When is it too late for you to begin saving for retirement? The answer depends on a lot of things. How to start saving for retirement at 50 or older also depends on a lot of things, such as your debt levels, lifestyle, employment and personal goals (among others). It's important to have a firm grasp on each of these elements, along with what to expect from life after completing your career.
It's OK if you don't know every detail of what's to come — it can be difficult to come up with clear answers to basic questions about how much you need to save for retirement, whether to delay Social Security collections, tax considerations, budgeting and controlling debt. Even if you're in your 50s, however, getting started on these arrangements now can help improve your retirement preparations — and allow you to more easily make any necessary adjustments along the way.
If you haven't started saving for retirement prior to your 50s, adjusting retirement expectations will probably be your first step. You might consider retiring later and delaying your Social Security payments beyond your full retirement age (67 for those born after 1960). Doing so would increase your benefits by 8 percent each year until age 70 if you were born in 1943 or later. In addition to increasing Social Security benefits, the extra time could allow any investments to compound, assuming they performed well. Of course, no investment is guaranteed to grow, and may actually lose value over time, so you might consider establishing multiple sources of income.
You can then create a budget to help determine how much income you'll likely need in retirement. Consider, for instance, whether you'll rent a home or continue paying a mortgage, travel or pursue hobbies at home, or support any dependents. These factors will help you get some idea of your typical weekly and monthly expenditures in retirement.
Prioritize Your Retirement Savings
Once you've determined your budget, you can then think about how to increase your savings accordingly. You can do this through an employer-sponsored plan, like a 401(k), if you have access to one. You can find up-to-date contribution limits on the IRS website. Also consider taking advantage of your employer's matching contributions, if available.
In addition to your employer-sponsored plan, a traditional or Roth individual retirement account (IRA) may allow you to add $7,000 to your retirement savings annually (a limit of $6,000, plus an additional "catch-up" of $1,000 for those 50 or older). If you go with a traditional IRA, you may be able to take advantage of possible annual deductions on your federal income, and if you go with a Roth IRA, you may be able to make tax-free withdrawals of interest and earnings in accordance with applicable rules.
Although it can make sense to diversify between pretax (traditional) and post-tax (Roth) accounts, you might consider prioritizing a Roth IRA if you're in a lower tax bracket while you're working, so you don't end up paying more if your investments (and thus your taxes) grow.
Whether you open a traditional or Roth IRA (or both), each has a "phaseout," which is a limit on your ability to deduct from or contribute to either. The IRS publishes these limits and changes on its website every year to help you keep track.
In addition to your own retirement account, your partner can set up a spousal IRA if he or she doesn't already contribute to a retirement plan.
Other Options to Consider
Saving for retirement in your 50s can mean taking advantage of a health savings account (HSA). Not only can an HSA allow you to take a tax deduction, but qualified medical expenses are completely tax-free.
It's also important to remember that having too much debt can affect your full retirement date, especially if your income isn't rising. If your projected expenses are higher than your projected income, you might consider downsizing homes or moving away from metropolitan areas to help reduce costs. Budgeting is the key to continuously monitoring spending and getting your savings back on track. If you have existing debt, you might consider using funds from non-retirement accounts (such as savings and money market accounts) to pay it down as much as possible before withdrawing from retirement savings.
If you're wondering how to start saving for retirement at 50 — or beyond — you can start by evaluating the choices available to you as soon as possible. Consider meeting with a financial representative to discuss your retirement goals and how to reach them.