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While consumers have access to abundant financial advice on saving and investing for retirement, many nonetheless approach their post-work years with nest eggs that fall well short of what they’re likely to need — or no nest egg at all.

Only 45% of adults ages 45 to 59 consider their retirement savings to be on track, while 52% of those ages 60 and older feel they’re heading in the right direction financially, according to a 2021 Federal Reserve Board of Governors survey released this year.

Eighty-four percent of those in the 45-to-59 group and 87% in the 60-and-older cohort reported having some retirement savings, the Fed reported.

Financial advisory clients five to 10 years from retirement may feel panicked and overwhelmed if  they haven’t set enough aside. That doesn’t mean they can’t take steps to catch up and improve their retirement outlook.

ThinkAdvisor asked financial advisors to share their ideas for those who fear falling short when retirement is visible on the horizon. Specifically, we asked: What advice would you give clients if they’re five to 10 years from retirement and need to play catch-up on saving?

The answers vary from advisor to advisor — with different views, for example, on how much risk to take on — although they share common threads. Some responses have been edited for length.

1. Be Committed

Here's the advice I've given and would still give to clients in this situation:

“You're on the home stretch, and I can't give you back time, no one can. To relax and enjoy the retirement you envision, you have to be committed to these next 10 years. At this stage of the game, this is a budgeting issue, but one that can be fixed! You need to cut down on spending in every reasonable way.

“The focus should be on maxing out the retirement accounts and finding every avenue to save and invest. I'd also caution against greatly increasing your investment risk as it requires more time than you have to the goal. There's simply no substitute to creating the room within your cash flow and putting it towards retirement. The heavy lifting of closing this gap has to come from what you're able to additionally save.”

From there I'd run simulations showing them that taking on more risk is unlikely to close the gap. I'd show them scenarios on what it would take in terms of additional monthly or annual savings to meet the goal.

— Curtis Crossland, managing member, Suttle Crossland Wealth Advisors

2. Do the Math

The first step is to understand how much you need to comfortably support your lifestyle. For this, I recommend starting with the amount you feel you need monthly in retirement. Then multiply that by 12. This is your annual income need. Once you have that, subtract out any amount that will be supported by Social Security and/or pensions.

Now use the 4% rule of thumb and work backward. If I need $50,000 per year after Social Security and pensions I can divide that by .04 to get my sum of $1,250,000 that I need. That gives you at least a cursory understanding of your retirement savings need. You can begin saving to hit that amount by the time you retire.

Know that this just gives you an okay approximation of the amount you really need. To determine that, begin working with a financial planner. They can help you by figuring in complications like the rate of inflation throughout retirement, your expected investment returns, long-term care costs, and other factors that play into your success.

— Ian Bloom, owner and financial life planner, Open World Financial Life Planning

3. Consider the Options

It’s not too late to catch up, but to do so you’ll need to be very disciplined in setting goals and holding yourself accountable. There are three options: save more by working longer, save more by reducing expenses or reshape what retirement looks like.

Every extra year you work is an extra year of savings, and it reduces the amount of time in retirement when you are drawing down on investments. While this may be the simplest way to play catch-up and put yourself in a better financial position to retire, for many clients, this is the path they are hoping to avoid.

If you don’t want to delay retirement, ask yourself if you can save more by reducing expenses. Create a budget to understand your fixed expenses versus discretionary spend. Prioritize paring back on the discretionary bucket (all non-essential expenses) to increase the amount you can save.

If you are behind on retirement savings, it may require you to reshape what retirement looks like. Maybe you retire from your career, but you still maintain a part-time job to earn some income. Or maybe you reduce expenses in retirement, like traveling every other year instead of every year. You have options! It’s all about prioritizing, making decisions, and then sticking to your plan.

