Savings Fitness: A Guide to Your Money and Your Financial Future
This online version of Savings Fitness: A Guide to Your Money and Your Financial Future includes interactive worksheets. You can call toll free 1-866-444-3272 to order copies of the 44-page, fully illustrated booklet.
Most of us know it is smart to save money for those big-ticket items we really want to buy – a new television or car or home. Yet you may not realize that probably the most expensive thing you will ever buy in your lifetime is your retirement.
Perhaps you’ve never thought of “buying” your retirement. Yet that is exactly what you do when you put money into a retirement nest egg. You are paying today for the cost of your retirement tomorrow.
The cost of those future years is getting more expensive for most Americans, for two reasons. First, we live longer after we retire – with many of us spending 15, 25, even 30 years in retirement – and we are more active.
Second, you may have to shoulder a greater chunk of the cost of your retirement because fewer companies are providing traditional pension plans. Many retirement plans today, such as the popular 401(k), are paid for primarily by the employee, not the employer. You may not have a retirement plan available at work or you may be self-employed. This puts the responsibility of choosing retirement investments squarely on your shoulders.
Unfortunately, just about 53 percent of all workers are earning retirement benefits at work, and many are not familiar with the basics of investing. Many people mistakenly believe that Social Security will pay for all or most of their retirement needs. The fact is, since its inception, Social Security has provided a minimum foundation of protection. A comfortable retirement usually requires Social Security, employer-based retirement plan benefits, personal savings, and investments.
In short, paying for the retirement you truly desire is ultimately your responsibility. You must take charge. You are the architect of your financial future.
That may sound like an impossible task. Many of us live paycheck to paycheck, barely making ends meet. You may have more pressing financial needs and goals than “buying” something so far in the future. Or perhaps you’ve waited until close to retirement before starting to save. Yet you still may be able to afford to buy the kind of retirement you want. Whether you are 18 or 58, you can take steps toward a better, more secure future.
That’s what this booklet is all about. The U.S. Department of Labor and Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. (CFP Board) want you to succeed in setting financial and retirement goals. Savings Fitness: A Guide to Your Money and Your Financial Future starts you on the way to setting goals and putting your retirement high on the list of personal priorities.
The Department of Labor’s interest in retirement planning stems from its desire to improve the security of American workers in retirement. In 1995, the Department launched its Retirement Savings Education Campaign. Saving is now a national priority, with the passage of the Savings Are Vital to Everyone’s Retirement Act of 1997 (SAVER). The Department continues to educate Americans about retirement savings.
CFP Board also has a keen interest in helping Americans meet their personal and financial goals. A nonprofit, certifying and standards-setting organization, CFP Board’s mission is to benefit the public by granting the CFP® certification and upholding it as the recognized standard of excellence for competent and ethical personal financial planning. To this end, CFP Board authorizes individuals who meet its competency, ethics and professional standards to use its trademarks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design), and in the U.S. CFP Board currently oversees more than 72,000 CFP® professionals in the U.S. who advise individuals and families on a broad range of personal finance topics, including retirement, budgeting, taxes, investments, estate planning, and insurance, among many others.
This guide shows you the key tool for making a secure retirement a reality: financial planning. It will help clarify your retirement goals as well as other financial goals you want to “buy” along the way. It will show you how to manage your money so you can afford today’s needs yet still fund tomorrow’s goals. It will help you make saving for retirement and other goals a habit. You’ll learn there is no such thing as starting to save too early or too late – only not starting at all! You’ll learn how to save your money to make it work for you, and how to protect it so it will be there when you need it for retirement. It explains how you can take the best advantage of retirement plans at work, and what to do if you’re on your own.
Yes, retirement is a big purchase. The biggest one you may ever make. Yet you can afford it – with determination, hard work, a sound savings habit, the right knowledge, and a well-designed financial plan.
Getting Fit…Managing Your Financial Life
It starts with a dream, the dream of a secure retirement. Yet like many people you may wonder how you can achieve that dream when so many other financial issues have priority. Besides trying to pay for daily living expenses, you may need to buy a car, pay off debts, save for your children’s education, take a vacation, or buy a home. You may have aging parents to support. You may be going through a major event in your life such as starting a new job, getting married or divorced, raising children, or coping with a death in the family.
How do you manage all these financial challenges and at the same time try to “buy” a secure retirement? How do you turn your dreams into reality?
Start by writing down each of your goals in Worksheet 1 – Goals and Priorities. You may want to have family members come up with ideas. Don’t leave something out at this stage because you don’t think you can afford it. This is your “wish list.”
Organize them into goals you want to accomplish within the next 5 years or less, and goals that will take longer than 5 years. It’s important to separate them because, as you’ll see later, you save for short-term and long-term goals differently.
Next, organize your goals in order of priority.
Make retirement a priority! This needs to be among your goals regardless of your age. Some goals you may be able to borrow for, such as college, but you can’t borrow for retirement.
Write down on Worksheet 1 what you need to do to accomplish each goal: When do you want to accomplish it, what will it cost (we’ll tell you more about that later), what money have you set aside already, and what you are willing to do to reach the goal.
Look again at the order of priority. How hard are you willing to work and save to achieve a particular goal? Would you work extra hours, for example? How realistic is a goal when compared with other goals? Reorganize their priority if necessary. Put those goals that are unrealistic into your wish list.
Beginning Your Savings Fitness Plan
Now let’s look at your current financial resources. This is important because, as you will learn later, your financial resources affect not only your ability to reach your goals, but also your ability to protect those goals from potential financial crises. These are also the resources you will draw on to meet various life events. Worksheet 2 – Financial Documents Checklist can help you get organized.
