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Retirees Wish They Had Prepared Better for Retirement

New survey results paint a bleak picture of the current state of affairs for retirees, as many wish they were more proactive in saving more and starting sooner.

When looking back on their retirement preparations, nearly three out of four retirees (73%) agree they should have saved more on a consistent basis, and half of respondents agree they waited too long to concern themselves with saving for retirement, according to the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies’ “A Precarious Existence: How Today’s Retirees Are Financially Faring in Retirement.”

Among those who did save for retirement, many may not have saved enough to achieve a level of retirement income that will support them throughout their lifetimes. The TCRS study shows that fewer than half of retiree respondents (46%) agree that they built a large enough retirement nest egg to last through retirement, with only 16% “strongly” agreeing and 30% “somewhat” agreeing. Nearly half of respondents (47%) indicate that debt also interfered with their ability to save as much as they needed for a comfortable retirement.

Transitional Help

Despite wishing they had done more, most retirees saved for retirement during their working years and most participated in employer-sponsored retirement plans. The findings show that 68% of retirees indicated that they participated in some form of employer-sponsored retirement benefits for the majority of their working careers, including 49% who participated in a 401(k) or similar plan and 37% who participated in a DB plan.

Two-thirds of retirees say their most recent employers did “nothing” to help pre-retirees transition into retirement, and 16% are “not sure” what their employers did.

Among the 18% of retirees whose employers helped pre-retirees, the most frequently cited offerings are:

  • financial counseling about retirement (6%);

  • seminars and education about transitioning into retirement (5%);

  • the ability to reduce work hours and shift from full- to part-time (5%); and

  • accommodating flexible work schedules and arrangements (5%).

Premature Retirement

Many of today’s retirees also reported that they were forced into retirement before they were ready. According to the findings, the median age for these retirees was 63, with more than half (56%) indicating they retired sooner than they had planned.

Among them, 54% cited employment-related reasons such as job loss, organizational changes, general unhappiness and/or they took an incentive or buyout. Health and/or family-related reasons were cited by 47% of respondents, while only 11% indicated they retired early because they had the financial ability to do so.

“Retirees’ circumstances regarding when and how they retired exemplify common risks: employment issues, ill-health, and financial need,” notes Catherine Collinson, CEO and president of Transamerica Institute and TCRS. “Retirees’ experiences also underscore the need for careful planning, including contingency plans if forced into retirement sooner than expected.”

While retirees are getting by financially for the time being, the findings suggest that many lack the financial resources needed to recover from a major financial setback:

  • 66% of retirees indicate that Social Security will be their primary source of income over the course of their retirement.

  • Retirees have an annual household income of $32,000 (estimated median); 25% have a household income of less than $25,000, and 15% have an income of $100,000 or more.

  • The estimated median in household savings including retirement savings (excluding home equity) is $75,000; 31% have savings of less than $50,000, including 9% who do not have any savings, while 38% have savings of $100,000 or more.

The online survey was conducted by the Harris Poll from July 6-31, 2018, among a nationally representative sample of 2,043 self-identified retirees age 50 or older. A research team at TCRS prepared the analysis of the survey results.