— Julia Vanzler, senior private wealth advisor, SVB Private

4. Seek Quality, Avoid Undue Risk

Most people who are five to 10 years from retiring will feel a sense of urgency to invest in higher risk areas, ultimately putting them at undue risk. Instead, they should focus on their risk alignment and work with a financial planner to determine what that is.

At CLA Wealth Advisory, we’re advising our clients who are approaching retirement to prioritize the following strategies:

  • Invest in high quality markets such as municipal bonds or preferred stocks. Given their attractive yields and fixed income, these strategies will help investors build their nest egg without taking undue risk.
  • Consider the impact that taxes will have on savings and investments and prioritize tax efficient investing.
  • Prepare for the need for liquidity post-retirement, remaining invested in the public markets and limiting exposure to illiquid private markets.

— Christopher Dhanraj, managing principal of investments at CliftonLarsonAllen

5. Visualize Retirement

Step 1. Visualize retirement specific to the person's wants, needs and future situation. It's very important to know where, when and how you want to retire. Common things to think about are travel, major purchases, moving in retirement and helping loved ones while in their older years.

Step 2. Visualizing leads directly into budgeting. Look at current income and expenses and start visualizing what these will look like in retirement. This is a great opportunity to look at current debts and whether they will still be debts to plan for in the future.

Step 3. Review tax strategies. Are you taking advantage of current tax strategies focused around your income, savings and investments? Taxes are a person's largest expense in their lives. Saving on taxes can directly lead to better saving for the future. Also discuss the types of accounts you have and their tax implications. Current and future needs have to be thoroughly thought through and discussed.

Step 4. Remember health care savings opportunities. If you currently have a high-deductible plan, take advantage of your health savings account. There are tax benefits and investment strategies to be considered within the HSA.

Step 5. Consider saving strategies and review current savings. Are you saving enough? Are you saving in the right places (IRA, Roth, 401(k))? At age 50, catch-up contributions should be considered and utilized. The IRS rules allow for more contributions that can provide a larger increase in retirement savings in later years before retirement.

Lastly, if these steps seem hard to execute and accountability is needed, reach out to a financial planner for help.

— Brandon Gregg, market president and financial advisor at BBK Wealth Management

6. Take Some Risk

Far too often when folks are behind they don't want to take on investment risk, but they need the risk to grow assets, especially to grow assets above inflation. Realizing that if you don't take on risk, inflation will eat away at your purchasing power both in and out of retirement. The most important thing is to come up with a plan that balances your goals, your income, your assets and your risk tolerance. There is no magic bullet. The only real way to ‘catch up’ is to lower the standard of living in retirement or to save and/or invest aggressively.

  • Don't ignore it any longer, that will just make it worse.
  • Take some time to digest reality.
  • Come up with a plan and don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
  • Get a handle on what you will spend now and in retirement.
  • Know what your Social Security payment will be and come up with a claiming strategy.
  • Get a handle on risk and return.

— Mark Struthers, founder and financial advisor, Sona Wealth

7. Max Out Contributions

As with any financial scenario, it will depend on a host of factors related to how the person values money, their past investment experience and what their vision of retirement is in 10 years. Catching up implies they are already behind, so a careful examination of what they will need to live and whether the catching up will get them to where they want to be is critical.

First, make sure they are maxing out their retirement plan contributions. If they have access to a plan like a 401(k), and are over age 50, they can set aside a maximum of $27,000 in 2022 ($20,500 + catch-up of $6,500). They need to check with their company’s benefits department to determine if the company makes matching and profit-sharing contributions. This could get the total amount, that includes their contribution, the company’s match and a profit-sharing contribution, to the legal limit of $61,000 this year.

If they can get to this limit and have excess money left over from their paycheck, they should dollar cost average into a diversified, low-cost, long term investment portfolio that matches their 10-year horizon and their tummy tolerance for losses in the short term. Savings in a taxable account can be invested in diversified, low-cost ETFs that typically are very tax efficient, so the investor will keep more of what the investments earn.