Calculate your net worth. This isn’t as difficult as it might sound. Your net worth is simply the total value of what you own (assets) minus what you owe (liabilities). It’s a snapshot of your financial health. Use Worksheet 3 – Balance Sheet to Calculate Net Worth to write down your information and do the calculation.
First, add up the approximate value of all your assets. This includes your home (if you own one) and your checking and savings accounts. Include the current value of investments, such as stocks, real estate, certificates of deposit, retirement accounts, IRAs, and any other retirement benefits you have.
Now add up your liabilities: the remaining mortgage on your home, credit card debt, auto loans, student loans, income taxes due, taxes due on the profits of your investments, if you cashed them in, and any other outstanding bills.
Subtract your liabilities from your assets. Do you have more assets than liabilities? Or the other way around?
Your aim is to create a positive net worth, and you want it to grow each year. Your net worth is part of what you will draw on to pay for financial goals and your retirement. A strong net worth also will help you through financial crises.
Review your net worth annually. Recalculate your net worth once a year. It’s a way to monitor your financial health.
Identify other financial resources. You may have other financial resources that aren’t included in your net worth but that can help you through tough times. These include the death benefits of your life insurance policies, Social Security survivor’s benefits, health care coverage, disability insurance, liability insurance, and auto and home insurance. Although you may have to pay for some of these resources, they offer financial protection in case of illness, accidents, or other catastrophes.
Envision Your Retirement
Retirement is a state of mind as well as a financial issue. You are not so much retiring from work as you are moving into another stage of your life. Some people call retirement a “new career.”
What do you want to do in that stage? Travel? Relax? Move to a retirement community or to be near grandchildren? Pursue a favorite hobby? Go fishing or join a country club? Work part time or do volunteer work? Go back to school? What is the outlook for your health? Do you expect your family to take care of you if you are unable to care for yourself? Do you want to enter this stage of your life earlier than normal retirement age or later?
The answers to these questions are crucial when determining how much money you will need for the retirement you desire – and how much you’ll need to save between now and then. Let’s say you plan to retire early, with no plans to work even part time. You’ll need to build a larger nest egg than if you retire later because you’ll have to depend on it far longer.
Planning for Retirement While You Are Still Young
Retirement probably seems vague and far off at this stage of your life. Besides, you have other things to buy right now. Yet there are some crucial reasons to start preparing now for retirement.
You’ll probably have to pay for more of your own retirement than earlier generations. The sooner you get started, the better.
You have one huge ally – time. Let’s say that you put $1,000 at the beginning of each year into an IRA from age 20 through age 30 (11 years) and then never put in another dime. The account earns 7 percent annually. When you retire at age 65 you’ll have $168,515 in the account. A friend doesn’t start until age 30, but saves the same amount annually for 35 years straight. Despite putting in three times as much money, your friend’s account grows to only $147,914.
You can start small and grow. Even setting aside a small portion of your paycheck each month will pay off in big dollars later. Company retirement plans are the easiest way to save. If you’re not already in your employer’s plan, sign up.
You can afford to invest more aggressively. You have years to overcome the inevitable ups and downs of the stock market.
Developing the habit of saving for retirement is easier when you are young.
Estimate How Much You Need to Save for Retirement
Now that you have a clearer picture of your retirement goal, it’s time to estimate how large your retirement nest egg will need to be and how much you need to save each month to buy that goal. This step is critical! The vast majority of people never take this step, yet it is very difficult to save adequately for retirement if you don’t at least have a rough idea of how much you need to save every month.
There are numerous worksheets and software programs that can help you calculate approximately how much you’ll need to save. Professional financial planners and other financial advisors can help as well. We provide Worksheet 4 – Retirement Savings to get you started.
Here are some of the basic questions and assumptions to keep in mind.
How much retirement income will I need?
An easy rule of thumb is that you’ll need to replace about 80 percent of your pre-retirement income. If you’re making $50,000 a year (before taxes), you might need about $40,000 a year in retirement income to enjoy the same standard of living you had before retirement. Think of this as your annual “cost” of retirement.
However, no rule of thumb fits everyone. Expenses typically decline for retirees: taxes are smaller (though not always) and work-related costs usually disappear. But overall expenses may not decline much if you still have a home and other debts to pay off. Large medical bills may keep your retirement costs high. Much will depend on the kind of retirement you want to enjoy. Someone who plans to live a quiet, modest retirement in a low-cost part of the country will need a lot less money than someone who plans to be active, take expensive vacations, and live in an expensive region.
For younger people in the early stages of their working life, estimating income needs that may be 30 to 40 years in the future is obviously difficult. Worksheet 4 can help you come up with a rough estimate. Every year or two, review your retirement plan and adjust your retirement savings estimate as your annual earnings grow and your vision of retirement begins to come into focus.
How long will I live in retirement?
Based on current estimates, a male retiring at age 65 today can expect to live approximately 18 years in retirement. A female retiring today at age 65 can expect to live approximately 20 years.
These are average figures and how long you can expect to live will depend on factors such as your general health and family history. But using today’s average or past history may not give you a complete picture. People are living longer today than they did in the past, and virtually all expert opinion expects the trend toward living longer to continue.
What other sources of income will I have?
You can get your Social Security statement and an estimate of your retirement benefits on the Social Security Administration’s Website, www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount. For more information, visit their Website or call 800-772-1213.
How To Prepare For Retirement When There’s Little Time Left
What if retirement is just around the corner and you haven’t saved enough? Here are some tips. Some are painful, but they’ll help you toward your goal.
Will you have other sources of income?
For instance, will you receive retirement benefits that provide a specific amount of retirement income each month? Is the benefit adjusted for inflation?
What savings do I already have for retirement?
