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You’re 40! Is Your Retirement Savings on Track?

40 with no retirement savings? It’s never too late to get started.

Retiring may seem impossible when you find yourself 40, or older, with little or no savings. But this is not unusual. While it’s easy to assume the grass is greener in everyone else’s bank account, truthfully the state of retirement saving in America is in bad shape.

According to a 2013 study by the National Institute on Retirement Security, the average household headed by someone nearing retirement age has a median retirement account balance of $14,500.

Suddenly, starting at 40 doesn’t sound so bad.

Why It’s Never Too Late

Finding a simple number for how much you should save for retirement is tricky. Some advisors say you should plan on replacing 70-80% of your peak pre-retirement income, for every year of retirement. Others say you might need much less. Those who plan to retire without a mortgage or other debt may only need 50-60% of their pre-retirement income, which is much more feasible.

For example, if your peak pre-retirement income is $50,000 a year and you plan to be debt free when you retire at 65, you may only need $25,000 per year. To fund 20 years of retirement, you’ll have to contribute about $669.08 a month. If you wait until age 70 to retire, you only need to save about $412.50.

This estimate also includes your receiving the average amount of Social Security benefits, currently at $14,160 a year.

If you want to be more conservative with your retirement estimate, use the 80% figure to calculate how much you will have to save. Those who want to retire at 70 need to save about $841.56 a month, in our example.

This calculation is based on the current average American life expectancy of 85 years, so only provides retirement income until age 85. If you anticipate living longer or come from a family of centenarians, you can revise those figures using this retirement calculator.

If you want to see a more precise or customized calculation, consider consulting a fee-only financial planner. They can help with more specific numbers that you should reach based on your income, budget and what kind of retirement you hope to have.

How to Catch Up

One of the best retirement savings vehicles is the 401k, which is the employer-sponsored plan that many workers have access to. According to the IRS, the current limit for 401k contributions is $18,000 for those under 50 and $24,000 for those 50 and older.

CFP® Daniel Johnson of Forward Thinking Wealth Management of Akron, Ohio said that employees should contribute enough to get any employer match that’s offered and more. Johnson also says to not only focus on how much you can contribute, but also the fees associated with the funds you’ve chosen for your 401k.

“An investor who enjoys historical market returns and pays a 1 percent management fee could lose nearly 40 percent of his growth lost to this 1 percent fee over a 50-year period of time,” he said  “Make sure you are aware of the fees you may be paying to your advisor and the fees for any investment products you are using.”

Index funds are a popular option for investors looking for a diverse portfolio and are offered at low fee levels – many of which are below .25 percent.

Delay Social Security

One of the best ways to increase your income in retirement without making your own contributions is to delay Social Security. You’re first eligible for monthly Social Security benefits at age 62, but you’ll only receive about 70% of the benefit you earned.

If you wait until 65, the current full retirement age, you’ll receive 100% of your monthly benefits. But those who delay Social Security until age 70 receive an even greater benefit – about 8% percent more each year that they delay.

Scale Back Now

While many seniors try to spend less once they’ve retired, cutting back beforehand can give you an idea of what that lifestyle will look like, and what changes or sacrifices you’ll need to make. For anyone playing catch-up with their retirement savings, this is especially important, as cutting expenses is almost always the easiest way to free up some money.

“I always ask a client that looks like they won’t have enough money what they will do when forced to change their lifestyle,” says CFP® Daniel Leonard of Marathon Retirement Planning in Danville, Calif. “The follow-up question is why not start now while you still have some savings?”

Those worried about their nest egg should look at their budget and see what items they can cut to make room for more retirement saving. This can include selling the new Lexus for a used Toyota, downsizing to a smaller house or taking fewer vacations.

The money saved each month can then be used to fund a 401k or IRA. While you can make these changes later in your retirement, enacting them now will allow more time for that money to compound and grow.

End the Negativity

CFP® Chris Haviaris of Pearl River, New York said one of the main conversations she has with her clients is getting them to be more optimistic about their retirement and avoiding negative self-talk.

“Phrases like ‘too late,’ ‘I can’t,’ ‘what difference will it make’ are defeatist talk,” she says. “Maybe you will never get to a million dollars.  But isn’t $100,000 better than zero?”

It’s a fact: old age is coming whether you’re ready or not.  Any amount of preparation is going to make a difference, even if that difference is just between working full or part time at a grocery store. But it could also be the difference between selling or keeping the house you raised your children in, or whether or not you can afford to go to your nephew’s wedding.

The point is, start saving for retirement now. You may not be able to spend your golden years in the lap of luxury, but your future will quickly start looking a whole lot brighter.

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