Q:    I’m 37 years old and really want to start focusing on my retirement planning but feel it may be a little too late.  What should I do?

A:  It’s never too late to start planning for retirement.  The key is to not waste any more time once you make up your mind it’s what you want to do.  In short – get on the ball now so you make up for some of the lost time and retirement dollars you’ve been missing out on.  The following will provide you with the financial steps you should take according to your age and possible allocations you could have in your investment portfolio.  If you find that you’re past a certain stage, work on getting caught up with the goals of the previous timeframe and get back to your stage goals as soon as possible.

20 to 29 – You’re young; you’re starting your career; you’re broke.

  • Start your 401(k) at work. Contribute at least up to the company match, if any.
  • Start a Roth IRA if you don’t have a 401(k) – or if you have a 401(k) and can afford a Roth, too. You can tap your Roth for a first-time home purchase, if needed and you can withdraw principal penalty-free.
  • Start an emergency fund – six months of take home salary being the minimum.  If you don’t have money saved for a rainy day, you’ll have to go into debt for emergencies — or tap your retirement fund.
  • Make a living will so your family will know your wishes in case of a health emergency. You’ll need one when you retire, but you never know what will happen in the meantime.
  • Your Portfolio – Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index fund 50%, Small-cap core stock fund 25%, International stock fund 25%

30 to 39 – You’re still young; you’re starting a family; you’re in debt up to your eyeballs.

  • Don’t reduce your retirement savings to save for the kiddies college fund. You can finance college with student loans and scholarships; you can’t finance retirement.
  • Use your 401(k) to help you save and pay less income tax. A 401(k) lets you save money before taxes. Suppose you’re in the 25% tax bracket, earn $50,000 a year, and want to save $3,000 a year. Because of the tax savings, that $3,000 would reduce your take-home pay just $2,225 and cause you to owe less income taxes because your tax base will be reduced.
  • Don’t confuse whole life insurance with a retirement plan, says Peggy Ruhlin, a Columbus, Ohio, financial planner. “Life insurance is good, and you need it to protect your family. But it’s not for retirement savings.”
  • Write your will. You never know.
  • Your Portfolio – Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index fund 50%, International stock fund 20%, Small-cap core stock fund 15%, Mid-cap growth stock fund 15%

40 to 49 – You’re middle-aged; you’re doing OK; you’re starting to get worried.

  • If you’re not contributing the maximum to your 401(k), this is the time to do it.
  • Your rainy-day fund should now include cash and less liquid/higher yield assets such as CDs, mutual funds, etc.
  • If you plan to remain in your current home, refinance to make sure your mortgage will end when you stop working or sooner.
  • If you’ve previously funded a Roth IRA, you should be in good shape.  Otherwise, look at alternatives for retirement savings plans, such as tax-efficient mutual funds.
  • Update your living will and make sure someone has power of attorney. You never know.
  • Your Portfolio  – Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index fund 40%, International stock fund 15%, Small-cap value stock fund 15%, Mid-cap growth stock fund 15%, Bond funds 15%.

50 to 59 – You’re nearing retirement; you’re at the peak of your career; you’re terrified.

  • If the kids are out of college, consider reducing your life insurance and increasing your savings.
  • Take advantage of the catch-up provisions for 401(k)s and IRAs, which let you contribute more each year.
  • At 55, start reviewing your Social Security benefits estimate every year and get estimates for any pensions you might receive. See how much your savings will have to be tapped to meet your expenses.
  • Update your will. You never know.
  • Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index fund 30%, Bond funds 30%, Small-cap value stock fund 10%, Mid-cap growth stock fund 10%, Mid-cap blend stock fund 10%, International stock fund 10%