Retirement Sneaks Up On Americans, Even Tech-Savvy Millennials

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Elizabeth Hutson started saving for retirement in her 30s. Now that she’s 44 years old, the art therapist feels worried about saving enough.

“I need to put more money into my 401(k) plan,” Hutson told MainStreet. “You just never know how retirement funds get diverted after people have paid into it for so many years and all of a sudden benefits are eliminated or cut back.”

Hutson is among the 64% of 35- to 44-year-olds who began saving for retirement in their 30s or earlier, according to a recent study by financial services firm Edward Jones.

“I wish I had started in my 20s,” said Hutson who lives and works in Ventura County, Calif. “But I was irresponsible. I kept thinking I would start saving later, because I felt I had time, but time starts eating away and then you wake up and wonder where the time went.”

The Edward Jones study found that some 45% of non-retired Americans are not currently saving for retirement. Of those who are not yet saving, only 36% plan to do so in the future and almost 10% say they never plan on saving for retirement.

“Time is a tremendous asset, but unfortunately many are wasting this asset,” said Scott Thoma, principal and investment strategist with Edward Jones. “This is because of the illusion of time.”

The Voya Retire Ready Index further found that only 17% of workers have a written financial plan, 31% have a comprehensive budget and 63% never attempted to calculate what their savings would be if converted into future monthly income.

“These findings reinforce how many people are simply not taking the required action, and that a number of behavioral obstacles exist which prevent proper planning and saving,” said James Nichols, head of retirement income and advice strategy with Voya Financial. “These include inertia, anxiety, competing financial priorities and the fact that many view retirement as a distant concern.”

Older workers are even more apprehensive about retiring. Only 19% of boomers have $250,000 or more saved for retirement while four in ten report having no savings at all for retirement and in the past year, 24% postponed their plans to retire, according to a study released by the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI).

“These numbers suggest that uncertainty is creeping in and more Baby Boomers are doubting their ability to make their savings last,” said Cathy Weatherford, president and CEO of the IRI. “Many Boomers have witnessed their last payday or are quickly approaching the day their final paycheck arrives. Even with financial outlooks improving, there appears to be some second guessing when it comes to their retirement security and making ends meet.”

Millennials are more at a disadvantage compared to Boomers, however, due to massive student loan debt. The average college graduate with a bachelor’s degree owes almost $30,000 in student loans, according to a 2014 study called The Student Debt Review: Analyzing the State of Undergraduate Student Borrowing.

“They may not be investing as much because of the declines in the stock market over the past decade but it's important to focus on the long-term performance of the market, and the benefit of compounding,” said Thoma of Edward Jones. “This is what they may be missing.”

Despite the passage of time, there are clear opportunities for individuals to improve their retirement situations by taking advantage of online tools and resources and exploring options to manage savings in a way that protects and preserves their ability to draw income from those assets.

“Workers can start by calculating the monthly income they may need to live on in retirement,” Voya's Nichols told MainStreet.

— Written for MainStreet by Juliette Fairley

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