On your journey to retirement, you'll likely face many risks that have the potential to throw you off course. Following are five common challenges retirement investors face. Take some time now to review and understand them before your journey takes an unplanned detour.
1. Traveling aimlessly
Setting out on an adventure without a definitive destination can be exciting, but probably not when it comes to saving for retirement. As you begin your retirement strategy, one of the first steps you'll need to take is identifying a goal. While some people prefer to establish one big lump-sum accumulation amount — for example, $1 million or more — others find that type of number daunting. They might focus on how much their savings will need to generate each month during retirement — say, the equivalent of $5,000 in today's dollars, for example. ("In today's dollars" refers to the fact that inflation will likely increase your future income needs. These examples are for illustrative purposes only. They are not meant as investment advice.)
Regardless of the approach you follow, setting a goal may help you better focus your investment strategy. In order to set a realistic target, you'll need to consider a number of factors — your desired lifestyle, pre-retirement income, health, Social Security benefits, any traditional pension benefits you or your spouse may be entitled to, and others. Examining your personal situation both now and in the future can help you determine how much you may need to accumulate.
2. Investing too conservatively...
Another key to determining how much you may need to save on a regular basis is targeting an appropriate rate of return, or how much your contribution dollars may earn on an ongoing basis. Afraid of losing money, some retirement investors choose only the most conservative investments, hoping to preserve their hard-earned assets. However, investing too conservatively can be risky, too. If your investment dollars do not earn enough, you may end up with a far different retirement lifestyle than you had originally planned.
3. ...Or too aggressively
On the other hand, retirement investors striving for the highest possible returns might select investments that are too risky for their overall situations. Although you might consider investing at least some of your retirement portfolio in more aggressive investments to potentially outpace inflation, the amount you invest in such higher-risk vehicles should be based on a number of factors. Appropriate investments for your retirement savings mix are those that take into consideration your total savings goal, your time horizon (or how much time you have until retirement), and your ability to withstand changes in your account's value. Would you be able to sleep at night if your portfolio lost 10%, 15%, even 20% of its overall value over a short time period? These are the types of scenarios you must consider when choosing an investment mix.
4. Giving in to temptation
On the road to retirement, you will likely face many financial challenges as well — the unplanned need for a new car, an unexpected home repair, an unforeseen medical expense are just some examples.
During these trying times, your retirement savings may loom as a potential source of emergency funding. But think twice before tapping your retirement savings assets, particularly if your money is in an employer-sponsored retirement plan or an IRA. Consider that:
- Any dollars you remove from your portfolio will no longer be working for your future
- You may have to pay regular income taxes on distribution amounts that represent tax-deferred investment dollars and earnings
- If you're under age 59½, you may have to pay an additional penalty tax of 10% to 25% (depending on the type of plan and other factors; some exceptions apply)
For these reasons, it's best to carefully consider all of your options before using money earmarked for retirement.
5. Prioritizing college saving over retirement
Many well-meaning parents may feel that saving for their children's college education should be a higher priority than saving for their own retirement. "We can continue working, if needed," or "our home will fund our retirement," they may think. However, these can be very risky trains of thought. While no parent wants his or her children to take on a heavy debt burden to pay for education, loans are a common and realistic college-funding option — not so for retirement. If saving for both college and retirement seems impossible, consider speaking with a financial professional who can help you explore the variety of tools and options.