Retirement Dreams Become Nightmares -- Depending on Your Generation

While, Millennials picture a sedentary retirement of relaxation, their Baby Boomer and Generation X colleagues are more likely to expect to have to keep punching a time clock past conventional retirement age.
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NEW YORK (MainStreet) — They say you can't go home again. But when it comes to retirement hopes, today's youngest workers are embracing a pretty traditional vision of the Golden Years as a time of relaxation and recreation. When Millennials picture retirement, they see themselves moving someplace sunny, playing golf, traveling, visiting grand kids and so forth. Meanwhile, their older Baby Boomer and Generation X colleagues are more likely to expect to have to keep punching a time clock past conventional retirement age.

This generational division in visions for retirement comes from a recent survey by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies that found:

  • 65% of Baby Boomers plan to work past age 65 or do not plan to retire at all, and
  • 54% of Generation X plan to work past age 65 or do not plan to retire, but
  • 60% of Millennials plan to retire either before or at age 65.

What has changed to make traditional retirement appear more feasible to today's youngest workers? Part of it is the timing and lingering effect of the last recession.

"The Great Recession has been a huge setback for Baby Boomers," said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Many Boomers were already behind on saving for retirement before the downturn, she said, and the recession made it double difficult for them.

"TCRS's recent research has found that many are recovering yet few have fully financially recovered," Collinson added.

Another reason for the split in expectations is the long-term movement away from defined-benefit company pension plans, which once were the standard for American workers, toward IRA, 401(k) and other self-managed retirement plans. This shift occurred when Baby Boomers were mid-career, Collinson explained, so unlike younger workers, they won't have a full 40-year work life to fill their 401(k)s and watch the interest compound.

Generation X is the 401(k) generation, the first to have these tax-advantaged savings plans for most of their working careers. They fully appreciate the need and value of retirement savings. As a result, among Gen-Xers offered a plan, 84% participate, contributing 7% of their annual salary.

On the downside, members of Generation X has been more likely to raid their 401(K) plans for loans and early withdrawals. Some 27% of current 401(k) participants have taken loans or early withdrawals, the survey found. Generation X workers estimate that they will need to save $1,000,000 to retire comfortably, while they typically have retirement savings of just $70,000. That helps explain why most Generation X plan to work past 65 or do not plan to retire at all.

Collinson describes Millennials as the "digital do-it-yourself generation of super savers." Some 70% already save for retirement, typically starting at age 22. "They've heard and responded to the message they need to start early and save as much as possible," said Collinson.

Most (66%) of Millennials plan to fund retirement with savings and investments. To boot, 71% participate in 401(K) plans if they can, putting in 8% of their annual salary. When employers match plan contributions, canny Millennials boost contributions to 10%. They are heavily into digital financial management, with 71% saying using mobile apps to manage their accounts is helpful, compared to 47% of Boomers.

Somewhat surprisingly given their confidence about having enough money to fund retirement, many Millennials do plan to continue to work after retirement. The difference is that they plan to do it for enjoyment rather than because they have to. Most of the 79 percent of Baby Boomers who plan to keep working, on the other hand, say they will do so because they expect to need the income or the health benefits of a job.

--Written by Mark Henricks