Retirement-ready: Get a checklist of documents you'll need at any age

Two people sitting at a table going over documents.

In this article

  • Retirement information for the student or young professional
  • Retirement information for your 20s
  • Retirement information for your 30s
  • Retirement information for your 40s
  • Retirement information for 50+
  • When you should collect your Social Security
  • Start preparing for retirement today

Many of us spend more time daydreaming about retirement than actually getting ready for it. It’s easy to imagine lounging on the beach or finally starting your novel after leaving the workforce, but preparing for your post-work plans requires careful saving and planning.

It can be tempting to put off retirement preparations until your 30s or 40s or expect to roll into retirement without much risk or reflection. But your future shouldn’t just be an afterthought. You can take simple steps at any age to gear up for retirement, leading to less stress and greater savings later in life.

Your decisions and financial strategies affect your ability to live the lifestyle you want and manage unexpected costs in the future. Whether you’re a college student or senior citizen, it’s important to maximize your money management and make sure you comprehend, compile, and complete all the relevant documents for retirement.

Retirement planning can feel overwhelming, and it can be confusing to know which forms you’ll need to prepare effectively. To help you get on the right track and boost your financial fitness across your lifetime, we’ve gathered a checklist of documents to collect throughout your career. For each age range, we’ve also included some quick questions to ask yourself to strengthen your savings strategy.

Infograph of a timeline for retirement planning.

Retirement information for the student or young professional

Saving for retirement is usually far off the radar when you start college or begin your career. Taking a percentage out of your paycheck can feel like an unnecessary stretch when money is tight, and most young people focus on just getting by and paying rent, groceries, and tuition, while having some to spend.

But getting a retirement savings strategy together at this stage can be a game-changer. The sooner you start investing, no matter how small the amount, the more you can save in the long run.

For example, even if you only invest $50 per month into a retirement account starting at age 18, the $28,200 you’ve contributed by age 65 can add up to more than $220,000 with a 7 percent interest rate and daily compounding schedule. If you begin investing later at age 25 and contribute a little more at $75 monthly with the same parameters, your total amount will come to around $198,000 — almost $22,000 less than if you had started investing $50 monthly at 18.

Information on contributing to your retirement account.

Establishing a habit of making retirement contributions early on can make saving become second nature. Once you have a job, prioritize investing in an individual retirement account (IRA) or 401(k) plan account. Many employers match retirement contributions at least partially to a certain extent, meaning you can potentially double your savings.

As you begin your retirement savings strategy, keep a careful record of your financial documents. Digital documents are the way to go, as it’s easier to store and find important forms for quick reference. Make sure to designate a digital folder where you can start storing IRA or 401(k) annual statements, W-2s, and 1099 forms. It’s also a good idea to digitize critical documents like your Social Security card, birth certificate,and proof of citizenship, which you’ll need throughout your life to validate your identity and apply for benefits.

You can prepare for retirement almost without effort, thanks to automatic payroll deductions or account transfer options. While building your income and creating a budget, look for areas where you can be more frugal. Avoiding the urge to splurge will benefit you in the long run, and your future self will thank you.

Don’t forget to set aside an emergency fund with your savings. Life happens — and while you can’t predict everything, it’s essential to plan ahead for unexpected costs.

Information on contributing to your retirement account.

Retirement information for your 20s

As you increase your income and progress professionally, create a plan for making the most of your money. Now is the time to start upping your retirement contribution and putting any promotions and raises to good use.

While you’re young, you can afford to invest in more aggressive investment portfolio strategies. Although these plans involve greater risk, they also give you the best opportunity for higher returns before you have to worry about additional healthcare or family expenses. Low-risk investments may not stand the test of time with rising inflation rates, and you can eventually lose money since your dollars won’t be valued the same years later.

To build a safety net while maximizing your savings, diversify your investments by exploring the mutual funds, exchange-traded funds, and index funds available within your retirement account and spreading them across different asset classes. If investing feels intimidating, consider working with a financial advisor or reaching out to a mentor. Make sure that you’re contributing at least 10 percent of your paycheck to retirement savings and have at least 3 months of living expenses in your emergency fund.

Continue keeping a careful digital record of your retirement account statements and tax forms. If you switch jobs, make sure to roll over your savings to your new employer’s plan to store everything in one place and simplify statements.

Information on contributing to your retirement account.

Retirement information for your 30s

Now that you’re in your 30s and more established in your career, it’s time to ensure you’re on track for retirement. If you’re planning to leave the workforce around age 65, you should aim to have at least one year’s salary saved in your retirement account by now.

Keep in mind that this is only a general guideline. Managing student loans, family and healthcare expenses, mortgages, and other factors might affect your ability to save, and it’s important to be practical about how much you can realistically contribute to retirement savings.

