Here are four steps to getting your IRA and/or your 401(k) in top shape. Most of this advice comes from Dan Keady, director of financial planning for TIAA-CREF.
1. Total Up How Much You are Saving for Retirement, Then Figure out How to Add More
Get out the calculator and add up how much is going into your retirement accounts every month, including the amount that you are putting into your 401(k) at work and the interest that is growing on your IRA accounts from former employers or self employment. Then look for ways to up the ante. Here are some painless suggestions:
- Payroll taxes are reduced by 2 percentage points in 2011. Put that 2% of your income into your savings instead of your pocket.
- Save your tax refund.
- Make sure you're getting the maximum match from your employer.
2. Consider What Happens When your Life Meets your Money
What would happen if you or your spouse left this life prematurely?
- Update your will -- or make one.
- Review your beneficiaries. Look at all your accounts, including ones you've had for awhile. You don't want to leave any money to your ex-spouse -- or even to your parents, even though you love them.
3. Take a Hard Look at your Investments
Are you and your spouse working together to make the most money for retirement?
- Share information about each others' plans and devise a joint strategy. Don't invest in 10 similar funds. It might look diverse, but it isn't.
- Count the plans. If you have several, consider consolidating so you can do a better job of managing them.
- Make studying up on investment strategies a regular activity or get expert advice -- or both.
4. Consider Uncle Sam
How you deal with taxes can make a big difference in how much money you'll have in retirement.
- Does saving in a Roth IRA or 401(k) make sense for you or do the conventional versions work better?
- Think about whether you should convert your conventional IRA or 401(k) to a Roth. If you already made the conversions, do you want to switch back?
- If you're nearing 70 1/2 or you're past it, decide how well you'll manage this year's required minimum distribution.
- If you inherited an IRA this year or last, get help managing it in the most tax-efficient way. This isn't simple stuff, so expert advice can make a big difference.