Work. Save. Retire.
When it comes to retirement planning, that’s the boring advice we’ve been told ad nausem. And, even though we might be tired of hearing it, saving is indispensable if you want to live comfortably in retirement.
According to Fidelity Investments, by the age of 67, you should have 10 times your income saved for retirement. Based on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ median American earnings data, this comes out to $544,440 in savings. However, most experts will recommend that you have at least a cool million bucks set aside.
If you’re just starting out, or behind, that figure seems insurmountable. — especially when you’re struggling just to make ends meet.
Rather than throwing in the towel, take a deep breath. There are still ways to advance your retirement savings that won’t cost you much — if anything at all.
1. Money for nothing.
The government may not give away free money. But, your employer could through 401(k) matching.
How does this work? Well, it’s when your employer matches your retirement contributions to a certain amount or percentage. “On average, company contributions hover around 4.3%,” writes Peter Daisyme in a previous Due article. “If you’re lowballing your contributions, you may be missing out on free money for your retirement.”
“Instead of putting as little as you can into your 401(k), put in at least what your employer will match,” adds Peter. “You’ll get double your investment without having to do anything extra. And best of all? Your 401(k) contributions will come out automatically.”
“The less you have to think about any contribution — the better,” he says.
2. Rollover Beethoven.
On average, we switch jobs 12 times throughout our lives. There are a number of valid reasons why, such as better pay, benefits, or balance. Others might decide to relocate or just escape a toxic work environment.
Regardless of the reason, when leaving one job for another, make sure that you’re not leaving money on the table. In this case, 401(k) funds that you’ve accumulated from your previous job.
To do this, contact your previous employer — probably the HR department. You’ll then provide them the details of your 401(k) plan with your current employer. Or, a traditional IRA that you’ve set up on your own. They’ll then transfer the money into these accounts or mail you a check that’s been made out to the plan.
There are no penalties or risks involved with rolling over your 401(k). And, you’ll be able to continue receiving tax-free deductions for retirement as well.
3. Double trouble.
“A little-known retirement savings opportunity allows some teachers, health care workers, public sector, and nonprofit employees the opportunity to contribute twice as much to retirement plans,” writes Barbara Freidberg for Investopedia.
“These workers can add $19,500, the maximum amount for 2021 (unchanged from 2020) to 403(b), or 457 retirement plan accounts,” adds Freidberg. “That’s a total tax-advantaged savings amount of $39,000 in one year.”
4. But I’m a (lifestyle) creep.
My dad was the king of this. Whenever he came across extra money from a raise or working overtime, he would celebrate by buying a new car or taking us on vacation. And, to be fair, a lot of people fall into this trap.
As you earn more money, you succumb to the temptation of discretionary spending. Known as lifestyle creep, you need to resist this lifestyle inflation so that you don’t squander your new gains.
That doesn’t mean you can’t reward yourself. After all, you should enjoy the fruits of labor. You just have to be smart about it.
For example, let’s say that you earned a promotion. As a result, you’re making an extra $250 per month. You could take $150 of that and automatically have it deposited into your savings and retirement accounts. You could then take that other $100 and use that to pay down your debt or engage in vices like clothing, electronics, travel, or dinners out.
5. Dear Uncle Sam.
“The retirement savings contribution credit — the ‘saver’s credit’ for short — is a tax credit worth up to $1,000 ($2,000 if married filing jointly) for mid-and low-income taxpayers who contribute to a retirement account,” explains Arielle O’Shea over at NerdWallet.
Who is eligible for the saver’s credit? Anyone over the age of 18 who isn’t a full-time student and contributing to a traditional or Roth IRA, 401(k), SIMPLE IRA, SARSEP, 403(b) or 457(b) plan. You also must fall below the following thresholds;
- $65,000 as a married joint filer in 2020; $66,000 in 2021
- $48,750 as the head of the household filer in 2020; $49,500 in 2021
- $32,500 as to any other filing status in 2020; $33,000 in 2021
So, if you meet these requirements, this is Uncle Sam’s way to help you offset the cost of saving for retirement.
