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In your 40s? Assess your retirement savings

How does your 401k balance compare with that of other workers with a similar income?

By MSN Money Partner May 31, 2011 2:10PM

This post comes from Michael Maye at partner site The Street.


By the time you reach your 40s, you have roughly 20 years of your career in the rearview mirror. Workers in their 40s need to get serious about planning for their retirement -- even if you love what you do and plan to work until you drop.


Very simply, you may not be healthy enough to work until you drop, or you might be "retired" involuntarily. At this point you still have 20 years of road in front of you and can make changes that yield results.


So how much does the typical 40-something have saved in their 401k for retirement? Back in 2007 the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Investment Company Institute did a study analyzing almost 22 million 401k plan participants. The results by salary range for 40-somethings were as follows:


The data are of course pre-2008 market meltdown but provide some insight anyway. How do you stack up against other 40-somethings given your salary level? No matter how you stack up, there is still time to make adjustments that will pay long-term dividends.


For example, a 40-year-old earning $100,000 a year contributes 7.5% of his or her pretax salary to a 401k. Simply increasing the contribution to the maximum employee contribution of $16,500 until retirement at age 65 means an extra $234,000. Add a 6% market return and the incremental retiree savings more than doubles to $550,000. I think most people could use an extra $550,000 for their retirement. Post continues after video.

'I can't afford to'

I can already hear the litany of reasons you can't save more. One of the most common reasons is paying for your children's college. But maybe you and your child need to be more realistic about what you can afford; if your child wants to go to the most expensive school, maybe he or she needs to get a loan or work part time. There are no loans for your retirement -- and children who have some skin in the game might also be a bit more focused and actually graduate in four years.


Another favorite: "I can't afford to save more money because of my living expenses."


My response is that you really can't afford to do otherwise. Simply put, by spending more now, you are deciding to have less money to spend later. Obviously there is a happy medium. I am not suggesting you live a life of abject poverty -- but be realistic about what you need versus what you want. The bottom line is that you need to find the middle ground between current and future lifestyle.


I encourage all the 40-year-olds out there to maximize the 20-plus years at their disposal to build a larger retirement nest egg. Even if you never want to completely retire, wouldn't it be nice to do work you enjoy rather than taking a job because you need the money?


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