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Your Guide to Retirement Planning

Many of our clients want to know about retirement planning. They want to get a head start, and they want to know they’ll be comfortable in their golden years.

If you’re in the same boat, here we’ll talk about how to navigate retirement planning by life stages.

Do you have enough in your 401k to retire when you want?

First, let’s start by defining the term “retirement planning.”

What is Retirement Planning?

Retirement financial planning is the process of determining how much money you will need to live your desired lifestyle when you retire and then devising a long-term plan to make sure you accumulate this sum before your planned retirement date.

Using this calculator, you can see if you’re tracking alongside your peers.

As you begin the process of retirement planning, you should ask yourself a few important questions, such as:

  • At what age do I want to retire?
  • What kind of lifestyle do I want to live in retirement?
  • How much money will living this lifestyle require?
  • What kinds of retirement savings accounts can best help me accumulate this much money?
  • How much money should I contribute to these accounts each month?
  • How should I allocate my investments within these accounts?

You can use online financial tools to get you on track. For example, the free and secure Personal Capital Retirement Planner is an interactive tool that can help you with all aspects of retirement financial planning. Millions of people use the tool to see what they can do to improve their chances of retirement success.

You should also think about how you will pay for medical and long-term care expenses in retirement. Some people think that Medicare will cover most or even all of their healthcare expenses in retirement. But this usually isn’t the case. There are usually monthly premiums associated with Medicare, and Medicare typically covers very little if any long-term care expenses.

When Should I Start Retirement Planning?

The simple answer is: As soon as you can! In fact, it’s never too early to start retirement financial planning. For example, some people start putting money away for retirement as soon as they get their very first job.

The first step in retirement planning is to set goals. This requires answering questions like when you want to retire, what kind of retirement lifestyle you desire, how much money this will take and how much you’ll need to contribute to retirement savings accounts each month to accumulate this sum.

Once you’ve set these key goals, the next step is to choose the best retirement savings accounts for you. An employer-sponsored 401k plan is the best choice for many people, assuming their employer offers one. These make it easy to save for retirement through automatic payroll withdrawals each pay period. Also, many employers offer to match employee contributions — for example, an employer might contribute 50 cents for each dollar employees contribute. This represents a guaranteed, risk-free return on investment.

Another option is an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), especially if you don’t have access to a 401k at work. In 2021, you and your spouse can each contribute up to $6,000 to a traditional or Roth IRA or $7,000 if you’re 50 years of age or over. You may qualify for a tax deduction with a traditional IRA, which could lower your current taxes. With a Roth IRA, you can make qualified withdrawals tax-free once you reach retirement.

So how much should you contribute to a retirement savings account? Many experts recommend contributing at least 10% to 15% of your pretax income each month to an IRA, 401k or other type of account. If this isn’t realistic for you right now, that’s OK. Start off by contributing as much as you can and set goals for increasing your monthly contributions over time as your income hopefully rises.

Financial Retirement Planning by Life Stage

One way to approach retirement financial planning is to view it from the perspective of planning by life stage. In other words, what retirement planning steps should you be taking at each of the key stages of your life?

Read More: What Is the Average Retirement Income and How Do You Compare?

Here are a few guidelines to help you with life stage retirement financial planning.

Young adulthood (approximate age: 21-35)

While young adults who are just starting their careers may not have a whole lot of money to devote to retirement savings, they do have something else working in their favor: time. By starting to save for retirement at an early age, young adults can potentially benefit from the power of compounding.

Read More: How to Talk to Your College Grad About Money

With compounding returns, you earn money not only on the amount of your initial investment, but also on the money that your investment earns. This is why saving money for retirement during this life stage is so important — time that was lost during young adulthood can never be recaptured. On the other hand, not getting started on retirement saving during young adulthood lessens the benefits derived from compounding.

Those in young adulthood usually have decades to go until they retire, which typically allows them to assume a little more risk with their retirement investments. For example, a young adult might choose an asset allocation that’s heavily weighted toward riskier stocks, such as 80% stocks, 10% bonds and 10% cash equivalents.

Early middle age (approximate age: 36-50)

For many people during this life stage, their income is growing as their career advances but so are their financial responsibilities. For example, they may have started a family and assumed financial obligations like a home mortgage, life insurance, multiple car payments and all of the expenses involved in raising children and paying for their education.

That’s why a common retirement planning challenge at this life stage is balancing the goals of meeting these growing financial responsibilities while also maintaining consistency in retirement savings. Meeting this challenge requires setting financial priorities — or more specifically, making sure that saving for retirement remains a top priority.

One of the best ways to do this is to automatically contribute a percentage of your pre-tax income to your retirement savings account each pay period. This way, you’re not tempted to spend the money on other things that might seem like priorities but really aren’t.

Later middle age (approximate age: 51-65)

The good news is that these are often the peak earning years for many individuals and couples, giving them an opportunity to make a final strong push toward the retirement finish line by maxing out contributions to retirement savings plans. Expenses may also be lower as children may have moved out of the home and finished college, freeing up even more money for retirement savings.

So-called “catch-up” retirement plan contributions allow later middle age individuals and couples to save even more money in their retirement accounts. Individuals 50 years of age or over can contribute an extra $1,000 per year to an IRA or an extra $6,500 to a 401k, 403(b) or 457 plan.

With retirement growing closer, those in later middle age should be keeping a close eye on their asset allocation. There will be less time to make up potential losses in their retirement savings account. It might be smart to begin gradually shifting the asset allocation so there’s less short-term exposure to more volatile investments like stocks and more exposure to investments with less volatility, like bonds and cash equivalents.

Technology for Retirement Planning

Online tools can help you devise a retirement plan for living a financially comfortable retirement. With the Personal Capital Retirement Planner, you can:

  • Run different scenarios in a side-by-side comparison
  • Review the impact of large expenses on your retirement
  • Add sources of income to your overall plan
  • See how your retirement plan would have fared in historic crashes
  • Get a spending plan for retirement

Ready to get on track to the retirement you want?

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The content contained in this blog post is intended for general informational purposes only and is not meant to constitute legal, tax, accounting or investment advice. You should consult a qualified legal or tax professional regarding your specific situation. Keep in mind that investing involves risk. The value of your investment will fluctuate over time and you may gain or lose money.

Any reference to the advisory services refers to Personal Capital Advisors Corporation, a subsidiary of Personal Capital. Personal Capital Advisors Corporation is an investment adviser registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Registration does not imply a certain level of skill or training nor does it imply endorsement by the SEC.

Oksana Doncila, CFP®, is a financial advisor at Personal Capital.
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