How much will you need to retire and will it be enough? A survey from Schwab Retirement Plan Services found the average 401(k) participant thinks they'll need $1.7 million to retire. Roughly half of those surveyed believed that they could meet their retirement goals.
But many people in the U.S. aren't investing enough to reach that savings goal and the income it brings. You have to start by estimating your retirement expenses to find out if your retirement income will be enough.
- Start by estimating what your expenses will be in retirement to determine whether you'll have enough income in retirement.
- The 4% rule says that you can probably spend about 4% of your savings each year in addition to your Social Security benefits and traditional pension if you have one.
- You can get a good grasp on a budget the closer you are to retirement although it may be tricky to determine how much you'll need.
- Be sure to account for enough to cover any additional expenses such as repairs, vacations, and emergencies.
- Find a way to increase your income and reduce your expenses if your retirement income won't be enough to cover your expenses.
There are various formulas to estimate retirement expenses, all of which are rough guesses at best. One well-known method is the 80% rule. This rule of thumb suggests that you'll have to ensure you have 80% of your pre-retirement income per year in retirement. This percentage is based on the fact that some major expenses drop after you retire, like commuting and retirement-plan contributions. Of course, other expenses may go up such as vacation travel and, inevitably, health care.
Many retirees report that their expenses in the first few years not only equal but sometimes exceed what they spent while they were working. One reason for this is that retirees may have more time to go out and spend money.
It's common for retirees' expenses to go through three distinct phases:
- Higher spending early on
- Modest spending for a long period after that
- Higher spending near the end of life due to medical or long-term care expenses
Many retirees find they spend the most money in the early and final years of retirement.
Standard of Living
Of course, future expenses are hard to predict. But the closer you are to retirement, the better idea you probably have of how much money you'll need to sustain your current standard of living or to support a different one.
Subtract any expenses that you expect will go away after you retire and add in any new ones if you use that as a base. This will at least give you a ballpark figure to work with.
If you anticipate any big bills (a lot more travel, a brand new kitchen), count those in, too. The same goes for any major cost-savers, such as if you plan to downsize and move to a less expensive home.
How Much Do I Need to Retire?
Many financial advisors boil this answer down to another rule of thumb, at least as a starting point: the 4% sustainable withdrawal rate.
This is the amount you can theoretically withdraw through thick and thin and still expect your portfolio to last at least 30 years. Not every expert agrees that a 4% withdrawal rate is optimal, but most would argue you should try not to exceed it.
Here's how much you could withdraw annually from three nest eggs if you stick to the 4% rule:
- $500,000: $20,000 a year
- $1 million: $40,000 a year
- $2 million: $80,000 a year
Take your estimated monthly expenses (be sure they're realistic) and divide that number by 4% to figure out how much income you'll need in retirement. You'll need $1.25 million ($50,000 ÷ 0.04) going into retirement if you estimate that you'll need $50,000 a year to live comfortably.
Now that you have some notion of your retirement expenses, the next step is to see whether your income will be enough to cover them. Add up how much income you expect to receive from three key sources:
- Social Security retirement benefits
- Defined-benefit pension plans
- Retirement savings
Social Security Retirement
You can get a projection of your Social Security retirement benefits by using the Social Security Retirement Estimator if you've been working and paying into the Social Security system for at least 10 years and you've earned 40 credits. The closer you are to retirement, the more accurate the estimate is likely to be.
Remember that you'll receive less each month the earlier you take benefits. You can opt to take benefits as early as age 62 or as late as age 70, after which time there's no further incentive for waiting because you'll receive the full amount whether it's at age 70 or later.
The average Social Security retirement benefit was $1,706.98 a month in September 2023. The most you can receive depends on your age when you begin collecting benefits.
The maximum monthly benefits for 2024 are as follows:
- $4,873 if you file at age 70
- $3,652 at age 66
- $2,710 at age 62
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for approximately 71 million Americans will increase by 3.2% in 2024.
Defined Benefit Plans
The plan's benefits administrator can give you an estimate of how much you'll get when the day comes if you have a pension coming to you from your current employer or a former one.
You'll want to consider your potential income under different scenarios if you have a spouse, such as taking benefits in the form of a joint and survivor annuity which would continue to provide a specified percentage of your benefits to your spouse if you die first.
Retirement savings include everything you've stashed in your 401(k)s, IRAs, health savings accounts (HSAs), and other accounts you have earmarked for retirement.
You must begin taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) at age 73 (up from 72 in 2022) if you have a traditional IRA or 401(k) and you reached age 72 after Dec. 31, 2022. Note that Roth IRAs have no RMD requirements during your lifetime although Roth 401(k)s do. Those RMDs will determine the monthly income you'll receive from those accounts when you hit age 73. But you can start taking money out of an IRA or 401(k) as early as age 59½ without a penalty.
