There is a gulf between perception and reality
Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement and those who do save aren’t sure what they’re doing, the latest Federal Reserve data show.
More than a third of non-retired Americans say their savings is on track but one-quarter have no retirement savings or pension. But saving isn’t the only problem — managing those assets is also an issue for Americans, according to the Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2018 (but released this week). Six out of 10 Americans with a self-directed retirement account, such as a 401(k) or individual retirement account, aren’t comfortable with handling the investments, and many struggled with financial literacy questions.
The Federal Reserve report surveyed more than 11,000 Americans. It’s important to note that these responses are self-assessed, which means these non-retirees may be doing better or worse than they think. Industry experts say more non-biased research must be done regarding retirement, but any substantial study or survey helps paint a picture for how people are approaching or living in this next phase of their lives.
The perception of being prepared for retirement increases with age, even if they have little or no assets stored away. About 17% of Americans 45 to 59 years old have no retirement savings but 42% of them said they were on track for retirement; 13% of those 60 and older reported they had no savings at all but 45% said they were prepared.
Here are a few more findings from the Federal Reserve report:
More than half of participants said they save for retirement in a defined-contribution plan, like a 401(k) and a third said they use an IRA. One-quarter of Americans said they have a pension. But 42% said they are saving in a non-retirement account, 14% said they use real estate to save and 7% said business.
“On track” meant different things to various age groups. For those 18 to 29 years old, retirement preparedness was having $10,000 or more (which 22% said they had); for the 30- to 44-year-old group, it was $100,000 (which also only 22% said they had); and for the participants 45 to 59 years old, retirement preparedness was having $250,000 (which 27% said they had). The actual figure someone needs for retirement depends on numerous factors, including housing, location, transportation, lifestyle, traveling and health care. Some financial experts will say to retire you need millions, whereas others might suggest using simpler rules, like saving 10% of your salary.
Financial literacy is low among all Americans, and it’s no different when considering retirement. Workers may be asked to choose the investments in their portfolios, but many aren’t sure how much of each security to invest in and which are the best options for them in the long run. Male participants appeared to be more comfortable investing their retirement accounts than their female counterparts, regardless of their level of education. For the financial literacy portion of the survey, answers varied between 42% and 70% correct — fewer people knew which asset normally gave the highest returns over a long period of time (stocks) but many knew that $100 in a savings account with 2% interest would earn more than $102 after five years.