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Catching up with retirement savings late in your career

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Q: I should have had something in place 20 years ago for retirement. Now at 47, I realize that 67 is not too far away. Any recommendations on financial institutions that could assist me on this delayed retirement?

A. Starting at midcareer does make it harder to save because you’ll generally need to put away a much higher percentage of income to get to where you need to be by retirement age, but it could be a lot worse.

Your biggest wealth lever is still your career, so start thinking about promotions and midcareer retraining so you can work as long as you’ll need to work. And speaking of work, check with your human resources adviser to see if your employer offers any free retirement-planning resources.

If not, think about hiring an hourly, fee-only financial planner. Check out the National Association of Personal Financial Advisers (napfa.org) to get started.

Notice I haven’t recommended a financial institution yet? That’s because getting a few other things in place is more important.

“Here’s a guy who has already blown 20 years and is having regrets. To imagine he will turn on a light bulb and make up for lost time all on his own, I’m a little skeptical,” said Joel Greenwald, a financial adviser with Greenwald Wealth Management in St. Louis Park, Minn.

In a few hours, an hourly planner will likely help you sort out your monthly budget in depth, assess any debt you have and help figure out your best retirement savings vehicle, whether that’s an employer plan, an IRA or a combination, Greenwald said.

Once you get a handle on your budget and debt, then choose a place to park the money that offers ultra-low fees and as much automation as possible to keep it easy to stick with your new savings goals. “Robo-advisers” such as Betterment and Wealthfront will help you choose a portfolio based on risk tolerance, but big institutions such as Vanguard and Schwab also offer low-cost options that are easy to track online.

Worried about plowing a lot of new money into the stock market after such a long bull market?

Greenwald looks at it this way:

“He could see significant losses before significant gains, but his time horizon is 40 or 50 years,” he said. “He needs to get off the dime.”

Janet Kidd Stewart writes The Journey for the Chicago Tribune. Share your journey to or through retirement or pose a question at journey@janetkiddstewart.com.

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