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retirement strategies

Whether you’re in your 20s and just embarking on your career path or you’re a seasoned professional ready to step into the golden years, it helps to know the top retirement planning strategies. In this article, we’ll walk you through important money moves, some of which you may not have even considered. Read through these tips closely, and if you want some hands-on advice from an expert, check out our free financial advisor matching tool to connect with up to three financial advisors in your area who are best suited to your needs.

Contribute the Maximum to a 401(k)

If you have an employer-sponsored retirement plan, you should take advantage of it and contribute as much as you can but certainly up to the company match, if there is one. For 2019, you can invest up to $19,000 ($19,500 in 2020) in a 401(k) plan. And if you’re 50 or other, you get to make a additional “catch-up” contributions worth $6,000 ($6,500 in 2020).

And unlike simple brokerage accounts, your retirement funds grow tax-free. Plus, you fund these accounts directly from your from your paycheck before the IRS takes a slice. So contributing toward a 401(k) effectively reduces your taxable income.

And several companies that offer 401(k)s provide a Roth 401(k) option as well. While contributing to these plans won’t reduce your taxable income, you can start taking withdrawals tax-free once you reach age 59.5, as long as your account had been open for at least five years.

You can use our 401(k) calculator to project your returns and understand how to meet your personal savings goals.

Open an IRA or Roth IRA

Don’t fret if your company doesn’t offer a 401(k). You can open an individual retirement account (IRA) through a bank or a brokerage firm. These offer many of the same benefits as 401(k) plans, including tax-deductible contributions and tax-free growth.

However, you’d have several more investment options. You can build your own portfolio with stocks, bonds mutual funds and more.

But if you’re concerned about taking a major tax hit when you begin taking money out of the plan in retirement, you can open a Roth IRA. These allow you to take tax-free withdrawals in retirement.

Be Mindful of Risk Tolerance and Asset Allocation

No matter what types of funds you’re investing in through your retirement plan, it’s important to make sure it reflects your risk tolerance.

This should be the basis of your asset allocation. You can use our asset-allocation calculator to get a glimpse of what your portfolio may look like based on different risk levels.

Open a Health Savings Account (HSA)

When you retire, healthcare expenses will likely take a major chunk out of your hard-earned retirement income. In fact, a recent study by Fidelity estimated that a 65-year-old couple can expect to spend an average of $260,000 on healthcare expenses. So you’re going to want to prepare for that.

One way you can start gearing up to knock out healthcare costs down the road is by opening a health savings account (HSA). You can think of these as 401(k)s for your healthcare expenses. Your contributions are tax-deductible. And your earnings grow tax free. And best of all, you can also make tax free withdrawals as long as you spend the money on qualified healthcare expenses.

Beware of Retirement Fund Fees

Depending on what type of fund or funds you’re investing in through your retirement plan, you may face hefty fees. Every mutual fund, for example, has an expense ratio. This is basically the cost of managing the investment, so it reduces your returns. However, there are several low-fee options out there.

If you have a 401(k), your employer will mail you disclosure documents that detail all of the fees involved with your plan. Take a look at these to figure out which are the lowest cost funds in your plan. In addition, you can visit websites like Morningstar that publish detailed data about funds, including their fees.

“You also want to make sure that you are using low-cost and extremely diversified investment options within your portfolio,” said Michael Mezheritskiy, president at Milestone Asset Management Group. “Internal expenses of funds, some ETFs, sales loads, commissions — all of that eats away at your bottom line. Therefore, you should always work with the fee-only advisor who always has your best interest at heart.”

Get an Annuity

retirement strategies

One of the biggest fears striking Americans today is the idea of outliving their money in retirement. What happens if you’re no longer working and your investments aren’t doing too hot? You can buy a fixed annuity.

These are actually insurance products that provide lifetime income. You can use your retirement funds to buy one. The company issuing it will then provide you with monthly payments. There are several types of annuities out there, but some allow you to start receiving benefits right away, or you can defer them until a set date.

Take Advantage of the Saver’s Credit

If your adjusted gross income (AGI) in 2019 is less than $32,000 ($64,000 for married couples), you can qualify for a tax credit based on the contributions you make toward an IRA or 401(k). You qualify in 2020 if your AGI is less than $32,500 ($65,000 for married couples). Because it’s a tax credit, not merely a deduction, it can cut your tax bill down to zero.

So it helps to start contributing more toward your retirement plan. Those eligible for the Saver’s Credit can pocket in up to $1,000 ($2,000 for married couples).

Don’t Exit Stocks Too Soon

While they generally involve more risk than investing in other securities, stocks can also generate large returns. Some financial advisors recommend that you invest heavily in equities or stocks when you’re young. But that doesn’t mean you should entirely avoid stocks once you’re nearing retirement.

Delay Social Security Benefits

Social Security benefits alone may not be enough to support you in retirement, but there are several steps you can take to maximize your checks. For instance, you may want to work longer or delay taking benefits as soon as you retire. For most people set to retire, the full retirement age (FRA) is 66. But if you delay taking Social Security benefits until age 70, you can increase your Social Security payments by 8% each year.

It’s also important to plan accordingly with your spouse if you’re married. If your incomes are vastly different, it may be a good idea to delay starting to collect benefits for the higher earner. Be sure to use a Social Security calculator.

Hedge Against Inflation

Historically, inflation has clocked in at about 3%. So if you purchase something with $100, it could cost you $181 in 20 years. As such, your investments may not be able to cover what they can today once you retire. That’s why it’s crucial to come up with a savings strategy and contribute as much as you can toward low-fee investments.

Develop a Retirement Plan Withdrawal Strategy

retirement strategies

Some financial advisors recommend that you draw down 4% of your retirement account each year in retirement. This may be too little or too much, depending on your financial situation. So it’s important to start planning as soon as possible. Remember, you’d need at least as much as you’re making now just to cover your lifestyle as it is now.

“The best advice that we gave to our clients is to start to plan early and often,” said Mezheritskiy. “That means that at least five years before your retirement date, you should have a plan in place where we run through different scenarios using a Monte Carlo simulation to see whether or not your time frame of retiring in five years is feasible.”

With your financial advisor, you want your planning strategy to be comprehensive and consider whether you’re ready to retire and how much money you’ll be able to take out each year in retirement should you decide to stop working.

“We can take a look at your Social Security claiming strategies, pension options, changes to your asset allocation within your portfolio,” Mezheritskiy added. “All of this needs to start to be looked at at least five years out in our opinion.”

The Takeaway

The top retirement planning strategies can really pay off when you step into your golden years. It’s crucial to save as much as you can in tax-advantaged retirement plans. If your company doesn’t offer a 401(k), you can open an IRA or Roth IRA at a brokerage firm. In addition, you should strategize maximizing Social Security benefits and investing in other accounts such as HSAs or annuities.

Tips on Retirement Planning

  • It’s important to start saving for retirement as soon as possible. But there are also several steps you can take if you’re a late starter planning for retirement.
  • Retirement planning can be a major challenge, but you don’t have to go in it alone. Speak with a financial advisor who can help you come up with a unique plan based on your circumstances. Use our SmartAsset advisor matching tool.

Photo credit: ©, ©, ©

Javier Simon, CEPF® Javier Simon is a banking, investing and retirement expert for SmartAsset. The personal finance writer's work has been featured in Investopedia, PLANADVISER and iGrad. Javier is a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing. He has a degree in journalism from SUNY Plattsburgh. Javier is passionate about helping others beyond their personal finances. He has volunteered and raised funds for charities including Fight Cancer Together, Children's Miracle Network Hospitals and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
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