Focus on Retirement: How to Start Boosting Your Retirement Coffers Today

Wealth Wednesday: Five easy ways to get your retirement savings plan on track…and keep it there.

Posted: 04/22/2013 11:00 AM EDT

It’s no secret that the average African-American is woefully under-prepared for retirement. According to the recent report Black and Latino Retirement (In)Security conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, Black and Latino seniors are more likely to be in the lowest income group among retirees and tend to rely more heavily on Social Security.

Planning for retirement is a core aspect of wealth-building and making sure you have a healthy nest egg in place is imperative.

The disturbing news doesn’t end there: According to the university, elder poverty rates are twice as high among Blacks and Latinos compared to the U.S. elder population as a whole, with 19.4 percent of Black seniors (age 65 and older) and 19.0 percent of Latino seniors having incomes below the federal poverty line, compared to 9.4 percent for the senior population as a whole.

One of the main reasons to utilize — and contribute as much as possible to — your employer’s plan is because the “pretax” contributions made to the plan will lower your taxable income for the current tax year. Earn $50,000 this year and contribute $5,000 to your 401(k), for example, and come April 15, 2014, you’ll be paying income taxes on $45,000 instead of $50,000. You can contribute any amount you want to your workplace savings plan, up to certain IRS and plan limits. You can find your plan type at the top of this chart; then read down for your 2013 contribution limits.

The good news is that it’s never too late to build retirement wealth with good savings and investment tactics. Here are five things you can do right now to boost your own retirement coffers:

1. Calculate How Much You’ll Really Need 

One reason that retirement confidence has remained low despite a brightening economic outlook, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, may be that some workers may be waking up to a realization of just how much they may need to save.

Asked how much they believe they will need to set aside to achieve a financially secure retirement, many workers cite large savings targets: 20 percent say they need to save between 20 and 29 percent of their income and nearly one-quarter (23 percent) indicate they have to save 30 percent or more. “Aggressive as those savings targets appear to be, they may not be based on a careful analysis of their individual circumstances,” says the EBRI. Use an online calculator like BankRate.com’s How Much to Retire to get a solid retirement savings target, then plan around that target.

2. Follow Your Own Money Trail

You know that you should be putting money away for retirement, but where is that extra cash going to come from? Review your current expenses and income and find areas where you may be able to either cut back or earn more, thus freeing up some additional cash that can be allocated for retirement. Look at where your income is going, stop spending on unnecessary items, and curb monthly expenses (do you really need every cable movie channel, for example?) in an effort to free up even more money for your golden years.

3. Sign Up for Your Employer’s Retirement Plan

Automatic payroll deductions are one of the easiest ways to save for retirement on a regular and predictable basis. The fact that many employers match some or all of your individual contributions makes the proposition even more attractive. If you haven’t already signed up for the retirement programs that you’re eligible for, go visit the human resource office today and sign on the dotted line.

Before that visit, you can brush up on the various types of plans and the pros and cons of each at the U.S. Department of Labor’s Retirement Plans, Benefits & Savings page. You’ll get the lowdown on defined contribution plans, Simplified Employee Pension plans (SEPs), Profit Sharing plans, 401(k) plans and other options.

4. Begin Retirement Planning With Your First Job

If your employer doesn’t offer an automatic withdrawal plan for retirement, divert some of your paycheck into an IRA.

In BankRate.com’s 10 Financial Tips for Young People, for example, the author points out that someone who invests $200 a month beginning at age 25, and who earns 7 percent annually on that money, will have roughly $525,000 by the time he or she turns 65. Wait until you're 35 to begin saving, assuming the same monthly investment and rate of return, and you'll have amassed less than half that amount — about $244,000. “Rather than target a specific monthly dollar amount, sock away 7 percent of your earnings in the beginning, and increase it each year a little bit until you're diverting 15 percent a year,” she suggests.

 5. Create a Lifelong Commitment to Retirement Planning

It’s one thing to put a long-term retirement plan in place, but you have to also be realistic with yourself. Certain situations (like a job loss or divorce) can derail even the best-laid retirement plans. Rather than allowing these issues to throw you off track, take them in stride and pick up where you left off once the clouds have cleared. By maintaining a lifelong commitment to socking money away for retirement you’ll be much better prepared for life’s ups and downs, and for your eventual retirement day!

 

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(Photo: JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty Images)

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