— Erik Nero, founder and president, First Step Wealth Planning

8. Focus on Saving

Save as much as you can! This will accomplish two things: (1) your savings will grow and (2) you may find you don’t need to spend as much as you thought while still being happy, which may reduce your expenses during retirement.

First, max out your health savings account (if you have one) up to $3,650 for self-only and $7,300 for families. And if you’re age 55+, you can make a “catch-up” contribution of another $1,000. You’ll get a tax deduction this year, tax-deferred growth and tax-free withdrawals if used for medical expenses during retirement.

Next, max out your 401(k) or other employer retirement plan up to $20,500 (Roth if possible, otherwise pre-tax). And if you’re age 50+, you can make a “catch-up” contribution of another $6,500.

Next, max out a Roth IRA (or traditional IRA) up to $6,000. And if you’re age 50+, you can make a “catch-up” contribution of another $1,000.

After that, save as much as you can in taxable brokerage accounts.

Finally, I highly recommend really thinking through what type of retirement you want to have. How much does it cost? Where will it be? Who will you be with/around? Thinking through these lifestyle questions will really help you prepare mentally and give you a better idea of how much you may be spending each year.

— Keith Spencer, owner and financial planner, Spencer Financial Planning

9. Earn More, Spend Less

To play catch-up on saving for retirement, it helps if you can find ways to earn more, spend less or even better a combination of both.

Earning more may simply involve asking your manager for a raise or talking to your boss about career progression and what you can do to earn more. Some people are afraid to approach their superior and have these conversations and may potentially be leaving money on the table.

On the spend side, eliminate high-interest debt as soon as possible either through consolidation (balance transfer credit card with 0% introductory rate) or payment acceleration.

Next, capitalize on the “low-hanging fruits” of personal finance: Are you contributing enough to get the company 401(k) match, are you maxing out your IRA, can you max your 401(k), are you saving money in a brokerage account?

If not, set up automatic transfers each month, much like how 401(k) deductions work, from your checking to max your IRA, Roth IRA, HSA or brokerage account, on top of contributing enough in your company 401(k) plan to earn 100% of their match.

If you’re able to save more, dump it into the 401(k) and look to see if your plan offers after-tax contributions and in-plan Roth conversions as that would allow you to save even more for retirement via a mega backdoor Roth.

The savings goals take precedence over other standard budgetary items like discretionary spend, entertainment, etc., as by prioritizing saving, you’re automatically reducing spend in other areas.

— Eric Presogna, owner, CEO, One-Up Financial

10. Look for Opportunities

First, maximize contributions, including catch-up contributions, to your workplace retirement plan, and make sure you’re receiving the maximum match from your employer. Keep contributing as much as you can to the plan each year to build your tax-deferred retirement savings.

Second, review your personal budget to see if you can find more money to save. Then add this savings to a brokerage account invested for growth. The brokerage account will give you flexibility if you need funds to spend in retirement that are not necessarily subject to ordinary income tax and potential tax penalties like withdrawals from your tax-deferred accounts.

Third, look for opportunities to pay down debt and reduce your monthly expenses. You may not need as much in retirement savings if you are able to spend less in retirement, especially if your home mortgage or other large debt is already paid off.

— David Edmisten, founder and lead advisor, Next Phase Financial Planning

11. Become Intentional

I just had a client last week who was in this exact situation and the reality is, while you can't go back and change the past, you can control the future with how intentional you want to get with your finances. This couple took their finances extremely seriously, and being empty nesters with a small mortgage remaining, they decided to make retirement savings their Number 1!

There's a misconception out there that in order to put away $20k+ year for retirement savings, you need to make $250,000+ but the reality is, that these clients of mine locked in on a goal and were able to save $86,000 per year while only bringing home $160,000; a savings rate well over 50%. It is possible! It's just uncomfortable.

