Americans are painfully terrible at not saving for retirement — but what exactly is holding them back?
One reason may just be a pure lack of fundamental knowledge about the subject. A new study by Fidelity Investments found nearly three-quarters of respondents did not know how much investment professionals recommend a person needs to retire and underestimated the amount, while only 8% could say how often though the past 35 years the market has had a positive return (hint: 30 out of the past 35 years).
Experts agree things could be a little clearer for the average investor — especially through better education.
"For years we have stood in retirement plan enrollment and education meetings using terms like asset allocation, diversification and compounding, when more than half of the people in the audience can't balance their checkbook, don't have a budget and are in debt up to their eyes," said Brad Bonno, senior vice president and director of product delivery at PNC Retirement Solutions. "Financial education has to start with the basics, which will provide the foundation they need to then focus on becoming retirement ready."
Bonno said one major way to improve Americans' retirement readiness is for more companies to adopt comprehensive health and financial wellness programs.
"Such programs help a company prosper not only in terms of attracting the best talent but will help them see increased productivity, lower health care costs and a higher percentage of employees that can retire on time," he said.
Timothy Yee, president of Green Retirement Inc. and a 27-year veteran of the financial services industry, said he is not surprised that people know so little about retirement.
"Part of it is a lack of education in the topic and part of it is the fact that the topic is nebulous," he said. "For example, one source estimates that you should have ten times your final salary in retirement savings when you retire. How are you supposed to know your final salary? For young Americans, retirement is 40-plus years away. How are they supposed to know what they want to do in retirement?"
In order to lower the barriers to saving, Yee recommends auto-enrollment combined with auto-escalation.
"Auto-enrollment gets employees to save with a minimum amount of fuss," Yee said. "Auto-escalation increases that savings amount each year."
Finally, Yee adds there also needs to be more education from plan advisors to the employees and that education needs to be delivered in layman's terms.
For those who are concerned about their lack of retirement knowledge, Steve Lewit, CEO and co-founder of the Wealth Financial Group in Illinois, said there are a few things to contemplate when planning your saving. This includes making sure your retirement income maintains your quality of life, as well as planning for sustained income over a 25 or 30 year period of time— which can be complex and fraught with danger.
He suggests acting quickly and avoiding the pitfall of procrastination.
"Most folks (in their 40s) that I talk to have a very hard time envisioning retirement as it is so far in the future 20 to 25 years," he said. "These people are more interested in short-term rather than long-term satisfaction, so they procrastinate and put retirement planning and saving on the back burner."
He adds people in their 50s often procrastinate as well. Even with retirement staring them in the face, they often feel so unprepared; they don't want to face the music.
"For them, putting off retirement planner becomes an art, which never works in their favor," he adds. "Procrastination, as every year passes, makes the retirement preparedness hill steeper, if not impossible, to climb."