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Saturday, April 22, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Where should you be on the financial road of life?

BEFORE AGE 30 is the best time to start a retirement-savings account.

• Tax-advantaged plans at work are often the best place to look first.

Everyone should participate in a 401(k), especially if there's an employer match. Don't leave money on the table.

A sample plan: Start saving whatever percentage is required to trigger a match, then increase savings by 1 percent per year to at least 8 percent, more if you can.

Debt is the top reason younger workers don't save. Most college grads carry large student loans, for example.

• Reducing debt with nondeductible interest should be a first priority in any financial plan.

IN YOUR 30s, financial challenges for many include buying a house and raising children.

• Buying a house should be the top priority for thirtysomethings, with retirement savings a close second.

MIDCAREER WORKERS in their 40s and 50s face their kids' college tuition and possibly supporting an elderly relative.

• A goal should be to pay off debt by the time you retire, so resist the urge to refinance your house if it starts a new 30-year mortgage.

• Those without pension plans should be saving 10 percent or more by their 50s.

• Much as you love those kids, don't pay for your kids college if it means halting retirement savings. Retirement comes first; there are no grants or scholarships for assisted living.

NEARING RETIREMENT AGE , start with gradual steps toward the homestretch.

• Reconsider taking reduced Social Security at 62. The better choice over time may mean waiting for full benefits.

• Consider easing into retirement with part-time work.

• Downsize housing.

— Nan Connelly, Special to The Seattle Times. Sources include financial experts at Washington Mutual, Edward Jones and Smith Barney.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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