“Better late than never” applies to many things in life, including and maybe especially saving for retirement.
Even if you’re past the halfway mark to your retirement and haven’t yet started saving, there are steps you can take to make up for lost time so you can live out your golden years comfortably.
Among non-retired adults in 2021, a quarter didn’t have any retirement savings, the Federal Reserve says. So, you’re not alone in not having started saving, and there’s no need to panic, advisers say.
“Homelessness is out of the question if you do something about it right away, but you have to be realistic,” said Brian Severin, senior executive vice president at Mutual of America Financial Group. “The biggest takeaway is setting a realistic expectation. Likely, if you’re 55 and have debt and haven’t saved, you’re not going to spend your retirement traveling the world.”
Since you’re starting later, consider pushing your retirement date later to give yourself extra time to build your nest egg.
"By waiting till you are 70 years old to file, you can also maximize your (social security) benefits," Dan Simon, retirement planning adviser with Daniel A. White & Associates, said. "Consider a hybrid retirement to do this – part-time work after you retire from your main occupation.”
How do I start saving for retirement?
First, create a plan that’s achievable and that will allow you not to work at some point, advisers say.
You can try to figure it out on your own, but mapping out a plan can be complicated. You need to consider taxes, and what types and mix of investments will maximize your returns, and social security, if you’re eligible. If you decide to seek out professional help, use a fiduciary who’s legally bound to work in your best interest. Make sure, too, to check advisory fees and compensation to keep your costs low.
Either way, you’ll have to “work backwards to see what the gap is for what you’ll need to ensure some level of living,” Severin said.
To do that, first figure out how much you’ll need each year to live a comfortable, if not extravagant, life and inventory what you already have such as a home, life insurance policy, money in the bank, or savings bonds you might have forgotten about.
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Then, calculate how much you need to save from now until you retire to achieve that annual goal. Also, assume you’ll live a long life. With breakthroughs in medicine and technology and better nutrition, people are generally living longer.
"Ninety (years) covers the vast majority of people,” Rob Burnette, chief executive, financial adviser and professional tax preparer at Outlook Financial Center in Troy, Ohio, said.
Once you know all of that, you can start taking the steps you need to make it happen.
What steps can I take to save for retirement?
Cut spending to free up cash. You can make small changes like eating out less, buying more sale items, driving less, taking more staycations, or downsizing your home. But don’t worry if you still like to go out with friends or buy coffee a couple of times a week. "I have no problem with that,” Burnette said. “We’re still social beings and can't live like a hermit now in hopes of not living like a hermit later.”
Pay down debt. “Typically, you should pay off high interest debt,” Severin said. “You’re not likely to pay off a home, but you can pay off credit card debt. Do that first.”
Take advantage of your 401(k). If you’re working and your company has a 401(k), start contributing at least enough to get the company match.
If you don't have access to a work retirement plan, open an individual retirement account (IRA). This can be done through a broker or bank. Online brokerage Robinhood offers a 1% match for contributions to IRAs on its platform.
If you’re comfortable, dial up risk to make up for lost time. That might mean having more stocks than fixed-income assets like bonds in your portfolio. But with the markets being so volatile and the economy looking so iffy lately, it’s not worth investing in riskier assets if you can’t stomach the rollercoaster, Burnette said. Find ways to generate cash instead. When stocks look like they’ve bottomed out and are less volatile, you can use the cash you accrued to buy stocks then. “Stocks can move up very fast, and that can amplify your returns,” he said. “Taking high risk doesn’t necessarily mean high return. It can go the other way.”
Consider investing with a money manager. They often have access to investment products the average investor doesn’t. For example, Burnette says he can buy his clients one-year certificates of deposit that carry interest that's more than double what’s available currently. “We have access to the institutional CD market,'' Burnette said. "These aren’t CDs you get walking into the bank on the street corner.”
If you implement these guidelines, advisers say you can still manage to retire comfortably. But the key is to do so immediately to try to save enough to maintain 100% of your pre-retirement income or as close to that as possible for each year you're no longer working , Burnette said.
“If you want a large shade tree, the best time to plant it was 20 years ago,” Burnett said. “The next best time is today.”
Medora Lee is a money, markets and personal finance reporter at USA TODAY. You can reach her at email@example.com and subscribe to our free Daily Money newsletter for personal finance tips and business news every Monday through Friday morning.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What to do if you start saving for retirement late: Follow these steps