NEW YORK (MainStreet) — A big reason why people avoid saving for retirement is that the challenge just seems to daunting: they aren't sure even where to begin, and they have no idea what they should be doing.

To gain insight into the proper steps, we sat down with Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, president of the Charles Schwab Foundation, dedicated to helping young people gain financial literacy, and Justin Sinnott, a financial consultant who has been with Schwab for over 13 years.

Why You Need to Save for Retirement

The recently designated "Retirement Week" isn't enough, according to the experts.

"It really needs to be National Retirement Month," says Schwab-Pomerantz. "It's a callout in time for people to focus and maybe come back and re-examine their retirement plans, or start one if they haven't yet."

She further explains that today, the onus of coming up with your retirement income is all on you. "Employers just don't provide you with that nest egg anymore," she said.

Rather than retirement, a word that often alienates younger people, Sinnott prefers the term "financial independence." The sooner you start saving for that, the easier it's going to be. "You have to put away less in your 20s than you do in your 40s," he explains. He estimates the bill for a 30-year retirement in the neighborhood of $2.5 million, with an eye toward the increased longevity of human beings.

Retirement Planning In Your 20s

One thing is clear: The sooner you start planning for retirement the better. When you start in your 20s, you only have to put aside 10 to 15% of your net income (Sinnott is adamant that people pay attention to net, not gross) for a comfortable retirement.

Schwab-Pomerantz says that it all starts with budgeting and that starts by tracking expenses for a couple months. "Younger adults should just pay attention to where their money is going," adding that at that age, "people still need to learn the ropes of money management."

The main thing to do in your 20s is to keep your eye on that target of 15 to 20% and always max out your 401(k) contribution if your employer offers matching. "Not doing that is just leaving free money sitting on the table," explains Sinnott.

Retirement Planning In Your 30s

Planning for your retirement in your 30s isn't much different than doing it in your 20s. In fact, if you're holding off because you aren't sure what to do, stop and talk to a professional financial advisor or retirement planner.

Schwab-Pomerantz acknowledges that as you grow older, you have more financial concerns on your mind than in your 20s. She stresses that you and your spouse both need health insurance. "Health bills can be catastrophic in many cases," she says. However, she also believes that retirement comes before expenses such as your child's education or even buying a house.

"Education and a house can be paid for with loans," she says. "Retirement can't."

Sinnott advises that you set up automatic deductions. "If you put things away before you even see them, you're less likely to spend them," he said.

Retirement Planning In Your 40s

Retirement planning is, in a best-case scenario, a continuation of what you have been doing throughout your 30s. It's time to focus on throwing more money into your retirement account and paying down any outstanding debts that you might have.

"I think your 40s are the time when you need to start getting really intentional about your retirement," says Schwab-Pomerantz. This probably includes getting some professional help and advice about where to put your money. "You need to make sure that your investments are allocated properly and that your debt is in check," she says.

The big problem with planning for retirement in your 40s is the chunk out of your income is going to be a much bigger piece. "You're looking at putting away between 25 and 35% of your income once you hit your 40s," says Schwab-Pomerantz."This creates a significant lifestyle change as you enter your 40s," says Sinnott. "You become accustomed to living a certain way and it becomes hard to make cuts."

Retirement Planning In Your 50s

If you're in your 50s and haven't started planning for retirement yet, brace yourself. "It becomes somewhat unrealistic," says Schwab-Pomerantz, adding that you'll need to start saving between 40 and 60% of your net earnings.

Still, it might be difficult, but it's not hopeless. "If you're at 50, the necessity is to look at what your lifestyle costs, what your essential expenses are and what your Social Security is going to look like," she says.

No matter what age you're at, it's worth recalling the old Chinese proverb: The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.

--Written by Nicholas Pell for MainStreet

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