When it comes to retirement, Americans seem to be a pretty insecure bunch. But then maybe it’s because they don’t know all the things they need to know.
This, of course, is National Retirement Security Week, a week devoted to making employees more aware of how critical it is to save now for their financial future, promoting the benefits of getting started saving for retirement today, and encouraging employees to take full advantage of their employer-sponsored plans by increasing their contributions.
In the spirit of the week, here are six things that people who need to save for retirement (and who doesn’t?) need to know about saving for retirement.
You should save to at least the level of the employer match.
Many employers choose to encourage your decision to save for retirement by providing the financial incentive of an employer matching contribution. That match is often referred to as “free money” because you get it just for saving for retirement. That match is not actually “free” of course – but it is free for you. If it’s 25 cents for every dollar you save, it’s like getting a 25% return on your investment.
You should save to at least the level of the employer match – especially if your plan’s default savings rate is lower.
While most education materials provided with your 401(k) emphasize the benefit of the employer match (generally referencing that you don’t want to leave “free money” on the table), a growing number try to make it easier for you by automatically enrolling you in the plan. That’s the good news.
The bad news? That default savings rate (generally 3%) will almost certainly be less than you need to save to get the full employer match (see above). And it will almost certainly be less than you need to achieve your retirement goals/needs (also see above).
So, if you do take advantage of the convenience of the default, make sure that you remember to make the change to the savings rate at the first opportunity.
You can save more than the match.
A lot of people save only as much as they need to receive the full employer match. That’s certainly a good starting point, but it may not be the right amount for you. There are a number of factors that go into determining the amount and level of the match; how much you need to set aside for your own personal retirement goals is almost certainly not one of those factors. That said, you certainly don’t want to leave any of that match on the table by not contributing to at least that level. But if that’s where you stop saving, you’re probably going to come up short.
Uncle Sam will help.
Beyond the tax advantages to saving for retirement on a pre-tax basis – the ability to watch those savings grow without paying taxes until they are actually withdrawn – there is another savings incentive with which many are not as familiar. It’s the Saver’s Credit, and it’s available to low- to moderate-income workers who are saving for retirement. For those who qualify, in addition to the customary benefits of workplace retirement savings, it could mean a $1,000 break on your taxes – twice that if you are married and file a joint return!
That said, just 24% of American workers with annual household incomes of less than $50,000 are aware of the credit, according to the 15th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey. However, that’s twice as many as found by the 11th Annual Transamerica Retirement Survey. You can find out more about the Saver’s Credit here.
Older workers can save more.
Thanks to a provision in the tax code, individuals who are age 50 or older at the end of the calendar year can make what are called annual “catch-up” contributions. In 2016, up to $6,000 in catch-up contributions may be allowed by 401(k)s, 403(b)s, governmental 457s, and SARSEPs (you can do this with IRAs as well, but the limits are much smaller).
The bottom line: If you haven’t saved enough, these catch-up provisions can help. You can find out more here.
Even if you’re capped in your 401(k), you can still save more.
There’s little question that saving for retirement at work is the way to go – there are tax advantages, the support of the employer matching contributions, and access to investment choices that are screened and reviewed on a regular basis by the plan fiduciaries. However, there are certain legally imposed annual limits on how much you can save in your 401(k). If you hit those limits (and most don’t), there’s nothing that says you have to limit yourself to saving there.
But you’d be foolish not to take full advantage of your workplace savings opportunity first.
- Nevin E. Adams, JD