The latest update from the longest-running retirement study paints a picture of decreasing overall retirement confidence among American workers and growing gaps between what they expect their retirement to look like and what current retirees have actually experienced.
Overall, just 60% of today’s workers are confident about having enough money to live comfortably throughout retirement, according to the 27th annual Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). That’s down from 64% in last year’s study.
Mind the gaps
As for the expectations gaps, in the 2017 study, 52% of current workers said they expect to retire later than age 65 or never retire—up from 43% in the 2016 study. And yet, just 14% of today’s retirees actually retired later than age 65 or never retired. More specifically, 38% of today’s workers expect to retire at age 70 or later, whereas just 4% of current retirees waited that long.
The EBRI study has consistently found that large numbers of workers end up leaving the workforce earlier than planned (48% in the latest study). Of those, many cited a hardship as their reason for leaving early, including health problems or disability (41%), changes at their company such as downsizing or closure (26%), and having to care for their spouse or other family member (14%).
Far smaller numbers cited a positive reason, including being able to afford an early retirement (24%) or wanting to do something else (10%).
Those who retired earlier than expected were much less likely to say they are confident about having enough money to live comfortably throughout retirement.
In another expectations gap, a growing number of today’s workers expect to work for pay in their retirement—79% have this expectation, which is up sharply from the 67% who expressed this expectation in the 2016 survey. Among current retirees, just 29% have actually worked for pay.
One more expectations gap highlighted by the study centered on healthcare costs, with 47 of retirees saying such expenses have been higher than they expected (39% said they have been about what they expected, and 13% said they have been less than expected).
Bridging the gaps
What can you do to make sure your expectations are based on reality? In a word, plan. Run some numbers, do some estimating.
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Very few of today’s workers have taken the time to estimate their retirement needs (just 41%, according to the EBRI study) and even fewer (38%) have taken the even simpler step of checking on their estimated Social Security benefits.
If debt is an issue for you, that’s an important area to focus on as well. Some 18% of today’s workers say debt is a major problem for them, according to the EBRI study; 41% say it is a minor problem. Among those in the major problem category, just 32% are confident they’ll have enough money to live comfortably throughout retirement. Of those who say debt is a minor problem, 56% are confident, and among those who say debt is not a problem, 78% are confident.
Bottom line? Perhaps the best overall approach to take with regard to retirement planning is this: Plan vocationally and spiritually to retire later than you may like, while you plan financially to retire earlier than you expect.