There’s a lot to celebrate in April, between April Fool’s Day, Easter, Passover, and Tax Day (ok, maybe that last one is more like, “Thank goodness I’m done with taxes” day).
But here at LearnVest, we’re especially excited that April is also Financial Literacy Month — and includes National Retirement Planning Week.
We know; that doesn’t sound quite as fun as celebrating National Caramel Popcorn Day (April 6, for the uninformed), but it reminds us all just how important it is to be prepared for retirement. After all, how much you should be saving for your post-work life is one of the three most-important numbers to know when it comes to your financial health. (Also on the list: your emergency savings and how much debt you have.)
So in case you haven’t given much thought to your nest egg lately, here are three quick tips that could help you make sure you’re giving your future, retired self a little more love.
Get on that employer match. If you’re putting even just 1% of your paycheck away in a 401(k), congratulations — every little bit you can contribute is progress.
But here’s the thing: If your employer offers a 401(k) match and you’re not taking advantage of it, you’re essentially leaving money on the table that could make a big difference in a few decades because of compound growth.
So take a look at your budget and see if you can swing meeting your company’s match amount. If you’re already saving, say, 4%, and the minimum you have to contribute to get a match is 6%, you may decide that upping your contribution by just a little more in order to meet that threshold is worth some extra belt-tightening.
Try to crunch your retirement number. A lot of people like to avoid even attempting a calculation for how much you need for retirement because it feels too stressful to see such a large figure. But it’s worth trying to get at least a ballpark so you know whether you’re currently saving enough — or need to start stashing away more.
A retirement calculator like this one can help you plug in some basics like your current age, desired retirement age, income and expected number of years in retirement to get a sense of how much you’d need total, whether you want to work until you’re 75 or be sailing the world by 60.
You can also work backwards and plug your figures into a calculator like this one that looks at how much you’re currently contributing and helps estimate how much in monthly income that amount could provide for you when you finally reach retirement.
So do those figures make you feel confident that you’re on track, or is there some work you may need to do to live the life you want in retirement? If it’s the latter, don’t fret — use this as motivation to step up your game plan.
Figure out if a Roth or Traditional retirement account is right for you. One of the nice things about saving for retirement is that the government wants you to do it, which is why they offer some tax advantages to give you some extra incentive to save.
But whether you get those tax advantages now or later depends on the type of account you save in. In a nutshell, the contributions you put into a Traditional IRA or Traditional 401(k) help lower your taxable income now, but you’ll end up paying taxes when you make withdrawals later in retirement. For the Roth versions of these accounts, your contributions are post-tax, but you won’t pay taxes on your withdrawals in retirement. (For both, though, you’ll pay a penalty if you withdraw from your account before age 59½.)
What’s right for you will depend on your current tax situation, so it’s probably wise to consult a tax professional when trying to decide whether to pay taxes on your contributions now or later.