How to Save for Retirement

Retirement can be hard for people to understand because it’s not something you can buy, but it’s something you need money for. And it’s not something you need money for in a few years, like buying a house or car. It’s something that, for most people, is decades away. But financial companies and even your employer are trying to get people to think more about saving for retirement because for most of us, we can’t work forever. This guide helps you understand how to save for retirement

When is the right time to start thinking about retirement?

It's time to learn how to save for retirement
Retirement, in general, usually enters your life the first time you get a job with an actual paycheck. Each paycheck you get has money deducted from it that goes toward Social Security. That’s a government program that provides retirement benefits, as well as disability and survivor’s benefits to Americans.

But the idea of saving for retirement probably won’t enter your life until you get a full-time job. It happens when your company offers something called a 401(k) plan. These are employer-sponsored retirement plans. Your employer takes money out of your paycheck and invests it for you via an outside company. Companies can also provide a financial incentive in the form of a match, allowing you to save more for retirement. A 401(k) is often the first time that people start actively saving for retirement.

Why do you need to save for retirement?

Individuals are living longer than ever, but the retirement age hasn’t changed much. The average retirement age for Americans is 62. However, many of us are living until almost 80, and a chunk of us make it to over 100, which means we will need some form of income for at least 15 years after our last paycheck.

Years ago, it was the protocol for companies to “provide” for your retirement through pensions, or defined benefit plans. But according to a recent Willis Towers Watson study, only 16 percent of “Fortune 500” companies offered a defined benefit plan, whether it was traditional or hybrid (with a 401(k)), to new hires. This is a drop from 20 years ago when 59 percent of the same employers offered jobs with pensions.

And while Social Security can provide some financial help, individuals can no longer solely depend on the system to take care of all their financial needs. For those of us who aren’t living like Scrooge McDuck, we need some kind of backup plan. This is where saving for retirement comes in.

Retirement planning can help you figure out how much money you will need when you are no longer working. Recent research from the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies shows the average income for a retiree is $32,000. The number is higher for married retirees ($48,000) and much lower for those who are unmarried ($19,000). The majority of this comes from Social Security retirement benefits, but many say they still struggle with everyday expenses. Proper planning can help you avoid that struggle and allow you to live your retired life to the fullest.

How to save for retirement

Assessing the health of your 401K nest eggThere are many different investment vehicles to help you save for retirement. The easiest way for many of us is to use a 401(k) through our company. It will automatically deduct money from your paycheck and put it into an account. Then you invest the money in a mix of stocks, bonds, and cash. How the money gets invested depends on the company you are with. Some companies let you choose how you want to invest while others give you a suggestion based on your risk profile. Others will put your money in their own selection of investments based on the year you will likely retire. The older you get, the less risky your investments tend to become as you will be needing more of that money sooner.

Even if you leave the company, the money in this 401(k) will continue to be invested until you decide what to do with it. You can roll it over into another account (where it will still be invested), you reach retirement age and start getting disbursements, or you cash it in.

Individual Retirement Accounts, or IRAs

Individual retirement accounts are like 401(k)s, except they are not provided by your employer. You can open an IRA by visiting a local financial services firm, or even finding one online, and creating an account. It is similar to a 401(k) in that your investments will be based on your risk profile and other retirement needs. Some companies provide you with an adviser to understand your needs and help you create a retirement plan. These retirement planners will look at all aspects of your life and ask you questions about how you anticipate your lifestyle to be once you’ve retired. From there they will formulate an amount you need to invest in order to achieve those goals when you reach full retirement age.

Unlike a 401(k), where the money is taken out of your paycheck, you will need to have money transferred from your checking or savings account on a regular basis to mimic a 401(k).

Traditional IRAs vs. Roth IRAs

With a traditional 401(k) or IRA, taxes will not be deducted until you start taking disbursements on the money. This means that the money you invest is actually tax deductible each year when you file your taxes. When you start taking disbursements, you will pay taxes on the amount then, whatever your tax rate might be.

