I’m a 20-something just starting my career
If you take away only one thing from this guide, this is it - don’t wait to begin saving for the future. After all, you have one important thing that many investors wish they had more of – time. But the only way to take advantage of the gift of time is to get started … preferably as soon as possible.
Here are a few ideas that have worked well for others just starting their work life.
Be careful with debt
While it can be challenging at times to make student loan payments, making sure you don’t miss a payment is a smart decision. In addition to reducing your overall payback amount, making payments on time ensures you won’t incur any late fees or penalties … which make it even harder to pay back the money.
Be extra cautious with credit card debt. While it can be tempting to start making purchases with credit, make sure you understand all the terms and conditions … paying special attention to interest rates which can be 20 percent or higher after the introductory rate expires.
Explore employer-sponsored retirement accounts
One way to start building a strong financial future is to contribute to a company retirement plan like a 403(b) or 401(k) … assuming, of course, your employer offers one. If they do, try to contribute as much as you can. And if they offer an employer match, try to contribute enough to get the full amount. For example, if the match is 6 percent, make sure you set aside at least 6 percent. After all, a match is like free money.
Another good step is to see if your employer offers access to financial advisors. These professionals can provide an in-depth look at your overall financial picture and develop a plan to help meet your current and future needs. If your employer doesn’t offer this service, be sure to explore educational resources that delve into topics on planning for retirement.
Invest for growth
Your 20s may be an ideal time to leverage the power of compounding by investing as soon as possible.
I’m in my 30s and have some new priorities and responsibilities
As you move from your 20s into your 30s, you may also be taking on new roles like homeownership and parenthood. Understanding that you now carry greater financial responsibilities, it’s important to take steps to both build and protect your investments.
Create a balanced approach
Now is a good time to reassess your risk tolerance and investment allocation. For many 30-somethings, this is the time of life when their investments include a mix of aggressive options like stocks and more conservative ones like bonds. Life insurance is another key consideration at this time of life because of the growing need to protect loved ones (typically a spouse and children) from potentially devastating financial losses that could result if something happened to you.
Establish an emergency fund
Although it’s always a good idea to have an emergency fund, your growing responsibilities make it even more important than when you were a 20-something. After all, unexpected expenses – like a car problem, home repair or broken appliance - can arise at any time. And there’s always the possibility for job loss or health issues. Having a plan to cover bills during these challenging times can be helpful.
Establish an education fund for children
In the same way that starting to save as soon as possible is a good idea for your retirement, it’s also a good idea for your kids’ college. Getting started early helps ensure the money you’re setting aside for your children’s education is taking advantage of time. Many savers choose a 529 plan because of the tax advantages.
Maximize retirement contributions
Although you have less time to save than when you were in your 20s, the message is still the same - aim to increase how much you contribute to retirement accounts up to the maximum amount allowed.
I’m in my 40s about halfway through my career
In your 20s, you had more than 40 years to weather the markets’ ups and downs. The 30s still provided a nice cushion to withstand some bumpy financial roads. But now you’re midway through your career and know that markets can be finicky. Your 40s are a key stage to begin taking steps to protect against the impact of significant losses that could deter or delay your chances for a secure retirement.
Refine your plan for retirement
The way you save for retirement in your 20s and 30s isn’t the same as saving for retirement in your 40s. With that in mind, take a closer look at your retirement goals and savings. It’s smart to begin to calculate your expected retirement expenses, considering things like healthcare costs, travel plans, where you want to live, and other lifestyle choices. You may be ahead of where you thought you’d be - or possibly behind. Either way, it’s smart to know if what you have saved so far will keep you on track to the future you envision.
Perform a portfolio check-up
If you’ve been saving through your workplace retirement plan, you likely already have a diversified portfolio. But you likely have more responsibilities than ever – children, a mortgage, car payments. So, be sure to understand how much risk you’re willing to take with your investments and focus on building a well-rounded portfolio that can handle the markets inevitable ups and downs. With that in mind, it might be beneficial to focus on steps like maximizing your retirement contributions, re-evaluating your insurance needs, and developing a plan to pay for college. And just like other times of life, working with a financial professional can help make sure your plan is built with your and your family’s best interests in mind.
I’m in my 50s and retirement is 10-15 years away
If you’re like many others in their 50s, you probably think the years have flown by. While that feeling can be tough to take in, there’s good news - Americans are living longer and embracing the idea of a very long life. So, now is an ideal time to take steps to make sure the money you’ve saved for retirement will be there when you reach that point.
Take advantage of catch-up contributions
Although many of the wealth strategies in this article apply to anyone at any age, that’s not the case with catch-up contributions. They’re only for investors who are 50 years or older. If you qualify to make catch-up contributions, you may be able to contribute up to $7,500 more per year to your retirement plan – beyond the regular annual contribution limits. And the catch-up limit is expected to go even higher in 2024.
Look into protection products
Understand which products - like annuities1 and insurance - might help protect the wealth you’ve worked so hard to build. Annuities can deliver reliable cash flow for either a predetermined period of time or for the rest of your life. They can complement your workplace retirement plan, pension, Social Security, or personal retirement savings account.
Insurance comes in many forms and can add another level of security and protection:
- Life: Provides money to your beneficiaries after you are gone.
- Disability: Protects from loss of income due to illness or injury.
- Long-term care: Gives financial flexibility to your later years to cover certain health-related costs and expenses.
Have important conversations with family members
Having clear and open communication with family members about retirement and later life expectations is a vital part of longevity planning. Too often, it is not until an event occurs that we learn about a family member’s financial needs, or caregiving and housing preferences, which can have serious implications on family relationships and profound financial consequences. These conversations are important to have with aging parents, to understand their situation, needs and expectations, and with your partner or spouse, to make sure you are on the same page with your expectations for the future.
I’m retired and wondering if there is anything else I can do
Even if you’ve done an excellent job planning for retirement, there still may be some steps to keep your plan moving in the right direction.
Create an estate plan
For many individuals, a solid estate plan starts with a will. But a truly strong estate foundation goes beyond just figuring out how your assets will pass and naming who would care for your children (assuming they’re not adults). It also provides guidance about who can make medical and financial decisions on your behalf.
Have a plan for healthcare
As part of the retirement income planning process, it’s important to factor in health care-related costs, including Medicare. Medicare is the federal health insurance program for people who are age 65 or older.2
Have a plan for Social Security
Individuals who qualify for Social Security have to answer an important question - When should I begin taking payments? For some, it makes sense to start taking them as soon as they’re offered. For others, delaying Social Security benefits can increase your retirement income over the long term. To get an estimate of your future benefit amount, visit the Social Security Administration website and create a "my Social Security" account. Once set up, you can login to see your estimated Social Security payments at any time (based on the year you claim them).
1 Annuities are long term products designed for retirement. Guarantees are backed by the claims paying ability of the issuing insurance company. Withdrawals may be subject to federal and/or state income taxes. An additional 10% penalty may apply if taken before age 59 1/2. A fixed annuity is a contract between you and an insurance company, that in exchange for your premium, offers a stream of guaranteed income payments. Index annuities are not a direct investment in the stock market. They provide the potential for interest to be credited based in part on the performance of a specified index, without the risk of loss of premium due to market downturns or fluctuations. Variable annuities are sold by prospectus only.
2 Medicare may also be available to younger people with certain disabilities and people with End-Stage Renal Disease (permanent kidney failure requiring dialysis or a transplant).
3 Corebridge survey on retirement and longevity, 2023.