How to Kick-Start Your Retirement Savings
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Do you have a retirement savings account? If the answer is no, you’re among millions of Americans who don’t. A new NerdWallet study found that 60% of Americans don’t have a retirement-specific savings account, such as an IRA or 401(k).
That number is even higher among non-white consumers: 71% of Black non-Hispanic Americans and 72% of Hispanic Americans say they don’t have such accounts. That is compared with 54% of white non-Hispanic Americans who don’t have an IRA or 401(k).
The newly passed Secure 2.0 Act even noted this disparity among Black and Latinx Americans and included a provision for auto-enrollment in employer-sponsored retirement accounts starting in 2024 to give all Americans more opportunities to save for retirement.
But you don’t have to wait for Secure 2.0 to kick in to start saving for retirement. Start by getting a sense of what you want and what opportunities are around you.
1. Know your retirement needs
When planning for retirement, think about your goals. How much money will you need based on the lifestyle you’d like to have? When and where do you want to retire? Thinking about these questions and using a retirement calculator can help you determine how much money to save and where.
Although the popular advice is to start saving for retirement early, life is rarely linear. Some people might have started working later, taken a step back to go to school or start a new career, or only recently felt financially stable enough to set aside money for retirement.
Whatever your circumstances are, it isn’t too late. Focus on what you can contribute to your retirement accounts. Anything you can add now has the potential to grow over time.
2. Consider the pros and cons of a retirement account
Investing in a retirement-specific savings account offers several advantages, such as a potential 401(k) match from your employer and tax breaks, but a major advantage is growing your money. The longer you stay invested, the bigger your nest egg has the potential to be.
That said, retirement accounts do have drawbacks. A crucial one is that you typically can’t withdraw funds before age 59 ½ without incurring penalties or taxes, though a provision in Secure 2.0 will allow for penalty-free — but not tax-free — emergency withdrawals starting Jan. 1, 2024.
And, because retirement accounts are investment accounts, losses are possible. When you get ready to select your investments, think about how much risk you’re comfortable with.
3. Evaluate your retirement account options
If your employer offers a 401(k) plan, this can be one of the easiest ways to start. You opt into the plan and decide how much you want taken out of your paycheck, pre-tax, and put into your 401(k). Most employers also have an employer match, where they will match a certain percentage of your contributions, usually 3%-6%.
Contributing to meet the full amount of your employer match will get you the most free money, but if you can't, start with what you feel comfortable with setting aside. The maximum you can put in your 401(k) is $22,500 in 2023 ($30,000 if you’re 50-plus), but you don’t have to hit the max. Do what feels feasible for you.
If you don’t have a retirement account at work, an individual retirement account, or IRA, is another option.
Opening an IRA could also be a solution for people who are self-employed or want an additional way to save for retirement. IRAs can be opened at a bank, online stock broker or through a robo-advisor. Some brokers and robo-advisors have low or no account fees and no minimum balance.
There are different types of IRAs, but the most popular are the traditional IRA and Roth IRA. With a traditional IRA, you don’t pay taxes on your contributions, giving you an upfront tax break. You pay taxes later, when you withdraw from the account in retirement. With a Roth IRA, you pay taxes on the money before you put it in the account, and withdrawals in the future come out tax-free.
Just like 401(k)s, IRAs have an annual contribution limit. IRAs have a combined limit, so in 2023, the contribution limit is $6,500 across all IRA accounts; people over 50 can contribute $7,500.
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4. Decide how you’ll invest
Once you’ve opened your retirement account, choosing how to invest the money in your account is key. It’s a good rule of thumb to hold a mix of stocks, bonds and cash, but the allocation of these assets depends on your risk tolerance and your retirement goals.
Your 401(k) plan administrator may select your investments for you, or it may let you pick your own, but there might be a limited selection.
With an IRA, you generally have more choices of what kinds of things you can invest in. You can choose your own investments with an online broker, but if you don’t want to pick stocks, a robo-advisor can put together a portfolio for you based on your answers to questions about your investing goals.