However, there is another form of retirement account called a Roth. This type of IRA takes out taxes before you invest the money. This means that when you retire, you’ll get whatever money you are being disbursed, tax-free. This can be really useful if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket when you retire. You cannot deduct Roth contributions from your yearly taxes. However, there are certain limits to who can invest in a Roth and how much you can put in.

Roth IRA Limits

There are some basic rules for those wanting to contribute to a Roth. The main rule is that how much you can contribute depends on your adjusted gross income. As you make more, the amount you can contribute decreases. At a certain income level, you are no longer able to contribute — at least in the traditional way.

Can contribute the maximum of $5,500 (or $6,500 if over 50)

Single/Head-of-household: $120,000 or less

Married Filing Jointly: $189,000 or less

Can contribute a reduced amount

Single/Head-of-household: $120,000 to $134,999

Married filing jointly: $189,000 to $198,999

Not eligible to contribute

Single/Head-of-household: $135,000 or more

Married filing jointly: $199,000 or more

 

There’s more to Roth IRAs, but these basics can help you decide if it’s a good choice for you.

Using an HSA as a retirement vehicle?

Health Savings AccountHealth Savings Accounts are frequently a topic of conversation when starting a new job or getting a new insurance provider at work. Most people think of them as an alternative to a PPO or HMO. However, for those in the know, an HSA can be a secret retirement fund.

An HSA is an alternative to a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) or a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO), where you have a high-deductible health plan and no other health insurance. You can contribute money via your paycheck. This helps offset your taxable income, or via additional funds, which are tax deductible. Most people who have this account carry a small balance for use as its intended purpose, taking care of medical expenses, such as doctor and specialist visits.

But for many affluent Americans, they max out the contribution amounts, which currently are $3,350 for individual health plans and $6,750 for a family plan. But they pay out of pocket for medical expenses, allowing their HSA money to grow throughout the years.

HSA vs. FSA

Many of you might be wondering what the difference between an HSA and an FSA. Well, an HSA can be used to pay for medical expenses but can also be used as a retirement investment. A health savings account can be used to pay for doctor’s visits, procedures and the like. But you can also let it sit, untouched, earning money for as long as you don’t use it. Your HSA carries over with you from job to job as well.

An FSA is a Flexible Spending Account. It’s also used for health care, including eye doctor’s visits. However, you can only contribute a maximum of $2,650 to it. These funds must be used by the end of the year they were distributed. Otherwise, you will lose them.

Interesting HSA Facts

Once you put money into an HSA, it grows tax-free. You can use that money without penalty at any time on qualified medical expenses without facing any tax penalty. If you do decide to use it on something other than a medical expense before retirement age (65), you will face a 20% penalty. Once you reach 65, you are allowed to take as much as you want and use it for what you want, there are no required minimum distributions.

The HSA is definitely a health plan, but it is often used as a third investment account next to 401(k)s and IRAs. While it is still best to use this for medical expenses, which have a tendency to jump as you age, it can be a nice addition to your retirement savings if you plan correctly. When planning your retirement, make sure think about how this money could be used for long-term care facilities, hospital stays and more.

How much should I save for retirement?

Again, this all depends on the kind of lifestyle you would like to live in retirement. If you plan on living modestly in a house that will be paid off, you likely will not need as much in retirement savings as someone who wants to travel the world and spend money on their grandchildren. Certified Financial Planners can help you plot out your savings and investing plans so that when you are retiring, you won’t need to worry about potentially running out of money due to illness or unexpected expenses.

Can I Retire With $60,000 On My Credit Cards? Or Am I Doomed?

Question: We are about $60,000 in credit card debt. I am 69 and need to retire. I will have retirement from my job and $35,000 in my 401(k), plus Supplemental Security Income. My husband is 57 and will keep working. How can I retire?

— Kathryn in Hawaii

Steve Rhode answers…

Retiring isn’t the problem here. This is: Making ends meet for up to the next 20 years.

Having some government benefit and $35,000 in a 401(k) isn’t going to make retirement comfortable for you — or even manageable. It will be tragically impossible to survive on these finances alone, unless your husband has some magic retirement account that will help to make ends meet when he is able to finally retire.

