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Retirement Research Roundup: Savings, Not Income, Biggest Driver of Retirement Success

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Americans are on track to replace about 61% of their income in retirement, according to a Putnam survey released Thursday. The survey found that people most likely to succeed are doing three things: participating in a workplace plan, saving at least 10% of their income and working with an advisor.

In fact, households deferring at least 10% of their income to a retirement savings plan are on track to replace 106% of their preretirement income, according to Putnam. Higher income isn’t necessarily a factor in retirement success either; 15% of households with income under $50,000 are on track to replace 100% of their income.

“As awareness grows among working Americans that a financially successful retirement may require greater savings discipline, we think a solid understanding of the various factors at play could positively raise their chances of replacing current income in retirement,” Edmund Murphy, head of defined contribution for Putnam Investments, said in a statement. “In dissecting the survey’s rich pool of data, one variable rises above all others—the level of individual savings is clearly the key driver of future retirement success.”

Access to a workplace plan had a significant impact on replacement income. Eligible workers are on track to replace 73% of their income, compared with 41% for workers without access to a plan. Eligible workers who are actually participating could replace 79% of their income.

Almost 40% of workers with an advisor are on track to replace 100% or more of their income, Putnam found. Over all, participants with a financial advisor are on track to replace 80% of their income, compared with 56% for participants investing on their own.

A separate survey by the Investment Company Institute, also released Thursday, confirmed that Americans are prioritizing saving. The report found just 2.6% of participants in a defined contribution plan stopped making contributions in 2012, down slightly from 2.8% in 2011. The number of withdrawals taken last year were also low and remained steady from 2011.

Loan activity was down in 2012, but the report noted that it is still higher than it was four years ago. More than 18% of participants had outstanding loans as of December 2012.

Read the report, “Defined Contribution Plan Participants’ Activities, 2012,” here.