You’ll need to build a nest egg sufficient to make up the gap between the total amount of income you will need each year and the amount provided annually by Social Security and any retirement income. This nest egg will come from your retirement plan accounts at work, IRAs, annuities, and personal savings.
What adjustments must be made for inflation?
The cost of retirement will likely go up every year due to inflation – that is, $40,000 won’t buy as much in year 5 of your retirement as it will the first year because the cost of living usually rises. Although Social Security benefits are adjusted for inflation, any other estimates of how much income you need each year – and how much you’ll need to save to provide that income – must be adjusted for inflation. The annual inflation rate is 3 percent currently, but it varies over time. In 1980, for instance, the annual inflation rate was 13.5 percent; in 1998, it reached a low of 1.6 percent. When planning for your retirement it is always safer to assume a higher, rather than a lower, rate and have your money buy more than you previously thought.
What will my investments return?
Any calculation must take into account what annual rate of return you expect to earn on the savings you’ve already accumulated and on the savings you intend to make in the future. You also need to determine the rate of return on your savings after you retire. These rates of return will depend in part on whether the money is inside or outside a tax-deferred account.
It’s important to choose realistic annual returns when making your estimates. Most financial planners recommend that you stick with the historical rates of return based on the types of investments you choose or even slightly lower.
How many years do I have left until I retire?
The more years you have, the less you’ll have to save each month to reach your goal.
How much should I save each month?
Once you determine the number of years until you retire and the size of the nest egg you need to “buy” in order to provide the income not provided by other sources, you can estimate how much you need to save.
It’s a good idea to revisit this worksheet at least every year or two. Your vision of retirement, your earnings, and your financial circumstances may change. You’ll also want to check periodically to be sure you are achieving your objectives along the way.
“Spend” for Retirement
Now comes the tough part. You have a rough idea of how much you need to save each month to reach your retirement goal. But how do you find that money? Where does it come from?
There’s one simple trick for saving for any goal: spend less than you earn. That’s not easy if you have trouble making ends meet or if you find it difficult to resist spending whatever money you have in hand. Even people who make high incomes often have difficulty saving. But we’ve got some ideas that may help you.
Let’s start with a “spending plan” – a guide for how we want to spend our money. Some people call this a budget, but since we’re thinking of retirement as something to buy, a spending plan seems more appropriate.
A spending plan is simple to set up. Consider the following steps as a guide as you fill in the information in Worksheet 5 – Cash Flow Spending Plan.
Income. Add up your monthly income: wages, average tips or bonuses, alimony payments, investment income, and so on. Don’t include anything you can’t count on, such as lottery winnings or a bonus that’s not definite.
Expenses. Add up monthly expenses: mortgage or rent, car payments, average food bills, medical expenses, entertainment, and so on. Determine an average for expenses that vary each month, such as clothing, or that don’t occur every month, such as car insurance or self-employment taxes. Review your checkbook, credit and debit card records, and receipts to estimate expenses. You will probably need to track how you spend cash for a month or two. Most of us are surprised to find out where and how much cash “disappears” each month.
Include savings as an expense. Better yet, put it at the top of your expense list. Here’s where you add in the total of the amounts you need to save each month to accomplish the goals you wrote down earlier in Worksheet 1.
Subtract expenses from income. What if you have more expenses (including savings) than you have income? Not an uncommon problem. You have three choices: cut expenses, increase income, or both.
Cut expenses. There are hundreds of ways to reduce expenses, from clipping grocery coupons and bargain hunting to comparison shopping for insurance and buying new cars less often. The section that follows on debt and credit card problems will help. You also can find lots of expense-cutting ideas in books, magazine articles, and financial newsletters.
Increase income. Take a second job, improve your job skills or education to get a raise or a better paying job, make money from a hobby, or jointly decide that another family member will work.
Tips. Even after you’ve tried to cut expenses and increase income, you may still have trouble saving enough for retirement and your other goals. Here are some tips.
- Pay yourself first. Put away first the money you want to set aside for goals. Have money automatically withdrawn from your checking account and put into savings or an investment. Join a retirement plan at work that deducts money from your paycheck. Or deposit your retirement savings yourself, the first thing. What you don’t see, you don’t miss.
- Put bonuses and raises toward savings.
- Make saving a habit. It’s not difficult once you start.
- Revisit your spending plan every few months to be sure you are on track. Income and expenses change over time.
Avoid Debt and Credit Problems
High debt and misuse of credit cards make it tough to save for retirement. Money that goes to pay interest, late fees, and old bills is money that could earn money for retirement and other goals.
How much debt is too much debt? Debt isn’t necessarily bad, but too much debt is. Add up what you pay monthly in car loans, student loans, credit card and charge card loans, personal loans—everything but your mortgage. Divide that total by the money you bring home each month. The result is your “debt ratio.” Try to keep that ratio to 10 percent or less. Total mortgage and nonmortgage debts should be no more than 36 percent of your take-home pay.
What’s the difference between “good debt” and “bad debt”? Yes, there is such a thing as good debt. That’s debt that can provide a financial pay off. Borrowing to buy or remodel a home, pay for a child’s education, advance your own career skills, or buy a car for getting to work can provide long-term financial benefits.
Bad debt is when you borrow for things that don’t provide financial benefits or that don’t last as long as the loan. This includes borrowing for vacations, clothing, furniture, or dining out.
Do you have debt problems? Here are some warning signs:
- Borrowing to pay off other loans.
- Creditors calling for payment.
- Paying only the minimum on credit cards.
- Maxing out credit cards.
- Borrowing to pay regular bills.
- Being turned down for credit.
