American’s Financial Expectations at Odds with Reality
A new survey finds our expectations at odds with the financial reality of today’s retirees
Setting a retirement savings goal can feel like a crap shoot. How can you calculate your expenses, especially for health care, five, 10, 50 years from now?
If you’ve punted, you have company. Only 41 percent of workers have even tried to figure out how much they need in savings to retire comfortably.
And those who have?
When asked to guess how much they needed, 37% of workers say $1-M or more, according to the latest (and 27th) Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. That’s up from 19% who said they would need that much only a decade ago.
The survey, done in January, is based on online polling of 1,082 workers 25 and older and 589 retirees.
How much people figure they would need rises with income, 50% of workers with household income of $75,000 or more say they’ll need at least $1 million, compared with 17 percent of households with income under $35,000.
EBRI does not have data on how many people actually wind up retiring with a nest egg of $1-M or more, but it does have a database of 401(k) plans that covers roughly half the market, and it shows that 10% of plan participants have at least $200,000 stashed away, said a senior research associate at EBRI. For people in their 60’s, it’s 30%. Even that is a very small minority of American workers.
Many will never get near the $1-M mark without a huge savings push.
Asked about their current savings, not including the value of a primary residence or a defined-benefit pension plan, only 20% of workers said they had saved $250,000 or more, 47% had saved less than $25,000, and 24% of those people had saved less than $1,000.
Rules of thumb for how much to save for retirement are a starting point for planning, if only that.
Savings is often framed as the percentage of your pre-retirement income you’ll need to live on per year. Many people will figure on 70 or 80%, but that may be low.
A EBRI’s research director has suggested people may need more like 100% of their pre-retirement income to live on, assuming they do not need long-term care. He thinks we often underestimate medical costs.
Fidelity Investments posits a savings factor you multiply your income by, at certain ages, to see if you are on track.
At 45, you should have at least 4X your income saved, at 55, 7X your income; at 67, it’s 10X. 1 If you’re 67 and make $150,000 a year, for example, you should have $1.5-M in reserve.
Even if people have a tough time calculating how much to save for retirement, a majority of retirees surveyed (53%) said that expenses, excluding medical bills, were about what they would expected when they retired. About a 25% of retirees said costs were somewhat higher, and 13% chose “much higher.”
Where retirees tended to underestimate costs sharply was in healthcare.
Breaking that out of the broader expenses category, EBRI found that 39% of the retirees said health care costs were about what they expected, but 27% said they were somewhat higher, and 20% said they were much higher. A presumably very healthy 8% said health-care expenses were somewhat lower, and 5% said much lower.
The survey did not ask the retirees for specific dollar amounts they were spending on retiree healthcare.
Fidelity estimated last August that a 65-year-old couple retiring in Y 2016 could spend an estimated $260,000 on medical expenses in retirement. That does not include money needed to cover long-term care, which could cost that couple another $130,000.
That’s almost $400,000, without even bringing housing into the equation, + food.
A common refrain when workers are asked about how they will fix a savings shortfall is to work longer.
EBRI has found that many Americans retired before they had planned.
In this latest survey, that figure was 48%. Health problems or disability were cited by 41% of those who retired earlier than expected, and 26% pointed to changes at their company, such as downsizing or closure. Another 14% left earlier than planned to care for a spouse or other member of their family.
Retiring earlier than expected may mean programs such as Social Security and Medicare become a bigger part of your income stream.
Just 6% if the survey’s respondents say they are very confident that the Social Security benefits they get will be at least equal to what retirees get today.
61% said they were not too confident of it, or not at all confident.
For Medicare, the percentage of workers in those categories combined was also 61%, and 17% were not at all confident.
For the 1st time in the survey’s history, EBRI used an an outside vendor’s online panel instead of a random phone survey.
People surveyed over the phone tend to choose “very confident” more often, the report noted, while online respondents lean toward “somewhat confident.” Online, it said, people tend to “provide more honest, less flattering responses.”
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