When you say you need to retire and you are on Supplemental Security Income, that indicates to me you have some evolving medical issue. SSI is what’s known as a “means-tested welfare program.” That’s the official way of saying the government will provide cash and Medicaid to low-income senior citizens and the disabled.

I’m assuming this means that continuing to work may just not be possible for you, given your potential medical limitations. Maybe that’s why you have to retire.

Given your possible medical situation, your limited upcoming income, and your debt, the most logical solution here would be to shed the debt quickly with a consumer Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This type of bankruptcy is the fastest way to eliminate debt legally, and in about 90 days your credit card debt will be discharged. That will lower your expenses that you can’t afford in retirement.

Your credit card debt is probably from expenses you paid for in trying to get by in the past. It’s all too common for those Americans struggling to pay their bills to “float” the gap between income and expenses on their credit cards. Sadly, that catches up to you rather quickly…

[If you don’t know if bankruptcy is right for you, read Should I File for Bankruptcy.]

If filing for bankruptcy is the right option for you, Debt.com can help you get the process started.

Get Started

…Retiring is the time to look forward and set yourself up for financial success. The ship has sailed to attempt to repair the past. Given what you’ve shared, you simply can’t afford to either pay the debt, now or in the future, and make ends meet on your new reduced income.

I would visit Benefits.gov and review if you are eligible for any additional supplemental income, medical, or food assistance for your household. You should absolutely meet with a local bankruptcy attorney who is licensed in your state and discuss your situation. And you should inform your husband he is going to have to be the primary breadwinner for the foreseeable future.

This won’t be a pleasant experience while you’re enduring it, but once you’re through it, life should improve. I’d also recommend consulting Debt.com’s Personal Finance section for advice on how to stay out of debt.

My fingers are crossed that your husband has a solid retirement account or pension that is going to help you survive when you are both unable to work.

Steve Rhode is known as the Get Out of Debt Guy and has appeared on FOX, CNN, ABC, NBC, and MSNBC giving money advice.

When Is It OK To Cash In My Retirement To Remodel My Home?

Question: Should we roll over our 401K to an IRA to use this asset to pay for remodeling our home?

— Gayle in Texas

Steve Rhode answers…

Gayle, it is amazing how such a simple question can have such big consequences. There are some basic issues worth considering before you launch into this obvious plan of action.

For example, your 401(k) is most likely protected from your creditors right now. But if you roll it into an IRA with commingled money, you can risk losing it all if you were unexpectedly sued.

And these suits are totally unpredictable. All it takes is a bad accident you could be blamed for — and poof, there potentially goes your retirement. I’d make sure you consult with an attorney who is licensed in your state to best understand how any rollover might expose you to a loss in this situation.

Then there’s this: If this is a company 401(k), you will lose the ability to access the funds at an earlier age without a tax penalty.

What I am assuming from your question is you want to borrow against your IRA or use some money from this exchange to help fund your remodel. It’s your money, and you can do whatever you want with it, include lose as much as you want.

My primary issue with the access of retirement funds like a 401(k) or IRA is the loss of return. People get distracted and think they are borrowing their own money at a low-interest rate like 5 percent. But what most miss is that a 5 percent loan is really costing you 20 percent in good return years. And right now, we’re in a span of good return years.

During the time that the money you’ve borrowed is out of your retirement account, it is now growing with the rest of your funds and bringing down the entire value of what your retirement funds would have been.

So borrowed remodel funds can now wind up costing you a lot just when you need it most.  For example, using this online retirement fund loan calculator from Bankrate.

You can see that a $30,000 loan from your retirement funds — 401(k) or IRA — will cost you $78,091 in repayment and lost growth on the funds while they were borrowed. If something comes up and you can’t repay it in time, then the lost value can be as much as $1,138,148.

Yes, that’s more than $1 million.

I guess you could label me as a financial libertarian because I believe people need the facts and they are entitled to make their own wrong choices. Ultimately, the question is not if you can do this, but if you should do it. Only you can make that choice. Good luck.

Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

How Do We Save For Retirement And Pay All Our Bills?

Question: My wife and I just turned 37. We have only $12,000 saved for retirement, which is in a 401(k) at the school where my wife works. I’m an independent auto mechanic, so I don’t have one of those.