6. You never give me your money.
Let’s go back to basics here. If money is tight, then block out a piece of time to create a budget. It’s probably the best way to check in on your financial situation and make appropriate cuts.
For example, maybe you signed up for a gym membership at the beginning of the new year. But, since you don’t go regularly, it’s not worth spending that money each month. Those savings could then be put towards paying off a credit card or stashed into your savings.
Look for ways to cut back on fees.
However, you also need to be aware of the fees that are associated with your retirement accounts. These are often used to cover administrative costs, such as record keeping. Others, however, “are directly associated with the investment products themselves,” writes Kailey Hagen for the Motley Fool.
“For example, mutual funds have expense ratios, which are a sort of annual fee that all shareholders pay,” adds Hagen. “You can determine how much you’re paying in fees by checking your 401(k) plan summary or looking at the prospectus for the investments you own.” Usually, these are listed on a percentage of what your assets are.
“So if your fees amount to 1% of your total assets, you’ll have to pay $1,000 per year for every $100,000 you have in your account,” she states. “The more you invest, the higher your fees will climb, and this can impede your ability to save.”
You can reduce these fees in several ways. One strategy would be to transfer “your money to lower-cost investment products like index funds,” advises Hagen. “These are mutual funds that passively track a market index, like the S&P 500.” Because there’s less buying and selling involved, index funds often “have expense ratios of around 0.2% or less.”
What if your employer doesn’t offer any low-cost investment products through a 401(k)? Are they not matching your contributions either? If no, “consider moving your money to an IRA. You’ll have more investment choices, and IRA fees are often cheaper than 401(k) fees.”
By this, I mean setting automatic transfers between your checking account and retirement accounts. When you do this, a percentage of your paycheck will go directly into your retirement savings account. It’s a painless and simple way to improve your spending habit.
You can also use apps like Acorns, Chime, Qapital, Simple, and Digit. These allow you to save money through round-ups. Let’s say that you pay for your groceries using your debit card and it costs $78.39. The app will round up to the next dollar so that the spare change will be added to your savings.
8 Me and the IRS.
Did you get a tax refund? Don’t spend it. Save it — unless you don’t immediately need to pay for essential expenses like rent or groceries.
Ideally, you should deposit your tax refund into an IRA. It’s a win-win since you’ll get a deduction next year.
9. Save it for later.
“Everyone is always looking for that next money hack; most of the time, it is right under their nose,” Eric Estevez wrote in another Due article. “Health Savings Accounts are rarely mentioned and widely underused,” he adds. “The lack of attention it gets leads many to leave tons of money on the table, especially when measured over a lifetime.”
Firstly, HSA’s have a triple tax benefit. “Contributing your money straight into the account is tax-deductible on your Form 1040 (Individual Tax Return Form),” Eric clarifies. “If deposited through a payroll deduction (your paycheck), the money will be put in pre-tax.”
“The second tax benefit is that the interest and dividends earned on the principal will be tax-free,” he adds. “Lastly, any withdrawals that are deemed qualified medical expenses will be tax-free.”
In addition to the tax benefits, there’s also compound growth.
Let’s say that you’re a healthy, 30-year-old who will contribute $3,000 into your HSA until you retire at 65. “In 35 years, you would have contributed $105,000 of your own money over your working life,” he states. “Assuming 7% compound interest, you would have approximately $475,000 waiting for you in retirement.”
10. What’s my age again?
When it comes to retirement, there are ways to use your age to your advantage.
For starters, when you’re younger, specifically in your 20’s, there’s compound interest. That means if you invest $100,000 at a 6% interest rate, then in 20 years, your savings will balloon to $320,714. Also, because you have more time to save, you can be a little more aggressive with your investments.
What if you’re behind on your savings. No biggie. When you turn 50, there are catch-up contributions. This lets you make additional contributions to 401(k) accounts and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).
For 2020 and 2021, you make an additional contribution of $1,000 to an IRA, on top of the standard $6,000 contribution limit. If you have a 401(k), then the catch-up contribution limit is $6,500 plus the standard $19,500 contribution limit.