Between rising lifespans, the decline of employer-provided pensions and an all-too-common lack of adequate savings, many of today’s seniors may not be able to sustain their standards of living throughout retirement. While not all experts agree on the severity of the situation, several independent organizations have reported troubling news.
A RAND Corporation study found that 29 percent of Americans aged 66 to 69 aren’t adequately prepared for retirement. Meanwhile, Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research estimates 53 percent of seniors won’t be able to maintain their current lifestyles. These estimates vary due to differing assumptions regarding retirement age, required income, inflation and a host of other factors – but many experienced advisors agree that hopeful retirees need to save much more.
Why has this so-called “retirement crisis” come to a head now? “People are saving less, but it’s a combination of factors,” said Jessica Wuerz, First Investors Corporation financial services representative. “Living expenses are higher, people are coming out of college with a lot of student loans and no savings, and children moving back home is putting a big financial burden on retirees.”
Other factors include longer retirements, medical advances and the resultant likelihood of needing at least some form of long-term care. At a time when people are living longer, maintaining high standards of living and still hoping to leave work in their 60s, retirement is more expensive than it’s ever been.
As for public opinion, Americans are likewise growing anxious over their retirement prospects. A recent CBS poll showed that although 55 percent of American workers believe they will be ready for retirement once it rolls around, 64 percent are anxious regarding their current savings, and 41 percent don’t think they’ll have enough money. A PBS survey similarly showed that 92 percent of Americans believe there’s a retirement crisis, that more than half of today’s households won’t have enough savings for retirement, and that the number of people who expect to work past age 65 has more than tripled in the last three decades.
Should these predictions prove correct, they could have serious implications for both retirees and workers. “Retirees may have to change their living arrangements and move in with adult children or other families,” said Wuerz. “They may also have to depend more on government assistance, and going back to work is already pretty prevalent. It really could be a compounded effect if people don’t consider a wealth distribution strategy that can last them for the long haul and ride through market fluctuations.”
Fortunately, there are a few steps both current and future retirees can take to ensure they’ll have enough assets to live comfortably for decades to come. “Aside from working longer when possible, they need to build different ‘buckets’ of wealth: short-term, middle-term and long-term investments that can ride through market cycles,” advised Wuerz.
Given the difficulty of maintaining living standards with just a 401k and Social Security, it’s particularly important to set up additional sources of guaranteed income. Annuities, single premium life insurance policies and other guaranteed assets are critical for providing for ongoing expenses – particularly long-term care. “With costs as high as they are, people save their whole lives only to put almost everything towards long-term care,” said Wuerz. “You’ve got to have a backup plan before that happens.”