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Are you behind on saving for retirement? Even if you don’t know what counts as "behind," you're likely to need to step up your efforts to build your nest egg. A June 2015 Government Accountability Office analysis found that that average Americans between the ages of 55 and 64 have accrued about $104,000 in retirement savings. Sound like a lot? Not when you realize that sum would translate into a $310 monthly payment if your money were invested in a lifetime annuity

Even if you're far from that age bracket, let this serve as a wake up call. You don’t want to stop working without enough money to live on. And what better time than the beginning of a new year to make a resolution that you’re going to do better with your retirement savings this year. First, let’s figure out where you should be at different stages of life and, second, float some suggestions of how to get there.

Twentysomethings

You’re early in your career and your paycheck may be evidence of that fact. You may also have more than $30,000 in student loan debt if you’re the average graduate, according to a 2015 analysis by Edvisors.com, a website that provides data about college costs and financial aid.  Having to make between $100 and $300 in student loan payments, along with an entry-level salary, explains why the average twentysomething has an estimated median amount of $16,000 socked away, according to a survey by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

The reason not to be alarmed: You probably have more than 40 years before you retire. That’s a lot of time to make up the shortfall. The single most important thing to do? Contribute to the 401(k) plan or 403(b) plan your employer offers; make the payment large enough to get the full benefit of the company matching contribution. (For more details, see What Is a Good 401(k) Match?) Don’t turn away free money.

Thirtysomethings

It’s nice to be 30. Either you’ve grown with the same company or you’ve gained enough experience to get out of those entry-level pay grades. But life is more complicated now. You might be married, have a few kids, and maybe a home.

Everything from soccer cleats to that unexpected car repair will easily take a bite out of your paycheck. Who has the money to save for retirement?

The stats seem to show it too. The average thirtysomething has about $45,000 saved. Depending on your annual salary you might be okay. According to Fidelity, the investment management firm, you should have about the equivalent of your annual salary saved as a nest egg. If you’re making $40,000, that’s what you should have in your retirement accounts. 

If not, you may have not taken all the free money offered by your company in its 401(k) match. Start or continue making those 401(k) plan contributions up to the maximum company match; if you can, save more. You may be still paying on your student loans – probably with a higher payment now – so you might have to tighten up your family budget to make room for more saving.

Also, don’t be too conservative with your investing choices. You’re still young enough that any big market downswings shouldn’t affect your ultimate course too drastically: You portfolio has time to recover. Even if you’re doing just fine with your savings, try to save more, because statistically, you’re likely to fall behind in later years.

Fortysomethings

You’re in the prime of your career. You’ve paid your dues and now, hopefully, you have a salary that you can be proud of. With any luck, you’ll come to the end of those student loan payments sometime in this decade freeing up more money.

But the kids are older, the house is bigger, you might have to fork over money for a car or education for one of the kids, and if you’re honest, you might be blowing money in places that you could do without.

Statistically, most Americans are dangerously behind at this point, with an estimated median savings of only $63,000  – a sum that falls well short of conservative benchmarks of a nest egg being three times their annual salaries.

If you’re making $55,000, you should have a balance of $165,000 already banked.

If you get a raise, put all of that money into retirement. If you no longer have student loan payments, commit those sums to retirement savings as well.

If you don’t already have an IRA, start one and commit funds to it up to the max you're allowed annually, especially if your company retirement plan options are less than ideal.

Fiftysomethings

You don’t feel old, and you’re not, but you’re only about 15 years away from the classic age at which you need your retirement money to live on. However, real life goes on. You might be paying kids’ college tuition, helping with car payments, gas, and any number of other expenses. The house is getting older and needs more fixing up, and maybe medical bills are rising. The estimated median savings of the average fiftysomething is about $117,000 – far shy of the desirable four -to-five times your annual salary. If you made $60,000, you should have $240,000 saved – at least.

If the kids are out of the house, it might be time to consider downsizing and collecting the appreciated value of your home. On the other hand, if you have company stock options or other assets, don’t forget to consider those as part of your retirement funds, even if they don’t sit in an account specifically for retirement purposes.

Consider meeting with a financial planner, especially one who specializes in retirement to get things in order and carve out a strategy for your portfolio.

Sixtysomethings

Now is when you begin to reap the rewards of decades of saving. At some point, you’ll be using this money to support your lifestyle. By the time you reach 60, you should have six times your salary saved – that’s $360,000 if you make $60,000 per year. 

Unfortunately, the average sixtysomething has an estimated median of $172,000 in the bank. Not nearly enough. At this point it’s hard to save enough to make up for the shortfall. Instead, look at your assets. What can be monetized at some point to help sustain you?

And don’t forget Social Security. Most seniors find this to be a significant source of monthly income. The 2016 estimated average monthly benefit for a retired worker is of $1,341 per month; yours could be more or less. And also consider these Top Tips for Maximizing Social Security payouts.

The Bottom Line

The amount you'll have for retirement is highly individualized. Nevertheless, there are benchmarks you can try to hit at every decade of your life. It's never too early in your career to put a plan together – but it's never too late to start, either.

 

 

 

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