As the economy continues to recover from the COVID pandemic, we’re getting a clearer picture on the damage caused by the shutdowns. One area that took a big hit is retirement savings. Millions of workers lost hours and income over the last 18 months and many stopped contributing to their retirement plans. But now it’s time to play catch up. We’ll talk about that first today. Just how big an impact has COVID had on retirement savings? One survey shows that more than 1 out of 4 workers reduced retirement contributions or stopped them completely. Worse, 10% of workers took moneyoutof their 401(k)s and IRAs to replace lost income, further setting back their retirement savings. On top of all that, many companies that suspended or reduced matching contributions have yet to reinstate them. So if your retirement savings have taken a hit this past year, here are some steps you can take to catch up: (1) Start tracking your total spending. People often ask, How much will I need to retire? They should first ask how much they’re spendingnow!Most people have no idea how much they spend annually and it would probably shock them. By tracking spending for at least three monthsthat means every pennyyou’ll get a good idea of where your money’s going and why more of it isn’t going into your retirement plan. You need to get on a budget that cuts back on discretionary spending and frees up more for retirement savings. (2) Health insurance. This might seem unrelated to retirement savings, but there’s a connection. If you’ve lost health insurance due to COVID, you might think you can go without it for a while. You shouldn’t. If you’re hit with a big medical bill, you may be tempted to take money out of your retirement plan. Medical cost sharing offers a low-cost alternative to health insurance and we recommend you check out Christian HealthCare Ministries,CHMinistries.org. (3) Take advantage of catch-up contributions to your retirement plan. Once you reach age 50, the IRS throws you a savings bone, allowing you to make extra contributions. Howmuchdepends on the type of plan: For a 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan, you can contribute an extra $6,500 annually after age 50; if you have a SIMPLE (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) IRA or 401(k), the catch up contribution is $3,000 annually; and for a Roth IRA, it’s an extra $1,000 a year. (4) Automate your savings. Make sure you’re signed up for automatic payroll contributions that will get for you all matching employercontributions. If at all possible, try to reach your annual contribution limit of $19,500, or $26,000 if you’re 50 or older. Obviously that’s a high bar to reach and not everyone can do it. But remember, every penny you cut from discretionary spending is money you can put in your retirement account. (5) Take a hard look at your portfolio. You’ll have to have a good portion of your savings in the stock market to have any hope of reaching your goal. Money markets are yielding around .6%less than inflation. On the other hand, the SP 500 has averaged a 10% annual return going back decades. You can obviously lose money in stocks; but the market always recovers over time. If you have at least 10 years before retiring, you can afford to put the majority of your portfolio into stocks. (6) The last step to shoring up your retirement is something most folks don’t want to think about but would have a major positive impact: simply retire later! The longer you delay retirement, the more time you have to contribute to your planbuilding up your next egg. It also increases Social Security benefits. If you delay taking them past your full retirement age (now 66 or 67 for most Americans) you can earn any amount of money without having benefits cut. Plus, you gain an extra 8% in benefits every year you delay taking them up to age 70. On today’s program we also answer your questions: I have a 403(b) and am thinking about switching it over to one of those IRAs that invests in gold. What do you think about that idea? I took out a home equity loan to purchase a rental property. I needed to get out of debt.The home equity loan is against my primary residence. But the bank says that this is a cash out loan. Help me to better understand what my option is. Remember, you can call in to ask your questions most days at (800) 525-7000 or email them [email protected] Also, visit our website atMoneyWise.orgwhere you can connect with a MoneyWise Coach, purchase books, and even download free, helpful resources like the free MoneyWise app. Like and Follow us on Facebook atMoneyWise Mediafor videos and the very latest discussion!Remember that it’s your prayerful and financial support that keeps MoneyWise on the air. Help us continue this outreach by clicking the Donate tab on our website or in our app.