Even if retirement is decades away, it could pay to start early. Almost half of working-age families have saved nothing for retirement, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). And for working families with retirement account savings, the EPI found that the mean retirement account savings is just under $96,000. When you consider that someone retiring at age 65 could easily have a 20-year-long retirement, a total savings of $96,000 isn't nearly enough.
So, if you're wondering when to start saving for retirement — and how to catch up if you didn't start saving soon enough — here's what you could consider.
The Cost of Waiting
Many financial experts generally say you'll need at least $1 million in retirement savings to fund a comfortable retirement for 30 years. This figure is based on the well-known assumption that you'll withdraw 4 percent of your retirement savings every year (adjusting for inflation after the first year), according to The New York Times. This would total an annual salary of $40,000 in retirement.
To achieve a seven-figure savings, you'll likely need to start early. Someone who begins saving at age 20 and makes an annual contribution of $6,000 to their retirement accounts would have almost $1.7 million in retirement savings when they turn 60, assuming an 8 percent annual rate of return. Now, if that person started saving the same amount annually at age 40 instead (with the same 8 percent annual rate of return), they would only have around $296,000 at age 60 — about $1.4 million less.
Why such a huge gap? Compound interest. When you put your money into a savings account, it just sits there and loses its value due to inflation — prices increase, and your dollar buys less than it would have as time goes on.
However, when you place your money into a retirement savings account like a 401(k) or an individual retirement account (IRA), it tends to grow, as the rate of return on the stock market generally outpaces the rate of inflation. Of course, the stock market goes up some years and down in others. But overall, placing your money into an IRA or a 401(k) could help you secure your savings, especially if you start early.
How You Could Catch Up
If you have fewer working years ahead of you, some experts believe you should have three to four times your annual salary saved by your 40s, according to The New York Times. By your 50s, those experts believe your retirement savings should equal five to six times your annual salary. But if your savings are nowhere near these numbers, there are several things you could take into consideration.
The Internal Revenue Service sets limits on the amount employees can contribute to their retirement accounts each year. For 2017, this figure is $18,000. However, if you're 50 or older, you can make an additional $6,000 in catch-up contributions to your 401(k) or 403(b) (for nonprofits), which are retirement plans offered by employers where an employee contributes a certain percentage of their pretax earnings to retirement. Some employees or self-employed professionals may have an IRA as well: The 2017 catch-up contribution limits for these accounts is between $1,000 and $3,000, depending on the type of IRA.
One way you could save more for retirement is to increase your income and reduce your expenses. If you have a job where overtime is readily available, you could volunteer for it. Advancements in technology have created more opportunities for remote work, and the rise of the gig economy has created more freedom for you to work on your own schedule. If you have a skill set, consider using it beyond your 9-to-5 to increase your income.
Another thing you might want to consider? Your expenses. You could create a budget and find ways to cut back on discretionary items — whether that's eating out, monthly subscriptions, multiple vacations every year or going to the movies or concerts.
Extending Your Working Years
Though this isn't the first and most attractive solution, working longer could be an effective way to build your retirement savings, especially if your employer matches your retirement contributions. If you planned to retire at 62, working until you're 70 — and maximizing your savings, catch-up contributions and any employer match — could potentially add a cushion of more than $268,000 to your retirement savings. Consider taking advantage of a tax-deferred retirement account like a 401(k), 403(b) or traditional IRA. When you put money into these accounts, your earnings grow tax-free, and what you contribute to these accounts could also help reduce your taxable income and lower your overall tax burden.
Another advantage of delaying retirement? You'll delay collecting Social Security. If you delay retirement until age 70, according to the Social Security Administration, you'll collect about 1.3 times the monthly benefit you would have received had you started collecting at age 66. This, along with the interest you'd earn on additional contributions by extending your working years, could put you in a more comfortable position.
It's never too early to start saving for retirement because it could allow time for your money to grow thanks to the beauty of compound interest. Even if you started late, making the right financial moves today — like catch-up contributions and an increased income — may help your financial future.