— Nick Covyeau, owner and financial planner, Swell Financial Partners

12. Think Beyond Investments

If an individual is of the proper age, I would say to certainly utilize the catch-up contribution features on qualified retirement accounts such as 401(k)s IRAs, and HSAs that allow you to contribute more.

After that, simply saving into a taxable brokerage account will be beneficial. I would also advise an individual to maybe take more risk in the form of a higher equity allocation than the typical pre-retiree, as the need for portfolio growth is much greater than that of someone who has fully funded their retirement.

A final consideration is finding ways to cut expenses in retirement or get a part-time job that would pay a portion of the bills. There are many levers to pull and a portfolio is just one tool to ensure a successful retirement.

— Erik Baskin, founder and financial planner, Baskin Financial Planning

13. Update Your Financial Plan

Individuals contemplating retirement in the next five to 10 years who realize they need to play catch-up on their savings should begin by first updating and refreshing their written financial plan. Comprehensive financial plans identify not just all current assets, liabilities, insurance coverage and future income sources but also anticipated retirement needs and goals.

It’s also critical during this time to review and update all estate documents, account titling and listed beneficiaries on retirement and transfer on death accounts to ensure they are both current and accurate. Approaching retirement with a robust and comprehensive financial plan will help savers gain confidence that their golden years will be as secure as they had hoped.

— Andrew Crowell, financial advisor and vice chairman of wealth management, D.A. Davidson

14. Understand Spending

Retirement snuck up while you focused on family and enjoying life to the fullest. You’re 5-10 years from full retirement but haven’t saved enough. Here are three things to consider.

  • Ease Up On The Throttle: You would be surprised how many of our clients don’t truly understand their expenses. They have no idea what it takes for them to live comfortably now, much less in retirement. Create two spending categories to understand where you can save more. Essential expenses are those where you don’t have much forgiveness. Discretionary expenses offer real opportunities to save. Housing and education expenses are likely in your rear-view mirror, allowing you to save more each year until retirement. You need to find that delicate balance between living well now and increasing your retirement savings. A comprehensive financial plan can help you understand how much you need to “ease up on the throttle” for a safe landing.
  • Invest Wisely: Once you’ve determined what “extra” amount you can save per month or per year, choose the right investment account. Maximize tax advantaged saving options before considering taxable savings.
  • Fasten Your Seatbelt: If you are retiring soon, take a hard look at your portfolio asset allocation and formulate a risk-appropriate strategy. Making a major mistake close to retirement can undermine years of savings and investments, delaying your retirement or, worse, lowering your retirement lifestyle. Managing your investments while taking income from your portfolio is very different from what you have been accustomed to.

Aaron Beltrami, partner and wealth manager at Crestwood Advisors

15. Consider Modifications

The first step is to undergo a retirement analysis. It is a good roadmap illustrating what is needed to 'catch-up.' Savings alone may not be enough. Individuals may realize that they need to modify spending during retirement, delay their retirement date or work part time.

— Mark Hasenauer, vice president, wealth planning and goals based advice leader, TD Wealth

16. Get Strategic With Retirement Accounts

There are measures put in place to allow for individuals close to retirement age to jump-start their savings, and it’s important to max out your retirement contributions to catch up.

To be eligible for the maximum contribution on Roth IRAs, your modified adjusted gross income must be less than $129,000 if you’re single or $204,000 if married and filing jointly. To get around these limitations, you make nondeductible (after-tax) contributions to a traditional IRA and then convert your contributions to a Roth IRA. This strategy tends to work best for17. individuals who do not already have pre-tax assets in an IRA because your conversion will include a proportionate share of pre-tax and after-tax dollars.

A smaller measure to prepare for retirement with a short runway is to consolidate your retirement accounts. Over the years and various jobs you’ve held, you may have multiple accounts spanning different providers. Creating one retirement account can make it easier to manage investments, streamline your paperwork and even reduce fees as you catch up.

— Markell Bryant, financial advisor at Edward Jones


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