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Wave of Surveys Show Americans Unprepared For Retirement

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The last weeks of every calendar year are always a favorite time to reflect on the immediate past, and look ahead at what’s to come. The same is true of retirement and financial planning surveys, and there have been a lot of them in recent weeks.

Not surprisingly, there continues to be bad news in the collective lot: too many individuals are ill-prepared for retirement; too many workers will have to delay when they can retire. But there is also some good news: workers did invest more in their retirement savings plans in 2014, and they vow to do even better in 2015.

So where exactly are we when it comes to retirement preparedness? Here’s what the latest surveys and research studies tell us:

They don’t have the knowledge

Starting with the worst news first; Americans get an ‘F’ grade when it comes to retirement know-how.

That is the finding of the Retirement Income Literacy Survey conducted for The American College of Financial Services, which polled 1,019 Americans aged 60 to 75 with at least $100,000 in assets.

The study asked participants a series of questions around how to best plan for and manage retirement. Topics included Social Security, Medicare, financial concepts, and investment strategy, among others.

The results: The vast majority (80 percent) received scores of 60 or lower; and only 20 percent earned a passing grade.

“Individuals have to make a lot of their own decisions today, David Littell, retirement income program director at The American College, was quoted in an article at CNBC. “It’s hard to understanding how you can make good choices without some basic knowledge of these issues.”

Interestingly, the lack of retirement knowledge conflicted with how many Americans view their retirement preparedness. Although 40 percent felt they were somewhat or very knowledgeable about saving for retirement, only 27 percent said they actually have a formal retirement plan.

Households feeling the squeeze

The message isn’t much better according to a recent analysis of 2013 Census Bureau data by, which finds that the typical household aged 65 or older lives on $37,847 per year. That amount factors to 60 percent of what today’s typical 45 to 65 year-old earns, and is only 70 percent of the recommended annual income for a retired household.

“It’s clear that, nearly everywhere in the country, older Americans still don’t have the kind of money coming in they need for a secure and comfortable retirement,” Mike Sante, managing editor of was quoted as saying in Money Magazine.

Whatever the savings numbers, they aren’t good

When it comes to how much Americans are saving for retirement, and how many have no savings, the answer depends on who you ask. Three recent studies painted somewhat different pictures, though none of them were encouraging.

More than one-third of Americans say they have not started saving for retirement, according to the monthly Financial Security Index by Bankrate. And a quarter of Americans approaching retirement age say they haven’t started saving yet either.

One factor may be that a growing number of Americans say they expect to just keep working, according to a blog at Bankrate.

“I have had people tell me all the time that they love their job and intend to work until they drop, thus there is no need for them to save,” Gail Cunningham, spokeswoman for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling was quoted as saying. “However, these people are not considering the potential of a job loss or medical issue that prevents them from working.”

It’s a similar message in an article at Money Magazine, which says 31 percent of Americans have no savings at all. Money bases its projections on recent data from the Federal Reserve Board, which finds that “19 percent of those very close to retirement age, between the ages of 55 and 64, said they have no savings,” according to the article.

“Overall, the survey found that as of September 2013 many households were faring well, but that sizable fractions of the population were at the same time displaying signs of financial stress,” the Federal Reserve stated in its study report. “Over 60 percent of respondents reported that their families were either “doing okay” or “living comfortably” financially; although one-fourth said that they were “just getting by” financially and another 13 percent said they were struggling to do so.”

According to the Federal Reserve study, “The effects of the recession also continued to be felt by many households, with 34 percent reporting that they were somewhat worse off or much worse off financially than they had been five years earlier in 2008 and 34 percent reporting that they were about the same.”

Not surprisingly, more than half of those surveyed said they expect to work either full time or pat time during their retirement.

“This lack of preparedness is not signaled by a lack of planning alone,” an article in the Washington Post said of the Federal Reserve statistics. “Many respondents, particularly those with limited incomes, indicated that they simply have few or no financial resources available for retirement.”

Small business owners fail to invest … in themselves

Individuals aren’t the only ones falling behind on retirement planning goals. The same can be said of the nation’s small business owners.

“Business owners are shortchanging their financial future with a lack of focus on retirement planning,” according to the CNBC report. “America’s small business owners are wealth builders, driving GDP and job growth. But when it comes to their personal finances they get low marks in asset diversification and retirement planning. That’s because the vast majority of their investment wealth is tied up in their business, a tactic that is shortchanging their personal financial futures.”

Citing data from the first CNBC/FPA Small Business and Financial Planning survey, the article notes that developing a retirement plan and exit strategy from the business is now the most pressing financial challenge facing most small business owners.

Guilty as charged, but promising to do better

Ready for some good news? A majority of Americans confirm that they did not invest enough in 2014, they feel guilty about that fact, and they vow to do better in 2015.

Those are among the findings a recent Bank of America Merrill Edge report, which looked at consumers and their financial decisions in 2014. The biannual survey polled 1,046 mass affluent Americans (individuals with $50,000 to $250,000 in investable assets).

The bad news: more than half (51 percent) of respondents said they did not save enough for retirement in 2014. The good news: “a majority of this group plans to take action in 2015, with nearly six out of 10 (59 percent) making retirement savings and investing a goal for the upcoming year,” explains a blog at the Bank of America site.

Gen Xers still have time to rewrite the future

Finally, the best news of all may be found in a news report and fact sheet from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies, which says that “Generation X workers’ retirement collision course can still be corrected.”

According to the non-profit center, Gen Xers have plenty of negative feelings about retirement – especially as they recover from the Great Recession – but a majority does expect they will eventually have a comfortable retirement.

“Next year, the first Gen Xers will begin turning 50 and they need a vote of confidence that they can improve their retirement outlook,” Transamerica president Catherine Collinson said in the center’s research announcement. “Gen Xers are on a collision course that can be corrected. They still have time to positively change their retirement destiny. They can do it.”

This is where you come in. Gen Xers know they should be doing more to save for retirement, but they don’t how to best proceed.

“Sixty-five percent of Generation X workers agree that they don’t know as much as they should about retirement investing,” the center notes. “The majority (58 percent) want some level of advice or outside input when saving and investing for retirement. In contrast to their desire for advice, only 35 percent of Generation X workers who are now investing for retirement use a professional financial advisor.”