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Two-thirds of Americans don't save enough

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The self-employed can fund their retirements in other vehicles, such as a self-employed 401(k) or Simplified Employee Pension, or SEP, IRA account. When in doubt about a tax strategy, be sure to consult with your tax professional.

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Bankrate's poll reveals some good news: Two-thirds of Americans have at least started saving for retirement. Nearly one-third (33 percent) of Americans say they started saving for this goal in their 20s. Two in 10 waited until their 30s to begin saving. One-quarter of Americans have yet to start saving for retirement, though.

Here's the great part about starting to save for retirement when you are just starting out in the work force: It makes it that much easier to reach your financial goals for retirement. Investing in your 20s for a targeted retirement date in your 60s gives your investments 40 years to grow. Even if you invest $4,000 annually for five years only, from ages 25 to 29, and invest that money in a conservative fund gaining a 5 percent average annual return, you'll wind up with $141,000 at age 67. But if you wait until age 47 to start setting money aside for retirement, you'll have to invest $4,000 per year for 21 years to accumulate that amount, assuming the same return.

You can afford to be aggressive
Young savers in general are too conservative in how they invest their retirement accounts. Moving into investments with higher expected annual returns helps boost the expected size of the retirement nest egg.

When did you start saving?

Bumping the return to 8 percent from 5 percent in the above example boosts the projected portfolio value to $437,000 at age 67 -- and that's from only five years' worth of $4,000 annual investments in your 20s, remember. If you wait until your late 30s to start saving, you will have to invest $4,000 each year from age 38 until age 67 to have as much in your retirement portfolio.

Time is your pal
How does one bump up the return? You have to take higher risks by, for example, investing in stock funds instead of bond funds or money market funds. Yes, stocks are more volatile, which means your accounts don't go up in value all the time; sometimes they contract. But when you're young, you can ride out such market bumps a lot more easily than when you're older.

Young workers find there are competing demands on their incomes -- which makes it hard to focus on retirement as a savings goal. They may need to pay down college loans, save for a down payment on a house, buy a car, build an emergency fund and furnish a home. All are important short-term financial goals for people just starting out in the work force.

But freebies such as a company match and the ability to contribute to tax-advantaged retirement accounts with pretax dollars both make it easier to fund retirement contributions when there are competing financial goals.

What not to do
Whatever you do, don't cash out your retirement accounts when you change jobs. Because of the mobile nature of the American work force, it's not likely that your first job will also be your last job. It's tempting to cash out the monies you were able to set aside early on, pay the 10 percent penalty plus the income taxes due on the early distribution and just blow the money.

 
 
Next: "Don't leave everything on automatic pilot ... "
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