USA Today - What to do when behind on retirement savings

Gary Alt, co-founder and financial advisor at Monterey Private Wealth in Pleasanton, CA, was quoted in a USA Today article, "What to do when behind on retirement savings" by Teddy Nykiel, published on February 1, 2015.

Click here to read the article at MarketWatch.com, or read it below.

What to do when behind on retirement savings

Published by USA Today.com; Author: Teddy Nykiel; February 1, 2015.

You're in your 50s, the kids have moved out and the panic sets in: you don't have nearly enough retirement savings.

More than a third of the country's workforce is with you: 36% say they and their spouse have less than $1,000 saved for retirement, according to a 2014 survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, which was based on telephone interviews with 1,000 U.S. workers.

But you can get on track and prepare for retirement in just a few years. Here's how.

Create a retirement plan.

If you haven't already, sit down with your spouse and a financial adviser and outline a retirement savings plan.

"Some people might feel paralyzed because they don't have good answers, but a good retirement plan will help them create a plan that works for their specific situation," says Gary Alt, a financial advisor from Pleasanton, California.

Take stock of the savings you already have, including employer contribution plans, personal savings and other investments. Estimate your retirement age and how much you'll spend during those years. Then, identify ways that you can save the rest of the money you need.

It's impossible to guess exactly how much money you'll need during retirement, but be sure to account for inflation and increasing health care costs. The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College suggests saving about 15% of your earnings, and NerdWallet recommends putting at least 20% of your post-tax dollars toward retirement.

Start saving now.

You can't put it off any longer: Start saving right now. Find places in your budget to trim discretionary expenses and put that money toward retirement.

Open an individual retirement account (IRA) and a 401(k) if you haven't already, and start paying catch-up contributions. If you're 50 or older, you can contribute an additional $1,000 to the $5,500 IRA limit and $6,000 above the $18,000 401(k) contribution limit for 2015.

You may be tempted to increase the risk in your retirement portfolio to maximize returns, but higher risk means a higher potential for loss. If you're already behind on your retirement savings, you can't afford to take on that danger.

Pay down debt.

You want to pay as few bills as possible during retirement, so pay down as much debt as you can now. Pay off your credit card debt first, especially if you have a high annual percentage rate (APR), to avoid paying more in interest.

Delay collecting Social Security.

Wait to start collecting Social Security checks until you are at least full retirement age, which is 65 to 67, depending on the year you were born. Wait even longer if possible. For every year you delay Social Security beyond your full retirement age, you'll receive an extra 8% in benefits, says Curt Sheldon, a financial advisor from Alexandria, Virginia. Delayed retirement benefits increase until age 70, so don't collect your benefits until then if possible.

Find new income streams.

Any extra income you can get will help you pay down debt and save more each month. Consider selling valuable assets like jewelry, an extra car, or furniture. If you have a spare bedroom, rent it out on Airbnb, HomeAway or Roomorama. Another option is to find a part-time job or freelance work during retirement, so you can maintain some income to supplement your savings.

Downsize your home.

Mortgage payments and property taxes likely account for a large portion of your bills each month. If you have adult children, you probably don't need a large house anymore, and you certainly don't need to pay high property taxes to live in a stellar school district.

Think about relocating to a less-expensive city, or if you can, moving in with family members to save on rent. Also consider downsizing or refinancing your mortgage.

"In some cultures it's common for grandparents to live with or close to their adult children," Alt says. "Americans tend to value their independence and oftentimes don't want to go down this route, but it's something more and more people will need to consider."

Delay retirement.

When push comes to shove, you may end up having to retire later than you'd hoped. Once you decide to delay retirement, make another plan for ways to continue saving so that when you eventually do retire, you'll be able to live comfortably.

The bottom line.

There's no doubt that saving for retirement is stressful, but even if you're starting late in the game, there's still hope. If you're 50 now, you have 20 years to save to retire at age 70.

"It is never too early and never too late to save for retirement," Sheldon says. "Starting to save for retirement will improve your situation versus not starting."