Avoid high-interest rate loans. Loan solicitations that come in the mail, pawning items for cash, or “payday” loans in which people write postdated checks to check-cashing services are usually extremely expensive. For example, rolling over a payday loan every 2 weeks for a year can run up interest charges of over 600 percent! While the Truth-in-Lending Act requires lenders to disclose the cost of your loan expressed as an annual percentage rate (APR), it is up to you to read the fine print telling you exactly what the details of your loan and its costs are.
The key to recognizing just how expensive these loans can be is to focus on the total cost of the loan – principal and interest. Don’t just look at the monthly payment, which may be small, but adds up over time.
Handle credit cards wisely. Credit cards can serve many useful purposes, but people often misuse them. Take, for example, the habit of making only the 2 percent minimum payment each month. On a $2,000 balance with a credit card charging 18 percent interest, it would take 30 years to pay off the amount owed. Then imagine how fast you would run up your debts if you did this with several credit cards at the same time. (For more information on handling credit wisely, see the Resources section below.)
Here are some additional tips for handling credit cards wisely.
- Keep only one or two cards, not the usual eight or nine.
- Don’t charge big-ticket items. Find less expensive loan alternatives.
- Shop around for the best interest rates, annual fees, service fees, and grace periods.
- Pay off the card each month, or at least pay more than the minimum.
- Still have problems? Leave the cards at home or cut them up.
How to climb out of debt. Despite your best efforts, you may find yourself in severe debt. Worksheet 6 – Debt Reduction can help you come up with a plan to pay down your credit card and other bad debt. A credit counseling service can help you set up a plan to work with your creditors and reduce your debts. Or you can work with your creditors directly to try and work out payment arrangements.
Facts Women Should Know About Preparing For Retirement
Women face challenges that often make it more difficult for them than men to adequately save for retirement. In light of these challenges, women need to pay special attention to making the most of their money.
For more information, call the Employee Benefits Security Administration at 1-866-444-3272 and ask for the booklets:
Saving for Retirement
Once you’ve reduced unnecessary debt and created a workable spending plan that frees up money, you’re ready to begin saving toward retirement. You may do this through a company retirement plan or on your own – options that are covered in more detail below. First, however, let’s look at a few of the places where you might put your money for retirement.
- Savings accounts, money market mutual funds, certificates of deposit, and U.S. Treasury bills. These are sometimes referred to as cash or cash equivalents because you can get to them quickly and there’s little risk of losing the money you put in.
- Domestic bonds. You loan money to a U.S. company or a government body in return for its promise to pay back what you loaned, with interest.
- Domestic stocks. You own part of a U.S. company.
- Mutual funds. Instead of investing directly in stocks, bonds, or real estate, for example, you can use mutual funds. These pool your money with money of other shareholders and invest it for you. A stock mutual fund, for example, would invest in stocks on behalf of all the fund’s shareholders. This makes it easier to invest and to diversify your money.
Choosing where to put your money. How do you decide where to put your money? Look back at the short-term goals you wrote down earlier – a family vacation, perhaps, or the down payment for a home. Remember, you should always be saving for retirement. But, for goals you want to happen soon – say, within a year – it’s best to put your money into one or more of the cash equivalents – a bank account or CD, for example. You’ll earn a little interest and the money will be there when you need it.
For goals that are at least 5 years in the future, however, such as retirement, you may want to put some of your money into stocks, bonds, real estate, foreign investments, mutual funds, or other assets. Unlike savings accounts or bank CDs, these types of investments typically are not insured by the federal government. There is the risk that you can lose some of your money. How much risk depends on the type of investment. Generally, the longer you have until retirement and the greater your other sources of income, the more risk you can afford. For those who will be retiring soon and who will depend on their investment for income during their retirement years, a low-risk investment strategy is more prudent. Only you can decide how much risk to take.
Why take any risk at all? Because the greater the risk, the greater the potential reward. By investing carefully in such things as stocks and bonds, you are likely to earn significantly more money than by keeping all of your retirement money in a savings account, for example.
The differences in the average annual returns of various types of investments over time are dramatic. Over the past 50 years, the compound annual rate of return of short-term U.S. Treasury bills, which roughly equals the return of other cash equivalents such as savings accounts, has been 5 percent. The compound annual rate of return of long-term government bonds over the same period has been 6.7 percent. Large-company stocks, on the other hand, while riskier, have averaged an annual return of 9.8 percent.
Let’s put that into dollars. If you had invested $1 in Treasury bills 50 years ago, it would have grown to approximately $11 today. However, inflation, at an annual average of 4.1 percent, would have eaten about $9 of that gain leaving $2 as the return. If the $1 had been invested in government bonds, it would have grown to $26, with $4 left after inflation. If the $1 had been invested in large-company stocks, it would have grown to $107, with $16 left after inflation. None of these rates of return is guaranteed in the future, but they clearly show the relationship between risk and potential reward.
Many financial experts feel it is important to save at least a portion of your retirement money in higher risk – but potentially higher returning – assets. These higher risk assets can help you stay ahead of inflation, which eats away at your nest egg over time.
Tips on How to Save Smart for Retirement
Which assets you want to invest in, of course, is your decision. Never invest in anything you don’t thoroughly understand or don’t feel comfortable about.
Reducing investment risk. There are two main ways to reduce risk. First, diversify within each category of investment. You can do this by investing in pooled arrangements, such as mutual funds, index funds, and bank products offered by reliable professionals. These investments typically give you a small share of different individual investments and will allow you to spread your money among many stocks, bonds, and other financial instruments, even if you don’t have a lot of money to invest. Your risk of losing money is less than if you buy shares in only a few individual companies. Distributing your investments in this way is called diversification.