Our son graduates from high school in a couple years, and we don’t have much saved for his college. Meanwhile, my wife’s dad died last year and her mother is living with us. (No mother-in-law jokes here, she’s a nice woman and a wicked cook.)

My wife still has around $18,000 in student loans to pay off, and we still have $11,800 on our credit cards (like, seven of them) from a bad patch I went through when I couldn’t find work.

So my question is simple but hard: What do we save for first?

Do we sock money away for our son’s college? Pay down those student loans? Pay off my credit cards? Or kick out my mother in law? Kidding about that last one. Seriously, my wife would kill me.

— Jon in Minnesota

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Welcome, Jon, to the sandwich generation. That term describes middle-aged Americans who have to pay to raise their children and care for their parents. As you’re learning, it adds a lot of stress to a family’s budget.

In fact, I’ve coined the term hamburger generation to describe your situation more precisely: You’re not only sandwiched between competing expenses, you’ve been ground up by debts of your own.

Here’s what I’d recommend…

1. Consolidate or even get rid of those student loans

You mention that your wife works at a school. She just might qualify for what’s called student loan forgiveness. This concept comes from the federal government, and like anything governmental, there are hoops to jump through.

Even if that doesn’t work, the government has other programs that can greatly reduce your wife’s monthly payments. They have cumbersome names like the income-contingent repayment program, but Debt.com can help you figure out which one will save you the most.

Bottom line: The federal government offers help with student loans, so take advantage of it.

2. Consolidate your credit card debt (maybe)

How would you like to reduce your total credit card payments by up to 30 or even 50 percent? If you’re paying late fees, how about getting them to stop? If that sounds to good to be true, it’s not. It’s called credit card debt consolidation. All your credit card balances are rolled into one, and through using a debt management program, you can save big.

How do you know if a DMP (as it’s called) is right for you? Through a painless and enlightening process called credit counseling. Essentially, a certified professional will review your income and expenses, study your debt situation, and make recommendations. Best of all, this consultation is free.

Bottom line: When you have five figures of credit card debt on more than five cards, you probably qualify for some amazing savings.

3. After you’ve paid down debt…

Because the interest rates you’re pay on your debts are most likely higher than the interest rates you’re earning in a retirement account, you want to take care of steps one and two first. Then you want to really pare down your expenses. Again, credit counseling can help you find some dollars you probably didn’t know you have.

As for your son’s college, I answered a similar question a few months ago: Do I NEED to Go To College? Not everyone does, and many successful people have attended community college and lived at home, saving money until they could transfer to a university.

Bottom line: You and your wife can make this work, Jon, and you don’t have to evict your mother-in-law!

Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

Ask The Expert: Is Saving For Retirement Over-Rated?

Question: My husband and I are lucky. Our son is living at home and just started trade school to become an HVAC technician, we both have jobs, our house is almost paid for, and we took your advice and cut up all but one of our credit cards. So what’s the problem, right?

Well, I want to start really saving for retirement. My husband says we get some money from our 401Ks at work, and that we’re only 39 and 42. He says there’s all this panic over retirement savings because the too-big-to-fail banks — run by both Republican and Democrat elites — want us to give them our money for 30 years. 

I’m not sure what to think. What do YOU think, Mr. Dvorkin?

— Karen in Arkansas

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Howard Dvorkin on how to get out of debt fastI’m not going to argue with your husband about politics. While I have my own views, my job is to help everyone get out of debt — regardless of what they believe.

That said, trust me when I say: You need to save for retirement starting right now.

Yours isn’t the first or even fifth question I’ve fielded about retirement. This time last year, it was a husband insisting, “Why bother saving? We’re so far behind, we might as well enjoy our lives right now.” I told him, he was totally wrong.

Mostly, I answer basic questions like How do I save for retirement? and How much do I really need to save for retirement? In your husband’s case, it’s a completely different and even strange situation.

Unlike the others I’ve answered, you’re a couple who has the income and lacks the debt that prevent so many others from saving for their golden years. Yet your husband believes saving your money will somehow benefit others more than yourselves.

