When should you start saving for retirement? Probably the best answer is “yesterday.” If you have not started putting aside funds yet, the next best answer is “now.”
In other words, it is not too early to begin saving for retirement, nor is it generally too late, although the manner and method of savings will likely vary, depending on your stage of life. Keeping that in mind, following is a brief overview of what your situation may look like at different stages of life.
- The early years: For most people, the starting salary at your first or second job does not provide much room for savings. But it is still important to develop good savings habits. For instance, if you work at a place that provides matching contributions to a 401(k) plan, be sure to take advantage of the company match. Otherwise, you are leaving money on the table that can provide valuable income in retirement. Furthermore, you might be surprised to find out the impact that tax-deferred compounding has over a long period of time.
- The middle years: When you are in the midst of your working career, other obligations—such as buying a home, raising your children and saving for their college educations—often take precedence. Nevertheless, do not take your eye off the ball. To the extent possible, continue utilizing company retirement plans, IRAs and other savings vehicles. Note that a Roth IRA may provide tax-free payouts in retirement for qualified distributions (e.g., those received after age 59½). If you are rewarded with a raise and move to a higher-paying job, try to allocate at least part of the windfall to retirement savings.
- The later years: This time of life may provide a greater opportunity for saving if the house is paid off and the kids are out of school. Also, you may benefit from seniority and career advancement, so your earnings could be higher than ever or near their peak. If you have not been as diligent a retirement-saver as you would have liked (see above), it is still possible to build a sizeable nest egg. The basic principles of using retirement plans and IRAs for tax-deferred growth remain.
Do not think, however, that saving for retirement ends once you have retired. When you reach this point in time, you must make some serious decisions and assess both your expected income and expenses. One major question is when to take Social Security benefits so you are able to maximize the payouts, yet still provide sufficient monthly income. For instance, you might decide to keep working past the age for receiving full Social Security retirement benefits (ranging between 65 and 67, depending on your year of birth), if it makes sense.
Finally, due to longer life expectancies, you may need more retirement income than you initially imagined. There is no time like the present to start meeting your objectives.
The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.