Personal Finance

You can save more toward retirement in 2019. Here's how to make the most of it

Key Points
  • You can save up to $19,000 in your 401(k) this year, up from $18,500 in 2018. You can also put up to $6,000 in individual retirement accounts, up from $5,500 last year.
  • If you are 50 or over, you can save even more via catch-up contributions: an extra $6,000 for 401(k) and other employee plans, and $1,000 more in IRAs.
  • If you're not even close to those limits, don't fret. You can still take steps to make sure you're on track to meet your retirement savings goals.
Here's how much you can sock away toward retirement in 2019
Here's how much you can sock away toward retirement in 2019

If you haven't made retirement savings a priority, now is a great time to start catching up.

That's because retirement plan contribution limits have been pushed higher for 2019.

The IRS has increased the amount employees can sock away in their 401(k) plans in 2019 to $19,000. That's up from $18,500 in 2018. That limit also applies to 403(b), Thrift Savings and most 457 plans.

The maximum amount you can put away in your individual retirement accounts has also been bumped up for the first time since 2013. In 2019, you will be able to save up to $6,000 in your IRA, up from $5,500 in 2018.

If you are 50 and over and looking to make up for lost time, catch-up contribution limits will remain the same for 2019: For 401(k) and other employee plans, you can put in an additional $6,000 in 2019, and for IRAs, it's an additional $1,000.

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Many workers — young and old — could stand to save more for retirement. The average 401(k) balance reached $106,500 in the third quarter, according to Fidelity Investments.

That's still far less than most individuals will need to live on once they stop working in their later years.

If you're like most Americans, saving more this year is high on your list of financial resolutions.

Even if you are not approaching the maximum contribution limits to your retirement plans, you can take steps to ramp up your savings.

Set a savings target

Individuals should strive to save 15 percent annually toward retirement, including your company match, according to Meghan Murphy, vice president at Fidelity Investments.

But if you are far from that goal, there's another target you want to make sure you hit: your employer's match. Many companies will match the money you save, dollar for dollar or 50 cents per dollar, up to a certain threshold, say 4 percent or 6 percent.

If you don't meet those savings levels, that is extra money you are leaving on the table.

"This is a really good time to look at that," Murphy said. "If employers are making changes to their retirement plans, they [tend to] happen at the beginning of the year."

Boost your contributions

Even if you are contributing 6 percent to your retirement savings now, getting to 15 percent may seem daunting.

One way to gradually get there: Increase your savings rate by 1 percent each year. You may not notice the difference this year. That change could add up big over time.

"Those small jumps by just 1 percent or 2 percent over a 20-year or 30-year career can really make a big difference in the end," Murphy said. "The longer that money is in the plan and has time to grow, the better off you are."

Financial resolutions to ring in the new year
Financial resolutions to ring in the new year

Add in your raise or bonus

When extra money comes in, that is a great time to increase your retirement savings.

"Aligning an increase in your savings to your 401(k) with a raise always makes the increase less painful," Murphy said.

One-time annual bonuses are also a great opportunity to add to your retirement funds, said Ted Jenkin, CEO of Oxygen Financial.

"A lot of people get that annual bonus and they have it already spent on a truck or a new bathroom remodel or a vacation in the Caribbean, but that doesn't help you retire," Jenkin said.

Check in annually

Setting it and forgetting it can be one of the worst mistakes retirement savers can make for several reasons.

If you have been automatically enrolled in a retirement plan, chances are you are saving at a rate that is lower than what you would have chosen, according to Anne Lester, portfolio manager and global head of retirement solutions at J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

That's because many employers will automatically enroll you at 3 percent or 6 percent, for example. But savers who elect their own savings rates will often choose bigger, more round numbers, such as 5 percent or 10 percent, Lester said.

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Market fluctuations can also lead to your investments getting out of line with your savings goals. Check to make sure you're not too exposed to equities, especially as you get closer to retirement, Murphy said. Also double-check that your investments match your risk tolerance for your age.

And finally, don't forget to brush up on the fees you're paying for your investments. Investments that are too expensive can undermine your efforts to build a strong financial foundation.

"The vast majority of people we talk to don't understand the fees associated with the account," Murphy said. "If you don't understand, ask the question."