Roadblock #2: Your portfolio hasn't recovered

By Scott Medintz, contributor


The Problem: The Dow Jones industrial average has risen more than 50% since bottoming out in March 2009. And the average 401(k) balance is above where it was when the crisis began, according to EBRI. Yes, that's a relief. But having lost out on the growth you were counting on these past few years, you're probably still behind where you're supposed to be. You may figure you need to stall retirement. But that's not necessarily so, says planner Mark Brown: "You just have to make sure to make smart moves going forward."

Solution #1: Supercharge your savings. No getting around it: The biggest thing you can do to get back on track is to increase the amount you're putting away.

Already maxing out your 401(k)? Don't forget catch-up contributions. If you're 50 or older, you can stash $5,500 more this year on top of the $16,500 standard allowance. You may think you can't save that much more, but remember, money going in is pretax, so in the 28% bracket that extra $5,500 reduces a biweekly paycheck by only $152.

If you're at least 50, you can also put an additional $1,000 in IRAs, for a total of $6,000. There are income limits on Roths -- in order to make a full contribution, couples filing jointly must have modified adjusted gross incomes below $167,000 in 2010. But anyone can use a traditional IRA. You may not qualify for an upfront deduction -- for married couples who both have retirement plans through work, this starts phasing out at a modified AGI of $89,000 -- but you'll still benefit from tax deferral.

Solution #2: Grow your money safely. Resist the temptation to invest aggressively in hopes of catching up. Just because you "need" a certain return doesn't mean you'll get it. And recent research from Ibbotson Associates shows that the market has greater potential for catastrophic dips than previously thought -- meaning your plan could backfire.

On the other hand, being too conservative won't help you make up for lost earnings. The ideal stock allocation for growth and safety: 70% or less in your early fifties, up to 60% 10 years later, and no more than 50% in the next decade. If you don't trust yourself to stick to those mixes, start with a balanced fund like Vanguard Wellington (VWELX) -- which is 65% in stocks -- then invest an increasing portion of new money into a bond fund as you age.

Solution #3: Transition to semiretirement. Rather than completely calling it quits at your target date, dial back your hours or work as a consultant for a few years. You'll get some of the perks of retirement -- like more free time -- while reducing the risks of your money running out.

Even if you aren't able to save much on a smaller salary, every dollar you make is a dollar you won't need to pull from savings. (If you semiretired when you had $500,000 and let that ride for three years, with a 6% average annual return, it'd grow to nearly $600,000.) Plus, the paycheck may allow you to postpone Social Security -- and those payouts increase by about 8% each year you delay them after age 62.

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