For many Americans, saving enough funds so they can enjoy the freedom and flexibility that retirement can offer is a top priority. And while the prospect of retiring remains top of mind, all is not necessarily well.
In fact, of Americans age 45 to 65 actively saving for retirement, almost half (49 percent) are worried they may be already too far behind to reach their financial goals, according to the Chasing Retirement Study from Allianz Life Insurance Company of North America.
The study found that these people -- identified in the study as "chasers" -- express feelings that they have either fallen behind on where they should be, wish they could accumulate savings faster or worry that if they don't increase savings soon it will be too late to have a comfortable retirement.
Coupled with concerns about Social Security running out, competing expenses and the rising cost of living, it's no wonder that such a large percentage of Americans identify as chasers and feel behind. But that doesn't have to be the case.
Here are four tips to help chasers close the retirement savings gap.
Build a budget. More than half of chasers (54 percent) say they have too many other expenses right now and one in five say they are saving for other financial goals. Building a budget may seem basic, but writing down all of your expenses can offer an honest look at where you're spending and where you're saving. It can also help you determine where you can cut back on some of your expenditures.
You may find that you will be more successful at balancing and maintaining a budget if you do write it down. For many people, having a written plan or budget makes it seem more real and provides a better opportunity for success. It doesn't hurt to try.
Working with a financial professional can be helpful when building your budget so they can help you determine exactly how much you are able to save each month, and what to do with it. Planning with a professional usually means you're serious about taking charge of your future.
Boost retirement account contributions. If you're looking for additional savings opportunities, one way to help you make up lost ground is to boost the contributions to any retirement accounts you have, including 401(k)s and individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Among chasers, only 53 percent have an IRA, and even fewer own individual stocks (35 percent), mutual funds (35 percent), have a pension (37 percent) or own an annuity (14 percent).
Though chasers tend to have fewer financial products, there are ways to make up ground if you do have these accounts and feel they are being underutilized.
If your employer offers a 401(k), max out your contributions -- particularly if they have a match program, which can double the amount you're contributing to your account each month. If you don't contribute enough to get the company match you may be leaving "free" future retirement money on the table. Forcing yourself to save before you receive the funds in your checking account may be an easier way to save than trying to transfer funds to an investment account.
A Roth IRA can also help you grow your money and potentially get tax free retirement money in the future. But be sure to pay attention to income and contribution limitations.
Additionally, if you're over 50, the IRS allows you to make catch-up contributions to retirement accounts that are higher than the standard limits everyone else has to abide by -- to the tune of $6,000 for your 401(k) and an extra $1,000 to your IRA.
Look for protection opportunities. In an ideal world, chasers could invest their money in stocks or funds that would skyrocket in only a short amount of time, leaving them financially secure ready for retirement. But investing unfortunately doesn't always work that way, and taking on riskier investment opportunities generally isn't a good idea for people who are closer to retirement.
Building in a layer of additional income protection is important, and a product like an annuity can provide that potential for growth along with opportunities for protection built in against stock market risk while providing an income stream in retirement. A professional financial advisor could assist you by evaluating your risk tolerance and offering suggestions that may help provide a more prudent strategy than trying to hit a home run with a "hot" investment.
The good news is that chasers are gravitating toward protection being a component of their growth plans. More than eight in 10 chasers (84 percent) say they are interested in a solution that offers growth potential with some protection from loss, and 71 percent are willing to trade off some upside growth potential to have some protection from losses.
Defer retirement. More than 60 percent of chasers believe they will need to keep working instead of retiring. But the good news here is that this can be short-term, and offer a number of benefits. Working for an additional few years can have a huge positive impact on your retirement savings both in terms of being able to save for a few more years, plus giving your investments more time to build their returns.
Additionally, the longer you wait to begin retirement, you delay your Social Security payments, which ends up boosting those benefits by a certain percentage until you hit 70.
While it might not be the most popular choice, deferring retirement -- even for a short amount of time -- can make a big difference in your savings and help boost your retirement income in the long term. Alternatively, you can explore working a part-time job. This would still help you bring in income, while delaying taking Social Security payments, or tapping into your savings and other retirement accounts.
If you're feeling discouraged or behind on your retirement savings, remember it's never too late to catch up and the hard part is you need to start. Working with a financial professional, you can determine an appropriate mix of the above tactics that may work for your unique situation.
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