Save and Invest

How much Americans contribute to their 401(k) plans—and how much you should be saving

Crystal Sing | Twenty20

Many experts recommend saving at least 10% of your income for retirement.

In a 2018 report, the Stanford Center on Longevity determined that if you want to retire by age 65, you should be setting aside 10-17% of your income. And that's if you start saving as early as age 25. If you wait until 35 to start, you have to save 15-20%.

Other experts point out that how much you need to save is highly individual and comes down to when you want to retire and what you want your future lifestyle to look like. There are equations you can follow, certified financial planner Andrew Westlin tells CNBC Make It, such as, "you should save 15% of your income for retirement. But at the end of the day, it really comes down to everybody's own personal situation."

That said, "around 15% of your income is a pretty good target," he adds.

Are Americans on track? CNBC Make It turned to Fidelity, the nation's largest retirement-plan provider, for the numbers.

Retirement preparedness varies by age. Younger workers, those in their 20s, contribute less than those in their 40s, for example.

Here's the breakdown of the average contribution rates by age. These rates do not include any matching contributions from employers, Fidelity notes.

And here's the average 401(k) balance by age, also from Fidelity.

Keep in mind that Fidelity's data only takes into account those Americans with a retirement account so it doesn't present the full picture. Almost a quarter of U.S. adults have no retirement savings and just 36% of non-retired adults believe their retirement saving is on track.

How to get your retirement savings on track

If you're not setting aside 10-20% of your income, don't panic. There are strategies you can use that will help you get to, or nearer to, where you need to be.

First things first, enroll in your employer-sponsored 401(k) plan if you haven't already, says Katie Taylor, vice president of thought leadership at Fidelity Investments.

Next, find out if your company offers a 401(k) match. If they do, take full advantage of it, she tells CNBC Make It: "If there is a match that's 3%, make sure that you're saving at least 3%. Otherwise, you're leaving free money on the table."

This is why you should invest in a 401(k)
This is why you should invest in a 401(k)

Another useful tool you may have access to is "auto-increase," which allows you to choose when and how much you want to increase the amount you're contributing. This way, you won't forget to up your contributions or talk yourself out of setting aside a larger chunk when the time comes.

Most importantly, start setting aside money now. "It's harder to catch up if don't save," says Taylor. "If you spend the first half of your career not saving, you've got to do a lot of catching up later in your career, and you don't have the time in the market to ride out any fluctuations. It's always a good idea to get started as early as possible."

What if you don't have a 401(k)?

If you're one of the many Americans without access to a 401(k), don't stress. Most importantly, "don't let that be a deterrent for not saving for the future," says Taylor. "Whether or not you have access to a 401(k), at some point, you will want to retire and you will need to have money saved."

You have plenty of other options, including a traditional, Roth or SEP IRA; a health savings account (HSA) or an investment account.

Read up on all of your options, choose an account to fund and start setting aside money for your future today.

Don't miss: How much money Americans have in their 401(k)s at every age

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The definitive guide to retirement savings plans
The definitive guide to retirement savings plans