How Much Should I Have in My 401k?

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Person counting their cash using a calculator to figure out how much to put into their 401k

If you’re wondering how much money you should have in your 401k, your wait is over.

You want to ensure you’re saving enough to meet your retirement goals. Otherwise, you may have to find ways to save more or possibly delay retiring.

While each person has a different financial situation, these insights can improve your retirement plan.

How Much Should I Have in My 401k Based on My Age?

There are a few different schools of thought on how much a person should have saved in their 401k based on age.

Every financial expert has a different opinion. When deciding the right number for you, I think one thing to remember is that it’s better to have more saved than less.

Creating a potential post-retirement budget as a guideline will help you determine how much money you’ll spend after you retire.

In an ideal world, you will be completely debtfree by retirement and have minimal housing and other expenses.

You’ll want to be prepared for these costs:

  • Utility bills
  • Insurance premiums
  • Medical bills
  • Replacement vehicle
  • Travel
  • Taxes

A person’s income and expenses can affect how much they should have saved at each interval age, but here are some general guidelines.

Use these guidelines in conjunction with your projected post-retirement budget to determine whether you should have more or less saved by the time you retire than what is suggested here.

By Age 30

By the time you’re 30 years old, you should have a minimum of one year’s salary (use your current salary for all equations) saved in your 401k. Currently, the average wage in the United States is $61,220 (2022 data).

This shouldn’t be unrealistic if you started saving right out of college. If you didn’t start saving until your late twenties or early thirties, you may need to make some catch-up contributions.

By Age 35

By the time you reach thirty-five, you should have two years’ worth of salary saved in your 401k, an average of $122,440.

The five years of compound interest between ages thirty and thirty-five and your continued contributions should make this possible.

By Age 40

By the time you’re forty, you should have three years’ worth of salary saved in your 401k. The average 401k savings balance is $183,660 at the current national average wage.

If you started saving much later, as in your mid-to-late thirties, catch-up contributions are vital.

By Age 45

By the time you turn forty-five, you should have saved four years’ worth of salary. An average 401k balance at this point should be $244,880.

Again, the age when you start saving can have an impact – for better or for worse – on how much you have saved at this point.

By Age 50

This is a good checkpoint age, and you should have five years’ worth of your annual salary saved by age fifty. This would amount to a 401k savings of $306,100.

If you don’t, now would be a good time to start making those catch-up contributions and to start saving in other retirement vehicles such as a Roth or Traditional IRA as well.

Also, you should start seriously considering getting all debt paid off at this point, including mortgage debt.

Debt payments are a serious hindrance to a comfortable retirement life.

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If you’re earnest about retiring early or simply retiring comfortably, this is an informative and inspiring read.

By Age 55

At this point, you should have six times your annual salary saved. The average 401k savings amount should be $367,320. Again, catch-up contributions are vital if you’re behind.

With only ten years until the typical retirement age, you’ll want to prioritize retirement savings if you don’t have as much savings as you would like.

Consider increasing your 401k and other retirement savings as buckling down big time to achieve a goal worth every effort: a comfortable retirement with little or no money worries.

By Age 60

At age sixty, you should have seven times your annual salary saved. This amounts to an average 401k savings of $428,540. The wonders of compound interest should work seriously in your favor now.

By Age 65

Age sixty-five is when most people who haven’t retired already are thinking seriously about gliding into a comfortable retirement.

At this point, you should have at least eight times your annual salary saved. By this age, that would amount to $489,760 in your 401k.

For example, if you’ve been making $70,000 annually, you should have at least $560,000 in your 401k account.

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Average Current Retirement Savings Balance

Unfortunately, many people are woefully under-prepared for retirement from a financial standpoint.

Here are some statistics on Americans’ median current retirement savings balances based on their age, according to Vanguard.

Age Average 401(k) balanceMedian 401(k) balance
Under 25$5,236$1,948
25 to 34$30,017$11,357
35 to 44$76,354$28,318
45 to 54$142,069$48,301
55 to 64$207,874$71,168
65 and up$232,710$70,620

Source: The Business Insider

As you can see, there are a large number of families that are vastly under-saved for retirement. You can easily reach these goals if you can save at least 10% of your income.

The contribution rate can vary based on family age and, of course, by current economic conditions.

Families BetweenAverage Contribution Rate
25 to 346.7%
35 to 447.0%
45 to 547.6%
55 to 648.7%
Source: The Ascent by Motley Fool

Workers save more for retirement as they get older and pay off other debts like student loans and a home mortgage.

At a minimum, many experts recommend saving at least 10% of your income for retirement. Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps recommends saving at least 15% into retirement accounts after getting out of debt and building an emergency fund.

You can use a retirement calculator like NewRetirement to review your personal progress and project how long your nest egg will last. This tool is free but paid plans are available too.

Read our NewRetirement review to learn more about this interactive retirement planner.

Increasing Retirement Savings

In an ideal world, everyone would start saving for retirement straight out of college and continue doing so for their entire working career.

However, life gets in the way for many people, and saving in a 401k is often not a priority or not a possibility because of high debt balances.

Lower-income earners have an even more difficult time putting away money, especially if they’ve got a family to support.

If you are behind on retirement savings, read on to discover some tips for finding more cash to increase your retirement savings to get it where you want it to be by the time you’re ready to retire.

1. Start Living on a Budget and Tracking Your Expenses

The fact is that until you know where your money is going each month, you’ll have a hard time finding money to set aside for retirement savings.

The reason it’s so important to discover and track where your money is going each month is so that you can identify wasteful spending and reroute it toward causes that are more important to you.

Many people find that when they start tracking expenses, they are spending money in $5, $10, and $20 increments (and sometimes even more). It seems like it’s not a lot, but it adds up to hundreds or thousands of dollars each month.

