Just because you don't have a 401(k) at work doesn't mean you can't (or shouldn't) save for retirement. There are many tools for putting money in the cookie jar and earmarking it for your old age that aren't reserved for those with a workplace retirement savings plan. Here are five ways to set up and manage your own, employer-free retirement savings plan.1. An IRA -- short for Individual Retirement Account -- is the simplest tax-advantaged retirement plan.
You can contribute up to $5,000, or $6,000 if you are age 50 or older. Choose between a Roth and a regular IRA. You pay income taxes upfront with a Roth, but when you retire, the interest is tax free. You defer paying taxes on a regular IRA, but when you take the money out and spend it, you pay taxes on both what you put in and the interest it earned. If you think your tax rate will drop after you retire, then a regular IRA may be the best choice, but if you believe your taxes are likely to be sky high by then, go with a Roth. Choosing to save automatically is the best deal because that's the easiest way to avoid having your savings eaten up by fees.
2. Make Your Savings a Team Effort
If you are married, filing jointly, and you have a spouse who is not employed, you also can open an IRA or a Roth IRA on that person's behalf. The savings limits are the same and the accounts must be kept separately. Of course, if your spouse works, both of you can open individual IRAs.
3. Start a Small Business and Open an Individual 401(k)
Solo 401(k)s allow you to save 100% of your first $16,500 in income from the business (or $22,000, if you are 50 or older). You can also save 20% of net profits, for a maximum of $49,000 in tax-advantaged savings annually (or $54,500, if you are 50 or older). A spouse who participates in your business can also have a solo 401(k). Solo 401(k)s are among the best retirement savings deals around. They are reasonably simple and cheap to set up and work just fine even when your business is very small. Start selling used golf balls on eBay and pour all your profits into your retirement fund. It will grow quickly.
4. Consider Annuities
Annuities are insurance contracts that let you create a payout similar to a pension during your retirement. The most popular is a fixed-income immediate annuity. You also can buy deferred annuities. In either case, you buy the annuity with a lump sum -- for instance, the money you got when grandma died -- and start receiving monthly payments either immediately or down the road when you retire. Generally, you'll receive the payments monthly until you die or you can set it up so you receive payments until both halves of a couple die. In this economically unsettled time, annuities can look attractive, although they are only as good as the insurance company you buy them from. The other downside is that the amount usually doesn't rise with inflation. To see how much income your money will buy you, check out ImmediateAnnuities.com.
5. Make Sure Uncle Sam is Saving as Much as Possible on your Behalf
Social Security is a retirement savings plan and you can make sure that you're putting away as much as possible by paying attention.
Start by analyzing your annual Social Security statement (it comes in the mail a few weeks before your birthday). Social Security is based on a complex formula that takes into account a maximum of 35 years of work and 10 years of top earnings. If you have "zero years" -- years when you didn't work -- those are factored in as well and they can substantially lower how much you receive. Working under Social Security for more than 35 years allows you to work off some of the low years and eliminate any zero years. On top of that, by working until full retirement age -- 66 or 67, depending on your age -- you'll receive nearly 50% more than if you take benefits at 62. If you wait until age 70 to claim Social Security benefits, you'll get more than 100% of what you would at 62. This calculator will help you analyze what plan for taking Social Security will net the most for you and your spouse.
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