When you're in your 50s, there's still time before retirement, but it's coming up fast, and you're heading into the last big push to get your finances in order. So how can you make sure everything is on track? While there is no one-size-fits-all playbook that will apply to every individual, here is some general retirement advice to help you get the most out of your golden years.
Envision Your Ideal Retirement
Take some time to consider what exactly you'd like your retirement to look like. At what age do you want to stop working? Will you stay in the same area or move somewhere else? Do you see yourself traveling and taking on lots of hobbies like golf, or will it be a quiet, inexpensive retirement at home with family? Discuss this vision with your spouse and loved ones to make sure you're on the same page.
By asking these questions ahead of time, you can start putting together a rough retirement budget. Consider how much you might need each year for housing, food, insurance, travel, hobbies and other expenses so you can develop a frame of reference for your savings.
Make Sure Your Savings Are On Track
With your ideal retirement lifestyle and budget in mind, you can get a sense of how much money you would need to retire and whether you've been saving enough. One benchmark worth noting is that you should have about 11 years of your salary saved up before your retirement. To stay on schedule, at age 50 you should have roughly five years' salary saved, and at age 55 you should have seven years' worth.
For a more precise estimate, you could use an online retirement calculator. With this tool, you would enter your age, current savings and target retirement budget to see how much more you'll need to save to reach your goal.
If it looks like you won't reach your goal by your target retirement age, could you consider retiring at a later date? Each extra year of work would help boost your retirement savings and allow you to delay Social Security, so you would receive a larger monthly payment. Even some part-time work at the start of retirement can put your plan on a more solid footing.
Maximize Your Retirement Contributions
In your 50s, your top priority should be to put aside as much money as possible, especially if your current savings are a little behind. Retirement accounts like a 401(k) or a traditional IRA can help. In addition to enabling you to invest, these accounts also give you a tax deduction for your contributions, and once you turn 50, you can save more per year thanks to catchup contributions.
As of 2021, the limit for how much you can put into an IRA is $7,000 per year (as opposed to $6,000 for those younger than 50) and $26,000 per year into a 401k, rather than the typical $19,500. The higher catchup limits can help you make up for lost time, as every extra dollar gets you closer to your retirement number.
Review Your Investment Strategy
In your 50s, you may want to become a little more cautious with your investment strategy. At this age, you don't have as much time to bounce back from a big market crash or financial crisis like what we saw at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Look at your portfolio to make sure it has a mix of both stocks for future growth and bonds to protect your savings. To get the right mix, a good retirement planning rule is to subtract your age from 100 and 120 to find a range. The difference represents how much you should have in stocks as a percentage, with the rest going into bonds. Someone aged 55, for example, would want between 45% to 65% of their portfolio in stocks and the remainder in bonds.
Consider a Tax-Free Retirement Account
When you save through a 401(k) or IRA, you get an upfront tax deduction, but when you retire, you owe taxes for taking money out of these accounts. Another option is to invest through a Roth IRA or Roth 401k. While these accounts do not give you an immediate deduction, when you take money out, your withdrawals are completely tax-free, which means you won't ever owe taxes on the investment gains.
By leveraging a combination of taxable and tax-free accounts, you may be able to keep yourself in a lower tax bracket during retirement.
Pay Down Any Debts
Another key piece of retirement advice is to try to get there debt-free. When you don't have debt payments to factor in, it removes extra bills from your retirement budget, which can make a substantial difference in your expenses. Start by targeting higher interest debts, such as debts tied to credit cards and personal loans. Aim to pay these off as quickly as possible, as they are charging you the most. Once you've paid off an account, you can put the funds for that monthly payment toward your other retirement goals.
If you have extra cash, it also makes sense to pay off your mortgage before retirement. Even though mortgage interest rates are low, that's still money going to a lender and not to yourself, so paying off this debt can put you in a stronger position.
Prioritize Retirement Over Other Goals
Chances are good that you have other financial goals right now, such as buying a bigger house or launching a business. As much as you can, prioritize hitting your retirement planning goals first and then consider other ventures. For example, it may be worth it to avoid buying a brand-new car if your old model is still getting the job done. You've only got one shot to reach your savings target, and there's no do-over if you fall short.
The need to prioritize your retirement also applies when you're considering how much you can support family members like adult children as a member of the sandwich generation. When you're in your 50s, your children might be at the point of going to college or buying their first home, and you'll likely want to help them as much as you can. However, be sure to keep your retirement goals in mind as you determine how much support you can offer, and remember that your kids can always apply for student loans or first-time homeowner programs for assistance.
Account for Health Care Costs
Even with Medicare, retirement health care costs can be substantial. You could still owe money for Medicare insurance premiums, deductibles, copayments, prescriptions or other out-of-pocket costs not covered by the government.
If you are eligible for a Health Savings Account, it can help you save for these expenses. Your contributions are tax-deductible, and you can spend this money on health care expenses tax-free, including expenses that come up during retirement. If you don't need the money for health care, once you turn 65, you can make penalty-free withdrawals and spend the funds on anything you want. You'll owe taxes on these withdrawals, but it works out the same as if you had saved through a traditional IRA.
Another option to consider is whether you'd like to set up long-term care insurance to help pay for a nursing home or assisted living facility, as Medicare generally will not cover these costs. In your 50s, you have a better chance of qualifying for long-term care insurance compared to when you are older.
Meet With an Advisor
If you aren't working with a financial advisor, now may be a good time to schedule a meeting for more retirement advice. A financial advisor can go over your specific situation and goals to calculate whether you're on track and if there's anything else you should consider. Even if you don't want to work with an advisor long-term, they can still design a plan that you can then follow on your own.
The most applicable retirement advice for your situation will largely depend on your unique goals and finances. However, be sure to keep the above guidance on saving, investing and insurance in mind as you near retirement so that you can cover the most important aspects of retirement planning in your 50s.