Second, you can reduce risk by investing among categories of investments. Generally speaking, you should put some of your money in cash, some in bonds, some in stocks, and some in other investment vehicles. Studies show that once you have diversified your investments within each category, the choices you make about how much to put in these major categories is the most important decision you will make and should define your investment strategy.
Why diversify? Because at any given time one investment or type of investment might do better than another. Diversification lets you manage your risk in a particular investment or category of investments and decreases your chances of losing money. In fact, the factors that can cause one investment to do poorly may cause another to do well. Bond prices, for example, often go down when stock prices are up. When stock prices go down, bonds often increase in value. Over a long time – the time you probably have to save for retirement – the risk of losing money or earning less than you would in a savings account tends to decline.
By diversifying into different types of assets, you are more likely to reduce risks, and actually improve return, rather than by putting all of your money into one investment or one type of investment. The familiar adage “Don’t put all your eggs in one basket” definitely applies to investing.
Deciding on an investment mix. How you diversify – that is, how much you decide to put into each type of investment – is called asset allocation. For example, if you decide to invest in stocks, how much of your retirement nest egg should you put into stocks: 10 percent … 30 percent … 75 percent? How much into bonds and cash? Your decision will depend on many factors: how much time you have until retirement, your life expectancy, the size of your current nest egg, other sources of retirement income, how much risk you are willing to take, and how healthy your current financial picture is, among others.
Your asset allocation also may change over time. When you are younger, you might invest more heavily in stocks than bonds and cash. As you get older and enter retirement, you may reduce your exposure to stocks and hold more in bonds and cash. You also might change your asset allocation because your goals, risk tolerance, or financial circumstances have changed.
Rebalancing your portfolio. Once you’ve decided on your investment mix and invested your money, over time some of your investments will go up and others will go down. If this continues, you may eventually have a different investment mix than you intended. Reassessing your mix, or rebalancing, as it is commonly called, brings your portfolio back to your original plan. Rebalancing also helps you to make logical, not emotional, investment decisions.
For instance, instead of selling investments in a sector that is declining, you would sell an investment that has made gains and, with that money, purchase more in the declining investment sector. This way, you rebalance your portfolio mix, lessen your risk of loss, and increase your chance for greater returns in the long run.
Here’s how rebalancing works: Let’s say your original investment called for 10 percent in U.S. small company stocks. Because of a stock market decline, they now represent 6 percent of your portfolio. You would sell assets that had increased and purchase enough U.S. small company stocks so they again represent 10 percent of your portfolio.
How do you know when to rebalance? There are two methods of rebalancing: calendar and conditional. Calendar rebalancing means that once a quarter or once a year you will reduce the investments that have gone up and will add to investments that have gone down. Conditional rebalancing is done whenever an asset class goes up or down more than some percentage, such as 25 percent. This method lets the markets tell you when it is time to rebalance.
The Power of Compounding
Power of Compounding
The value of $1,000 compounded at various rates of return over time
Regardless of where you choose to put your money – cash, stocks, bonds, real estate, or a combination of places – the key to saving for retirement is to make your money work for you. It does this through the power of compounding. Compounding investment earnings is what can make even small investments become larger given enough time.
You’re probably already familiar with the principle of compounding. Money you put into a savings account earns interest. Then you earn interest on the money you originally put in, plus on the interest you’ve accumulated. As the size of your savings account grows, you earn interest on a bigger and bigger pool of money.
This chart provides an example of how an investment grows at different annual rates of return over different time periods. Notice how the amount of gain gets bigger each 10-year period. That’s because money is being earned on a bigger and bigger pool of money.
Also notice that when you double your rate of return from 4 percent to 8 percent, the end result after 30 years is over three times what you would have accumulated with a 4 percent return. That’s the power of compounding!
The real power of compounding comes with time. The earlier you start saving, the more your money can work for you. Look at it another way. For every 10 years you delay before starting to save for retirement, you will need to save three times as much each month to catch up. That’s why no matter how young you are, the sooner you begin saving for retirement, the better.
Using Employer-Based Retirement Plans
Does your employer provide a retirement plan? If so, say retirement experts…..grab it! Employer-based plans are the most effective way to save for your future. What’s more, you’ll gain certain tax benefits. Employer-based plans come in one of two varieties (some employers provide both): defined benefit and defined contribution.
Defined Benefit Plans. These plans pay a lump sum upon retirement or a guaranteed monthly benefit. The amount of payout is typically based on a set formula, such as the number of years you have worked for the employer times a percentage of your highest earnings on the job. Usually the employer funds the plan—commonly called a traditional pension plan—though in some plans workers also contribute. Most defined benefit plans are insured by the federal government.
Defined Contribution Plans. The popular 401(k) plan is one type of defined contribution plan. Unlike a defined benefit plan, this type of savings arrangement does not guarantee a specified amount for retirement. Instead, the amount you have available in the plan to help fund your retirement will depend on how long you participate in the plan, how much is invested, and how well the investments do over the years. The federal government does not guarantee how much you accumulate in your account, but it does protect the account assets from misuse by the employer.
In the past 20 years, defined contribution plans have become more common than traditional defined benefit retirement plans. Employers fund most types of defined contribution plans, though the amount of their contributions is not necessarily guaranteed.
Workers with a retirement plan are more likely to be covered by a defined contribution plan, usually a 401(k) plan, rather than the traditional defined benefit plan. In many defined contribution plans, you are offered a choice of investment options, and you must decide where to invest your contributions. This shifts much of the responsibility for retirement planning to workers. Thus, it is critical that you choose to contribute to the plan once you become eligible (usually after working full time for a minimum period) and, even if you are automatically enrolled in the plan, to contribute as much as possible. Invest wisely – review your plan investment options and revisit your choices at least once a year.
