February 29th, 2016
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We all know how important it is to save for retirement. That’s a given. But when it comes to how to save, you may have a lot of questions. How much should I save? What should I invest in? And most importantly, how can I be sure that I’ll meet my goals for a comfortable retirement?
A survey BlackRock recently completed confirms how many of us have these questions. Asking employees across the U.S. about their workplace savings plans, 50% said they didn’t know as much as they should about investing for their retirement, and 47% don’t know how much money they need to save to get the retirement they want. But the good news is that most employers have recognized these concerns and are taking the steps needed to help their employees become successful savers. Here are three important steps that should reduce confusion and ensure you’re on a good path to savings success.
1. Read the Instruction Manual
If you have access to a workplace savings plan, you might consider your plan to be ‘one stop shopping’ for a comprehensive retirement savings strategy. But as powerful as your plan can be, it’s important to note that to get the most out of it, you’ll need to devote some time to learn about the features of the plan. Over 40% of our survey respondents confess to not spending enough time trying to understand their plan. Considering how important it is to have your plan running at peak efficiency, this is an opportunity to learn more about the workings of your account. It’s a bit like getting a new gadget. Sure, it probably will work right out of the box, but to take full advantage of all it has to offer, you have to read the instruction manual and figure out which features will be the most helpful for your specific needs.
This is particularly true now that today’s plans have so many added features. Many plans allow a variety of ways to contribute, a spectrum of investment choices, and hopefully some tools to help you determine progress toward your retirement goal. Should you contribute pre-tax or after tax (using a Roth provision)? What about having the plan raise your contributions a small amount every year automatically (what is sometimes called an auto increase feature)? If you are 50 or older, you might explore making catch-up contributions. Many plans offer this feature which allows an additional contribution of up to $6,000 per year.
2. Get Help With the Investment Challenge
One of the most perplexing aspects of saving for retirement can be the task of choosing and maintaining a mix of investments. Although some employees may enjoy choosing funds, it takes a certain amount of familiarity and time to construct and monitor your own portfolio. We know from our survey that 50% of all respondents reported that they didn’t know as much as they should about investing. So what should you do if you fall within that camp? Fortunately most plans now provide an alternative to doing it all on your own. A target date fund provides a professionally diversified mix of investments all within one fund. The investment blend is based on a given time frame when investors might want to retire. As time passes, the investment mix becomes more conservative as investors in the fund get closer to retirement. This means the fund’s investors don’t have to mix and monitor their own mix of funds because that all happens within their target date fund.
Another alternative for savings plan investors involves receiving individualized advice from an investment professional that your plan sponsor makes available to employees. The advice provider can offer personalized advice that might take into account a wide range of considerations such as outside-of-plan investments and unique savings goals.
3. Be the Managing Partner
I like to think about savings strategies as partnerships. Many employers spend a lot of time and attention working to create a flexible, low cost savings plan to help employees save for retirement. But they can only go so far to make it easy for you. As the principal beneficiary, you should be the more engaged, Managing Partner!
Your part of the partnership should start with a commitment – a commitment to take it seriously and do what it take to meet your goals. If you’re young you may not need a thoroughly fleshed out retirement plan, but at least recognize the importance of socking away a lot of money starting at a young age. And by all means, the sooner you can start using retirement planning software, do it! Like putting your destination into your car’s navigation system, the earlier in your journey you start, the more certain you can be about reaching your destination on time. And with that knowledge comes confidence. In BlackRock’s survey, 34% of respondents cited the use of retirement planning tools and resources as the source of their retirement confidence. So by all means, make that commitment to yourself. You will someday look back and thank yourself!