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Saving for retirement: A complete checklist

People today spend a much longer time in retirement than in previous generations. Careful long-term planning can help you have the type of retirement lifestyle you want.

Tags: Goals, Planning, Retirement
Published: June 27, 2018

As you age, the steps you take should change. Here’s a checklist to help guide you as you plan for retirement.

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As you age, the steps you take should change. Here’s a checklist to help guide you as you plan for retirement.



Your 20s are important when it comes to setting yourself up for a financially strong retirement. Why? Time is on your side. At this stage, you can take advantage of compound interest — interest earned on the initial investment money and on the interest that investment accumulates.



  • Start funding a 401(k) if your employer offers one, especially if your employer matches your contributions. You can contribute up to $19,000 in 2019.


Traditional IRA

  • If you don’t have the option to open a 401(k), consider an individual retirement account (IRA). The maximum contribution is $6,000 in 2019 for those under age 50. With a traditional IRA, keep in mind you’ll be taxed when you withdraw your funds.


Roth IRA

  • Another option is a Roth IRA, which can help you maximize your tax savings later on. With a Roth IRA, you’re taxed upfront but not when you withdraw your funds. The maximum contribution for 2019 is $6,000 for those under age 50.



  • Begin building an emergency fund. Ideally, you should have three to six months’ worth of expenses saved in cash.


Wage growth

  • Use pay raises to bump up your 401(k) or IRA contributions.



You’ve likely established your career, and possibly bought property, gotten married and had children. You’re more confident in your earning potential and long-term goals.


Debt payments

  • Pay off debts, including college loans and credit cards. The money you free up can be put toward retirement savings.


Considerations for children

  • If you have or are planning on having children, consider a college saving plan to put money aside for education without affecting your retirement savings.


Increasing contributions

  • Max out or boost contributions to employer-sponsored retirement plans; aim to set aside at least 10 percent for retirement.


Review fees

  • Different retirement accounts have different fees and expenses. You may want to work with a financial professional to streamline your portfolio’s fee structure.


Plan consolidation

  • If you’re changing jobs, check if you have the option to rollover any previous employee-sponsored plans into an IRA to avoid penalties.


Insurance, part 1

  • Now is the time to get life insurance if someone, such as a child, depends on your income.



Retirement is no longer an abstract idea. You’re likely in your prime earning years, so if you are just starting to save, do so aggressively. Time is still on your side.


Retirement contributions

  • If you haven’t already, consider meeting with a financial professional to help ramp up retirement planning, including maxing out contributions to retirement plans and coming up with an exact dollar amount for your final goal.


Large purchases

  • You might be considering a move to a larger home, or buying a vacation home or some other large purchase, such as a boat. Make sure to factor in your retirement plan when determining the impact of this purchase on your long-term savings.



Retirement is just up ahead. It may be a good time to re-evaluate your investment strategy to align with your time horizon and feelings toward risk.


Contribution strategies

  • Take advantage of catch-up contributions. Individuals 50 and older can contribute an extra $1,000 to IRAs and $6,000 extra to a 401(k) annually.


Risk adjustments

  • You may want to consider shifting your portfolio to more conservative stocks to capture growth while minimizing risk. Think about adding more bonds or other relatively safe investments.


Remaining debt

  • Talk with a financial professional about paying off any remaining debts, such as a mortgage, to see if that’s a good option for you.  


Insurance, part 2

  • Research insurance options such as disability and long-term care to safeguard your retirement nest egg from unexpected events.



  • At 59½, you can start withdrawing from an IRA without penalty; if you don’t need it, avoid doing so. You likely want to save it for retirement.



Retirement is nearly here. At this stage, you have an opportunity to make final adjustments.


Income needs

  • Plan your monthly income stream for retirement. Aim to cash out about 4 percent of your portfolio each year.


Social Security

  • Calculate when you should start drawing Social Security benefits. The longer you can wait to withdraw, the higher the monthly payment you’ll receive.



  • You may want to continue adjusting your portfolio’s asset allocation into more conservative investments. As a potential hedge against inflation, however, consider retaining some aggressive positions that offer the possibility of higher returns.



  • Not sure there’ll be enough cash? Think about ways to keep earning in retirement, such as consulting in your current field or part-time work, if necessary.


Estate planning

  • Review your will and other key documents with your attorney, ensuring your wishes are accurately reflected.



Wondering about that IRA and employer-sponsored retirement plan you’ve been growing for decades? At age 70½, you’ll need to start making mandatory withdrawals.



  • Consider consulting a financial professional if you have any budgetary concerns as you adjust to living in retirement. 



  • Have important financial conversations with family members about estate planning including wills, trusts and beneficiaries.



  • If you haven’t already done so, consider moderating aggressive positions in favor of a more conservative investing strategy. But don’t overdo it. Some investment growth can help offset your drawdown of retirement accounts so you remain funded throughout your retirement years.



  • Lastly, remember to enjoy your retirement! You’ve earned it.


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