How To Make The Most Of A Defined Contribution Plan
Tax Breaks. Even though you may be responsible for funding a defined contribution plan, you receive important tax breaks. The money you invest in the plan and the earnings on those contributions are deferred from income tax until you withdraw the money (hopefully not until retirement). Why is that important? Because postponing taxes on what you earn allows your nest egg to grow faster. Remember the power of compounding? The larger the amount you have to compound, the faster it grows. Even after the withdrawals are taxed, you typically come out ahead.
The tax deduction also means that the decline in your take-home pay, because of your contribution, won’t be as large as you might think. For example, let’s assume you are thinking about putting $100 into a retirement plan each month and that the rate you pay on income taxes is 15 percent. If you don’t put that $100 into a retirement plan, you’ll pay $15 in taxes on it. If you put in $100, you postpone the taxes. Thus, your $100 retirement plan contribution would actually reduce your take-home pay by only $85. If you’re in the 25 percent tax bracket, the cost of the $100 contribution is only $75. This is like buying your retirement at a discount.
Vesting Rules. Any money you put into a retirement plan out of your pay, and earnings on those contributions, always belong to you. However, contrary to popular belief, employees don’t always have immediate access to the money their employer puts into their pension fund or their defined contribution plan. Under some plans, such as a 401(k) or a traditional pension plan, you have to work for a certain number of years – say, 3 – before you become “vested” and can receive benefits. Some plans vest in stages. Other defined contribution plans, such as the SEP and the SIMPLE IRA, vest immediately. You have access to the employer’s contributions the day the money is deposited. No employer can require you to work longer than 7 years before you become vested in your retirement benefit.
Be aware of the vesting rules in your employer’s plan.
Make sure you know when you’re vested. Changing jobs too quickly can mean losing part or all of your retirement benefits or, at the very least, your employer’s matching contributions.
Retirement Plan Rights. The federal government regulates and monitors company retirement plans. The vast majority of employers does an excellent job in complying with federal law. Unfortunately, a small fraction doesn’t. For warning signs that your 401(k) contributions are being misused and other information on protecting your retirement benefits, visit EBSA’s Website at dol.gov/ebsa or call EBSA’s toll-free number at 1-866-444-3272 and request the booklet What You Should Know About Your Retirement Plan.
Retirement Planning For Employees In Small Companies
If you don’t have a plan available at work, encourage your employer to start one. Many small employers believe their workers prefer higher salaries or other benefits, and they believe the rules are too complex and the costs too high.
Mention the following benefits:
For more information, contact EBSA at askebsa.dol.gov or call 1-866-444-3272 and request:
Types Of Defined Contribution Plans
The following are some of the most common types of defined contribution plans. For a more detailed description and comparison of some of these plans, visit the Website dol.gov/ebsa and go to “Retirement Savings,” then follow the prompt to the Small Business Advisor under “For Employers.”
401(k) Plan. This is the most popular of the defined contribution plans and is most commonly offered by larger employers. Employers often match employee contributions.
403(b) Plan. Think of this as a 401(k) plan for employees of school systems and certain nonprofit organizations. Investments are made in tax-sheltered annuities or mutual funds.
SIMPLE IRA. The Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees of Small Employers is a simpler type of employer-based retirement plan. There is also a 401(k) version of the SIMPLE.
Profit Sharing Plan. The employer shares company profits with employees, usually based on the level of each employee’s wages.
ESOP. Employee stock ownership plans are similar to profit sharing plans, except that an ESOP must invest primarily in company stock. Under an ESOP, the employees share in the ownership of the company.
SEP. Simplified employee pension plans are used by both small employers and the self-employed.
Other retirement plans you may want to learn more about include 457 plans, which cover state and local government workers, and the Federal Thrift Savings Plan, which covers federal employees. If you are eligible, you may also want to open a Roth IRA.
You may not be able to join an employer-based retirement plan because you are not eligible or because the employer doesn’t offer one. Fortunately, there are steps you can still take to build your retirement strength.
Take a job with a plan. If two jobs offer similar pay and working conditions, the job that offers retirement benefits may be the better choice.
Start your own plan. If you can’t join a company plan, you can save on your own.
You can’t put away as much as on a tax-deferred basis and you won’t have an employer match. Still, you can build a healthy nest egg if you work at it.
Open an IRA. You can put up to $6,500 a year into an individual retirement account on a tax-deductible basis if your spouse isn’t covered by a retirement plan at work, or as long as your combined incomes aren’t too high. Persons who are 50 or older can contribute an additional $1,000. You also can put the same amount tax-deferred into an IRA for a nonworking spouse if you file your income tax return jointly. (By the way, you don’t have to put in the full amount; you can put in less.) With a traditional IRA, you delay income taxes on what you put in and on the earnings until you withdraw the money. With a Roth IRA, the money you put in is already taxed, but you won’t ever pay income taxes on the earnings as long as the account is open at least 5 years. A new type of Roth IRA is called myRA, a retirement account from the U.S. Department of the Treasury to help you save for retirement if you don’t have access to a plan at work. For more information, visit myra.gov.
Consider an annuity. An annuity is an agreement with an insurance company in which you pay money in return for its paying either a regular fixed amount when you retire or an amount based on how much your investment earns. There is no limit on how much you can invest in a private annuity, and earnings aren’t taxed until you withdraw them.
However, annuities present complex issues regarding taxes, fees, and withdrawal strategies that may not make them the best investment choice for you. Consider discussing this type of investment first with a financial planner.
Build your personal savings. You can always save money on your own, either in mutual funds, stocks, bonds (such as U.S. Savings Bonds), real estate, CDs, or other assets. It’s best to mark these investments as part of your retirement fund and don’t use them for anything else unless absolutely necessary.