When my family started tracking expenses in 2013, we were able to cut them down by nearly $1,000 a month – and we were making well under $100,000 per year at the time.

By trimming grocery expenses, cutting back on entertainment costs, and being more mindful of each purchase, we found a lot of waste in our spending. We could use what we were wasting for much more important things, such as paying off our debt.

2. Increase Your Income if Need Be

Sometimes, a lack of retirement savings is caused by mismanaged income. It’s common to get caught up in everyday frivolous spending that seems harmless but causes major savings deficits over the years.

Other times, a real lack of income has caused a person’s inability to save for retirement.

If you’re managing your money well and minimizing waste but don’t make enough to save what you need for retirement – you may need to increase your income.

Luckily, there are several options for boosting your income:

Then take that cash and use it to fund your 401k or other retirement accounts.

However, it’s important to remember that as you increase your income, you need to be sure to take that extra money and target it all toward retirement savings.

It might be tempting to use it for fun stuff like vacations and new and shiny things – especially if you’ve been living on a tight budget for a long period of time.

Don’t make that mistake. Instead, commit to funneling all extra income into your 401k or other retirement accounts, even if it’s only for a specified period, like five years or ten years.

After that time is up, you’ll likely see a significant increase in your retirement savings. That increase will help ensure you won’t struggle to live in your later years.

3. Just Do It

Remember the old Nike “Just Do It” commercials? The point of it was to get consumers to put on their Nike tennis shoes and get out there and exercise.

“Just Do It” t-shirts and signs were everywhere during those prominent Nike years, and everyone who was anyone wore Nike tennis shoes.

If you’re behind on your retirement savings, you must have the “Just Do It” attitude. You need to decide that you WILL increase your retirement savings no matter how tough the going might get.

Since traditional 401k contributions are pre-tax, you may notice a smaller paycheck because of the upfront withholding. But you also pay lower income taxes too.

Most people can adjust to a smaller paycheck by reducing expenses.

In the meantime, your 401k contributions are working silently on your behalf, growing to create a lush retirement fund while you sleep.

Think of increasing your retirement savings as running a marathon or saving to buy or build a home with cash.

Each day, you can take small steps. Maybe you’ll sell something on Facebook Marketplace and be able to add another $100 to your 401k account.

Or you’ll cut your grocery bill by $50 one month and be able to put that money into an IRA. Each step you take might not seem as if it will make much of an impact, especially if you’re far behind on your retirement savings needs.

However, combined with the power of compound interest, your contributions will start to grow.

Over a decade or longer, you can see a significant change for the better in your 401k and other retirement account balances if you’re willing to make small changes that result in more money toward savings.

Debt and Retirement

It’s pretty typical for people to carry some type of consumer debt. They may have a credit card balance, car loan, student loan or personal loan – or a combination of all of the above.

It’s also common for many people to carry a mortgage loan.

In fact, this survey by Experian shows that the typical person aged 65 has an average credit card debt balance of $6,726.

Experian® also showed mortgage debt numbers. Their report showed that baby boomers (born 1946-1964 and nearing or at retirement) had an average mortgage debt in 2023 of $241,815.

Those kinds of debt payments can easily add a thousand dollars or more to a retiree’s monthly living expenses. With living expenses so much higher, 401k and other retirement balances also need to be higher.

If you’re behind on retirement savings as it is, you’ll have a lot more catching up to do if you plan on carrying debt into retirement.

It’s Not Too Late

On the other hand, if you can commit to no more borrowing, saving up a few months of living expenses in an emergency fund, and creating a plan to be debt-free by the time you retire, you’ll be able to live on less in retirement.

That means that your catch-up contributions, if you’re behind on retirement savings, won’t have to be as large.

No matter what your current 401k and other retirement account balances are, there are things you can do right now to increase your retirement savings and put yourself in a situation where you need less to live on.

Catch-up Contributions

Upping your retirement contributions can help you afford retirement and also increase your liquid net worth.

Consider challenging yourself to invest up to the annual 401k contribution limit:

  • Under age 50: $19,500
  • Ager 50 or older: $26,000

Your employer may also make matching contributions for a portion of your salary. This is free money that grows tax-deferred and can also reduce the amount you must invest to achieve your savings goals.

In addition to investing with a 401k, consider a traditional or Roth IRA. The annual contribution limit is $6,000 if you’re age 49 or less ($7,000 if age 50 or older).

A third option is a health savings account. Your contributions can be tax-deductible and also tax-free when covering qualified medical expenses.

Related Article: 10 Best Retirement Calculators (Including Free Options)


It’s up to you to decide to change your current spending habits and do things differently so that you can increase your retirement savings.

Depending on your situation, saving enough for retirement may mean you must make serious changes. For example, you might need to downsize your house or seek a higher-paying job.

Big life changes such as these can be stressful. But it’s important to remember that the changes are for you, creating a more financially secure situation for yourself now and in the future.

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  1. “If you started saving much later, as in your mid-to-late thirties, catch up contributions are vital.”

    Curious about this. Legally, one cannot make catch-up contributions until they are at least 50 but here, it’s mentioned in the section for 30 something-year-olds. Just an observation..

  2. Josh Patoka says:

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen the savings milestones broken down this way for a 401K. Usually, most experts say you need $X when you retire and to contribute enough to at least capture the minimum employer match. I’m guilty of spreading the same advice, but, my viewpoint is readjusted in an encouraging and achievable way.

    1. Laurie Blank says:

      Thanks, Josh! Obviously the numbers will be different for everyone, but I think the milestone approach helps to give people something to aim for at every age. Looking at that final huge number can be so overwhelming. If people can work to at least increase what they’re saving now, if needed, they’ll be in a better position.