Survey: Financial Stress Hampering Retirement Savings Efforts

Financial stress and everyday money matters are hindering Americans’ retirement savings efforts and affecting the job performance of many employees, a new nationwide survey reveals.

Consisting of 1,000 workers with access to a 401(k) plan with half actively contributing to their plan and half not doing so, the survey by Schwab Retirement Plan Services, Inc. finds that “non-savers” are increasingly struggling with day-to-day financial stresses, and many are not saving for retirement whatsoever.

Retirement Preparedness

Overall, the survey shows that savers appear to be taking positive steps with their 401(k) plans, but a sizeable gap exists in the way 401(k)-savers and non-savers perceive their overall financial health.

While 85% of savers believe they are in “pretty good” or “very good” shape financially, the number drops to 64% of non-savers who have the same view. In addition, 66% of savers responded that they have increased their contribution percentage to their 401(k) plans in the past two years and 62% believe they are saving enough to retire when they want to.

Savers also appear to be “bullish” on their 401(k)s. When asked whether they would think twice about taking a new job if the employer did not offer a 401(k) plan, 85% of savers agreed with the statement, compared to only 59% of non-savers.

Meanwhile, regardless of whether survey participants are actively contributing to a 401(k), a majority in both groups identify it as a primary source of retirement savings, with 60% of savers and 53% of non-savers who previously contributed to a 401(k) saying it is their largest or only source of retirement savings. The survey results also show that more than a quarter of non-401(k) savers (26%) are not currently saving or investing for retirement at all.

Financial Stress

Survey respondents identified a number of sources of financial stress, with non-savers pointing to present-day challenges at twice the rate as their saving peers. Keeping up with monthly expenses was cited as a significant source of stress among 42% of non-savers compared to 20% of savers. In addition, 45% of non-savers say they either have no money remaining or are behind on bills at the end of each month, compared to 23% of 401(k)-savers.

Regarding their primary hurdles to saving for retirement, non-savers cited immediate concerns, such as:

  • paying monthly bills (46%),
  • paying off credit card debt (42%),
  • covering unexpected expenses like home repairs (34%), and
  • paying medical bills (33%).

The findings further show that savers have similar concerns, but in smaller numbers and a slightly reshuffled order: unexpected expenses (36%), monthly bills (31%), unwillingness to sacrifice things that add to their quality of life (29%) and credit card debt (29%).

Financial Wellness and Advice

Meanwhile, both 401(k) savers and non-savers would welcome a financial wellness program from their employer. When asked if their employer offered a financial wellness program that provided them with education, tools and resources to help with their overall financial health, 86% of savers and 77% of non-savers responded that they would be interested in participating in such a program.

Interestingly, many respondents do not believe their current financial situation warrants professional advice, with 40% of savers and 44% of non-savers saying ‘no’ when asked the question. Yet strong majorities in both groups say their investment confidence would increase with the help of a financial professional.

Other Findings

The survey also revealed interesting findings regarding the amount of time researching investment options. The findings show that both savers and non-savers alike spent more time researching their options for buying a car, taking a vacation or purchasing a home appliance than they did making a 401(k) investment choice.

In addition, the findings show that 401(k) investment fees are less likely to influence the investment choices of both savers and non-savers than they are their choice of a credit card, online shopping destination, ATM or airline.

Koski Research conducted the online survey of U.S. workers for Schwab Retirement Plan Services, Inc. between June 2 and June 18, 2017; respondents worked for companies with at least 25 employees and were 25-70 years old.

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