Some employers offer financial and retirement advice to their workers, but you may not have been so lucky. And considering that 30% of workers outside of local and state government and the private sector don't have access to retirement benefits from their employers, it's no wonder people have anxieties about their futures.
But don't worry! There are plenty of moves you can make now to ensure your retirement—whether decades or just years away—won't be a stressful financial experience for you. Here's a 10-step program for retirement bliss.
1. Focus on Your Game Plan
Without a strategy for financial retirement, no amount of advice will get you where you need to be. So your first step is to take stock of your current financial situation, including your savings, debts, and investments. Then decide on your retirement goals. Do you want to keep your current income and spending lifestyle, or could you get by with a little less? At what age do you want to retire? Those born after 1960 will generally retire at 67, but some people can retire earlier while others need to work longer.
2. Take Advantage of Benefits Offered by Your Employer
Your employer may offer one or several retirement benefits, like 401(k)s, pension plans, health savings accounts (HSAs), or other benefits. If so, you should enroll—especially if your employer offers matching funds. Start contributing the maximum amount you can afford—for example, try to shoot for at least 25% of your income if you're in your 40s—and you should have a nice nest egg to use when you retire.
3. Consider Other Retirement Accounts
If your employer doesn't offer retirement benefits, you can still enroll in special accounts that help you save for your future. For example, using an individual retirement account (IRA) can ensure financial stability after retirement. IRAs come in two types: traditional or Roth, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. If these aren't an option, you may consider traditional savings or investment accounts, which also let you grow your retirement wealth over the long term.
4. Avoid Taking Benefits Early
In most cases, you shouldn't withdraw from or take a loan from retirement accounts until you retire or you may have to pay additional penalties. Learn the rules about spending retirement money, and unless you're in a serious bind, leave the money where it belongs: safely in its account.
5. Start Investing
In addition to 401(k)s or employer-based retirement accounts, you can start putting some money into personal investments. If you're an investment first-timer, you might want to check out investment apps like Acorns, Betterment, or Digit. These services let you make small, automatic deposits into accounts that, once you've got a larger balance, could blossom into full-fledged nest eggs. You may even qualify for a special credit card that puts a percentage of purchases into a retirement account.
6. Tackle Your Spending Habits
If you're one of the 60% of Americans who spend as much as or more than they earn, you should consider improving your money habits now. Living above your means could spell problems for your finances during retirement by leaving you with costly debt, bad credit, and fewer financial options. Take the time to assess your spending, create a budget, and build smart spending habits to set yourself up for a frugal yet fulfilling future.
7. Manage Your Debt
Alongside improved spending efforts, you should make sure your debt levels are sufficiently managed before you retire. Large debts, especially the costly, easy-to-misuse kinds with high interest rates (e.g., credit cards), should be paid off as quickly as possible. Other debts, like student loans, auto loans, and mortgages, are less worrisome, but if you can pay them off too, even better. Heading into retirement debt-free will free up time, money, and your mind for an easier life.
8. Improve Your Credit Score
Managing and paying off debt improves your credit score, and having good credit should be one of your retirement goals. If you plan to make large purchases—homes, cars, boats, whatever your lifestyle—after you stop working, you may need to apply for loans or mortgages. Having a pristine credit score will save you money and minimize payments in your later decades. The first step to improve your credit is to find out where you stand now, and then work to inch the score upward.
9. Get the Right Insurance Coverage
At age 65, you can apply for Medicare, the federal health coverage program available to most American retirees. But Medicare doesn't come totally free, and you have lots of choices when deciding on health coverage in retirement. Make sure you have the right insurance for your needs so you don't get stuck with costly medical bills. The same goes for auto, home, and other insurance. As you age, your insurance options change, so make sure you've examined your options and made the right choices.
10. Adjust Your Plan as Needed
Because you can't plan for everything, be ready to adjust your financial retirement goals if necessary. Changing or losing your job, getting married or divorced, or experiencing costly emergency expenses can all be reasons to reassess your retirement plans.
Even if your employer hasn't given you any financial retirement advice, now's the time to start preparing for your future. You can set yourself up for a comfortable retirement by taking these steps right away—no matter which stage of life you're in.