If you've recently celebrated the big 4-0, congratulations! For the next several decades, you're going to get happier, and experience less stress. (At least that's what the studies say!)
Of course, this does not exactly give you license to just sit back and take it easy. You're about halfway through your working life, which means that you have half the time left to pull in the money that will sustain you for the rest of your life.
And, not to be pessimistic (although pessimism can be good for your finances), but that's only true if you work until your intended retirement age. Unfortunately, a lot of people face early retirement—or can't get hired at all in their later years, as one manager revealed to us.
But we're here to talk about solutions, so we've rounded up the seven most common financial challenges facing people in the 40+ set. Our goal: ensure that your 80-year-old self can sit in a rocker and watch the clouds drift by.
1. If You've Been Avoiding Your Finances Entirely ...
Think your financial situation is bad? Well, whatever you fear now is better than the situation you'll face if you put this off for another year. So here's how you can take action today:
- Review how much you have saved for retirement.
- Check your savings to determine just how many months you could fund basic expenses if you lost your job (we recommend at least six).
- Figure out if you're in debt, and if so, how much you've accrued.
- Get your credit score via the steps in this checklist.
You can easily do the first three steps by connecting your accounts to our Money Center, which allows you to add up your assets (savings, investments, etc.) and liabilities (debts, loans, etc.), to determine your net worth, which you want to grow from this point forward.
And the key to healthy asset growth is simple: You need to stick to a budget, which will ensure that you spend less than you make, and save for the future. But how much, exactly, should you spend on dining out versus contributing to savings? The 50/20/30 Rule will tell you--and Money Center users will automatically be guided in how to set up their budget according to this rule.
2. If You're Living Beyond Your Means ...
Keeping up with the Joneses is a human tendency—not a personal failing. We've got an entire article on how to cure comparisonitis, but, in short:
- Forgive yourself.
- Pinpoint what you envy. It may not be your friend's six-figure salary, but it could be her intrepid travels.
- Be grateful for what you already have.
If you're in debt, use this checklist to get out—and make sure that you know the top debt mistakes. For some added inspiration, check out how these people got out of debt, whether it was $20,000 or $60,000.
3. If You Aren't on Track to Save Enough for Retirement ...
The amount you need to squirrel away for retirement is the largest stash of money that you'll ever need to save. To find out if you're on track, do you know how much ...
- you need to save in order to support yourself for 25 years or more?
- you need to put away every month in order to reach this goal?
- you'll need to live on every month in retirement, taking inflation into account?
If you don't know the answer to each of these questions, you must start contributing--or increase your contribution--to your retirement account(s) today.
If you have a full-time job, start contributing at least 5%—or more, if you can swing it—into your 401(k) or other employer-based account. And those with and without full-time jobs should also boost their IRA contributions—up to the limit. If you're unsure of the kind of accounts you need, use these 401(k) vs. IRA flow charts to find out, based on your tax filing status:
And this flow chart shows you which IRA you need.
If you haven't opened an IRA, use this checklist to learn how to open an investment account.
4. If You Have Young Children or Plan to Have Kids ...
Your biggest challenge is college tuition fees, which will hit you around the same time that you're in the home stretch of saving for retirement. Your top takeaways:
- Between saving for retirement and saving for college, retirement takes priority. Why? While there are loans for college, there are no loans for retirement.
- You can, however, save for retirement and college at the same time. Create a budget by calculating how much you need to contribute to retirement each month, compared to college contributions. (If you don't have one yet, use this checklist to open a college savings account.)
If you're expecting, consider taking the Baby on Board Bootcamp to find out how to accommodate your little one financially.
5. If You're About to Pay for College ...
If your little ones are, well, big, then you need to know how to take out student loans smartly, and how to apply for financial aid. (Review these top student loan mistakes, so your kid gets the right education for the right price. And be aware that private student loans are a bigger financial burden than federal aid.)
Don't let your child become another statistic in the student loan crisis--or one of the 20-somethings out there with high debt and few employment prospects.
The top things to consider:
- The amount of the loans vs. the earning potential of the student post graduation: Does it make sense to take on $150,000 in debt for a job that maxes out at $35,000 a year?
- Should your child start out at a junior college or a community college and then transfer to a four-year university? (Many community colleges also now offer four-year degrees through reciprocal programs with state universities.)
- Can your child work part-time while in school or do a work-study program? Both of these opportunities will teach your kid the value of time management—and offer practical work experience.
Finally, if you're a little late to the 529 game and wondering if opening one now still makes sense, check out Saving for College 101.
6. If You're Getting Back Into the Workplace ...
After taking a few years off, your top financial priority should be to save for retirement, since you may have some catching up to do. Here are some tips for your re-entry to the workforce:
- Don't discount experience from outside the workforce. You were likely exercising some skills that would be of interest to a potential employer—whether you coached a team or organized an event for your child's class. Explain in your résumé or cover letter how these skills could translate to the job opening.
- Evaluate all job offers carefully—even those with low salaries. Generous benefits could make up the difference.
- Negotiate. Brush up on your negotiating skills, learn this interviewing tip and pick up these secrets from hiring managers.
- Excel on the job. Check out these tips from bosses, and learn what steps you should take to get set up at your new job.
7. If You're Starting to Take Care of Your Parents ...
Make sure that you have all of the financial, medical and legal information you need, such as:
- their bank accounts and passwords
- the names and contact info for financial professionals, such as attorneys and brokers, along with permission granted for you to speak with these advisors
- insurance policies
- tax returns
- medical records and contact information for primary and specialty physicians
- estate planning documents, including wills, trust documents and powers of attorney
- regular bills that need to be paid, like utilities and newspaper subscriptions
Start accompanying your parents on visits to financial advisors, doctors or attorneys. And be wary of anyone who refuses to let you join—unscrupulous people may try to take advantage of your parents if they think that no one is watching.
If you're researching long-term care options for your parents to cover medical and non-medical needs for long periods of time, be aware that, in most cases, Medicare won't pay for long-term care—so evaluate other resources, such as veterans' benefits. If you've heard that you need to encourage your parents to "give away" or "hide" resources in order to qualify for Medicaid coverage of long-term care expenses, consult an attorney who specializes in elder care for proper guidance.
Retirement and Beyond
Now that you're 40, you may also be thinking about your own needs down the road. While you're still young and in good health, it may make sense to purchase long-term care insurance. In addition, now is a great time to make sure that your own legal documents are updated, especially if you've had kids or if you've gotten divorced since you drafted your will. Also, double-check those IRA accounts or you may end up disinheriting your current spouse in favor of your ex!
Remember that your top financial goal as you head into the last half of your working years is to save for retirement, followed by prioritizing for your child's college education, your parents' long-term care options and any student loan debt that you still owe.
And remember that every money challenge is temporary and can be handled--the way countless other people have managed it before you.