It’s true that when you invest even in a savings account, the bank earns money just as you do. Otherwise, why would they offer you any interest at all? However, your husband makes a sideways point worth stressing: You should always study any fees that take chunks out of your returns. In fact, the SEC has a PDF worth reading called How Fees and Expenses Affect Your Investment Portfolio. Trust me, it’s not as boring as it sounds, and the three minutes it takes to read it can save you a lot of money.

So the bottom line, Karen: It’s never too early to start saving for retirement.

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Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a  CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

Ask The Expert: Are Old People Like Beans?

Question: My husband and I are lucky enough to have city pensions because he’s been a police officer and I’ve been a secretary in the same department. So unlike most 50-somethings, we’re not worried about retirement.

But I AM worried about growing old and going into a nursing home. We have a grown son, but he’s  struggling to keep a job. My husband says our son will take care of us when we get old, because it won’t be that expensive to do so in a few years. But I think we need to do more. I just don’t know what “more” is. Can you help me?

— Lilly in Texas

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Howard Dvorkin on how to get out of debt fast

Elsewhere in your letter, which I edited for brevity, you explained your husband’s fascinating theory…

“Since the entire country is growing older and there will be more senior citizens in a couple decades, it’ll become cheaper to get space in nursing homes — because more of them will open up, which will drive prices down. He thinks it’s like supermarkets that can sell food so cheap because they sell so much. The profit on each can of beans is only pennies, but if you sell billions of cans, you’ve made millions of dollars.”

I’m glad your husband is a police officer and not an economist. Needless to say, caring for the elderly is more complicated — and much more expensive — than selling cans of beans.

In fact, Care.com released a clever poll last month that asked Americans in their 40s and 50s how much they think a nursing home will cost when they need one.

More than a quarter said they “think it will cost $45,000 or less per year.” The actual number from trained economists? “It really costs $82,125 to $92,378 per year.”

Care.com did back up one part of your husband’s theory: There will indeed be a record number of elderly in this country. “By 2050, the amount of people over 65 is projected to be 83.7 million, nearly double the rate now,” the company said.

However, caring for more elderly won’t reduce the price because unlike grocery stores, there’s no economy of scale. More elderly requires more nurses and doctors, no matter how efficient they are.

So what can you do? You’re lucky, Lilly. It seems like your retirement savings are already going strong. You now need to save for your own senior care. Check out Care.com’s Senior Care Guide Index or call Debt.com at 800-810-0989 for a free debt analysis.

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Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

Ask The Expert: Fighting Over Found Money

Question: Three years ago, we used Debt.com to help us settle our credit card problems. It took a couple years, but my husband and I are finally in the clear and even saving a few dollars a month.

Then last month, my step-mother died. It was traumatic but not a surprise, she was in her 90s. What I didn’t know is she had a significant amount of money that my father had left her when he died years earlier, and she never touched it. So I recently go a check for $29,000!

My husband and I are fighting over this, but not like you might expect. Neither of us want to blow it on a car or a vacation. The issue is: do we invest it in our retirement fund or create an emergency fund? We have neither of these things.

— Melanie in Kansas

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Howard Dvorkin on how to get out of debt fast

I’m going to take the easy way out: Split the money and do both. However, don’t split the money evenly.

Before we get to the amounts, let’s talk about the basics…

Elsewhere in your letter, you said you and your husband are in your late 40s. If you have no significant retirement savings, you definitely need to start now. Your money will make the most interest there.

How much? I recommend you use the Traditional IRA Calculator built by my friends at Bankrate.com. You’ll notice the longer you invest, the higher the interest you’ll earn on your money.

Of course, saving for retirement won’t really help if you’re not prepared for an illness, accident, or natural disaster now. Sure, many retirement funds allow you to tap into them, or take out loans against them, for specific emergencies. Doing so takes time and paperwork, and during an emergency, you have little of the former and no patience for the latter.

That’s why I’d set aside $5,000 for an emergency fund. That’s not the standard “three to six months of living expenses” most financial experts recommend, but I’ve always had mixed emotions about that advice: Yes, that figure is the ideal, but for those who aren’t close to achieving it, such a high number can be discouraging. You might quit before trying.

