Everyone knows it pays to start saving early for retirement. But for some older adults, that didn't happen. Food, clothing, mortgages, vacations, college educations and other costs conspired to keep them from socking funds away for retirement.
Now they're 10 to 15 years away from the golden years, with very little to show in the way of gold for all those working years.
If you're among this group, you're not alone. A recent AARP study of 5,000 older American workers shows many may never recover financially from the Great Recession. Almost one in four (24.7 percent) surveyed exhausted all their savings during the recession, and more than one third who had difficulty making ends meet (34.6 percent) stopped or cut back on saving for retirement.
Almost 6 in 10 (58.1 percent) of respondents reported being somewhat or very uncomfortable with the amount they'd saved for retirement. Overall, more than half (52.8 percent) of those surveyed were not too, or not at all, confident they and their spouse could live comfortably through their retirement years.
One big difference between today's pre-retiree boomers and their parents is that while both invested heavily in homes, the parents wound up better off than their kids. "The decline in house values may have hit boomers particularly hard," says Sara Rix, senior strategic policy advisor for the Washington, D.C.-based AARP Public Policy Institute. "Boomers' parents were much more likely to go into retirement with paid-off homes. That was one less expense they had."
Never too late
For the retirement savings procrastinators, the good news is it's never too late to start building a stash of retirement cash. Begin by seriously examining your debts and paying down that load. "It will be even harder to pay off those credit card balances when you're on a fixed income," says Sally Hurme, senior project manager in AARP's Department of Education and Outreach.
While paying down debt, also start putting regular amounts aside for retirement, Hurme says. "This could be through a payroll deduction that comes out of your weekly pay, so you don't even miss it," she says, adding you may want to put some of that money into an account at a credit union, where you'll often find higher interest rates and innovative programs to encourage saving.
If you're not already doing so, contribute to your 401(k), to "absolutely take advantage of what your employer may be providing," toward your savings, Hurme says. "That's free money. Don't let that opportunity slip by to increase by one, two, or three percent how much money you're putting away."
Don't panic, don't delay
Another perspective on catching up is provided by Richard Hohol, enrolled agent and certified financial planner (CFP) with Bloomingdale-based Chartered Consultants, and a participant in the annual Harper College Professional Advisors seminar series in Palatine. The key for savings procrastinators, Hohol says, is "don't panic, don't ignore, and don't wait any longer."
If you're spending more than you're saving, resulting in negative cash flow, Hohol urges getting a second job to ensure cash flow turns positive. If you already have positive cash flow, "it's a matter of mapping out a course to get yourself to retirement," he says. "What you need to factor in is how much you'll need to live comfortably, and when you want to start retirement income."
If the course you choose appears not to be sufficiently funded, you likely will need to invest more aggressively prior to retiring. "You have to invest more in growth, as opposed to income," Hohol says, adding his firm recommends 35 to 40 percent of equity investments be placed in international stocks and funds, and that exposure to small and mid-cap companies be increased vis-à-vis large caps.
Hohol also champions the idea of gaining insurance on retirement income, usually accomplished by means of an income guarantee though a life insurance policy. How much a guaranteed income instrument accounts for is an individual decision, and can range from 10 to more than 50 percent of income.
For many, the best, most satisfying response to savings procrastination is to work longer, Rix says. The percentage of those 65 to 69 in the labor force climbed from 18.4 percent in 1985 to 31.5 percent in 2010. For women 65 to 69, percentages doubled, growing to 27 percent last year from 13.5 in 1985.
Working longer can help delay social security checks until age 70, when they are about 80 percent fatter than they would be if started at age 62, Rix says.
"Even a year of extra work makes a difference," she says, because it's one more year of income and one less year of cash outflows.
"People ought to look into the advantages of working longer. It doesn't have to be 10 years. It can be one, two or three years."
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