Although Americans are told to begin thinking about retirement as soon as they start working, most of them have no idea how much in savings they’ll need to safely fund their retirement years. And many of those who think they know are way off the mark. The results of a new study by Bankrate can help you understand how you measure up against your contemporaries as well as younger and older savers. They might also give you a better perspective on how close you truly are to securing a comfortable retirement…
The I-don’t-knows have it. Overall, 61% of the people surveyed say they have no clear dollar figure in mind when asked how much they’ll need to fund their retirement. Breaking down that number generationally, it was about 69% of millennials who said they don’t know…56% of gen-Xers…58% of baby boomers…and 59% of the Silent Generation, a label given to Americans born before the baby boom generation.
What it means for you: The single most important step you can take in saving money is to actually save money—but the second is to set definitive retirement-savings goals. Experts caution that those who don’t plan and set clear goals are more likely to struggle.
Different generations have different expectations. The study also revealed a wide generational gap in expectations. Of those who did estimate a dollar amount needed for retirement, the median millennial’s number was $800,000, less than the $1 million the median Gen-Xer assumes retirement will require. The older generations have much lower expectations. The median response given by both baby boomers and the Silent Generation was $500,000.
How heavily will you rely on Social Security? Researchers also asked participants to estimate how much reliance they expect to place on Social Security in retirement. Just 6% said the safety net program will account for their entire retirement income, and another 11% said they’ll rely mostly on Social Security. Another 20% said the program will account for roughly half of their retirement money, and 15% said none at all. The largest group by far, however, was the 46% who said they’ll rely on Social Security only “a little.” The problem: That response is wishful thinking for many who gave it. It goes against what the Social Security Administration, based on real data about income and benefits, says: that at least half of monthly income for retired workers comes from Social Security benefits…and that that number jumps to 71% for unmarried elderly individuals.
What it means for you: Social Security is a complex and critical program that plays a big role in funding retirements. Be sure to avoid the common mistakes and misconceptions that surround the whole topic.
Informed savers are better savers. The study, whose authors cited the connection between financial literacy and confidence in saving and investing, also showed that while there’s no one go-to source of information for American savers, a lot of us are not going anywhere for such information. About one in four respondents had talked to a personal financial adviser, and another 21% relied on information from friends or family members. About 11% used an online retirement-planning calculator, 10% took advice from a bank or other financial institution, 8% relied on expert commentary or articles, and 1% used the automated “robo advisor” investing services offered by many brokerages. The largest single chunk of people, however—46%—didn’t use any of those options to gain financial information or advice.
What it means for you: Experts directly link financial literacy to confidence and success in investing. The more you commit to learning about money, saving and investing, the more likely you are to successfully estimate how much you’ll need in retirement and to develop a realistic plan for getting there.