The Plan Sponsor Council of America has designated the Friday after Labor Day as 401(k) Day, a day to focus on retirement planning and preparation. Here are 7 steps you can take to ensure you are on track for your retirement:
1. Set your personal retirement goals and review them annually:
Since higher earners will get a smaller portion of their income in retirement from Social Security, they generally need more assets in relation to their income. Experts say that workers should aim to save at least 1x their salary by 30, 3x by 40, 6x by 50, 8x by 60, and 10x by 67. Factors that will impact your personal savings goal include the age you plan to retire and the lifestyle you hope to have in retirement.
2. Maximize your contributions:
A good rule of thumb is to save at least 15% of your pre-tax income each year for retirement, including employer matching contributions. If you are not quite there yet, commit to increasing your deferral amount from each paycheck by 1% each time you receive a pay increase until you reach your maximum contribution level. Coordinating an increase in savings with an increase in pay is often easier than increasing your contributions after you have gotten used to a higher paycheck. At the very least, be sure to contribute enough to receive the full company match if one is available. With these simple changes, you can dramatically increase the money you will have in retirement.
3. Review your investment allocation:
Your ideal asset allocation attempts to balance risk and reward by investing your portfolio according to your specific goals, risk tolerance, and investment time horizon. The three main asset classes—equities, fixed income, and cash—have different levels of risk and expected return, and the percentage you devote to each depends on your time horizon and tolerance for risk. Younger investors who plan to stay invested for decades will benefit from investing their money more aggressively compared to those nearing retirement who may choose to be more conservatively invested.
While investing in individual stocks can be risky, a single mutual fund can offer more broad diversification. Most retirement plans offer Target Date Funds that invest your balances in accordance with your expected retirement date. If you are not particularly investment savvy or prefer to put your investments on autopilot, Target Date Funds offer a single, diversified option for investors of similar age.
4. Rebalance along the way:
Once you have established and implemented an asset allocation strategy for your 401(k), it is important to periodically adjust the amounts in each of your funds back to their original targets. When your portfolio becomes out of balance, you may unintentionally deviate from your original risk profile, and rebalancing keeps your portfolio risk within your tolerance limits. This discipline also helps you take profits in those investments that have done well (by selling high) and redeploys those profits into other areas of your portfolio (by buying low).
5. Consolidate your 401(k)s in one place:
If you have one or more 401(k) accounts from a previous job, you might choose to consolidate them into your 401(k) with your current employer, into a Rollover IRA at a qualified custodian, or leave it where it is. There are benefits and drawbacks to each choice, so consider all your options.
6. Check beneficiaries:
Your spouse is automatically the primary beneficiary of your 401(k) plan, but if you are divorced, widowed, or remarried, make sure the correct person or people are named. If you are married but prefer to name someone else (such as a child) as your primary beneficiary, your spouse will need to sign a waiver of rights to your 401(k) benefits.
7. Keep a long-term view:
Whether you are decades from retirement or plan to retire soon, time is on your side. Not only are you planning for the eventual day that you stop working, but retirement may last as long as two or even three decades. It’s important to identify a level of volatility you’re comfortable with and stay the course during choppy market activity to avoid missing out on any recovery later. If you’re concerned about whether you’re on track to reach your financial goals, consult a professional financial advisor who can help you prepare for all scenarios.