6 can’t-miss retirement tips

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Today is our last opportunity to set retirement planning goals for 2013 and have a whole year to meet them. So here goes. Put these six at the top of the list:

Update the beneficiaries on all your retirement accounts. Heaven forbid that you get hit by a beer truck and your ex-spouse gets everything.

Up your 401(k) savings rate by 1 percent or more. You’ll never miss it, and you’ll thank yourself when retirement comes.

Do the Roth individual retirement account math. It’s too late to make the conversion in 2012, but if you focus on 2013 now, you’ll have time to save the money to pay the upfront taxes you’ll owe. It may seem like a whopping amount, but after that the money is all yours. Uncle Sam is totally out of the picture.

Figure out where you stand with Social Security. You must have worked under Social Security for 40 quarters — 10 years — to qualify for payments. But when it comes time to claim, Social Security figures your payment based on 35 years of work. For every year you don’t work, it factors in a zero. The fewer zeros you have, the better. If you haven’t paid in for quite enough time, get a little part-time job in 2013. Every quarter counts toward a bigger check.

Figure out where you stand with Social Security, part two. If you are married, divorced or widowed, you may be able to up your Social Security by claiming on your current or former spouse’s account. AARP has a basic — but free — calculator that will help you figure this out. The time to check it out is soon — before you make an irrevocable decision that ignores this possibility.

Erase your debt in 2013. Retiring with credit card debt makes life much more costly. Pay it off now while you’re still working. When that’s done, focus on getting rid of the house payment.

Happy New Year.
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