At the same time, it’s important to prioritize regular contributions and look for areas where you can adjust your budget. For example, while you might enjoy going out to get coffee every day, you could save up to $25 a week by limiting it to twice a week. This would add up to around $1,300 in savings within a year — and possibly more if you invested those savings each month.

Information on contributing to your retirement account.

If you haven’t already, max out your 401(k) and take advantage of your employer’s match rate if offered. Keep tracking important documents, and remember to monitor and adjust your investment portfolio as needed to confirm that you’re not losing more than you’re making. Do your research now and get advice from professionals to set your retirement self up for success down the road.

Information on contributing to your retirement account.

Retirement information for your 40s

By your 40s, you should have saved about three times your annual salary for retirement. With a solid foundation for your savings, you might want to start thinking more about where your money is going and explore investing strategies to enhance your savings.

One option is investing in dividend stocks. These investments involve purchasing shares from well-established companies that distribute regular earnings, or dividends, to investors. You can reinvest your dividends to increase your savings or cash out the dividends later when you retire.

Another way to strengthen your retirement savings is by funding a health savings account (HSA). Medical costs can become one of your largest retirement expenses, and you’ll need to prepare to cover insurance premiums and copays, senior healthcare costs, and unexpected procedures or other needs.

HSAs are available with high-deductible health plans. Contributions to these accounts are tax-deductible, allowing you to earn non-taxable interest as you build your savings. You also can invest your HSA funds in the market to boost growth.

You can withdraw savings from an HSA to cover qualified medical expenses tax-free, but you’ll need to pay a 20 percent penalty and income tax on other withdrawals. Once you turn 65, you may take out the savings without the penalty, but you’ll need to pay taxes on non-medical withdrawals.

While you can use HSA funds for other retirement purposes, it’s a good idea to dedicate the account to medical expenses. Don’t forget to track your healthcare costs, HSA contributions, distributions, and tax deductions.

Information on contributing to your retirement account.

Retirement information for 50+

As you approach retirement age, take an inventory of your financial situation, thinking about how you can address current concerns and anticipate future needs. Set a target retirement date, and meet with a financial advisor to make sure you’re in a good spot to reach your goal.

You should have six times your salary saved in your retirement account by the time you’ve reached 50 and about eight times your salary saved by age 60. If your funds aren’t within that range, explore different ways to cut costs and increase your investments. You’ll also want to focus on paying off any debts or mortgages.

Make sure to create a Social Security account as you’re estimating future benefits and planning ahead. Look at your current expenses, and calculate how much you’ll need to maintain or change your lifestyle when you retire.

This pre-retirement stage is also the perfect time to review your life insurance and disability coverage and prepare legal statements, including your will or estate plan. Store these important documents digitally in a safe place, sharing them with children or family members so they know where to find them.

Information on contributing to your retirement account.

When you should collect your Social Security

As you approach your retirement date, think about the best time to request your Social Security benefits. If you want to receive a bigger payment, you might consider postponing your benefits or working longer.

For every month that you wait to receive your benefits after your full retirement age, your benefits will increase by two-thirds of a percent until you turn 70. This means you could increase your Social Security by 8 percent annually for several years.

For each month you postpone retirement benefits, the total will increase by two-thirds of a percent, until age 70. This could grow your Social Security by 8% every year.

As you think about your future, it’s important to have conversations with your family about financial plans and boundaries. Encourage children to be self-reliant and take on financial responsibilities as they transition into adulthood, or talk with your parents about their aging plan.

Your tracking habits and digital documents will make the benefits application process a breeze. Be sure that you have all the forms you’ll need organized and ready to go.

After you retire, don’t let your savings habits fall by the wayside. Continue to plan carefully, and be intentional about how you manage your money. If funds are tight or you’d like extra flexibility, you might consider taking on a part-time job, doing freelance work, or building your investments in dividend stocks.

Information on contributing to your retirement account.

Start preparing for retirement today

Preparing for retirement is a long process, but it doesn’t have to be stressful. You can take simple steps at every age to save money, organize your documents, and secure your retirement lifestyle.

Since retirement documents include personal and financial data, security and compliance are crucial to keep in mind. Adobe Acrobat offers a secure way to create, manage, convert, edit, organize, and store essential digital documents for retirement — including 401(k) or IRA statements, tax forms, inheritance documents, wills, and pension plans.

PDFs make it quick and easy to view retirement documents anytime, anywhere, and on any device. With the full set of digital tools in Acrobat, you can modify documents, add comments and other annotations, convert Microsoft Excel files to PDF's, password-protect PDF content, and much more. You can also fill and sign forms, send a document to others and request e-signatures, or use your mobile device as a scanner.

Read more about the full features to discover how Adobe Acrobat can help as you prepare your documents for retirement.