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Saving strategies for the over-50 crowd

With retirement suddenly looming, people who reach their 50s without much of a nest egg may feel financially challenged to the point where they may give up even trying to save.

Recent federal legislation encourages the 50-and-older set to catch up by expanding their retirement contribution limits. In spite of the obvious advantages of maximizing contributions, only about one in seven Americans over age 50 with the opportunity to make a catch-up contribution actually did so in 2005, the Vanguard Center for Retirement Research found.

Yet catch-up contributions to tax-deferred retirement savings -- supplemented by some practical lifestyle adjustments -- still give the 50-plus crowd a good chance to set aside enough to rest easy and live comfortably in retirement.

"I have clients in their 70s and 80s who were dead broke at 50," says Jan Dahlin Geiger, a Certified Financial Planner in Atlanta, "but who got in gear and became millionaires. So it is possible."

Security in the Social system?
Anyone who is still counting on Social Security checks as a sole means of support is sadly mistaken, says CPA Jack N. Rosenberg, a partner at Koch Reiss & Co., an accounting and consulting firm in Aventura, Fla.

"Social Security really cannot cover the cost of living," he says. "It's important to have some realistic form of retirement planning in place. Many of the boomers will not be able to afford the lifestyles they're living today on earnings from their savings. But even if you are over 50, there's still a window period to start socking away dollars."

How much is enough? Some financial pundits say the magic number is a cool $1 million -- minimum. If you're 50 and don't have anything saved, "those numbers can get kind of scary," says Barbara O'Neill, a specialist in financial resource management at Rutgers University who wrote the National Endowment for Financial Education's "Late Savers Guidebook."

"Flip that around and say that anything is better than doing nothing," she says. "Employers are cutting back big time on employee benefits, so people are really going to be on their own. There are 76 million baby boomers, and the government can't afford us all. If you want a decent lifestyle, you need to create it."

Catch-up contributions
For late savers, ensuring financial independence is easier than it used to be, due to recent revisions in pension law that allow older Americans to amass retirement savings more quickly than their younger co-workers. Legislation first enacted in 2001 and made permanent in the Pension Protection Act of 2006 allows workers over 50 to increase contributions to IRAs and tax-deferred retirement plans. These include 401(k) plans for the private sector, 403(b) plans for employees of schools, colleges and nonprofits, and Section 457 deferred compensation plans for state and local government workers.


Next: "To Roth or not to Roth"

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