Retirement Piggy Bank

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There is a retirement crisis in America. Social Security is still alive and well (for now, at least), but is by no means enough to cover most Americans' cost of living in retirement. Too many people have little or no savings, and aren't doing anything to change their situation.

The good news is that you can change your situation, even if you think it's too late. Here's what you need to know about where things stand, and what you could do about it.

How much do you need to retire comfortably?
It depends. According to many financial experts, you should plan on needing about 80% of your pre-retirement salary once you retire, including income from Social Security, pensions, and any other savings. And, you may need this income for longer than you think:

  • The average American retires at age 63.
  • The average retirement lasts 18 years, but many last much longer. Plus, who knows what the retirement life expectancy will be by the time you get there? I recommend that you err on the side of caution and plan on a 30-year retirement.
  • You'll need $1,060,751 in savings if you expect to draw $5,000 per month for 30 years, assuming 6% annual investment returns and 2% inflation. Depending on how much income you expect from your savings, adjust this amount higher or lower to come up with your retirement "number."

Americans know they won't have enough money, but still won't save
The vast majority of those in the prime of their careers are aware they have a problem with their retirement savings. They're right.

  • The average 50 year old has $42,797 saved. If you look at the retirement "number" from the previous section, it's easy to see that this isn't even close.
  • The average net worth (assets minus debts) of a 55-64 year old is $45,447.
  • 45% of Americans have saved nothing for retirement, including 40% of Baby Boomers.
  • 38% don't actively save for retirement at all.
  • 20% of Americans tap into their 401(k) assets early, either through a loan or withdrawal.
  • 80% of Americans between the ages of 30 and 54 believe they will not have enough saved for retirement.

Social Security should be a supplement, not your sole income source
Social Security isn't intended to be a sole retirement plan, but a supplement to other sources of retirement savings. Still, many Americans end up dependent on it.

  • 36% of American adults over 65 are completely dependent on Social Security.
  • 63% are dependent (but not necessarily completely reliant) on Social Security, relatives, friends, or charity at age 65.
  • Social Security is running out of money, and will only be able to cover 77% of promised benefits beginning in 2034.

Now, I've written about how I'm almost positive that something will be done to fix Social Security, but my point is that you shouldn't leave your retirement security at the mercy of politicians.

When planning for retirement, think about Social Security as you would a small pension from an old job. It's nice to know you'll have that reliable stream of inflation-indexed income for the rest of your life, but it's not enough to support your lifestyle.

Be sure to keep your health in mind
One of the scariest retirement topics is healthcare. Many younger people assume that Medicare will cover all of their post-retirement healthcare costs, but this is simply not the case.

  • The average out of pocket medical costs for a 65 year old couple will be $218,000 over the next 20 years.
  • Only one in six employers offers healthcare coverage to retirees.
  • Healthcare expenses are expected to rise by 5.8% per year through 2022.
  • Medicare only covers 62% of the average American's medical expenses.
  • Just one year in a skilled nursing facility can cost more than $200,000 if you don't have long-term care insurance.

You've seen the scary statistics, now do something about it
The good news is that there is still time to do something about your retirement savings situation, even if you think you're too old to have a meaningful impact.

If you have a 401(k) or similar retirement plan at work, you can contribute over and beyond the amount your employer is willing to match -- up to $18,000 for 2016. If you are 50 or older, you can stretch that by an additional $6,000. And, remember that increasing your 401(k) contributions will lower your taxable income for this year -- an added bonus.

If you don't have a plan at work, or simply want more control over how your retirement funds are invested, a traditional or Roth IRA is a great way to save up to $5,500 per year ($6,500 if over 50).

Since we've spent so much time discussing scary retirement statistics, I'd like to leave you with three good ones.

  • If you save $5,500 in an IRA for 30 years, you could build up a retirement nest egg of more than $900,000, based on the stock market's historical performance. This translates to $458 per month to completely transform your retirement.
  • You can potentially save $1,375 on your taxes this year with the maximum allowed traditional IRA contribution.
  • If you are a low- to moderate-income taxpayer, you could qualify for a tax credit (read: free money) of up to $1,000 just for saving for retirement in addition to the other tax deduction I just mentioned. This is known as the Retirement Savings Contributions Credit, or simply the "saver's credit."

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