Don’t we all dream of a comfortable life in retirement-- a life free from worry with a well-earned, restful, stress-free environment and plenty of money to take care of our every need?
Sounds ideal, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, that isn’t the reality for everyone, and the reason for that, sadly, is a lack of strategic preparation for Retirement Day.
Close to half of Americans claim they have no money put aside for retirement at all, while 19 percent will retire with less than $10,000 to their name. If these trends hold, that means 64 percent of all Americans will essentially retire broke.
That leaves about 20 percent who will retire with anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000, and only a small percentage of Americans remaining will have their retirement savings in excellent shape.
If you’re under 40 and you want to be included in that small percentage, your most valuable asset is time. Retirement is decades away, and contributions to a 401(k) or another retirement plan will have years to compound and grow. Even a modest contribution now will mean a lot more than a larger contribution when you're in your forties and fifties.
If you started putting away $200 a month in a retirement account from age 22, within ten years you’d have savings of more than $37,000, assuming your investments grow 7 percent a year. In 20 years, you’d have more than $100,000, and by the time you reach age 67, your nest egg would be worth around $1 million.
Most financial planners will recommend investing 15 percent of your salary toward retirement. That may seem like an unrealistic goal for young people with other financial commitments. For example: If you're earning $30,000 a year, that's $375 a month. But with tax breaks associated with employer-sponsored retirement plans, plus a possible employer match, you can reduce your actual out-of-pocket contribution.
Even a smaller contribution will give you a serious head-start on saving, so you'll have a bigger stash that can grow for decades and add up to a healthy sum.
Enroll in the 401(k)
Most major companies that offer 401(k) plans match a percentage of your contributions. Typically, these matches range from 25% to 100% of your contribution, up to 6% of your salary.
Fund a Roth IRA
Many small employers don't have the money or manpower to offer a 401(k) plan at all, let alone one with a company match. That means you have to create and manage your own retirement plan.
Pay off student loans
Federal student loans have fixed and relatively low rates. Pay them off along with other debt you’ve accumulated.
Resist cashing out
When you leave a job, you have several options for your 401(k) plan. You can leave it with your former employer, roll it into an IRA, roll it into your new employer’s plan (if your employer permits such rollovers), or ask your former employer to cut you a check.
You may be tempted to choose the last option, but in most cases, that's a bad idea. Your employer will withhold 20% of the amount withdrawn to cover income taxes. And because you're under 55, you'll also have to pay a 10% early-withdrawal penalty on the entire amount. Plus, you're jettisoning any growth you've earned, which sends you back to square one when you start saving again.
With a little financial 'smarts' and some sound strategies, you could retire with quite a large sum of money in your pockets.
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