retirement

You may dream of the day you quit your full-time gig, but have you taken the proper steps to get to retirement?

The 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey, conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 80% of workers have less than $100,000 saved for retirement. Despite the lack of preparation, however, 64% believed they were “doing a good job of preparing for retirement.”

Whether you’re confident or fearful about attaining retirement, you can control your fate with a lot of planning, and possibly, a bit of course correction. Here are four questions you can apply to stress test your retirement strategy.

What’s your retirement goal?

Though most Americans expect to retire at some point, very few know the exact figure that will make that dream a reality. While contributing to your employer-sponsored 401(k) regularly and taking advantage of employer matches is the best way to maximize long-term saving power, retirement planning comes down to basic goal-setting: People are more likely to reach goals when they have a defined, specific “end,” along with a detailed action plan.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute recommends saving 15% of your annual income for retirement.So what’s your key number to reach? In simple math, Dallas Salisbury, president of the Employee Benefit Research Institute advises earmarking 15% of income every year, starting with your first job in order to accrue sufficient retirement savings. If you wish to retire earlier, or are getting a late start, you’ll need to factor in a higher percent.

If you’ve already started saving, MSN Money offers simple calculators that can assess how far your current savings, salary, and potential social security benefits will stretch in your later years.  What that grand sum total in mind, you’re ready for the next stress test.

How do you monitor retirement progress?

A study conducted by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College tested the saving impact of identifying specific retirement needs, and monitoring progress.

Participants were shown a specific dollar amount they’d need to have saved to cover each two-week period of retirement committed to saving 20% of their salary each year. When exposed to a grand total-style sum of what they’d need for retirement, they projected needing to save just 14% of their salary.

What’s it all mean? Approaching retirement saving in achievable, and meaningful, baby steps makes you a more successful retirement planner.

Typical financial planning advice is to assume spending 75% of your pre-retirement income the first year of retirement, but you can apply the same approach in baby steps. Strive to gradually save 75% of your bi-weekly income, to fund two weeks worth of retirement income. As you monitor progress you’ll begin to see that you’ve successfully funded six months of retirement, then one year, two years, and so on.

Thought about the worst?

Few people want to imagine medical issues, life emergencies, and death, but the more you plan, the better prepared you’ll be. Honestly assess your medical history, that of your spouse and children, and your immediate, and extended family.

Honestly assess your medical history, including extended family to determine how long they typically live and if you’ll be needed as a caregiver of an ailing family member who isn’t financially prepared.Do relatives have a tendency to live many years, or die early? Is there a history of family disease that you could be impacted by personally, or indirectly, for example, becoming the caregiver to an ailing family member who isn’t financially prepared?

Then evaluate your overall financial plan to mitigate the effects of such negative occurrences, through healthful living, stress management, and proper estate planning Establish revocable trusts, wills, powers of attorney, and secure long-term care, life, or disability insurance as needed.

How liquid is your money?

When you integrate investment tools like mutual funds, stocks and bonds as part of your retirement strategy, you increase the odds of growing your money in the long-term. But, if you haven’t amassed an emergency savings fund to cover at least six months worth of living expenses, it may be time to build liquid savings before you focus solely on retirement.

If you lost your income, or had an unexpected financial disaster and all of your savings are held in retirement accounts, you’ll face early withdrawal penalties, capital gains taxes, and the cost of selling, if the market is low. Though your money will grow slower in liquid deposit accounts, there is a value to having money available when urgent needs strike.

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