- More than one-third of people admit to not having a retirement account, according to a Bankrate survey.
- Not putting away money toward your later years can lead to regret later on. For every year you don't invest, you may sacrifice tens of thousands of dollars in the future.
- "It's just so important to get started immediately," one expert says.
January has been a rough month for stocks.
But while the market is down, it's actually a great time to start investing toward your retirement, according to James Royal, analyst at Bankrate.com.
A Bankrate survey found that almost 36% of respondents have never had a retirement account.
Those investors are missing out on the most valuable component of the retirement savings process — time, Royal said.
Not saving enough for retirement is the biggest financial regret for 19% of respondents, Bankrate also found.
That remorse is likely to catch up with more people, because for every single year you don't invest and allow your money to compound, you're costing yourself tens of thousands of dollars in the future, Royal said.
"It's just so important to get started immediately," he said.
Identify the retirement account for you
One big reason why people often do not save money toward retirement is that their employer does not provide a retirement savings plan, Royal said.
But that shouldn't necessarily stand in the way of you starting to invest for your retirement years, he said.
Individual retirement accounts will still let you set aside pretax or post-tax funds and invest the money so it can grow.
A traditional IRA allows you to contribute pretax money, which will lower your taxable income now. However, you will have to pay levies on the withdrawals you make in retirement later on.
A Roth IRA, on the other hand, lets you contribute earnings that have already been taxed, therefore paving the way for tax-free withdrawals in retirement. Another plus: You may withdraw your contributions without penalty. (However, the earnings on any money invested may be subject to a 10% penalty and additional taxes depending on your age and how long the money has been invested.)
Maximize your retirement savings
If you have access to a 401(k) through your employer, you will be able to save even more. This year, savers can put away as much as $20,500, or $27,000 for those ages 50 and up.
A 401(k) is the first place you should look to increase your retirement savings, Royal said.
The reason: Many employers offer a match, meaning when you contribute, they will also put in some bonus money for you, up to a certain annual contribution rate.
That match is free money, so it's best to take full advantage of it, if you can, Royal said. Only after that should you look at other investing options like a Roth IRA, he said.
Go for growth with your investments
After you've identified which accounts are right for your needs, you then want to think about investments.
Stocks generally have the best long-term growth potential. As such, your total exposure to stocks will matter more than whether you're invested in an S&P 500 Index, growth stock or value stock fund, Royal said.
If you are 10 years or more away from retirement, you have enough time to amp up your risk exposure by owning stocks. So long as you stay invested amid the market's ups and downs, you will likely enjoy attractive long-term returns, Royal said.
Admittedly, finding the right asset mix can puzzle investors who are just starting out. In that case, you may want to opt for a target date fund based on your anticipated retirement date. Target date funds adjust the asset mix automatically as you approach retirement, moving toward more conservative bonds as you reach your desired date.
However, even after you retire, you still need some exposure to stocks, due to the fact that your non-working years could last 20 years or more, Royal said.
"Just having that growth in your portfolio later on, even in retirement, gives you further options," he said.