Not for Lack of Confidence

The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies recently released its 18th Annual Retirement Survey. This year’s survey offers a multi-year trend analysis on approximately 60 indicators of retirement readiness. Among its key findings were:

Retirement Confidence Has Recovered but Plateaued. In 2017, 62 percent of workers are confident that they will be able to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle, including 18 percent who are “very confident” and 44 percent who are “somewhat confident.” This is an improvement over 2013 and 2015, but consistent with 2016. Slightly more than half of workers (54 percent) agree that they are building a large enough retirement nest egg. This number has increased more than 12 percentage points since 2013.

Expected Standard of Living in Retirement. In 2017, 62 percent of workers expect that their standard of living will stay the same or increase while in retirement. However, one in three workers expect that they will see a decrease in their standard of living during retirement.

Household Retirement Savings. Total household retirement savings among workers is $71,000 (estimated median), a slight increase from last year. In 2017, 10 percent of workers have saved less than $5,000 in household retirement accounts, while 25 percent have less than $25,000 saved. In contrast, 30 percent of workers report having saved more than $250,000 in household retirement accounts.

Estimated Retirement Savings Needs. Workers estimate they will need to have saved $500,000 (median) by the time they retire in order to feel financially secure, a survey finding consistent with last year but lower than 2015 and 2014. In 2017, 36 percent of workers estimate they will need $1 million or more.

Basis for Estimating Retirement Savings Needs. Among workers who provided an estimate of their retirement savings needs, 46 percent say they “guessed” when asked how they arrived at their estimate. Twenty-three percent estimated the amount based on current living expenses. Only seven percent used a retirement calculator.

When looking at the above as a whole, “wishful thinking" could be one way to describe many Americans' expectations about retirement. Consider the modest financial resources that most workers have accumulated and the longer lives we're all living; the math just doesn't add up to workers' expectations about when they can retire and what their standard of living in retirement will be.

As a quick reality check, let's use the 4 percent rule to estimate the annual amount of income that savings can generate. The median savings of $71,000 could generate an annual retirement income of $2,840, and $250,000 can generate an annual income of $10,000 per year. $500,000 (the median estimate most workers “guessed at” needing saved by the time they retire to feel financially secure) could generate retirement income of $20,000.

Of course, Social Security has to be added to these amounts, but there's a very good chance that Social Security, plus the retirement income generated by savings, won't match retirees' current standard of living.

While I admire that people feel more confident about their retirement prospects, what would be even greater is if they could match that confidence with reality. The fact is it's not easy for people to live comfortably for a few decades in retirement. It takes planning and preparation, including accurately calculating your retirement needs or working with an adviser to do so, estimating a realistic retirement age and taking specific steps to be able actualize financial security.