When it comes to retirement savings, way too many Americans can't overcome the hurdle of procrastination.
It's all about setting goals and not meeting them, retirement savings-wise, and that credibility gap is going to take a big financial toll on kick-the-can-down-the-road long- term savers.
A majority (59%) of Americans set a 2015 goal to save for retirement, but so far this year, less than one-third (31%) achieved that goal, according to a new survey released today by Bank of America and Merrill Edge.
As usual, the primary challenge for U.S. retirement savers is their own questionable tactics for managing their household assets and steering those assets towards long-term savings.
According to the latest Merrill Edge Report, a survey of more than 1,000 Americans with investable assets of $50,000 to $250,000, just flat-out bad money decisions are leaving Americans short-handed on retirement savings. "External economic pressures and debt they deem worthwhile, such as home or car debt, may be to blame for derailing financial goals, and that people with the most time to save seem to be the most impacted," the report states.
That's just for starters; there's plenty more bad news across the board on the U.S. retirement front:
- Throughout 2015, only 27% of Millennials have been able to save for retirement.
- Americans "admit" their finances could have been in better shape recently, as 36% of respondents state "they wish they had stuck more to a budget in the last five years."
-Just 38% of Americans have paid down debt thus far in 2015, despite 51% of them setting a goal to do so.
"Year over year, we continue to see financial regrets surrounding extraneous spending, particularly with the youngest generations, and it's visibly impacting their ability to pursue long-term financial goals," notes Aron Levine, head of Merrill Edge at Bank of America. "The good news is we're seeing increased optimism heading into 2016 with a focus on saving and investing, including a decrease in overall spending and an increasing reluctance to borrow from retirement funds."
Your best move to make up ground after procrastinating on retirement savings is to consult with a financial professional, save money, steer those savings into your long-term savings fund and take full advantage of tax-advantaged retirement funds like IRAs and 401(k)s. Do that, and your situation will improve.
On the emotional side of the equation, just understanding why you are falling behind on your retirement savings, for whatever reason, needs to be addressed, and the sooner the better.
"Procrastination is an all-too-human trait that ties in with denial," notes Tracey Lawrence, a long-term care specialist with Grand Family Planning LLC, in Ringwood, N.J. "We don't believe we'll ever get old so we put off facing that scary reality. We believe we can't afford to put money away or ever stop working."
That's flawed logic.
"The truth is, by working with knowledgeable professionals, implementing a few simple habits and becoming more conscious about what we do, we can save, we can protect our families and ourselves, and we can have a brighter future," she adds. "But it takes the courage to change your existing habits, admit you need help and make some adjustments that will pay off in the long run."
Rochelle Odesser, a vice president at Madison Planning in West Harrison, N.Y., says she sees clients putting off retirement savings all the time.
"Invariably, they feel that they have too many needs today and cannot afford to save for the future," she says. "Or, it can be a mindset of poverty and they feel a need to keep up appearances and therefore do not set aside enough for their future. For some people it really is a thought that someone else will take care of it for them."
Sometimes issuing a gentle reminder, and painting a picture of how wonderful life can be in retirement if you have the income, is all it takes to spur a lax saver into action.
"Recently, I was chatting with an acquaintance that was lamenting how far behind he was in saving for retirement," says Jeff Weeks, a financial planner at ATX Portfolio Advisors in Austin. "His point of view was fatalistic, like someone who had smoked their whole life and figured it was too late to quit now to do any good. He had resigned himself to working as long as possible and then living on meager Social Security benefits down the road."
"I reminded him that if he could afford to start an IRA today at age 50 and contribute the maximum of $5,500, plus $1,000 in catch-up funds that he could accumulate around $300,000 by age 70 if he could earn an 8% return," Weeks adds.
That would certainly make life easier in retirement for even the most foot-dragging long-term saver - if that is, that saver gets going right now.