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6 last-minute retirement planning strategies

By Barbara Whelehan, Bankrate.com • Jun 30, 2019 at 7:15 AM

Are you facing imminent retirement with nothing but Social Security and pocket change for your so-called "golden years"? It may not be too late for you to catch-up on your savings.

If everyone saved a decent chunk of their income throughout their career and never dipped into savings to deal with emergencies, all could enjoy a cushy retirement. But in reality, many people find they are rapidly approaching retirement age without nearly enough savings.

If this situation is all too familiar to you, don't worry — you still have several options to get your retirement savings back on track. Implementing these last-minute solutions may not work as well as long-term retirement planning, but it's better than doing nothing at all.

"Every day that you delay making progress toward your retirement goals is a day that you fall further behind," says CFP professional Michael Shanahan, managing partner at Overland & Shanahan Wealth Advisors in San Diego. "Any action taken is always better than ignoring the problem and pretending it will go away."

These six last-minute retirement planning strategies may ensure you won't have to pawn jewelry, borrow from relatives, panhandle or take other desperate measures to make ends meet in retirement.

1. Save like mad

Financial professionals recommend that you save 15% or more of your annual income throughout your career for retirement. If you haven't done so and time is running short, try drastically increasing your savings rate.

Reduce your current expenses wherever possible and funnel the savings into your retirement accounts. The IRS makes this easier by offering catch-up provisions that allow people over age 50 to contribute extra money to IRAs and 401(k)s. For example, for the 2019 tax year, if you add in the $1,000 catch-up savings the annual contribution limit for an IRA is $7,000 for people 50 and older. Those who are 50-plus may contribute as much as $25,000 into a 401(k) plan when the $6,000 catch-up contribution is factored in.

These catch-up contributions can make a big difference. For example, if you are age 50 and haven't saved a penny for retirement but are able to max out your IRA and 401(k) contributions going forward, you can set aside $32,000 annually (compared with a maximum of $25,000 for younger savers). If your annual returns average 6 percent, you could still accumulate a portfolio worth more than $1.2 million by age 70.

2. Take more risk

Are you a nervous investor with most of your money in certificates of deposit and low-interest-paying bonds? Consider taking more risk in your investment portfolio and ratcheting up your stock holdings. Many investments in CDs and money market accounts have been losing money in recent years once inflation is taken into account. And if you can generate higher returns on your investments, your portfolio will grow more rapidly, making up for some of your savings shortfall.

Ultra-conservative investors can be "significantly rewarded for making even modest moves up on the risk spectrum," Shanahan says. For example, you might want to consider switching from six-month CDs to higher-yielding corporate bonds or increasing the percentage of stocks in your portfolio from 20% to 30%.

Of course, the challenge with this approach is that greater risk could lead to a loss of principal, placing you even further away from your retirement goal. So, it's important to remember to make moderate moves. Large, radical portfolio shifts are rarely a good idea.

3. Delay your retirement

While you are working, you aren't drawing down your savings, so your investments get more time to grow. Working longer also gives you additional time to add to your retirement fund and build your savings.

Delaying your retirement date also can increase the income you will eventually receive from Social Security. By postponing your starting date from age 62 to age 70, you will get significantly higher monthly payments.

According to the Social Security Administration, if your full retirement age is 66, your benefit would be reduced by 25% if you begin drawing benefits at age 62. On the other hand, you'll get 132% of your monthly benefit if you wait until age 70 to collect.

IRS rules can be complicated, so be sure to consult with a tax or financial professional to discuss your specific situation.

4. Get thrifty

Most people want to live a lifestyle in retirement at least equal to the one they enjoyed during their working career. However, if your savings are inadequate, you may have to cut your expenses to stretch your savings.

For example, let's assume that you've saved $400,000 and are used to spending $50,000 each year. Ignoring any investment gains during retirement, you would have enough savings to last only eight years if you continued to spend at your current rate, and that doesn't take into account any taxes owed. But if you cut your spending in half, your savings would last 16 years. Even better, since more of your money will stay invested for a longer period of time, your portfolio would have the opportunity to continue growing.

Does spending that much less sound impossible? Then try combining less dramatic spending cuts with part-time retirement employment. Says Shanahan: "We are seeing many retirees actually begin new careers in areas that they truly enjoy or consider a 'hobby.' While the pay is typically significantly less than what they were earning in their primary long-term occupation, this additional income can help retirees stretch their retirement savings considerably longer than if they have no additional income at all."

5. Consider a move

If you have significant equity in your home, you might want to consider selling and using the proceeds to top off your retirement account. This is a radical move, but it is often possible to substantially reduce your total housing expenses by renting or by buying a smaller place. Another possibility is getting a reverse mortgage, which allows you to continue living in your house while receiving monthly income.

Regardless of whether you own a home, moving to a less expensive location can make a difference. Individuals in coastal areas where the cost of living is high may be able to stretch their retirement dollars further by moving to less expensive locales. For example, the cost of living in Bozeman, Mont., is 29% less than in San Diego, and the cost of living in Orlando, Fla., is less than half that of living in New York City. Less expensive locales such as Florida and Arizona also draw large numbers of retirees, offering the possibility of a robust social life and attractive recreational opportunities at a reasonable cost.

6. Take a combo approach

Use your creative skills to combine some of these solutions. For instance, delaying your retirement date while saving like crazy can form a powerful combination that will allow you to make up for lost time. Likewise, moving to a cheaper locale while also moderating your lifestyle can produce substantial savings in retirement. Plus, more and more retirees are choosing part-time employment, which not only supplements retirement savings, but provides an opportunity to stay mentally and physically active and engaged in the community.

Regardless of which solutions you choose, the key is to ramp up your retirement planning now, rather than worry about what you didn't do in the past.

CFP Professional Daniel Gannon, president of Union Street Financial in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, recommends two final exercises for his clients:

Determine how much income you will be receiving from Social Security, pensions, and dividends and interest from investments.

Try to live for two years off of that amount of income prior to retirement. Gannon says that clients "find this to be a great 'gut check' to confirm whether or not they are indeed financially ready to retire."

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Visit Bankrate online at http://www.bankrate.com.

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