How to get, or keep, your retirement savings plan on track

Allen Wastler

By Allen Wastler
Allen Wastler is a former financial journalist with over 30-years of experience, including time at CNBC, CNN, and Knight-Ridder Newspapers.
Posted on Sep 9, 2020

The journey to financial independence and wellness starts with saving. But for many people, that can be a challenge, especially in trying economic times.

But there are strategies and mechanisms that can help.

If you are not currently saving … start

For people in their younger years, starting a retirement savings program can be the biggest challenge, but also the most important step toward ensuring financial security and well-being in the future, even if that future seems far off.

“You always need to save,” said Jackie Dorsey, a financial professional with Coastal Wealth in Tampa, Florida. “There are plenty of ways to do it – savings accounts, retirement plans, and annuity products. But the point is, to find a way to do it.”

Why can it be a challenge? Often, those just starting out in their career and working life are saddled with a large amount of student loan debt. That presents a question about whether it’s better to direct resources to paying off debt or start building a nest egg for retirement. The answer will be different depending on individual circumstances, but will probably lie somewhere in the middle. (Related: Balancing student loans and savings)

Those starting out also likely face lower paychecks than those whose experience and training have allowed them to command a higher salary. Amid living expenses and day-to-day demands, setting aside money for retirement savings can seem like less of a priority.

Which is a mistake. For one thing, many employers offer incentives for company-sponsored retirement savings programs, typically matching a certain percentage of contributions. Not taking advantage of such programs amounts to essentially turning down a pay raise. Also, starting a savings program, especially in early years, takes better advantage of compounding interest over time.

That math can help those starting a savings program in later years, too. (Related: Saving in your 40s and 50s, it’s never too late to get started)

If you think you can’t afford to save, you may want to look at moves to improve your financial wellness and allow at least some funds to go into a savings program. These steps include:

  • Creating a budget. This is central to getting a handle on your personal finances. It will also likely identify areas where cutbacks may be possible in order to direct some money to savings. (Related: How to set up a budget)
  • Learning to manage debt. This is the area that trips up many people. Credit cards and retail financing plans can lead consumers to rack up more in obligations than is necessary or wise. On the other hand, some types of debt are necessary. Understanding the kind of debt you have and having a plan to tackle it is a positive step. (Related: Making debt elimination goals)
  • Managing student loans. For those starting out, student loans may be a part of the debt load. Beyond setting an overall debt plan, investigate the specific options available to you for student loan debt. Depending on the type of loan and your circumstances, certain repayment programs may be available. (Related: How to handle student loan debt)

If you are currently saving … check

Those already saving may still want to take a couple of steps to make sure they are on course to meet their retirement goals.

First and foremost, make sure you are on track. You can do that using this retirement calculator, which will help you gauge how your savings are stacking up against your likely needs.

If you are falling behind, you may consider ways to save more, especially if you still have a number of years until your likely retirement. Since many people have some portion of their paycheck deposited directly to a retirement savings account, some simply try increasing that percentage. You can try too, even if by just one or two percent, and see if you can’t adjust your daily living expenses accordingly. (Related: Setting savings goals)

Additionally, you may want to do some retirement savings account housekeeping. This can include checking to be sure your beneficiaries are current and taking steps to make sure you are always current on your account status, such as registering for online access and opting in to receive account-related documents electronically. But, perhaps more importantly, it also includes making sure your investment asset allocation is correct for your age and risk tolerance. (Related: Understanding asset allocation)

“Save early and save often is a great mantra but even more important is to make sure your savings are working for you,” said Douglas Collins, a financial professional with Fortis Lux Financial in New York City. “More often than not, I see people with the ability to save outside of retirement accounts just depositing money into a savings account earning less than 1 percent and owe tax on those earnings. After inflation, that money is actually losing purchasing power.“

If you are approaching retirement … double check

Estimates vary as to how much in savings you should have to maintain your current standard of living in retirement. They typically range from six to nine times your annual income and can be affected by a number of factors, like geography and market conditions.

If you find that you are falling short, there are steps you can take. For one, most qualified retirement savings plans allow for stepping up contributions as you approach retirement. You may want to make sure you are taking full advantage of those provisions. (Related: Retirement savings catch up)

Also, you should check on your Social Security status and formulate a claim strategy. Many people file for benefits as soon as they can. But benefits grow the longer you wait to claim them. So for some, it might make more sense to delay filing, depending on the level of their retirement savings, their health, or the possibility of continuing to work for more years. (Related: Social Security filing strategies)

Conclusion

No matter your age, saving is a critical element of financial wellness. So it’s important to understand where you stand in the savings cycle in relation to the retirement you’d like to have. And whether you are early in your working years or nearing retirement, understand the options and steps you can take to try and make sure that your retirement savings meet your needs.

Discover more from MassMutual …

Establishing financial goals: Calculator

Using the financial wellness wheel

6 steps to better personal finance

__________________________

The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual and its subsidiaries, employees, and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of MassMutual.