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Over 50? Suze Orman shares 5 smart strategies to boost retirement funds

A recent survey found 45 percent of baby boomers have zero savings set aside for their golden years. Suze Orman calls it a retirement ‘crisis.’
Senior couple driving convertible car at sunrise
If you're over 50 and don't have a retirement plan, by making some savvy moves, you can get on track.Thomas Barwick / Getty Images

In your 20s, retirement seemed so far away.

By the time you hit 50, it’s a reality that is a lot closer — and one you may not feel prepared for. That may be especially true as fears over the coronavirus rattle the stock market and your investment portfolio.

Or, you may have nothing saved at all. In fact, a 2019 survey by the Insured Retirement Institute found that 45 percent of baby boomers have zero savings set aside for their golden years. The organization polled 804 Americans aged 56-72 in February of 2019.

Personal finance expert Suze Orman believes many Americans simply can’t afford to retire.

“We have a crisis,” the New York Times best-selling author said.

Yet, by making some savvy moves, you can get on track.

The first thing you should do is stop dreaming of retiring by 55 or 60, said Orman, whose latest book is titled “The Ultimate Retirement Guide for 50+.”

“You need to start thinking, ’70 is when I want to retire,’” she added. “If you can just know that you’re going to be working from 50 to 70, you have 20 more years for your money to grow.”

Here are five strategies people 50 and over can employ to prepare for retirement, according to Orman.

1. Give your money a reality check

“This is the time that you really need to look at your total financial situation, in terms of how much money are you spending, how much are you saving?” said Orman, host of the weekly podcast, Women & Money.

You should do everything you can to cut back on unnecessary expenses.

If you own a home and plan to stay in it, make sure you have a plan in place to pay off the mortgage by the time you retire.

2. Downsize your home

You may love your home, but if it is larger than you need and you can make a profit selling it, do so. Then, move into something smaller — and less expensive.

“I don’t want you to wait till you’re 60 or 70 to sell this home,” she said. “I want you to downsize right now, so that you can start saving more money right now.”

3. Bulk up your emergency fund

Now is the time to super-charge your emergency fund.

While many experts suggest setting aside three to six months’ worth of living expenses, once you are over 50, Orman wants you to save two to three years worth.

That’s because once it’s time to start drawing from your retirement account, you want to avoid taking big losses if the stock market is down — like happened last week when the Dow Jones Industrial Average, S&P 500 and Nasdaq Composite all fell more than 10 percent. It was their biggest weekly decline since October 2008.

“That’s not when you want to be withdrawing from it,” she said.

“If you have cash, you can live on that cash for two or three years until the market recovers.”

Of course, you will still have to make your required minimum distributions — the amount you must take out every year — from your traditional IRA or 401(k) if you are 72 or older.

4. Contribute to a Roth IRA

Any new contributions you make into a retirement account should be in a Roth IRA, if you can, Orman said.

“Later on in life, you want to be able to take that money out tax free,” she explained.

Roth IRA contributions are made after tax, so you aren’t taxed when you take the money out during your retirement. On the other hand, when you put money into a traditional IRA, it isn’t taxed — but it is when you take it out.

However, your income will determine whether you can contribute to a Roth IRA. As a single person, you can do so if your modified adjusted gross income is under $139,000. If you are married and filing jointly, your income just be under $206,000.

5. Check your investment allocations

How much money do you have in cash, stocks and bonds? Make sure your portfolio is allocated appropriately for your retirement needs.

Orman suggests looking into stocks or exchange-traded funds that pay dividends. An ETF is a basket of securities — like stocks and bonds — that are traded on an exchange. Dividend ETFs usually focus on companies that have high or stable and growing dividends, according to

“If you happen to hit a patch where the market starts to go down, you want these stocks to still provide income for you,” she said.

At the end of the day, you want to be able to retire comfortably. While you may make blunders along the way, it pays to become educated, Orman said.

“The biggest mistake you will ever make in your financial life are the mistakes you don’t even know that you are making,” she said.

Disclosure: Invest in You: Ready. Set. Grow. is a financial wellness and education initiative from CNBC and Acorns, the micro-investing app. NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in Acorns.

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