When it comes to saving for the future, Americans aren't doing great. Those between the ages of 55 and 64 who have retirement savings have a median of $120,000 socked away, Bankrate reports in a new survey, citing data from the Federal Reserve. That's only 12 percent of the $1 million many experts recommend, and it's worth noting that even $1 million doesn't stretch as far as it used to.
So how much should Americans be earmarking for retirement in order to be sufficiently funded in their golden years? Financial services company Fidelity recommends putting away 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," Ken Hevert, senior vice president of retirement at Fidelity, previously told CNBC Make It. If you're eligible for a 5 percent match on your 401(k) plan and you contribute 5 percent of your salary to the account, you're already putting away 10 percent.
To know if you're on the right track, start by figuring out your savings rate, recommends Eric Roberge, a CFP and founder of Beyond Your Hammock. This will show you how close you are to the ideal of at least 15 to 20 percent.
Your savings rate can be determined using a simple equation: Divide the amount you saved last year by your gross income. That means if you earned a pre-tax salary of $50,000 and contributed $5,000 to a retirement account, your savings rate is 0.1, or 10 percent.
Once you have that starting point, it's crucial to commit to steadily put money away. "Saving consistently over time is going to be your best bet," Roberge says. "Whether you have $100,000 in the bank or $0 in the bank, you need to save consistently."
To get there, start by investing in your employer's 401(k) plan, if there's one available to you, and take full advantage of any company match, which essentially gives you free money. Consider gradually increasing your contributions, too.
If your company doesn't offer a match, don't sweat it: Other retirement savings vehicles can be useful tools as well. Both Roth IRAs and traditional IRAs offer tax benefits and should be considered as part of a diversified savings plan. You can read up on the differences between various retirement accounts here.
It's also important to remember that your priorities can shift.
"Life's not linear," Roberge says. "You have to understand all the different scenarios that could happen. I get a lesser paying job, or I start my own business, or I continue on at this high paying job. If I have kids, if I retire at 55. All these different scenarios impact your overall life's financial plan."
Be prepared to alter your plans as you go and be willing to connect with a trusted financial advisor for more personalized advice.
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