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On Retirement Plans and Plans for Retirement

When is a plan not a plan? When you have a retirement plan at work, apparently.

The good news is that the 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey shows a strengthening of retirement confidence — at least among those who had some kind of retirement plan (DB, DC or IRA). Indeed, among that group, the number saying they were very confident has doubled since 2013.

The bad news? Well, there doesn’t seem to be much in terms of substantive savings accumulations1 or planning behaviors to account for this uptick in confidence.

Consider that fewer than half (48%) of workers report they and/or their spouse have tried to calculate — even a single time — how much money they will need to have saved by the time they retire so that they can live comfortably in retirement, a level that has held relatively consistent over the past decade.

In other words, while many have (or had) a retirement plan, they don’t seem to have a plan for retirement. 

On the other hand, workers reporting that they or their spouse have a DC, DB or IRA plan are twice as likely as those who do not have such a plan (60% vs. 23%) to have tried to do a calculation to estimate what they will need to finance retirement. And despite higher savings goals, workers who have done a retirement savings needs calculation are more likely to feel very confident about affording a comfortable retirement (33% vs. 12% who have not done a calculation). Moreover, worker households with a retirement plan are more likely than those without such plans to report having saved for retirement (90% vs. 20%).

That said, after a quarter century reading and studying the RCS, several things are clear:

Those who have made the effort2 — even a feeble one — to figure out how much they need in retirement are more confident, and likely better off in the long run, since they tend to set higher savings goals.

Those who work with an advisor are more confident, and likely better off in the long run, since they also tend to set more realistic (i.e., higher) savings goals. 

And perhaps most importantly, those who have access to a retirement plan are not only more confident, they are probably better off, since they tend to have actual sources of income on which to draw in retirement. 

But ultimately, while having a retirement plan may provide some quantifiable increase in confidence about retirement, it’s having a plan for retirement — and acting on it — that grounds that confidence in reality.



1. While much will likely be made of the relatively low/modest savings amounts reported by RCS respondents, without knowing individual factors like age or income, it’s impossible to discern whether those amounts are woefully inadequate, or reasonable. 

2. Those plans for retirement need to be reconsidered on a regular basis, since many are forced (or choose) to leave the workforce earlier than planned.