If you are like most people, you have had plenty of good intentions.
IN THIS PACKAGE
- Mending your 401(k)
- Finding bargains can be all in the timing
- Some investors seek foreclosures, tax liens
- The savings game
- The Leckey file
- Getting started
- Spending smart
- Taking stock
- Emerging-market stock funds have offered rewards, risk
- The week ahead
Jan. 13: Mending your 401(k)
Jan. 6: Family needs drastic steps to dig out of debt
- Mutual Funds
See more topics »
But perhaps you have left money languishing in a savings account in a bank earning a measly 2 percent interest, when you might have earned an average of 8 percent to 10 percent a year in your 401(k). Or you might have made your 401(k) selections without much thought, like throwing darts, years ago and never revisited them. Perhaps dumb luck has enriched you, but you can't keep counting on luck.
Here's what you can do now to make your money work better for you in the future.
-- Know what you may need
If you accumulate $500,000 by the time you retire, you would be able to remove about $20,000 the first year you retire, increase it a little each year to handle inflation, and probably have enough money to last you to 90 or 95.
If you accumulate $1 million, you would be able to remove about $40,000 to $50,000.
To know with more certainty what you will need and how much you need to save, try the "ballpark estimate" at Choose to Save (www.choosetosave.org).
As a rule of thumb, if you start saving 10 percent of your pay in your 20s, you should be fine. If you start in your 30s, it's about 15 percent.
-- Don't rely on a savings account
Savings accounts in banks are no place for the retirement money you are trying to build. Savings accounts are for the stash of emergency money you might need over the next three to six months if you lose a job or encounter a major unexpected expense.
If you are 30, have $5,000 in a savings account, don't add another cent and leave the money invested for 35 years, you could end up with close to $10,000. In a 401(k), that same $5,000 would become $74,000 if you made 8 percent a year on stock and bond mutual funds.
Besides better investment options, the 401(k) helps you out more by holding taxes at bay. If you have money in a savings account, or an investment account outside a 401(k) or an individual retirement account, Uncle Sam shows up each year and makes you pay taxes on what you've earned. That's not the case with a 401(k). Every penny you put in a 401(k) stays there to keep earning interest. And Uncle Sam also gives you a tax break when you put money into your 401(k).
-- Grab the free money
Maybe you think saving $1 million by the time you retire is a complete fantasy--the world of rich people, not people like you.
You probably aren't considering the free money your employer will give you, or what's called matching money, when you contribute to your 401(k). The matching money can help turn modest savings into a giant sum over time.
Let's say that your employer follows a fairly common practice: If you contribute 4 percent of your pay to the 401(k), your employer will match 100 percent of the money. That's like getting 4 percent in extra pay a year.
Assume you are 30, making $50,000 a year, and every year until you retire at 65 you contribute 4 percent of your pay to the 401(k). Because you do that, your employer throws in another 4 percent.