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The 5 Pivotal Years That Set Your Financial Future

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Steve Pomeranz, Your financial future

There is a constant stream of messages telling us to save, save, save for retirement. They are important messages and you should listen closely.

However, there are key pivotal ages when your retirement portfolio will require hands-on attention when you’ll have to make decisions that impact your financial security and quality of life for years to come. These windows of opportunity may last as little as a few months, so listen carefully and make sure you don’t miss these five crucial ages to make your best financial progress.

Money’s Penelope Wang recently penned an article which zeroed in on five key pivotal times in your life and career when you should take full advantage of windows-of-opportunity to stash away money and stay on track—and I have added some of my own ideas, as well.

  1. Age 25: Commit to Saving

When you’re just out of college, saving can be hard. But halfway through your twenties, with a job or two behind you, you’re psychologically and financially ready to set money aside. If you start your savings at 25, you’ll get the full effect of 40 or more years of compounding… and you’ll develop a habit that will serve you well for life.

Here’s your key move for this age: Aim to put away at least 10% of your pay in your workplace plan, if you have one, or set up a Roth IRA. Most 25-year olds are also fairly computer savvy, so to keep you on-track, pick one of many free financial apps that automatically helps you track and save towards your goals. For example, an app at Acorns.com is free and diverts small amounts into your savings accounts by rounding up your debit or credit card transactions to the nearest dollar and funneling that change into an investment account.

  1. Age 45: Turn Up the Volume

At 45, you’re near your peak earning years, which are 48 for men and 39 for women—that’s when your salary level is at its highest and you most likely have fewer working years ahead of you than behind you, so retirement has to be a priority. This is a good time to turn up the volume on your savings and power-save. Now is also the time to not get carried away into making wasteful or over-indulgent purchases.

Here’s your key move for this age: Take stock of your savings over the past 20 years. Then use online tools and retirement calculators to realistically estimate how much retirement income your portfolio will generate over the next 20 years. While forecasts aren’t perfect, they can inspire. A 2014 study out of Stanford University found that seeing such long-term estimates helped spur workers to boost their savings. For more detail and guidance, hire a qualified financial planner who can find other areas of savings and help keep you on track.

  1. Age 60: Get Familiar with Social Security

The earliest you can receive Social Security, generally, is at age 62, but claiming strategies, especially for married couples, can be complicated. As I’ve mentioned before, early withdrawal from social security comes with a life-long penalty. So don’t rush to get your social security, but come up with a plan that keeps you from tapping that resource until it’s penalty-free for you, so you get its full benefit.

Here are your key moves for this age: Although about 40% of all retirees claim social security at age 62, look for ways to hold off because monthly benefits grow 7% to 8% per year until you’re 70. While you wait, build up enough cash to cover emergencies and daily expenses and temporarily lower the risk of your portfolio in case a bear market rears its ugly head. Your adviser should be recommending this and a good one will know exactly what to do.

  1. Age 65: Enroll in Medicare

Unless you or your spouse is still working and you’re on an employer plan, you have three months after the month you turn 65 to sign up for Medicare (at medicare.gov). Miss the deadline and you’ll pay higher premiums—up to 10% more for each year you delay Medicare Part B (for doctors). So make sure you put this date on your calendar and sign-up on time.

So here’s your key move for this age:  Shop around for a Medicare Prescription Part D plan for drug coverage and a Medigap plan to help pay extra costs, such as co-payments and deductibles. Compare choices at medicare.gov/find-a-plan. And go to technical assistance sites such as State Health Insurance Assistance Programs SHIP-TA-CENTER at shiptacenter.org that connects you with local experts and trained volunteers for free guidance on all your Medicare options. And, remember, as you age, the costs of prescription drugs, co-pays, and deductibles can rise significantly, so enroll yourself in options that don’t leave you holding the bag on expensive medical bills. This move alone could keep you from going bankrupt in retirement.

  1. Age 70½: Tackle your taxes

Starting the year you turn 70½, the clock begins ticking on the required minimum distributions you must take from your 401(k) and IRAs. You can defer your first RMD until April 1 of the next year, but you’ll have to take a second one before year-end. Miss an RMD and you’ll pay a hefty 50% penalty on the money you should have withdrawn. So don’t ignore this!

Finally, here’s your key move for this age:  If you can afford it, now’s a good time to give generously to charitable causes. That’s because, in 2015, Congress made permanent a rule that allows direct donations—of up to $100,000 a year from your IRA—count toward your RMD, in ways that could perhaps lower your tax bill. So talk to your financial advisor about tax-efficient ways to give to charity.

If you stay regular with your savings and make key moves at these five pivotal stages, you will go a long way toward achieving a healthy financial future.