Saving for retirement is important, and the later you start, the more difficult it can be. If you’re in your 50s or 60s and are feeling behind, you’re not alone. But the good news is there’s still enough time left to catch up.
Half of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement, and many will rely on Social Security to make up the difference. However, if you’re still in your working years, you can make a big impact on your retirement savings in the next 10 to 15 years.
We chatted with licensed financial planners to get their best tips on preparing for a rich retirement later in life. They’ve worked with many clients in your same situation, and here’s how they would advise saving for retirement at a later age.
Don’t Give Up!
While it may feel a bit hopeless to play “catch up” when retirement is approaching, you shouldn’t give up hope. In fact, you may be in a great financial position, even if you don’t have a lot invested.
Kevin Estes, founder and financial planner at Scaled Finance, believes there is hope for older savers.
“Someone who’s established in their career may be closer to their financial goals than they think,” said Estes. “They might have more income than ever, a low mortgage balance and 35 years of earnings for Social Security retirement benefits.
“Time is still an ally,” he continued. “A portfolio with an 8% annual return will double about every nine years. A 50-year-old with $200,000 saved for retirement might see that value quadruple to $800,000 by age 68 without additional contributions.”
Create a Financial Plan
It’s important to have a specific financial plan in place to make sure you are allocating your retirement efforts in the right places. Working with a licensed financial advisor can help you put this together.
Terrie Amundson, Certified Financial Planner (CFP) at The Heights Financial, said, “Outline your goals, income, expenses and assets. A clear roadmap will help you understand your financial position and plan for the future. Consider consulting a financial advisor for personalized guidance.”
Increase Retirement Savings
There are several opportunities to save more in tax-advantaged accounts once you are older. This can help you catch up on your retirement savings while saving money at the same time.
“Experienced workers have extra savings opportunities,” said Estes. “In 2023, someone 50 years or wiser can contribute an additional $7,500 to their 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plan. Those $30,000 of annual contributions may reduce current taxes, grow without incurring taxes, and be taxed at a lower rate when withdrawn in retirement. Traditional and Roth IRA accounts have a similar $1,000 catch-up. Those aged 50+ can contribute $7,500 instead of $6,500 in 2023.”
Jeffrey McDermott, CFP at Create Wealth Financial Planning, LLC, is a fan of catch-up contributions.
“Remember individuals 50 and over can contribute extra funds to their retirement accounts, IRA and Roth IRA accounts,” he said. “The specific contribution levels vary from year to year but for 2023 individuals over 50 who are eligible to contribute can put an extra $1,000 in their traditional or Roth IRA, and an extra $7,500 in their 401(k) or other workplace retirement plan.”
Ryan Firth, founder of Mercer Street Personal Financial Services, explained how you can save a lot later in life.
“The key is to save as much as possible as soon as practical, FIRE-style,” said Firth. “Someone in their 50s and 60’s is presumably in their prime earning years, so if they have their lifestyle spend under control, then they should have a lot of disposable income that can be socked away in tax-advantaged accounts like a 401(k), IRA, and a health savings account (HSA). In theory, one individual could put away as much as $84,350 ($30,000 employee contribution to a 401(k), $43,500 employer contribution to a 401(k), $7,500 in an IRA, and $3,850 in an HSA if health insurance is HSA-eligible).”
Open an HSA
Estes recommends a health savings account (HSA) for the tax savings. HSAs allow individuals who have access to a high-deductible health plan to contribute money to a tax-advantaged savings account.
“For those on a high-deductible healthcare plan, HSA contributions may avoid tax altogether,” said Estes. “The 2023 limits are $3,850 for an individual and $7,750 for a family. Those aged 55 and over can contribute an additional $1,000.”
McDermott is also a fan of HSA accounts. “Use your HSA as a supplemental retirement account,” he added.
“An HSA can offer great tax advantages to savers with a tax deduction on the contributions, tax deferral on growth while the money is in the HSA and tax-free use for qualified withdrawals — a triple tax advantage. Most HSA plans allow you to invest the money once you’ve reached a certain threshold of cash, so if you can keep the money invested and pay out of pocket for current medical expenses you will have an extra tax-advantaged bucket of money to use for healthcare in retirement. Note that you must be on a high deductible healthcare plan to access an HSA so make sure your healthcare plan is right for you before enrolling in the HSA.”
Reduce Your Debt
Having debt in retirement can hurt your monthly cash flow and make it harder to retire. Reducing high-interest debts with high monthly payments can help you keep more money in your pockets.
Amundson believes in paying off high-interest debts before retirement. He recommended, “Prioritize paying off high-interest debts, such as credit card balances, to redirect funds toward savings. Trim discretionary spending, like dining out and unused subscriptions, to free up funds for savings. Evaluate your housing needs and consider downsizing to reduce costs or release home equity.”
Focus is important when you are older and trying to save for retirement. Don’t get distracted by extensive financial plans by keeping it simple.
Eric Amzalag, owner of Peak Financial Planning, is a big fan of focus. “Always remember the pareto principle: 80% of the results are produced by 20% of the participants. This means that 80% of people produce 20% of results, which by inference means that 80% of people get seriously substandard results. So, that means ignore what the masses are doing and pay attention to what matters. And what matters is how well you save over time. Distractions will pop up but at the end of the day the item that has the most impact on your long-term wealth is your savings rate.”
Consider Part-Time Work
If you aren’t sure you’ll have enough, part-time work may help you bridge the gap.
Amundson believes that a part-time job can help ease you into retirement, as well. “Consider using any available free time for part-time or freelance work to increase income, stay socially engaged, and pursue personal interests — all of which can be valuable in your upcoming retirement years.”
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