After consulting with so many clients over the years, I’ve noticed $5,000 is seldom enough to cover the bills, but it at least buys you time to get your wits about you after an emergency hits. Then you can clearly figure out your next steps.

So with that said, I’d suggest putting $24,000 into a retirement account. There are so many kinds, with differing levels of risk, it’s difficult to advise you without further conversation and research. You and your husband should look into this together. Hopefully, it won’t result in another fight, but if it does, you know how to reach me!

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Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a  CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

Ask The Expert: What Should I Save For First?

Question: After years of working part-time (I was laid off in 2014), I got a good full-time job with benefits. During the bad years, I ran up $11,000 on a half-dozen credit cards. I’m looking forward to paying those down, but I also want to start saving for retirement.

My wife says we should probably split whatever extra money my new job will bring in, but since we’re both in our early 50s, I’m wondering if stashing more in an IRA is a better option. Any advice?

— Andrew in Rhode Island

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Howard Dvorkin on how to get out of debt fast

Many times, my answers to reader questions is, “It depends.” Then I explain the nuances of that particular financial dilemma. Not so in your case, Andrew. The answer is simple. Pay off those credit cards.

Let me explain it like this: Saving for retirement without paying off your current debts is like trying to cure your cancer with chemotherapy while bleeding to death from a flesh wound. You need to solve the most pressing problem first, or you won’t survive long enough to get to the second.

As a CPA and financial counselor for more than two decades, I get asked all the time: “How do I save more for retirement?” When I ask if they have any credit card debt, they sometimes answer, “Sure, but I’m making the minimum payments.”

Here’s the thing: The interest on your credit cards far outstrips what you’ll earn in a retirement account. The average interest on those cards as of today is around 15 percent. Does your retirement accounts pay you 16 percent? If the answer is no, then pay off those credit cards first.

Of course, there’s a caveat: If you have a 401(k) at this new job, take advantage of it, especially if it offer a generous matching contribution. Until you pay down those credit cards, contribute only as much as the match.

If you really want to know where you stand, Andrew, call 1-800-810-0989 for a free debt analysis from one of our trained counselors. Then you can start your new job knowing exactly what you need to do.

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Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a  CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

Ask The Expert: Will I Ever Be Able To Retire After Raising 2 Kids?

Question: My youngest starts college this fall, and I’ve just recently started working again. (My husband and I scrimped and saved so I could stay at home and raise two boys.)

You might think hubbie and I would be celebrating our new-found freedom, but instead, I’m worried about our retirement. While he has a decent 401(k), I was out of the workforce for two decades. Now that I’m working again, I’m trying to build up my own 401(k). But my balances are so small, I don’t know how I’m ever going to catch up. 

Any advice, Howard?

— Cynthia in Oregon

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Howard Dvorkin on how to get out of debt fastI got your email only a few days before I read a sad report from the TransAmerica Center for Retirement Studies. You’ve probably never heard of the place, but they do amazing research.

What they found just this month…

  • Only 12 percent of women are “very confident” they’ll “fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle.”
  • A whopping 56 percent of women plan to retire after age 65 — or not at all.
  • 81 percent of women are concerned that “Social Security won’t be there for them when they are ready to retire.”

The scariest numbers of them all: “Women estimate that they will need to have saved $1 million  in order to feel financially secure in retirement.”

So now that I’ve terrified you, let’s talk about your more pleasant options. For starters, you and I spoke after I received your email, and there’s some good news: You have precious little credit card debt. You and your husband are carrying a balance of $1,700. So the first step is to pay that off.

How does that affect your retirement? Well, the interest on that $1,700 is going to a credit card company instead of you.

Second, both of your sons are in college but fortunately, you (and they) made the smart choice of attending a local community college for their first two years — something I suggested to another reader years ago.

Third, you had long ago purchased a 529 Plan for your sons’ education. So simply put, you don’t have to choose between your children’s education and your own retirement. I hope all the younger couples reading this take note.

