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Feeling Behind on Retirement Savings? These Tips Can Help You Make Up for Lost Time

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  • When it comes to planning for your retirement, time may be your biggest asset.
  • By setting aside more money now, you give your investments more time to grow.
  • If you feel behind on your retirement savings goals, these strategies may help.

Many investors are missing out on one of the most valuable parts of retirement planning: time.

A Bankrate survey found that almost 36% of respondents have never had a retirement account.

Not saving enough for retirement is a big financial regret for many people, the research found.

There's a key reason for that remorse. For every year you don't invest and allow your money to compound, you may cost yourself tens of thousands of dollars in the future.

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Admittedly, there are many obstacles that can stand in your way if you want to save more. These can range from lack of access to a retirement savings plan at work to fulfilling other financial goals, like saving for big-ticket items such as a family home or a child's college education, or paying down debts like mortgages, credit cards or student loans.

But there are steps you can take now to save more today so that you live more comfortably later.

Increase your savings

It can be tough to know how much is enough when it comes to your retirement savings rate.

Many experts advocate for a 15% deferral rate.

That may come as a surprise to some workers, considering that automatic enrollment rates can be as low as 3% or less, if those plans also have automatic annual increases, according to asset manager Vanguard.

Experts generally recommend contributing enough to at least get an employer match, if one is available. Keep in mind, too, that you will need to save even more if you're also investing on behalf of your spouse.

Increasing your retirement savings deferral rates, even if just a little as you receive raises or promotions, can have a big impact on your total over time, according to Greg McBride, chief financial analyst at Bankrate.

"The habit of increasing the amount that you're putting away can go a long way," McBride said.

Invest in an IRA

One of the reasons many workers don't save more is because they do not have access to a retirement savings plan at work.

Just 64% of private industry workers have a defined contribution plan like a 401(k), according to T. Rowe Price.

So long as you or your spouse have earned income, you can open up an individual retirement account on your own and save that way, McBride said.

For younger workers, the opportunity to save in a Roth IRA with money they've already paid taxes on could enable them to earn decades of compounded tax-free growth, he said.

There are limits to how much you can put away each year through either a 401(k) or IRA plan.

In 2022, workers can save up to $20,500 in their 401(k) plans. The limit for traditional and Roth IRAs is $6,000.

If you're age 50 or over, you can put away even more through catch-up contributions — an extra $6,500 for 401(k) accounts and another $1,000 for IRAs.

Consider working a little longer

Geber86 | Vetta | Getty Images

If you're near retirement age, another strategy to consider is working longer.

Even a year or two of extra income can help bolster your financial retirement security, McBride said.

The reason: It's more time you have to save and let your assets grow and less time that your money has to support you in retirement.

Wait to claim Social Security benefits

Working longer can also help you delay claiming Social Security, which can significantly boost your eventual monthly retirement benefit check.

Eligible workers can first claim at age 62, but will have reduced benefits for life.

By waiting until full retirement age — generally 66 or 67 — they will receive 100% of the benefits they earned. And for every year they wait until age 70, their benefits go up even more.

The difference between claiming at age 62 and 70 can be as much as 77%.

"You basically get a permanent pay raise every year you're able to delay taking Social Security from age 62 to age 70," McBride said.

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