When it comes to your finances, you might easily overlook some of the numbers that really count. Here are four to pay attention to now that might really matter in the future.
1. Retirement plan contribution rate
What percentage of your salary are you contributing to a retirement plan? Making automatic contributions through an employer-sponsored plan such as a 401(k) or 403(b) plan is an easy way to save for retirement, but this out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach may result in a disparity between what you need to save and what you actually are saving for retirement. Checking your contribution rate and increasing it periodically can help you stay on track toward your retirement savings goal.
Social Security is an important source of retirement income for millions of Americans, but how much do you know about this program? Test your knowledge, and learn more about your retirement benefits, by answering the following questions.
1. Do you have to be retired to collect Social Security retirement benefits?
Investing for your retirement isn’t about getting rich quick. More often, it’s about having a game plan that you can live with over a long time. You wouldn’t expect to be able to play the piano without learning the basics and practicing. Investing for your retirement over the long term also takes a little knowledge and discipline. Though there can be no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful and all investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, there are ways to help yourself build your retirement nest egg.
Compounding is your best friend
It’s the “rolling snowball” effect. Put simply, compounding pays you earnings on your reinvested earnings. Here’s how it works: Let’s say you invest $100, and that money earns a 7% annual return. At the end of a year, the $7 you earned is added to your $100; that would give you $107 in your account. If you earn 7% again the next year, you’re earning 7% of $107 rather than $100, as you did in the first year. That adds $7.49 to your account instead of $7. In the third year with a 7% return, you’d earn $8 and have a total of $122. Like a snowball rolling downhill, the value of compounding grows the longer you leave your money in the account. In effect, compounding can do some of the work of building a nest egg for you.
Every year, the Trustees of the Social Security and Medicare trust funds release reports to Congress on the current financial condition and projected financial outlook of these programs. The 2016 reports, released on June 22, 2016, project a small Social Security cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) and Medicare premium increases for 2017, and discuss ongoing financial challenges.
What are the Social Security and Medicare trust funds?
Social Security: The Social Security program consists of two parts. Retired workers, their families, and survivors of workers receive monthly benefits under the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) program; disabled workers and their families receive monthly benefits under the Disability Insurance (DI) program. The combined programs are referred to as OASDI. Each program has a financial account (a trust fund) that holds the Social Security payroll taxes that are collected to pay Social Security benefits. Other income (reimbursements from the General Fund of the Treasury and income tax revenue from benefit taxation) is also deposited in these accounts. Money that is not needed in the current year to pay benefits and administrative costs is invested (by law) in special Treasury bonds that are guaranteed by the U.S. government and earn interest. As a result, the Social Security trust funds have built up reserves that can be used to cover benefit obligations if payroll tax income is insufficient to pay full benefits.
(Note that the Trustees provide certain projections based on the combined OASI and DI (OASDI) trust funds. However, these projections are theoretical, because the trusts are separate, and generally one program’s taxes and reserves cannot be used to fund the other program.)