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In your 40s, you’re hitting your peak earning years and should be well on your way to achieving long-term savings goals. But life can get in the way. Talk to financial planners and they’ll tell you that the typical 40-year-old is keenly aware of the need to save, but too few have taken the necessary steps to adequately prepare for retirement.
Many 40-somethings still don’t have a well-defined retirement strategy. Others save, but not enough. This stage of life often comes with big expenses, such as paying for your child’s college education, which makes it difficult to grow a considerable nest egg.
“People save what they can, do their best and figure they’ll count their chips later,” says Bill Baldwin, former managing director of Argent Wealth Management in Waltham, Massachusetts. “But they need to calculate what they need at retirement and how much they’ll be able to draw from savings to support their lifestyle.”
It may be time to shift your saving habits into overdrive, but many 40-somethings are puttering along in first gear. Here are some wealth goals to meet during this important phase of your life.
1. Get rid of debt and max out your retirement savings
Credit-card balances can hit new highs in your 40s, creating a big impediment to saving for retirement. If you’re serious about saving, explore options such as a low-rate balance transfer credit card.
(Use Bankrate’s debt pay-down calculator to figure the fastest way to get rid of debt.)
On the other hand, if you’ve saved at least 10 percent of your paycheck over the past 15 to 20 years, congratulations. You may only need to tweak your habits to hit your savings goals. But if you’ve otherwise neglected retirement, you’re going to have to push hard to make it to the finish line.
For example, a 40-year-old who wants $1 million by the time she’s 67 must save $10,000 a year for the next 27 years and earn 9 percent a year to reach that goal. Impossible? Maybe not. But it means reducing your spending and making tough choices.
Top of the list: funding your 401(k) up to the maximum limit. For someone under age 50, that’s $23,000 in 2024. Those 50 and older can stock away a further $7,500 annually. Even a 1 percentage point increase in your contribution can seriously improve your nest egg and have only a small effect on your paycheck.
2. Save independently with IRAs
If you don’t have access to an employer-sponsored retirement plan – and even if you do – consider either a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. If you don’t have one, you may be missing opportunities to maximize your savings through tax advantages that come with IRAs.
For example, with a Roth IRA, you won’t pay taxes on future account earnings. But note that there are income limits for determining whether you’re eligible to save in a Roth IRA.
You’ll be able to tuck away up to $7,000 here in 2024, and those 50 and older will be able to save another $1,000 each year.
3. Maintain the right investment mix and reduce risk
Asset allocation and diversification remain as important as ever. At 40, you’re still a long way from retirement, so don’t rush to play it too safe, says Ellen Rinaldi, former corporate director for Vanguard.
With more than two decades until a typical retirement, it still makes sense to have your portfolio heavily weighted toward stocks. While stocks are one of the most volatile asset classes, they also have among the best total returns over time. So while you might shift some of your portfolio to more conservative assets such as bonds, you’ll still want a sizable allocation going toward stocks.
Rinaldi recommends scaling back stocks to 80 percent of your portfolio and putting the balance in conservative holdings like bonds.
Although the shift to bonds will reduce your portfolio’s total return, it will also tend to reduce its overall risk. So your portfolio will be less subject to the sometimes-wild swing of stocks.
4. Keep all your assets in view
Maintain a broad view of all of your holdings as you reallocate assets. It’s not enough to focus on just the 401(k). Take all of your investments into account.
Make sure you haven’t forgotten anything, such as a 401(k) or other benefits you may have earned at previous jobs. If it’s an old 401(k), roll that into an IRA, which you can invest any way you want, or move it into your current employer’s 401(k) plan, if there are good investment options available.
“It happens all the time — people leave money in a 401(k) and forget about it. They take more time on their vacation than they do on retirement planning,” says Michael Scarborough, owner and CEO of Oak Wealth Partners in the Washington, D.C. area.
Here are the key options for your 401(k), if you leave your company.
5. Make tough decisions about education expenses
Ideally, 40-somethings with children have been saving for their kids’ higher education since they were in diapers. If so, they can avoid diverting huge sums of cash from their retirement savings.
Those who have neglected to save for college and whose retirement savings are not where they should be may not have enough money to fund both. As a parent, you want to take care of your kids, but retirement advisors agree: Saving for your retirement should be your top priority.
“The last time I checked, there were no scholarships out there for retirement,” says Dee Lee, author of “Women & Money.”
Many parents sacrifice saving for retirement to help their kids, even those who have already graduated from college.
“When forced to make a choice, people support their own children first. They’ll put themselves last,” says Merl Baker, a partner at NMG Consulting, a financial consulting firm. “They’re reconciled to working longer than they planned or expected to. Or they accept a lower quality of life. It’s pretty powerful.”
If you’re determined to help your child and money will be tight, look for compromises that may have less impact on your nest egg, such as sending your child to a local, in-state school instead of an expensive private or out-of-state college.
6. Buy adequate insurance
The cost of health care seems to go only higher year after year, and we’re living longer and longer. Those are two reasons that long-term care insurance is the preferred choice for many consumers.
About 70 percent of American retirees will need some kind of long-term care, according to the Department of Health & Human Services. And it can be quite pricey. For three years of assisted living and two years of nursing home care, New York Life estimates a cost of $365,000 and up in a 2023 survey. While you can gamble that you won’t need long-term care insurance, it can make a huge dent in your retirement if you do need it.
Long-term care coverage of $165,000 can cost several thousand dollars a year for those at age 55, and can rise from there, depending on whether you want that benefit to increase over time, according to the American Association for Long-Term Care Insurance.
That’s not cheap, but it’s much cheaper to begin a policy early rather than later. If you wait until you’re near retirement, you may not be able to obtain affordable coverage or coverage that meets your needs.
7. Work with a retirement advisor
If all this planning seems like overload, a great option could be turning to a retirement advisor. Experienced retirement advisors have seen it all before, and will work to meet your financial goals. They’ll be able to set up financial plans that balance your needs and income, and they’ll help you establish your priorities – retirement saving vs. college saving, for example.
In short, they’ll be able to help you get your financial house in order while you still have enough time to achieve your goals.
It’s important to note that you’ll want an advisor who is paid only out of pocket, for example, on an hourly basis. Such fee-only advisors are more likely to avoid potential conflicts of interest than advisors who are paid by big financial companies. You want a trusted advisor doing what’s best for you. Here are the other key things you need to find in a retirement advisor.
If you’re looking for someone to manage only your investment plan, then a great option is a robo-advisor. A robo-advisor can set up an investment plan based on your time horizon and risk tolerance, and the price is typically lower than a human financial advisor, too. Here’s how a robo-advisor stacks up against a human advisor.
8. Consider working longer
While working longer is the exact opposite of retirement, this route is what it might take to make retirement comfortable. Working longer has a couple advantages, however, and may allow you to have a substantially better retirement.
First, working longer allows you to continue bringing in income. This extra money can be saved and invested, helping to secure your future finances. But unlike that full-time job that you probably had for most of your working life, you may not be under the same obligation to work as many hours.
So some people may choose to continue working, but do so at a reduced level. Or you may match your working hours more closely to your expenses. Meanwhile, your assets can continue to accumulate and give you a longer retirement runway.
Second, working longer also allows your portfolio more time to grow. And that could be an especially huge benefit if the market is down substantially when you originally wanted to retire. Not only will you be able to invest more money in a down market, but you’ll give your current investments more time to recover.
Even if the market is doing well during the time when you wanted to retire, an extra year or two of working could allow you to substantially increase your portfolio and better set yourself up for retirement.
— This story was originally written by Leslie Haggin Geary.