Saving for retirement requires investing a substantial amount of money. Sadly, many Americans don't think they'll be able to do that. In fact, according to a recent study on retirement readiness conducted by Allianz Life Insurance, 32% of near-retirees believe they're so far behind on retirement savings goals, they'll never catch up.
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If you're one of those workers nearing retirement and fearful you won't have what you need for a comfortable future, don't give up hope. Instead, if you take these four steps, you may find you'll be better off financially than you expect.
1. Take advantage of tax breaks for savings
One of the best ways to make sure you hit your retirement goals is to get help from the government. You can do that by taking advantage of tax breaks available to you.
If you have a workplace 401(k) plan, that's one of the easiest accounts to invest in while saving on income taxes. You can have contributions taken directly out of your paycheck and made with pre-tax funds.
You may also have the option to invest in a traditional IRA or a Health Savings Account (HSA), regardless of your access to a 401(k). Traditional IRAs allow deductible contributions as long as your income isn't too high, while you can invest in an HSA with pre-tax funds and make tax-free withdrawals for medical care -- provided you're eligible because you have a qualifying high deductible health plan.
Taking full advantage of tax breaks makes it much easier to hit your retirement goals because your contributions don't reduce your taxable income by as much. Say you need to invest $10,000 to hit your savings target. If you put the money into a 401(k) with pre-tax funds, you'd reduce your taxable income by $10,000. If you were in the 22% tax bracket, that would save you as much as $2,200, so you'd only reduce your take-home pay by $7,800.
If your employer offers a 401(k) match, hitting your savings targets becomes even easier as your company will match at least part of your contributions. If you get a 100% match on up to 4% of your salary, for example, every dollar you put into your account would be matched by your employer until you hit the limit.
2. Rework your budget to invest more
If you're afraid you won't hit your retirement savings goals, that could be because you aren't prioritizing investing and aren't contributing as much money as you should to your accounts. To rectify this problem, take a careful look at your budget and identify spending cuts so you can devote more cash to saving for your future.
To be clear, this won't necessarily work for everyone. If you have a very tight budget and your income simply doesn't allow you to save and cover the basics, hitting your retirement goals will be much harder. In fact, you may need to work on improving your earning power or consider taking on a side hustle and devoting extra earnings to investing -- neither of which are easy when you're nearing retirement.
But for many people, you should be able to hit your goals if you're serious about doing so. It may mean giving up dining out or even downsizing to a less expensive used car. But if you make retirement savings a priority bill you pay after covering necessities, you'll be well on your way to saving what you need.
3. Plan to work longer
When you're already nearing retirement and are afraid you won't hit your savings target, it may be difficult or impossible to cut your budget enough to build the retirement nest egg you need. But there's no requirement that you actually retire soon. If you're physically able and can find a job, working longer could make all the difference in terms of having the money you require in your later years.
Staying on the job for a longer period can help in myriad ways, from allowing you to save more, to ensuring you rely on savings for less time, to potentially opening the door to larger Social Security checks if you delay the start of your benefits. And you don't necessarily have to stick with your current job, either. The Center for Retirement Research found that even non-traditional jobs without standard workplace benefits can substantially improve retirement readiness.
4. Look into relocating as a retiree
There's wide disparity in cost of living and in tax rules from one state to the next. If you're worried you're too far behind to hit your savings target, you may be able to lower your goal if you opt for a cheaper place to live as a retiree.
Don't give up on meeting your retirement goals
While it's undoubtedly frustrating to get close to retirement age and feel you're far behind, you still have time to make changes to shore up your financial situation. Just make sure you get serious about saving and make your plans ASAP for when you'll leave the workforce and where you'll go. If you do this, hopefully, you'll find you have plenty of time to get back on a path toward the retirement security you deserve.