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Workers’ Retirement Confidence Plateaus as Preparations Still Lag: EBRI Survey

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Worker confidence about having enough money to live comfortably in retirement remained relatively stable in 2016, with 21% of workers saying they felt very confident, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

This represented a one percentage point slip from last year’s survey, but was well ahead of the low confidence level of 13% recorded in 2013.

Workers who were somewhat confident about their retirement prospects increased from 36% in 2015 to 42% in 2016, while the percentage of those not at all confident decreased from 24% to 19%.

EBRI also reported that preparations to save for retirement still lagged.

EBRI and Greenwald and Associates conducted the survey from Jan. 2 to Feb. 3 through 20-minute telephone interviews with 1,000 workers and 505 retirees age 25 and older in the U.S.

The report said workers’ retirement confidence was strongly related to retirement plan participation/ownership.

Twenty-six percent of workers who reported that they or their spouse had money in a defined contribution plan or individual retirement account or had benefits in a defined benefit plan from a current or previous employer were very confident about their financial security in retirement, compared with 10% without a plan.

But 38% of workers without a plan said they were not at all confident, versus 11% with a plan.

“Among those who are confident about retirement, it’s overwhelmingly among those who have a retirement plan,” Jack VanDerhei, EBRI research director and co-author of the 2016 study, said in a statement.

“Even if you control for discrepancies in age and income, the likelihood that a respondent is either somewhat or very confident that they will have enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement years is 22 percentage points higher for those who have an IRA, DC plan and/or DB plan than their counterparts without a retirement plan.”

About a fifth of respondents who knew they were saving less than they would need for retirement said they would have to save more later, while 15% said they would have to work in retirement and 14% said they would have to retire later — even though many retirees reported that they had been forced to leave the work force earlier than planned, some because of health problems or disability.

Workers Surveyed

Eighty-three percent of workers without a retirement plan reported that the total value of their household’s savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any DB plans, was less than $10,000.

This compared with 35% of workers with a retirement plan who said their value of these assets was $100,000 or more.

The study found that the percentage of workers who reported they and/or their spouse had saved for retirement peaked at 75% in 2009, but fell to the mid- to high-60% level thereafter. In 2016, that level was 69%.

In the 2016 poll, just 9% of workers who said their debt was a major problem were very confident about having enough money to live comfortably throughout retirement, compared with 32% of workers who said debt was not a problem. At the same time, half of respondents with a major debt problem were not at all confident about having enough money for a financially secure retirement, compared with 12% of those without a debt problem.

The survey found that workers’ confidence that they are doing a good job of preparing financially for retirement continued to rebound from the 2013 low. Seventy-one percent expressed confidence in their financial preparations.

Even so, only 48% of workers reported that they and/or their spouse had ever tried to calculate how much money in savings they would need to live comfortably in retirement. Thirty-nine percent simply took a guess at how much they would have to accumulate, rather than systematically calculate their retirement needs.

Retirees in the Survey

High confidence among retirees in having enough money for a comfortable retirement, which EBRI said has historically exceeded worker confidence levels, reached 39% in 2016, up from 18% in 2013.

The percentage of those not at all confident was 12%, on the level with 14% recorded in 2013.

Retirees were likelier than workers to say their level of debt was not a problem: 67% of retirees versus 44% of workers.

EBRI said that as in past surveys, the new research found a big gap between workers’ expectations and retirees’ experience about leaving the work force.

Thirty-seven percent of workers in 2016 expected to retire after age 65, way up from 11% in 1991. (Full retirement age for Social Security will gradually increase to 67 for those born after 1960.)

However, only 15% of retirees in 2016 said they had actually retired after age 65; many reported that reasons beyond their control, such as health or changes at their company, had caused them to leave the work force.

— Check out A Retirement Cost Reality Check, in 4 Charts on ThinkAdvisor.


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