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Basic Strategies for Achieving Your Retirement Goals

Thinking about retirement can be both exciting and intimidating. Here are some strategies to help you achieve your goals in the planning and saving process and journey toward retirement.

Figure out how much money you will need to save for retirement. Start by contacting the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 or going to  www.socialsecurity.gov/estimator to learn what your monthly Social Security benefit would be when you plan to retire. Remember, if you retire before your "full" retirement age (available at that same website,) your benefits will be reduced. Then use an online calculator (offered by many banks and other organizations) to estimate how much you need to save each month or consider talking to an advisor, perhaps a financial planner.

Take advantage of retirement savings programs at work, especially those involving matching contributions from your employer. If your employer has a program to help you save for retirement, sign up and contribute. Save as much as you need to get the full amount of any match the employer may offer. And if your contributions are tax-deductible, the money you save in taxes means your take-home pay may not drop much.

Make sure your investments are diversified. Understand that if you're starting out in your career, you can generally afford to take more investment risks. If you are closer to retirement age, you need to be careful about potential losses that could delay or jeopardize your plans.

Explore IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) and other programs that can help you achieve financial goals and save on taxes. In particular, self-employed individuals and others not covered by a traditional retirement plan at work should explore these options.

Cut back on unnecessary expenses so you have more money for retirement savings. For example, pay off most or all of your credit card balances and other loans to save on interest and avoid having to make these payments during your retirement years. Also, think carefully before purchasing any investment, including a variable annuity, that comes with high fees or penalties if you withdraw money early.

Be on guard against retirement investment scams. Walk away from solicitations that "guarantee" consistently high returns or that otherwise sound too good to be true — especially from a stranger or anyone who pressures you into an offer. If the seller runs off with your money, that can seriously impair your retirement years.