solution you can use to make it a little bit better.
The big retirement savings mess
At first glance, you might think that saving for retirement is relatively simple. Breaking it down, you have to find money to save, invest it to generate as good a return as possible, and then spend it wisely after you retire. Easy, right?
It turns out, though, that figuring out the best retirement saving strategy is a lot more complicated than that. Not only do you have to figure out how to find great investments, but you also have to learn about the specific choices that are unique to retirement saving. In particular:
- Anyone can contribute to a traditional IRA, which lets you save on a tax-deferred basis and gives many taxpayers immediate tax savings by allowing them to deduct the amount of their contributions.
- Roth IRAs have come into the spotlight lately, as the coming expiration of the income limits on Roth conversions give everyone the opportunity to bite the tax bullet now in favor of moving their money into these tax-free accounts.
- You also need to weigh additional options if you have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan at work, such as a 401(k).
At least on that last point, it appears that things are starting to change. Many companies, including Honeywell
Now, though, an increasing number of employers are demonstrating their commitment to helping employees retire well. Some of the companies that previously cut their matching have started to reinstate matches. So far, Ford Motor
Unfortunately, there's no assurance that things will continue to improve. Given the ever-changing tax laws and the unpredictable economic environment, it's tough to make any sort of long-lasting plan for your retirement savings.
Of course, you could simply choose to treat retirement saving like any other financial goal you have and use the same investment accounts you use for your non-retirement money. But by doing so, you'll miss out on all the tax benefits that retirement accounts offer.
Keeping it simple
Instead, the smart way to make retirement saving manageable is to cut down the number of different accounts you have to a bare minimum. If you have a good 401(k) at your current job and you still have retirement accounts with previous employers, then the smart move is to roll all those old plans over into your current 401(k). That may leave you with just a single account to track and manage -- and if your investment options are good enough, that may be just about all you need.
Unfortunately, most people don't have a 401(k) they're that happy with. If you're in that boat, then at the very least, you can move your old 401(k)s from past jobs into a rollover IRA. That gives you the investment flexibility that most 401(k)s lack -- and while it means that you'll have at least two different accounts, it's still an improvement over having to coordinate a bunch of equally bad 401(k)s.
Wrangling with the Roth decision
If the Roth IRA is right for you, then it's worth looking into whether converting existing traditional IRAs makes sense. In addition to all the other advantages, converting could also help you consolidate formerly separate traditional and Roth IRAs into a single account, making it much easier to manage. Moreover, you can look into whether your employer offers a Roth 401(k) at work -- an increasing number of employers do, including IBM
Managing your retirement savings can seem like an impossible task, given all the different types of accounts out there. But rather than juggling many different accounts at once, you should take steps to simplify your financial life. Doing so will make it a lot easier to save for all your financial goals.
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Fool contributor Dan Caplinger is a master juggler of investment accounts. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. FedEx is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendation. Sears Holdings is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy helps you keep everything in the air at the same time.