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Ten Tips for Late Starters To Boost Their Retirement Savings

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In Your 40s or 50s With Little or No Retirement Savings?

If you're one of millions of Americans who are on the other side of 40 and don't yet have a substantial retirement nest egg, don't despair. It's not too late, but time is of the essence.

  1. Estimate roughly how much money you'll need to live on in retirement. Don't get bogged down by conflicting advice on how to calculate the amount. A ballpark figure is a good starting place, and you can use one of a number of good online retirement calculators to get an estimate.

  2. Once you have an idea of how much you'll need for retirement, calculate what will be available from sources other than your savings. For example, what is your expected Social Security benefit at retirement age? Do you or your spouse have a pension from a previous or current employer? If you have a 401(k) plan, what is its expected value at your planned retirement age? Use a conservative rate of growth to avoid overestimating.

  3. Set goals for reaching the amount you'll need to make up the difference between Social Security, pensions, and any other retirement funds you already have.

  4. If your employer has a 401(k) or 403(b) or other voluntary contribution retirement plan, and you're not already participating, sign up today and try to contribute the maximum allowed by law. Remember that the tax savings on your deductions will soften the blow. If you're in a combined federal and state income tax bracket of 35%, your contributions will only cost you 65 cents for every dollar you put into your account.

    The maximum contribution for 2006 is $15,000 for those under 50 years old and $20,000 for those over 50. If you're currently 45, you have 21 years until retirement. Your $15,000 a year contribution will grow to nearly three quarters of a million dollars (pre-tax) in 21 years at a seven percent rate of return. (This is a very rough estimation that depends on if you contribute the "catch-up" amounts each year and other unknown factors.)

    If your employer matches a percentage of your contribution, that's free money you should never pass up. Add your employer match to your own retirement contributions and you'll have a tidy additional sum of approximately $364,000, assuming a 50% employer match, for a total of well over one million dollars.

  5. Go for the Roth. If you make under the income thresholds, you can contribute to a Roth IRA in addition to your 401(k) or 403(b) plan. The contribution is not tax deductible, but the earnings will be tax-free in retirement. The maximum contribution for a Roth IRA in 2006 if you're under 50 years old is $4,000 ($5,000 if you're over 50). $4,000 a year will grow to nearly $208,000 in 21 years at a 7% rate of return, and you will owe no taxes on any earnings in your Roth IRA.

  6. Don't Be Too Conservative. Even at 45 or 50 years old, you have several decades for your retirement earnings to grow, so invest a large percentage in carefully researched, proven stocks, or better yet, mutual funds.

  7. Consider relocating or downsizing. If you live in an area with a high cost of living, moving to a less expensive area and investing your savings for retirement could make a big difference in your ability to amass a nice nest egg.

    If your kids have left the nest and you're still living in a big house that has appreciated in value, consider selling it and buying a smaller, less expensive home. You'll save not only on your mortgage payment, but in less obvious places like the cost of heating, cooling, insuring, and repairing your home, property taxes, etc. You can sock all the savings away for retirement or use some of them to enjoy your life now.

  8. If you're worried about ever being able to amass enough money to retire, consider taking on a second job and investing your earnings.

  9. Play catchup. The tax laws now allow those over 50 to contribute a little extra to 401(k)-type retirement plans and IRAs, so they can do a little catching up as they near retirement age. Take advantage of this if you're over 50.

  10. Get out of debt. If you carry thousands of dollars of credit card balances and pay the minimum payments each month, your potential retirement savings is going directly to your credit card company in the form of interest. Paying only the minimum payment on credit cards is one of the worst financial mistakes you can make. Start applying as much as possible to your credit card balances and once they're paid off, resolve to pay the balance in full each month. You'll be amazed at how much money it frees up for retirement savings over time.

The older you are when you start seriously saving for retirement, the harder you'll have to work at it, but it can be done by following the advice above, so don't let doubt or discouragement keep you from starting right away, regardless of your age.

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