Investing in an IRA, an annuity, or in personal savings means you are totally responsible for directing your own investments. How conservatively or aggressively you invest is up to you. It will depend in part on how willing you are to take investment risks, your age, the stability of your job, and other financial needs. Learn as much as you can about investing and about specific investments you are considering. You also may want to seek the help of a professional financial planner. Go to LetsMakeAPlan.org for tips on choosing a financial planner who puts your interests first.
What To Do If You Are Self-Employed
Many people today work for themselves, either full-time or in addition to their regular job. They have several tax-deferred options from which to choose.
SEP. This is the same type of SEP described earlier under employer-based retirement plans. Only here, you’re the employer and you fund the SEP from your earnings. You can easily set up a SEP through a bank, mutual fund, or other financial institution.
“Keogh.” “Keoghs” are more complicated to set up and maintain, but they offer more advantages than a SEP. For one thing, they come in several varieties. Some of the varieties allow you to sock away more money — sometimes a lot more money — than a SEP.
SIMPLE IRA. Described earlier under employer-based retirement plans, a SIMPLE IRA can be used by the self-employed. However, generally you can’t save as much as you can with a SEP or “Keogh.”
IRA. Usually you are better off funding a SEP or a “Keogh” unless your self-employment income is small.
Annuities. See annuities under the section on What to Do if You Can’t Join an Employer-Based Plan.
Managing for a Lifetime of Financial Growth
As mentioned earlier, you probably will experience several major events in your life that can make it more difficult to start or keep saving toward retirement and other goals. The key is to have a clear plan, to stay focused on your goals, and to manage your money so that life events don’t prevent you from keeping on target.
Here are a few suggestions for saving for retirement while financially managing some common life events.
Marriage. Getting married creates new financial demands that compete for retirement dollars, such as changing life insurance needs and saving to buy a home. But it’s usually less expensive for two people to live together, thus freeing up dollars. Also, you probably still have time on your side. A spending plan is essential. Remember, every little bit helps.
Raising children. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that it costs the average American middle-income family approximately $304,480 to raise a child to age 17. Furthermore, in some cases a spouse may stay out of the workforce to raise children, thus cutting into income and the opportunity to fund retirement. Having a child may alter your major financial goals, but should never eliminate them. Make the best effort you can. Also, many financial planners stress that saving for retirement should have priority over saving for a child’s college education. There are financial aid programs for college-bound students but not for retirement.
Changing jobs. It’s estimated that the average worker changes jobs more than 10 times in a working lifetime. Changing jobs often puts you at risk of not vesting in your current job, or a new job may not offer a retirement plan. Consider keeping your money in your former employer’s retirement plan or rolling it into a new company plan or an individual retirement account (IRA). Don’t cash out and spend the money, however small the amount.
Divorce. It’s important that you know the laws regarding your spousal rights to Social Security and retirement benefits. Under current law, spouses and dependents have specific rights. Remember, retirement assets may well be the biggest financial asset in the marriage. Be sure to divide those assets carefully. It’s also critical to review your overall financial situation before and after your divorce. Income typically drops for partners in the wake of a divorce, particularly for women.
Disability. A severe or long-lasting disability can undermine efforts to save for retirement. Although Social Security Disability benefits can help sustain a family if severe disability strikes, you may wish to explore the availability and cost of other forms of disability insurance.
Death. The premature death of a spouse can undermine efforts for the partner to save for retirement, particularly if there are dependent children. That’s why it’s important to check your Social Security statement to find out how much children will receive if a parent dies. Maintaining adequate life insurance is also important. Be sure that you have properly named the beneficiaries for any insurance policies, retirement plans, IRAs, and other retirement vehicles.
Coping With Financial Crises
Life has a way of throwing unexpected financial roadblocks, detours and potholes in our path. These might be large medical bills, car or home repairs, a death in the family, loss of a job, or expensive legal problems. Such financial emergencies can derail your efforts to save for retirement or other goals. Here are some strategies for managing financial crises.
Establish an emergency fund. This can lessen the need to dip into retirement savings for a financial emergency. Building an emergency fund is tough if income is tight, but every few dollars help. Fund it with pay from extra working hours or a temporary job, a tax refund, or a raise. Put the money into a low-risk, accessible account such as a savings account or a money market fund.
Insure yourself. Insurance protects your financial assets, such as your retirement funds, by helping to take care of the really big financial disasters. Here’s a list of insurance coverage you should consider buying:
- HEALTH. If you and your family aren’t covered under an employer’s policy, consider a health plan through the Health Insurance Marketplace. At least try to buy catastrophic medical coverage on your own.
- DISABILITY. Did you know you are more likely before age 65 to miss at least 3 months of work because of a disability than you are to die? Social Security Disability Insurance can pay you and your family benefits if you are severely disabled and are expected to be so for at least 12 months. (Worker’s compensation only helps if the disability is work-related.) In addition, your employer may offer some disability coverage, but you may need to supplement it with private coverage.
- RENTERS. Homeowners usually are insured against hazards such as fire, theft, and liability, but the majority of renters aren’t. Renter’s insurance is inexpensive.
- AUTOMOBILE. Don’t drive “bare.” It’s usually against the law to drive without auto coverage, to say nothing of being costly if you are in an accident.
- UMBRELLA. This provides additional liability coverage, usually through your home or auto insurance policies, in the event you face a lawsuit.
- LIFE: Having life insurance can help you or your spouse continue to save if either one of you dies before retirement. Social Security may be able to pay benefits to your spouse and/or minor children. On the other hand, you may not need life insurance if no one depends financially on you. There are many types of life insurance, with a variety of fees and commissions attached.
