Take Time to Review Your Retirement Game Plan
One month into the new year, it's time to check in on your promises to yourself to start saving more for retirement. Fully 70 percent of Americans are concerned about not having enough money for a comfortable retirement, a recent Fidelity Investments study found. Here are strategies to boost your retirement savings in 2007.
Save before you spend. "Pay yourself first, and find ways to invest automatically," says Heather Dzielak of Lincoln Financial Group. "Get in the discipline of setting aside money for your retirement." Many companies will let you automatically deposit part of your paycheck into savings or investment accounts.
Contribute to an IRA. Most Americans are counting on individual retirement accounts to help fund their retirement. But as of 2004, only 29 percent of families owned an IRA or Keogh, with a median value of $30,000, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). The deadline for making a 2006 contribution to a tax-advantaged IRA is April 17, the date your federal tax return is due.
Max out your 401(k). Be sure to contribute enough to get your employer's full match. "The way to really do well," says Ed Slott, author of Your Complete Retirement Planning Road Map, "is to keep putting more money in as much as you can. I try to fund all the retirement accounts I can to the max." You should also account for all 401(k) plans you've had at previous employers and consolidate them in your current employer's plan or transfer them into a rollover IRA, says Dallas Salisbury, EBRI president. Rolling a 401(k) over into an IRA allows you to avoid most fees and penalties.
Set a retirement savings goal. Only 4 in 10 workers have actually calculated how much they need to save for retirement, according to EBRI. And many of those created their own estimate or guessed. It's a good idea to sit down with a financial adviser or use an online calculator or retirement worksheet.
Examine your investment portfolio. You should review your retirement accounts annually to make sure you are getting a good return on your investments. "Over the long term, diversified stocks and bonds should return you 7 percent," says Jonathan Pond, the author of You Can Do It! The Boomer's Guide to a Great Retirement. "The average investor makes about 4 percent." Pond recommends constructing a diversified portfolio and regularly monitoring it.
Review your Social Security statement. You'll get a statement in the mail every year. Check it for accuracy, and contact the Social Security Administration with any corrections.
Plan for the financial transition. You'll need a plan to convert retirement savings into a stream of income. "It's the way you take it out that will determine how much you and your family keep and how much goes to the government," says Slott. "If you take it out the wrong way, it all goes back to the government." A financial adviser can help you determine the most tax-advantaged way to withdraw money from retirement accounts. You'll also want to double-check the beneficiary forms on all your retirement accounts. Says Slott: "Most people think that somebody else took care of this. ... The beneficiary form is the key document that's going to determine who gets all this money you've saved."
This story appears in the February 12, 2007 print edition of U.S. News & World Report.