When it comes to saving for the future, few Americans are on track.
The median amount of retirement savings for working-age families in the U.S., those between 32 and 61 years old, is just $5,000. That's a far cry from the recommended $1 million needed to sustain yourself in retirement.
It gets harder to catch up the longer you wait, so it's best to start saving — and investing — as early as possible. By 35, you should have the equivalent of twice your annual salary saved if you plan to retire at 67 and live a similar lifestyle, according to a recent report by financial services company Fidelity.
That's twice as much as the amount you should have at 30, the equivalent of one year's salary.
At face value, twice your annual salary seems like a lot. But it's not an unattainable feat. According to Fidelity senior vice president of retirement Ken Hevert, staying on top of three factors will help keep you on track savings-wise: account, amount and asset allocation.
Let's take a closer look at these factors.
Where you put your money matters. If you're not investing, you're missing out on interest that can exponentially grow your contributions.
The simplest way to jump start your retirement fund and start investing is to sign up for your employer's 401(k) plan and take full advantage of any company match, which essentially gives you free money. Regardless of whether your employer offers a 401(k), you can contribute to a Roth IRA or traditional IRA, which are both individual retirement accounts that offer tax breaks.
"You want to be able to utilize all the accounts that are available, which allow you to grow your money either tax-deferred or tax-free," Hevert tells CNBC Make It. That means that, instead of having to pay taxes on any dividends earned each year, any gains made inside an IRA or 401(k) get re-invested.
How much are you actually putting away each month? Fidelity recommends saving 15 percent of your income per year starting at age 25 and investing more than 50 percent of your savings over your lifetime.
"The good news is that that 15 percent also includes any employer match," Hevert says. That means if you're eligible for a five percent match on your 401(k) plan and you contribute five percent of your salary to the account, you're already putting away 10 percent.
If you your employer doesn't offer a 401(k) plan or a match, Hevert suggests investing in a traditional or Roth IRA, which also allows you to leverage pre-tax dollars to save for retirement.
Whatever you do, don't do nothing. "At the age of 23, even if you don't have a 401(k), you can still save up to $5,500 of your earned income in an IRA," he says.
In addition to saving and investing, you also want to create a diversified portfolio. "The purpose of diversification, ultimately, is that through different economic cycles and different policy cycles, some asset classes will perform better than others," Hevert says.
As the market swells and declines over the years, a mix of various types of investments will keep you from being at the mercy of how one specific stock, or kind of stock, is performing.
Accruing double your annual income by 35 represents an ideal scenario, especially if you choose to divert savings to other goals, such as or having kids. But as a general rule, if you're aiming to save around 15 percent of your income — or as close as you can get — and invest it, "you're going to be in the right ballpark," Hevert says.
At the end of the day, saving for retirement is all about the lifestyle that you want to live in your golden years. "This is all about giving people the confidence that they're going to be able to maintain a desired lifestyle, while also putting themselves in the best position to not run out of money," Hevert says.
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