You know that you should be investing regularly in a 401(k) plan or IRA to build a retirement nest egg. But what if you haven’t been contributing enough to your 401(k)? What if that old IRA that you started a decade ago has been sitting untouched ever since?
Or, what if you’re past 50 and retirement is looming ever nearer?
The good news is that it’s possible to revive an old or neglected retirement savings plan, even after you’ve hit the half-century mark. It just takes dedication to devoting more of your income to your IRA or 401(k) plan along with a willingness to take advantage of catch-up contributions that are available to those 50 or older. (See also: 7 Retirement Planning Steps Late Starters Must Make)
Some concerning statistics
According to a 2017 retirement plan wellness “scorecard,” 75 percent of Baby Boomers between ages 50 and 68 are contributing to their 401(k) plans. That sounds great, but Baby Boomers actually had the lowest participation among all age groups in the study.
The same study found that 77 percent of Gen Xers (ages 35–49) contributed to their 401(k) plans while 82 percent of millennials (ages 21–34) did the same.
More worrisome news came from the 2017 PWC Employee Financial Wellness Survey. The survey found that 30 percent of Baby Boomers have just $50,000 or less saved for retirement — significantly short of the amount needed for a happy and healthy post-work life. (See also: 10 Signs You Aren’t Saving Enough for Retirement)
Time to play catch-up
If you don’t have enough money in your 401(k) plan, or if you have an IRA that you’ve been mostly neglecting, you can boost the amount of money you save each year if you are age 50 or older.
For the 2017 tax year, you are allowed to contribute up to $18,000 in a 401(k) plan. But if you’re over 50, you can go past this threshold with what are known as catch-up contributions. Currently, at 50+, you can contribute an extra $6,000 to a 401(k) for a total of $24,000 a year.
Traditional and Roth IRAs also have catch-up policies for investors 50 or older. For the 2017 tax year, you can contribute up to $5,500 in either type of IRA. But if you are 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $1,000 for a total of $6,500 this year in your neglected IRA.
If you can make these extra contributions happen, do it. The catch-up contributions are designed to help sluggish savers boost their retirement dollars as they get closer to leaving the workforce. They’re a good option for providing a boost to a 401(k) plan or a largely ignored IRA.
Increase your regular contributions
When you take out a 401(k), you tell your employer what percentage of your paycheck you want devoted to the savings vehicle. If you’re not contributing as much as possible with each paycheck by the age of 50, now is the time to change that. It is absolutely essential, if your retirement savings account is lacking, to boost those regular contributions.
You should definitely increase those contributions so that you are saving enough to meet your company’s matching program, if it offers one. Many employers offer a matching program. To take advantage of this, you’ll have to contribute a set minimum amount of dollars in a given year to your 401(k).
The amount of money employers match, and the way company matching programs work, varies. But it is possible to earn thousands of dollars in free money each year if you contribute enough of each paycheck to qualify for matching funds from your employer. Those funds are basically free dollars from your company, and can help provide another boost to a 401(k) plan that needs more money.
Change your spending priorities
Once retirement nears, boosting your savings for it should become your top financial priority. Fortunately, many adults in their 50s have already helped pay for their children’s college tuitions, so that major expense is behind them. These adults can then boost the amount of money they contribute to old IRAs or underfunded 401(k) funds.
But what if you still have children getting ready to attend or already attending college? It’s OK to tell these kids that your retirement savings come first.
Financial experts agree that it is more important for adults to build their retirement savings than it is for them to pay for their children’s college tuitions. This doesn’t mean that you can’t help your kids pay for college. It just means that you shouldn’t contribute so much that you can’t afford to sock away enough for retirement. (See also: Are You Ruining Your Retirement by Spoiling Your Kids?)
As you move past 50, it’s time to shift priorities toward yourself. You don’t want to enter retirement unsure of whether you have enough dollars saved up to afford it.