- LONG-TERM CARE. This insurance can help pay for costly long-term health care either at home or in a health care facility or nursing home. It protects you from draining savings and assets you otherwise could use for retirement.
Borrow. If you must borrow because of a financial emergency, carefully compare the costs of all options available to you.
Sell investments. It’s usually advisable to sell taxable investments first. Try not to touch your faster growing retirement accounts. Taking money out of your retirement accounts could trigger income taxes and penalties.
If You Choose To Work With A Financial Planner
You are the one ultimately responsible for the management of your own financial affairs. However, you may want additional help along the way from a professional financial planner. A professional planner can:
For more information, visit CFP Board’s Website LetsMakeAPlan.org or call 1-800-487-1497 to request free copies of the Consumer Guide to Financial Planning and the Consumer Guide to Financial Self-Defense. The Website also contains a wealth of information about financial planning and an advanced search function that enables you to find a financial planner who fits your needs and who will act in your best interest.
Monitor Your Progress
Financial planning is not a one-time process. Life, your goals, tax laws, and your financial world have a way of changing, sometimes dramatically. Go back to Worksheet 5 – Cash Flow Spending Plan and complete the last two columns to help you track your progress.
- Periodically review your spending plan.
- Monitor the performance of investments. Make adjustments if necessary.
- Make sure you contribute more toward your retirement as you earn more.
- Update your various insurance safety nets to reflect changes in income or personal circumstances.
- Keep your finances in order.
Where To Go From Here
You now realize that saving for your own retirement is critical and that it is primarily your responsibility. You may get help along the way, but most of the work is going to rest on your shoulders. No one will work harder or care more about your retirement and your other financial goals than you.
Look back at your goals outlined in Worksheet 1. Perhaps they seem more realistic now. Even if you can’t do as much as you would like to right away, you can do something.
Think of this booklet as a starting point. Continue to educate yourself about managing your money and investing. Consider professional resources as well, such as your benefits department, financial planners, and other financial experts who can help you not only with your financial questions, but, more importantly, can help motivate you into action.
Finally, there is only one real key to “buying” that retirement you’ve dreamed of. It doesn’t matter whether you are still young or whether retirement is just around the corner. It doesn’t matter whether you’re in your first job, trying to save for a home, or putting a child through college.
All that matters is that you start saving…now!
This publication is presented by the:
Employee Benefits Security Administration
U.S. Department of Labor
200 Constitution Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20210
Toll-free publication request line: 1-866-444-3272
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.
1425 K Street, NW, Suite 800
Washington, DC 20005
Toll-free number: 1-800-487-1497
Sample Financial Calculator Websites
Calculator for Workers Nearing Retirement
EBSA’s publication Taking the Mystery Out of Retirement Planning provides online interactive worksheets for workers who are 10 to 15 years from retirement to help them get an idea of whether their retirement savings are on track.
- kiplinger.com – Select “Saving” and then “Retirement Savings Calculator.”
- choosetosave.org – Select “Ballpark Estimate.”
- www.finra.org – Under “Investors,” select “Tools & Calculators” and then “Retirement Calculator.”
- money.cnn.com – Under “Personal Finance,” select “Calculators.”
(Note: The sites above are only a sample of calculators available on the Web. The Department of Labor does not endorse a specific calculator or the products and services offered on these Websites.)
Getting Out of Debt
- consumer.ftc.gov/topics/money-credit – The Federal Trade Commission has information on a number of debt and credit topics, including getting out of debt, credit counseling and repair, and understanding your credit report.
- www.federalreserve.gov/consumerinfo/fivetips_creditscore.htm – The Federal Reserve Board Website has information about credit reports and how to improve your credit score.
- www.consumerfinance.gov – The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has information to educate consumers about credit card debt, student loans, and mortgages.
Other Web sources that highlight savings and retirement planning
- investor.gov – View the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s investor information Website for online help with investing and consumer protection questions. Toll-free consumer information number: 1-800-732-0330
- mymoney.gov – This Website is sponsored by the Financial Literacy and Education Commission, and has among its offerings the My Money Toolkit.
- ftc.gov – Check out the Federal Trade Commission’s “Tips & Advice” section, which includes alerts on investment schemes.
- publications.usa.gov – The Federal Citizen Information Center’s site contains text versions of hundreds of consumer publications. See the “Money” section for a list of brochures on money management and retirement planning.
- www.socialsecurity.gov – Visit the Social Security Administration’s Website for pages on retirement. Wage earners can estimate their retirement benefits online.
- irs.gov/retirement – The IRS Website provides tax information on IRAs, 401(k) plans, SEP and SIMPLE plans, and much more.
- www.treasurydirect.gov – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Website includes information on savings bonds, a savings bond calculator, and instructions for buying bonds online.
- myra.gov – The U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Website provides information on myRA, including how it works and how to get started.
- fdic.gov – The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s Website offers a financial education program, “Money Smart,” a comprehensive financial education curriculum designed to help individuals outside the financial mainstream enhance their financial skills and create positive banking relationships.
- healthcare.gov – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Website where you can find out more about Health Insurance Marketplace plans, what they cover, and how to apply.
- investoreducation.org – Investors of all ages can learn about the basics of investing at the Investor’s Clearinghouse, sponsored by the Alliance for Investor Education (AIE).
- aarp.org – The AARP site provides advice on a host of retirement planning issues. Link to “Money” for information on financial planning.
- nefe.org – Browse the Website of the National Endowment for Financial Education for a wealth of preretirement information.
- www.consumerfed.org – The Consumer Federation of America offers several financial publications, including Your Credit Score and 66 Ways to Save Money, and runs the America Saves campaign to encourage savings among low-to-moderate income households.