What you need to do from now on

With these wise fiscal decisions behind you, let’s look ahead…

1. Consider downsizing. Once your youngest son is out of the house, can you move into a smaller house? The difference between selling a big house and moving into a small one can be directly invested for your retirement. Plus, you’ll save on everything from insurance to heating and cooling costs.

2. Go high tech. You sound like a responsible couple, but I’ve counseled older couples who still budget with paper and pen. Try a free online budgeting tool, which allows you to experiment with moving money around and seeing how the savings add up. My personal favorite is PowerWallet, which is why I partnered with them. But there are many others.

3. Join AARP. I have no connection to the organization, but I recommend it simply because it focuses on retirement issues I don’t have the space to explore here. Check out what’s available for free online, and consider joining if you think you’ll avail yourself of the AARP discount programs, which can total more than the annual membership fee.

Bottom line, Cynthia: Retirement is a scary financial situation for many Americans, but you’re positioned better than most. Keep doing what you’re doing.

creditrepairad

Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a  CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.

Ask The Expert: Does The Fed Matter To Me?

Question: I’m not a CEO,  a Wall Street investor, or an economist. So all I really wanna know is: How does all this talk about last week’s Federal Reserve’s rate hike, and maybe more to come, really affect me as a regular guy with some CDs and a little retirement savings that aren’t making much?

— Henry in Louisiana

Howard Dvorkin CPA answers…

Howard Dvorkin on how to get out of debt fastFor you, Henry, this rate hike might be good news.  Not so with many of your friends and neighbors.

I emailed you after receiving your question and learned you have no credit card debt— you pay off your balances each month. You also refinanced your mortgage a few years ago at an excellent rate and drive a used car you paid off long ago.

So for you, the Fed’s rate hike — the first since 2006; will eventually boost the interest on your savings while having little impact on your spending. Let’s break it down…

Savings

“The benefit could be anyone who has money in a bank account,” says Fortune magazine. Collectively, Americans have more than $8 trillion in savings accounts. Fortune estimates a .25 percent hike “could mean an extra $21 billion in interest, or about $163 per American household, a year.”

It all depends if the banks pass along those savings to their customers. I think they will, since banking has become so much more competitive with the acceptance of online-only banks.

Retirement

As with many Americans, your retirement savings are tied to the stock market. If you have a 401(k) or an IRA or other saving instrument, chances are they’re part of a stock or bond fund.  CNN reports, and many experts agree, the Fed hike “could trigger volatility in stock and bond markets, which are already on a roller coaster ride.”

However, that’s just one of many volatile developments in the stock market, which includes “falling oil prices, China’s continued economic slowdown and actions from other central banks around the world.” So for long-range retirement funds, there’s no reason to panic just yet.

Mortgages and auto loans

If your friends and family plan to seek home or car loans, “That could lead to higher borrowing costs for home buyers, but it’s not guaranteed,” The Washington Post has reported. “The higher rates may increase borrowing costs and make it more difficult for them to afford a car loan.”

In fact, the higher interest rates might make cars themselves more expensive, by making it “more expensive for dealers to hold inventory of unsold cars on their lots.”

Credit cards

Good thing you pay off your credit cards each month, Henry. As Yahoo! Finance reports, “credit card rates are likely to rise almost immediately.” With the average credit card borrower owing more than $5,000, that’s an immediate shock to the pocketbook. If there’s any silver lining, this will hopefully push those burdened by credit cards to seek credit counseling.

Conclusion

If you sense some hedging in all these news reports — could, may, likely — it’s because the Fed’s decision is similar to a rock thrown in a pond: The ripples are hard to predict. The Fed made its decision, and now banks, lenders, and investors are responding. Their response isn’t just to this rate hike, but the likelihood of future hikes.

As you can seem, Henry, paying off debt is helpful in the best of times, but it really pays off in the tense times. You’ve made the right financial moves in the past, so the present shouldn’t stress you out.

creditrepairad

Have a debt question?

Email your question to editor@debt.com and Howard Dvorkin will review it. Dvorkin is a  CPA, chairman of Debt.com, and author of two personal finance books, Credit Hell: How to Dig Yourself Out of Debt and Power Up: Taking Charge of Your Financial Destiny.