You want to save for tomorrow, but sometimes today gets in the way. We asked money experts to solve your biggest money-related problems.
My student loan debt is stressing me out. Shouldn't I pay that off before saving for retirement?
“It’s natural to feel overwhelmed, but if you can do both, do both,” says Amy Godwin, a certified financial planner and vice president at Fidelity Investments. It might seem like making 7 percent return in the stock market while paying 7 percent interest on a loan is a wash—until you factor in compound interest. Let’s say you have an extra $300 in your budget each month and 10 years to pay off a $20,000 student loan. If you throw that spare cash into a retirement account, you could end up with $4,000 more at the end of the decade than if you rushed to pay off your loan before switching to savings. And $4,000 invested in your 20s will likely turn into $34,000 by the time you retire, even if you don’t contribute another dime. “There’s a psychological benefit to saving for retirement,” adds Andrea Coombes, a retirement specialist at NerdWallet. Setting aside even a small amount each month can help you feel in control of your financial future. One caveat: The math doesn’t hold up if you have private student loans or credit cards with double-digit interest rates. Focus laser-like on erasing that kind of debt.
I’m tempted to cut back on retirement savings to help with my daughter’s college costs.
Fidelity recommends having four times your salary in retirement savings by age 45 and six times by age 50. If you’re past those goalposts and socking away north of 15 percent each year, you can dial back for a bit to help with college. “But as soon as your kids graduate, you have to try to double down on retirement,” says Coombes. Nearly a quarter of parents saving for retirement also expect their kids to support them during retirement. “There’s a real risk of becoming a burden to them when you retire and, in turn, risking their financial security,” says Coombes.
I’m in my 50s and don't feel as on track for retirement as my friends.
First, stop sizing up other people’s nest eggs. You might think peer pressure will motivate you to save more, but a study in The Journal of Finance found the opposite is true. Kick your savings into high gear by increasing contributions to your employer-sponsored retirement plan (if you have access to one) and your IRA. Starting at age 50, you can stash an extra $6,000 a year in catch-up contributions in a 401(k), plus an extra $1,000 in an IRA, for a total annual savings of $31,000 across both accounts. Automatic contributions are the best way to turn good intentions into actual savings, says Godwin. And if your kids haven’t left home yet, know that your retirement savings may rise by up to 1 percent once they do, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. Downsizing to a house with cheaper upkeep, lower taxes, and a pint-size mortgage could free up money to invest.
I’m retired but finding my income isn’t enough.
“Even though you’re feeling pinched, it’s worth paying for a meeting with a finance pro. There are three things they’ll look at: Can you lower your taxes? Can you increase your returns by investing differently? And are your Social Security benefits as high as possible?” says Matt Fellowes, PhD, founder of United Income, a money-management firm for aging households. Go to plannersearch.org to find a certified financial planner who specializes in retirement for people with your net worth. Thinking of heading back to work? Loop in your adviser. “You want to make sure the net effect of the job is going to make up for any money you might lose due to higher taxes or lower benefits,” says Fellowes.