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Retirement Planning > Social Security

Even wealthy retirees live off Social Security, pensions

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Retirement advisors banking on a windfall of business as boomers phase into retirement may find themselves waiting for the phone to ring.

That’s because retirees apparently still heavily rely on Social Security and pensions to fund retirement income.

A Vanguard survey of 2,600 households with at least one retired person aged 60-79, and at least $100,000 of assets, shows that nearly half of retirees’ income comes from the fixed sources of Social Security (28 percent) and their public or private pensions (20 percent).

The respondents’ median income was $69,500, with median financial assets of $395,000.

Tax-deferred accounts like IRAs, where a lot of 401(k) rollovers are invested, were the majority source of income for 21 percent of those surveyed.

Vanguard’s analysis of wealthier retirees revealed several profiles of retiree income investors, determined by the dominant sources of retirement income. 

Half of those surveyed fell into the “Traditional Retirement” investor group, where income is dominated by guaranteed sources like Social Security and pensions.

“New Retirement” investors, a group that made up 44 percent of the survey, have their retirement wealth in a variety of assets. Within this group, 21 percent had substantial holdings in tax-deferred accounts, and 14 percent in taxable investment accounts.

The bottom line for retirement advisors is that wealthier retirees — a vital demographic for growing an advisory business – still greatly depend on guaranteed income from Social Security and pensions, in spite of the generational shift away from defined benefit plans to defined contribution plans. 

This dependence helps explain low withdrawal rates from tax-deferred retirement accounts, and that in turn explains a slack in demand for retirement advisory services.

Ultimately, fewer retirees will be as dependent on defined benefit pensions, as the number of DB beneficiaries will wane as the population ages. But the Vanguard survey cautions advisors that the shift will be gradual.

The survey does point to the variety of investments and income sources that fund wealthier Americans retirement, suggesting opportunities for advisors relative to tailoring specific solutions for specific needs.

“This variety suggests the need for nuanced and targeted advice and guidance customized to the household’s retirement income holdings,” Vanguard said.