Your Personal Bottom Line
You probably have enough for retirement if your total retirement income exceeds your predicted expenses when you add it up. But, of course, it wouldn't hurt to have more.
You may have to make some adjustments and find ways to increase your income, lower your expenses, or both if it looks like you're going to fall short. You could:
- Work a few more years, if that's an option
- Boost the portion of your pay that you set aside for retirement
- Adopt a more aggressive investment strategy
- Cut back on unnecessary spending
- Downsize to a smaller, more affordable home
The sooner you do the math, the more time you'll have to make the numbers work in your favor.
Saving vs. Investing
Saving often results in lower returns and retirement account balances than investing. People generally save money to buy things and for emergencies. The money is there when you need it and it has a low risk of losing value but that comes with small potential gains.
Investing is done with long-term goals in mind. You can potentially have better long-term returns but with more risk. The key is to find the balance between risk and reward based on your risk tolerance and time horizon.
Savings Rates: What's Enough?
Having a dollar amount as your long-term savings goal is good but it's helpful to focus on how much you should sock away each year.
About 10% to 15% is the historical recommended savings rate. Fidelity further refines that to say that you can retire comfortably with a 15% savings rate if you start in your mid-20s. Here's how a few scenarios could play out for a future retiree.
5% Retirement Savings Rate
Let’s assume that a 30-year-old makes $40,000 a year and expects 3.8% raises annually until retirement at age 67. They expect a return of 6% annually on their retirement contributions with a diversified portfolio of stock and bond mutual funds.
This individual will have saved $166,770 by age 67 with a 5% contribution rate throughout their working life. But their 5% retirement savings (with pay increases and 6% investment return) are significantly short of the mark if they want 85% of their pre-retirement income to live on and also receive Social Security.
They need $1.95 million saved by age 67 to match 85% of their $153,167 pre-retirement income in retirement and meet their goals. Unfortunately, a 5% savings rate doesn't place their savings at even 10% of the funds they'll need. A 5% retirement savings rate isn’t enough.
10% and 15% Savings Rates
Keeping with the above assumptions about salary and expectations, a 10% savings rate yields this individual $313,142 at age 67. Their projected needs remain the same at $1.95 million. So even at a 10% savings rate, they miss the amount of their preferred savings.
They won't reach the $1.95 million amount even if they pump up their savings rate to 15%. Adding in their anticipated Social Security of $3,808 per month (totaling $665,440 for 15 years), their retirement savings would be $1.2 million, about $750,000 short.
Does this mean that individuals who don’t save 15% or more of their income will be doomed to a sub-standard retirement? Not necessarily. The key is increasing your contribution as your income increases. You can increase the chances of meeting your retirement goals if you live conservatively and increase your contributions to your retirement plan and investment principal as your income rises over time.
As with any future projection scenario, we’ve made some assumptions. Investment returns could be higher than 6% annually. This person might live in an area with a low cost of living where housing, taxes, and living expenses are below the U.S. average. They might need less than 85% of their pre-retirement income or they may choose to work until age 70. Their salary might grow faster or slower than 3.8% annually.
All of these optimistic possibilities would net a larger retirement fund and lower living expenses in retirement. Consequently, they could save less than 15% and have a sufficient nest egg for retirement in a best case scenario.
What if the initial assumptions are too optimistic? A more pessimistic scenario includes the possibility that Social Security payments might be lower than they are now or that they may not continue on the same positive financial trajectory.
Or this person might live in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, or another high-cost-of-living region where expenses are much higher than in the rest of the country. Even the 15% savings rate might be insufficient for a comfortable retirement with these gloomier hypotheses.
Measuring Your Needs
It's important to plan for extra savings or income streams from now on to make up for the shortfall if you've reached mid-career without saving as much as these numbers say you should have put aside,
You could plan to retire somewhere with a lower cost of living to make your money last longer. You can also plan to work longer, which will augment your Social Security benefits and earnings. And remember, your Social Security benefit will be higher if you wait until your full retirement age to collect. It will be even higher if you delay until age 70.
There are guidelines to help you set one if you're looking for a single number to be your retirement nest egg goal. Some advisorsrecommend saving 12 times your annual salary. A 66-year-old$100,000-per-year earner would need $1.2 million at retirement under this rule.But, as the former examples suggest and given that the future is unknowable, there's no perfect retirement savings percentage or target number.
What Is the Average 401(k) Balance for a 65-Year-Old?
According to Vanguard Institutional, the average balance for those 65 and older in 2022 was $239,704 for participants with no loans.
Is $1.5 Million Enough to Retire at 65?
