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Retirement Planning > Saving for Retirement

How Boomers' Finances Compare To Other Groups

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Americans in the boomer age bracket are doing well compared to other families as a whole, according to figures from the last Fed report on the state of the American family’s finances.

On the other hand, Americans on the whole aren’t doing that well, the data suggests.

Among all U.S. families, average income actually fell 2% to $70,700 in 2004 from $72,400 in 2001, the Federal Reserve Bank’s most recent survey of consumer finances, covering 2004, found.

Among boomers in the 45 to 54 age group, average inflation-adjusted household income dropped 5% in the period, from $99,300 to $94,400. For slightly older boomers, however–heads of household aged 55 to 64–family income rose 8%, from $92,600 to $100,300 in that same period.

Meanwhile, total wealth of older boomers also pulled ahead of the pack. While the average net worth of all American families increased about 6% from 2001 to 2004, from $421,800 to $448,200, families whose household head was aged 55 to 64 saw net worth rise almost 8%, from $775,400 to $843,800. For those 45 to 54, family net worth grew less than 5%, from $517,600 to $542,700 in the period.

The income slowdown apparently has added to a problem long noted by economists: Americans just are not saving enough. The Fed data shows this alarming tendency only grew worse in the period studied.

Only about 59% of boomer household heads said they were saving any money at all in 2004, down from about 62% in 2005. This compared to a savings rate of 56% of all U.S. families in 2004, down from 59%.

An analysis of the Fed data by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College shows that among those 55 to 64, accumulated funds in retirement accounts such as 401(k)s and IRAs averaged just $60,000 as of 2004. Even though that’s a growth of about 25% from $44,800 in 2001, it seems pitifully lower than what one would need at retirement.

In view of the 5% decline in income for the 45 to 54 age group, savings in general might be expected to take a hit. And they did. For those with a head of household in that age group, average family savings in 2004 was $49,000, up only 21% from $39,500 three years earlier.

The ratio of boomer families with retirement accounts did increase, however. Among those 55 to 64, this percentage rose from 59% to 63%.

In comparison, for American families overall, the portion with retirement accounts actually fell between 2001 to 2004, from 52% to 50%, offsetting most of the 3% increase of the preceding three years.

Another disturbing decline was seen in the number of Americans setting aside money for general savings. Among the 45 to 54 age group, the proportion who said they were saving fell from more than 63% in 2001 to roughly 59% in 2004; for those 55 to 64, the percentage fell from 62% to 59%.

A decline also was seen in both the number of people holding cash value life insurance policies and the accumulated assets in those policies, the Fed found.

Among those 45 to 54, 26% held cash value life in the latest survey, down from 31% in 2001, while among those 55 to 64, 32% held cash value policies, down from about 36%.

The cash accumulated in the policies also declined in the period, from an average $11,700 in 2001 for the 45 to 54 group to only $8,000 three years later. For the 55 to 64 group, the value fell from $10,700 to $10,000 in the same period.


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