5 Tips for Investing in Your 50s

Learn more about taking advantage of catch-up contributions to your retirement and Roth accounts once you turn 50 and diversifying your portfolio.
Dayana Yochim
By Dayana Yochim 
Updated
Edited by Robert Beaupre

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Once you reach the big 5-0, blowing out birthday candles can feel less like a celebration and more like fanning the flames on a pyre of financial obligations. This is the decade when the costs of health concerns, kids, aging parents, cars and homes converge, and questions about retirement begin looming large.

Retirement saving benchmarks can put your portfolio’s value in perspective. For example, according to T. Rowe Price, by age 50, an individual should have six times their salary saved. That’s $420,000 for someone earning $70,000 a year.

But an even better check-in for midlife investors is to run a few different saving and investing scenarios through a good retirement calculator. The exercise will provide more accurate results than when you were younger and projected retirement expenses were fuzzier.

Did the math and found you’re short of your goals? There’s still time to make headway. Here’s how.

Am I on track financially?

Our investment strategy road map can guide your investing journey.

1. Make up for lost time

The older, wiser and hopefully wealthier you can overcome past savings shortcomings via catch-up contributions to tax-favored retirement accounts.

The 401(k) contribution adds a catch-up contribution starting at age 50: The account's contribution limit is $23,000 in 2024 ($30,500 for those age 50 or older). Savers can also contribute extra annually to an IRA: The current limits are $7,000 in 2024 ($8,000 if age 50 or older).

This portfolio padding can significantly improve your retirement prospects. Saving $8,000 instead of $7,000 in an IRA from age 50 to 65 and earning a 6% average annual return can add nearly $24,000 to your savings by retirement. Max out your 401(k) at work with an extra $7,500 a year, and you'll end up with about $177,000 more by retirement than you would have if you hadn't made the catch-up contributions.

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2. Stay with stocks

Investors of all ages experience blood-pressure spikes when the market gyrates, as it has done a few times lately. But now’s not the time to ratchet back your exposure to stocks. You’ve got years — decades, even, if you’re in good health and have a family history of longevity — to ride out the stock market’s ups and downs.

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3. Drill down on diversification

Your money should be further diversified across asset classes within the stocks and bonds portions of your portfolio. For equities, that means having exposure to large, small and mid-size companies, established and emerging international markets, and real estate. With bonds, it’s allocating money in short-, mid- and long-term U.S. and international bonds.

For DIY investors, diversification can be done with individual stocks, index mutual funds or exchange-traded funds. The major brokerages have fund screeners to help sort through the options based on fund type, performance, expense ratio and other factors.

» Learn more: Bond ETFs

4. Consider taking an asset allocation shortcut

Purchasing a target-date mutual fund or using a robo-advisor makes the job of creating and managing an appropriately balanced portfolio a cinch.

Target-date funds automatically adjust the investment mix of stocks and bonds based on what’s appropriate for someone who plans to retire within a specified year. Robo-advisors, or computerized investment managers, create and manage a portfolio based on your goals and risk tolerance.

With both options, watch out for fees, which can hurt portfolio returns. A typical management fee at a robo-advisor starts at 0.25% of your assets per year. According to the Investment Company Institute, hybrid fund expenses average 0.74% annually, although the best have expense ratios below one-half of a percent.

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5. Use a Roth

The diversification exercise continues when it comes to the tax rules around your investments. Younger investors sometimes favor Roth IRAs (which offer tax-free withdrawals) over traditional IRAs (where withdrawals are taxed, but contributions may be tax-deductible). That makes sense because they’re likely in a lower tax bracket now than in retirement. However, the Roth is still a valuable retirement investment tool for midlife savers.

Investing in a Roth IRA provides older savers with the flexibility to withdraw from pools of money with different tax treatments down the road. The Roth is also gentler, taxwise, when it comes to passing money to heirs.

Don’t qualify to contribute to a Roth IRA? If your employer offers a Roth 401(k) option, there are no income limits on eligibility. Consider splitting your contributions between Roth and traditional accounts to retain a portion of the current-year tax break.

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