I'm 49 years old and have nothing saved for retirement — what can I do? Don't panic. Here are 3 easy ways to catch up (and fast)

I'm 49 years old and have nothing saved for retirement — what can I do? Don't panic. Here are 3 easy ways to catch up (and fast)
I'm 49 years old and have nothing saved for retirement — what can I do? Don't panic. Here are 3 easy ways to catch up (and fast)

So, you’ve left planning for your golden years to the mid-century mark — don’t worry. You’re not the only one.

Almost 1 in 4 boomers said they didn’t start saving for retirement until they turned 50 — and over a third of them still say they have no retirement savings at all, according to a 2022 survey from mortgage information website Anytime Estimate.

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Yet nearly half of U.S. workers expect self-funded savings to be their primary source of income in retirement, according to the latest data from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

Investment giant Edward Jones suggests that by age 49, you should have between $215,000 - $285,000 saved up for retirement, assuming among other things a yearly salary of $50,000 — and your savings should be roughly double that if you make around $100K.

Even if you are far behind what you expected to have stashed away for retirement by now, you still have options — get moving toward your retirement goals now.

Pay off your debts

Before you start putting some funds aside, make sure you’ve either settled or have a plan for settling all your debts.

This could include credit card debt, the mortgage on your house or the remaining balance on your student loan.

You don’t want to keep racking up on interest charges while trying to save — especially with rates as high as they are currently. Credit card interest rates have already hit record highs this year after the Federal Reserve’s last interest rate hike.

If you’ve got multiple lines of credit to take care of, look into your options and start reducing your debt load. You could try negotiating with your lender or consider a debt consolidation loan or plan that keeps you on track and with a lower interest rate.

Read more: Here's how much money the average middle-class American household makes — how do you stack up?

Look into the right investment vehicles

Does your employer offer a 401(k) plan? Or are you getting tax breaks through an IRA?

If you don’t have a 401(k) through your employer, look into opening an IRA or a Roth IRA. Decide which option works best for you and start shuffling funds into your preferred retirement vehicle.

401(k) vs. IRA vs. Roth IRA: Which is best for you?

  • 401(k): This retirement plan lets you divert some of your pre-tax pay into a 401(k), so you reduce your taxable income — the higher your income, the greater your tax savings. And your money grows tax-free until you make withdrawals in retirement. Your employer may also offer matching contributions.

  • Traditional IRA: A traditional IRA gives you the ability to contribute “pre-tax” income and allow it to grow tax-free until you make withdrawals in retirement. However, your contribution limits are lower than what they would be in a 401(k).

  • Roth IRA: This vehicle lets you pay taxes upfront on your contributions, so when you withdraw the money in retirement, your withdrawals and earnings are usually tax-free. However, you’re only eligible for this account depending on your filing status and income threshold, as determined by the IRS.

Once you turn 50, you can start making yearly catch-up contributions too. You’re allowed to contribute up to $7,500 in a 401(k) and up to $1,000 in an IRA this year.

Find alternate sources of income

Instead of just stashing a bit of money from your paycheck into your retirement account, consider investing it instead.

Although the stock market’s been down, this could be a good opportunity to buy shares while they’re cheap. Consider building your portfolio with sectors that traditionally perform well throughout economic cycles, like health care, utilities and consumer staples.

Another option is to work additional hours with a side hustle, so you can put away the extra cash into savings or investments.

Research from job posting website Zippia found that nearly half of Americans had side hustles in 2023 — and while older Americans aren’t as likely to have them, those that do tend to make more money from them.

Americans aged 45 to 54 made $892 a month from their side hustles, while those aged 55 to 65 earn around $1,061 a month on average. Popular options can include renting out a property you own or reselling items on eBay or Amazon.

Need help catching up? Consider calling an expert

Planning for your retirement is no small feat, which is why having an expert’s guidance is essential if you want to catch up on your savings.

Whether you are behind on your goals or not, setting yourself up for a comfortable retirement is nerve-racking — especially with a potential recession peeking around the corner.

One solution to help you sleep better: Find a financial adviser who can help navigate your finances and make a retirement plan you can stick to.

Researching and calling multiple financial planners can be a time-consuming hassle, but there are ways you can easily browse vetted advisers online that fit your needs.

If you're unsure how to build your savings during a recession, it’s better to find answers sooner than later, while time is still on your side.

This article provides information only and should not be construed as advice. It is provided without warranty of any kind.