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These people are on the verge of retiring — and they have nothing saved

Key Points
  • 48 percent of American households over the age of 55 still have no retirement savings. 
  • This is an improvement from previous years, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office.
  • If you are behind on your retirement savings, there are a few things you can do to catch up.
Pawel Gaul | Getty Images

About half of American households over the age of 55 have nothing saved for retirement.

Those were the findings in a new report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. In all, 48 percent of those individuals have no savings in a workplace retirement plan or in an IRA as of 2016, the GAO found.

The congressional watchdog based its conclusions on an analysis of the Federal Reserve's Survey of Consumer Finances.

As bleak as things may be for close to 1 out of every 2 older adults, the GAO's findings show an improvement from just a few years ago.

In 2013, about 52 percent of households over age 55 had nothing saved for retirement, the federal agency found.

"Those are scary numbers even if it is an improvement," said Avani Ramnani, a certified financial planner and director of financial planning and wealth management at Francis Financial in New York City.

Increase your savings

Marc Romanelli | Getty Images

The over-55 crowd may have a significant savings shortfall to make up, but there are steps they can take.

Catch up on contributions to retirement plans: This year, workers can defer up to $19,000 in a 401(k) plan at work. Employees who are over 50 can stash away even more money: An extra $6,000.

Older savers can also put away more money in an IRA. The contribution limit for IRAs is $6,000 in 2019, and people who are 50 and up can save an additional $1,000.

Put more money in your health savings account: Still working? If you have a high-deductible health plan at work, you most likely have access to a health savings account or HSA.

These accounts have a triple tax advantage: You contribute money either on a pretax or tax deductible basis. Your savings will accumulate on a tax-free basis, and you can take tax-free withdrawals to pay for qualified medical expenses.

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Fifty-eight percent of Americans have less than $1000 saved

There's no requirement that you use up all of your funds in any one year, so your savings can grow over time.

In 2019, participants with self-only health insurance can contribute $3,500. Those with family plans can save $7,000. Account holders who are 55 and older can put away an extra $1,000 in an HSA.

Just bear in mind: Once you are enrolled in Medicare, you can no longer contribute to your HSA. However, you can tap the funds to cover health-care costs in retirement.

Work longer and generate income: Completing your degree or earning some money from a side hustle — perhaps consulting or working a second part-time job — are just a few ways that you can increase your income and ramp up your retirement savings, said Benjamin Brandt, a certified financial planner and founder of Capital City Wealth Management in Bismarck, North Dakota.

Got a raise? Bank it: If you get a boost to your pay at work, try to save two-thirds of it, said Brandt. For instance, if you get a $5,000 raise, increase your 401(k) deferrals so that you're saving about $3,300 of that pay increase.

"Learn how to live on less than you make," said Brandt.

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