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As U.S. Workers Struggle With Retirement Planning, Most Yearn for Advice: Transamerica

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The recession ended several years ago, but millions of Americans are still on shaky financial footing.

A new report by Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS) finds anxiety about the nation’s retirement system across three generations surveyed.

Forty-five percent of baby boomers said they expected a decrease in their standard of living when they retire, while 83% of Generation Xers said their age cohort would have a harder time achieving financial security than their parents. And only 18% said they were very confident about their future retirement.

“Today’s workers are grappling with retirement security and challenged by the wobbly three-legged stool comprising Social Security, employer-sponsored retirement benefits and personal savings,” Catherine Collinson, president of TCRS, said in a statement.

According to workers in the survey:

• 61% had not fully recovered from the recession, including 41% who had somewhat recovered, 13% who had not yet begun to recover and 7% who may never recover.

• 77% were concerned that Social Security would not be available when they are ready to retire.

• Just 51% agreed that they were building a large enough retirement nest egg, including only 16% who strongly agreed.

• 65% believed that they could work until age 65 and not save enough to meet their needs.

The survey found 38% of workers are expecting income from continued work during their retirement—and 15% are expecting it to be their primary source of income in retirement.

The online survey was conducted within the U.S. by Harris Poll in the late spring among a nationally representative sample of 4,161 full-time and part-time U.S. workers in for-profit companies with 10 or more employees, including 1,353 millennials, 1,232 Gen Xers, 1,462 baby boomers and 114 workers who were born prior to 1946.

Generational Perspectives

Two-thirds of boomers said they planned to or already were working past age 65 or did not plan to retire at all, and many expected to continue working at least part time in retirement. The need for income or health benefits was the main reason.

Eighty-seven percent of boomers expected Social Security to be a source of their retirement income, and 34% expected it to be their primary source of income. In addition, one-third looked forward to income from a traditional pension plan, and three-quarters from retirement accounts and other savings and investments.

Transamerica estimated the current household savings in all retirement accounts among boomer workers at a median $147,000, noting that many were already mid-career when 401(k) plans were first introduced and so had not had a full 40-year time horizon to save in 401(k)s.  

Gen Xers were the first generation to have access to 401(k) plans for the majority of their working careers, and 77% in the survey reported said they were saving for retirement.   On a negative note, the survey found 30% of Gen-X retirement plan participants had taken a plan loan or early withdrawal, often to pay off debt or unplanned major expenses. This may be partly explained by low levels of emergency savings, a median $5,000, the report said. Twenty-four percent of these respondents had saved less than $1,000 for such emergencies.

The total household retirement savings for Gen Xers was an estimated median $69,000. Just 12% said they were very confident that they would be able to fully retire with a comfortable lifestyle.

According to the survey, 72% of millennial workers have started saving, and nearly three-quarters of those offered a 401(k) or similar plan participate in the plan, and 30% contributed more than a tenth of their annual pay.

Millennials’ total household retirement savings stood at a median $31,000. Transamerica pointed out that millennials could do more to improve their retirement outlook by learning about investing. Seventy-two percent said they did not know enough about retirement investing, and 25% with a retirement savings plan said they were “not sure” how their savings were invested. Another 22% were found to be investing too conservatively given their long-term investing horizon until retirement.

Three-quarters of millennials said they would like more information and advice from their employers on how to achieve their retirement goals. Millennials were more likely than other generations to find digital technologies offered by their retirement plan providers to be helpful.

Role of Financial Advice

Fifty-nine percent of workers in the survey said they wanted some level of advice when saving and investing for retirement.

Forty-two percent said they were looking for education and advice but ultimately were making their own decisions, while 17% wanted someone to make decisions on their behalf.

At the same time, only 39% of respondents who were saving and investing for retirement actually used a professional financial advisor to help them manage their savings and investments.

Seventy-four percent of workers who used a financial advisor said they most often were looking for retirement investment recommendations, 49% wanted help calculating a retirement savings goal and 46% wanted general financial planning.

Boomers were most likely to use their advisor for making retirement investment recommendations, while millennials were least likely to do so. Gen Xers and millennials were likelier than boomers to use their advisors to calculate a retirement savings goal. And millennials were more likely than their older counterparts to use their advisors for tax preparation.

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