NEW YORK (MainStreet) — When D.J. Kiernan was a luxury charter broker for a yacht builder, he saved a significant amount of money every month. All that changed two years ago for the 2002 graduate of Niagara University's College of Hospitality and Tourism Management.

"I was saving for my retirement diligently, but I stopped, because I am trying my hand at being entrepreneur," Kiernan told MainStreet.

The 35-year-old launched a business consultancy firm.

"I am giving myself a set amount of time on this entrepreneurial path, and if I don't get where I want to go, I plan to return to corporate life and start saving again," said the Fort Lauderdale resident.

Kiernan is among the 91% of Americans who know it’s important to save something but aren’t taking sufficient action, according to Capital One ShareBuilder’s Financial Freedom Survey.

“More than ever the onus is on the individual investor not Social Security, our employers or anyone else to ensure a financially stable retirement,” said Garrett Silver, head of retail brokerage products at Capital One ShareBuilder.

Capital One’s study further found that only 76% of Americans are currently setting aside any funds for retirement at all and only 24% are saving more than 10%.

“Though most Americans claim to understand the importance of saving and investing for the future and recognize some of the actions they need to take, there are many factors that continue to hold people back and that must be addressed if we want to avoid a retirement crisis down the line,” Silver said.

For example, the financial set-back of the Great Depression that started in December 2007 saddled many Millennials with financial baggage.

“Millennials may have been the most impacted psychologically from the Great Recession,” said Liz Davidson, CEO and founder of Financial Finesse.  “From the way they manage their money to the way they invest, the focus is more on not losing money rather than growing their wealth for the long term.”

Some are even frustrated with and suspicious and resentful of Wall Street. About 58% of investors indicated that distrust of the markets and financial services industry is negatively impacting their confidence about investing, according to Capital One.

"That suspicion coupled with the complex and confusing array of financial choices that they have to make in the modern economy, has led to historic levels of distrust of financial institutions," Davidson told MainStreet.

Overall, Millennials have the lowest 401(k) participation rate of all generations in 2014 despite having more exposure to auto-enrollment than previous generations, according to a Financial Finesse Generational Research study.


“Is this solvable?" Davidson asked. "Absolutely, but it will require a herculean effort. I believe eventually it will be solved, but the question is how many generations will have to face these financial challenges before we make the necessary changes in our society to help people improve their financial security?”

While the consensus is that many Millennials have put saving for retirement on the back-burner, Gen X-ers are the generation most at risk: they face the possibility of paying higher taxes in retirement as a result of current economic debt and have less time to catch up on their finances than Millennials.

Financial wellness is becoming the next green movement,” said Davidson. To turn things around and get more employees to save adequately for retirement, there needs to be education and programs in place to implement the change.

What that means is that financial wellness programs are becoming the fastest growing employee benefit.

According to an AON Hewitt survey, more than three-quarters of large employers were very or somewhat likely to introduce or expand their focus on the financial well-being of their employees last year.

"The actions employers, employees, the public sector and financial industry take over the next three to five years will be pivotal to the level of financial security each generation is able to attain.” Davidson said.

--Written for MainStreet by Juliette Fairley