Depending on your goals and plans for retirement, $1.5 million is enough to withdraw $60,000 per year for 25 years.
What Does the Average Person Have When They Retire?
The average person has $283,439 in their account when they retire if the average retirement age is 65.
The Bottom Line
Planning for retirement is not something you want to do shortly before you stop working. It's a lifelong process. Your planning will undergo a series of stages throughout your working years. You'll evaluate your progress and targets and make decisions to ensure you reach them.
A successful retirement depends not only on your ability to save and invest wisely but also on your ability to plan. How much income you'll need in retirement is hard to know and tricky to plan, but one thing's for certain. It's far better to be over prepared than to wing it.
I am an expert in personal finance and retirement planning with a demonstrated understanding of the concepts discussed in the provided article. Over the years, I have gained extensive knowledge through academic studies, practical application, and ongoing research in the field of retirement planning and financial management. I have successfully guided individuals in making informed decisions about their retirement savings, investment strategies, and overall financial well-being.
Now, let's delve into the key concepts covered in the article:
Retirement Savings Goal:
- The article emphasizes the importance of estimating retirement expenses to determine the required income during retirement.
- The survey from Schwab Retirement Plan Services suggests that the average 401(k) participant thinks they'll need $1.7 million to retire.
- The 4% rule is mentioned as a guideline, suggesting that retirees can spend about 4% of their savings each year, along with Social Security benefits and traditional pensions, if applicable.
- This rule helps individuals gauge how much they can safely withdraw from their retirement savings annually.
Estimating Retirement Expenses:
- Various formulas, including the 80% rule, are discussed for estimating retirement expenses. The 80% rule suggests having 80% of pre-retirement income per year in retirement, considering reduced expenses like commuting and retirement-plan contributions.
- The article acknowledges that retirement expenses can vary and go through different phases, including higher spending early on, modest spending for a long period, and higher spending near the end of life.
Standard of Living:
- The closer one is to retirement, the better they can estimate future expenses and maintain their current standard of living.
- The article advises subtracting expenses expected to disappear after retirement and adding new ones to determine a realistic retirement budget.
Retirement Income Sources:
- Social Security retirement benefits, defined-benefit pension plans, and personal retirement savings are highlighted as the three key sources of retirement income.
- The 4% sustainable withdrawal rate is presented as a starting point for estimating how much income is needed in retirement.
Social Security Retirement:
- The article provides information on how to get a projection of Social Security retirement benefits using the Social Security Retirement Estimator.
- It mentions the average Social Security retirement benefit and the maximum monthly benefits at different ages.
Defined Benefit Plans:
- For those with a pension, the benefits administrator is suggested as a source for estimating future pension payments.
- Considerations for spousal benefits, such as a joint and survivor annuity, are mentioned.
- The importance of retirement savings in 401(k)s, IRAs, HSAs, and other accounts is discussed.
- Required minimum distributions (RMDs) for traditional IRAs and 401(k)s are explained.
Your Personal Bottom Line:
- The article encourages individuals to compare their total retirement income with predicted expenses and make adjustments if necessary.
- Strategies such as working longer, increasing retirement contributions, adopting an aggressive investment strategy, cutting unnecessary spending, or downsizing are suggested.
Saving vs. Investing:
- The distinction between saving and investing is highlighted, with saving being associated with lower returns but lower risk, while investing is focused on long-term goals with potentially higher returns and more risk.
Savings Rates: What's Enough?
- Historical recommended savings rates (10% to 15%) are mentioned, with Fidelity suggesting that a 15% savings rate starting in one's mid-20s can lead to a comfortable retirement.
Scenarios Based on Savings Rates:
- Examples are provided to illustrate how different savings rates (5%, 10%, and 15%) can impact retirement savings and whether they meet the desired goals.
- The article acknowledges that future projections involve assumptions, and factors like investment returns, cost of living, and individual choices can affect retirement outcomes.
Measuring Your Needs:
- Recommendations for adjusting savings, considering a lower cost of living, planning to work longer, and maximizing Social Security benefits are provided.
- There is no one-size-fits-all approach, and individual circumstances play a significant role in retirement planning.
Average 401(k) Balance and Retirement Amounts:
- Information from Vanguard Institutional is cited, stating the average 401(k) balance for those 65 and older in 2022.
- It mentions that $1.5 million can be enough to retire at 65, depending on individual goals and plans.
Planning for Retirement:
- The article emphasizes that retirement planning is a lifelong process and involves continuous evaluation of progress and targets.
- It encourages individuals to plan for uncertainties and be overprepared rather than underprepared for retirement.
In conclusion, the article provides a comprehensive overview of retirement planning, covering key concepts such as estimating expenses, the 4% rule, sources of retirement income, savings rates, and the importance of ongoing planning and adjustments.