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How to retire with no savings

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Life can be full of curveballs, which can force your long-term financial goals, like retirement savings, to take a backseat. If this sounds like you, you're not alone. In fact, Thrivent's Retirement Readiness Survey found that nearly 44% of near-retirees have executed minimal to no retirement planning, leaving their golden years at risk. So, what happens if you have no retirement savings?

We'll explore how you can retire even without savings to rely on. We'll also provide a few immediate actions to start saving, even if it’s later than you intended.

What happens if you have no retirement savings?

You can still live a fulfilling life as a retiree with little to no savings. It just may look different than you originally planned. With a little pre-planning, relying on Social Security income and making lifestyle modifications—you may be able to meet your retirement needs. Let’s dive deeper into these options.

You may have to rely on Social Security

Many retirees with little to no savings rely solely on Social Security as their main source of income. You can claim Social Security benefits as early as age 62, but your benefit amount will depend on when you start filing for the benefit. You get less than your full benefit if you file before your full retirement age. Every month you delay filing after full retirement age, you receive a credit that increases your benefit.

The average Social Security benefit in late 2023 was $1,710 per month. That's less than $22,000 annually. High earners may receive more, but on average, Social Security still covers only 30% of their prior earnings.

Knowing how much to expect from your monthly Social Security benefit can give you a clearer idea of if you can live on this amount. The Social Security Administration provides calculators to help you determine your amount.


Social Security income taxes:
How much will you owe?

Over half of Social Security recipients owe income taxes on their benefits. However, the amount of tax owed—as well as whether you even owe tax at all—depends on a variety of factors. Find out when your Social Security benefit income is taxed and how that tax is calculated based on your filing status.

Learn more

You may need to make financial & lifestyle adjustments

If you determine you need more than Social Security income to meet your retirement needs, consider these options:

1. Set a detailed budget to minimize expenses

Living a low-cost lifestyle is an excellent strategy for anyone looking to stretch their retirement income as long as possible. By living off less now, you can free up more to save.

Having a spending plan is a great first step for reaching any financial goal. Start by taking your monthly income and subtracting your monthly expenses, then use your spending habits to create a budget that helps you ensure that your Social Security income, and any other savings, will last.

2. Downsize your home

If you find yourself with more expenses than income in retirement, you may need to make significant changes to lower your expenses, such as by downsizing your residence.

Though it can be difficult to sell your home and beloved valuables, the potential savings could be enough to add to your nest egg, especially if you move to a more affordable neighborhood or move in with loved ones. If you're buying a home, research beforehand to understand home prices in your desired area and the mortgage rates you qualify for.

3. Continue working

If you don't have enough money to retire, you may have to delay retirement. In fact, the Thrivent Readiness Survey finds that Americans are rethinking conventional retirement—30% of people plan to retire gradually, and 5% don't have plans to retire at all.

Whether you work part-time or continue working full-time, it doesn't have to be a burden. Working throughout retirement can keep you active, focused and refreshed, especially if you're doing work that you find fulfilling.

gold line

How to start saving for retirement if you're starting late

It's never too late to start saving for retirement. Consider these strategies to help you maximize your savings as you get closer:

Know your savings gap

Even if you feel far off from your retirement goal, having a savings target is still beneficial. What amount do you need to cover your expenses? Knowing this number can give you a better idea of your options to close the gap between your living expenses and what Social Security will provide.

Not sure what your number is? Try out our retirement income planning calculator.

Maximize retirement account contributions

If you're nearing retirement with little to no savings, put away as much as you can now. There are several tried and true ways to save with tax-advantaged accounts:

Take advantage of tax-advantaged retirement plans

Defined contribution plans, like 401(k)s, provide a great way to save for retirement in a tax-advantaged way. You can generally contribute up to $23,000 annually (for 2024) and make an additional $7,500 per year with a catch-up contribution if you're 50 or older. If offered, you may have an employer match up to a percentage of your contributions. If you aren't taking advantage of the match, you are leaving free money on the table.

You can usually start withdrawing from these plans as early as age 59½, but you often must begin taking required minimum distributions at a specific age.

Open a traditional or Roth IRA

IRAs offer tax advantages similar to a defined contribution plan. You make contributions that grow tax-deferred and allow for compound growth over time. For 2024, you can save up to $7,000 in an IRA, and an additional $1,000 if you’re 50 or older.

The two primary types of IRAs are traditional and Roth:

Traditional IRA

Traditional IRAs are funded with pre-tax contributions. These contributions may be tax-deductible and could lower your taxable income. Taxes will be due once it's time to make withdrawals. There are no income limits to participate in traditional IRAs.

Roth IRA

Roth IRAs are funded with contributions made with after-tax dollars—so they are not taxed as income. The tax benefit comes at the point of withdrawal—earnings and qualified withdrawals are tax-free. Unlike traditional IRAs, there are income limits to participate.

  • If you make less than the modified adjusted gross incomes (MAGIs) listed, you can contribute to a Roth IRA.
  • If you make between the MAGIs listed, you can contribute but it will be a reduced amount.
  • If you make equal to or more than the MAGI limit listed, you can't contribute anything to a Roth IRA. If this applies to you, check out these alternatives.
Filing status
2024 modified adjusted gross income (MAGI) to contribute to a Roth IRA

Single or head of household


Married filing jointly


Married filing separately


Explore other investments

Whether you invest through an employer-sponsored retirement plan or a brokerage account, there are several ways to invest your money—depending on your risk tolerance and how close you are to retirement.

  • Stocks are considered a risky asset given their volatility. The potential for a high return makes stocks a great option if you're far from retirement and can ride out any dips in the market.
  • Bonds are loans to the government, corporations or municipalities that are paid back to you at a specified interest rate. Bonds don't have the same growth potential as stocks, but they are also exposed to less risk—making them a better fit if you're closer to retirement. But, the return on bonds is not guaranteed.
  • Certificates of deposit (CDs) are purchased in exchange for a fixed growth rate from a bank or credit union, making them a safe, low-risk investment—typically a high priority as you're nearing retirement.
  • Annuities are insurance contracts you can purchase in exchange for a fixed income. You can purchase annuities with no exposure to the market, providing predictability that many late-savers look for.

Get professional guidance with your retirement plan

No matter how close you are to retirement, you can still prioritize saving for it. A Thrivent financial advisor can work with you to calculate your savings goal and create a customized, realistic savings plan. If you're part of the percentage of the population with no retirement savings, retirement may look different than you originally planned. But even if you're living with less, you can still live an enjoyable life beyond your working years.

Investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. The product prospectus, portfolios' prospectuses and summary prospectuses contain more complete information on investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses along with other information, which investors should read carefully and consider before investing. Available at

Thrivent financial advisors and professionals have general knowledge of the Social Security tenets. For complete details on your situation, contact the Social Security Administration.

Thrivent and its financial advisors and professionals do not provide legal, accounting or tax advice. Consult your attorney or tax professional.

CDs offer a fixed rate of return. The value of a CD is guaranteed up to $250,000 per depositor, per insured institution, per insured institution, by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. (FDIC). An investment in a money market fund is not insured or guaranteed by the FDIC or any other government agency. A money market fund seeks to maintain the value of $1.00 per share although you could lose money. The FDIC is an independent agency of the US government that protect the funds depositors place in banks and savings associations. FDIC insurance is backed by the full faith and credit of the United States government.