Most Americans rank preparing for retirement a top priority. But by their own admission, most are also not doing a terribly good job of it.

That’s one conclusion to be drawn from the results of a Prudential Investments Survey on retirement readiness. Nearly 9 in 10 (88 percent) of those polled by the life insurer say that preparing for retirement is very important.

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Yet the survey participants grade their readiness (on average) a “C.” And nearly 1 in 8 (12 percent) mark themselves down as failing.

Part of the problem, the survey notes, is that people are uncertain about how and where to invest. Consider:

  • Sixty-three percent find investing “complex and confusing.”
  • Nearly two-thirds (66 percent) say that investing is harder now than during their parents’ time.
  • And 64 percent deem the number of investments options “overwhelming.”

To boot, 42 percent of investors said they are clueless as to how portfolio managers allocate their investments. Still more (43 percent) lack a basic understanding of the products in which they’re invested.

Another issue is “inertia.” Their uncertainty about how to best pursue retirement objectives results in paralysis. That’s evident in these stats: Three-quarters (74 percent) percent of those surveyed said they should be doing more to prepare for retirement while 40 percent don’t know what to do.

While the savings estimate for retirement is more realistic for some, with 24 percent estimating retirement needs of $1 million or greater, there is still a large gap: 54 percent have less than $150,000 saved in an employer-sponsored plan.

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Just 2 percent of retirees retired earlier than planned because they wanted to retire or were tired of working, the Prudential survey reports. (Photo: Thinkstock)

More survey results

The report notes also that each generation is finding it harder to save. Seventy-five percent of retirees said they believe the generations following them will have a more difficult time saving for retirement. Younger generations agree: 20 percent of pre-retirees said they don’t believe they’ll ever be able to retire.

Across generations, 57 percent say they would use savings to cover a financial emergency. Millennials buck that trend: Nearly 1 in 3 (32 percent) would borrow money from family and friends. And almost 1 in 5 (18 percent) say they would take out a bank loan.

Related: For retirement security, save early and often [infographic]

Though lacking adequate finances to cushion their golden years, a majority of retirees polled (51 percent) say they left the workforce earlier than expected. Among half the respondents, the early departure was five years or more.

Only 2 percent of retirees retired earlier than planned because they wanted to retire or were tired of working. Among those who retired earlier than expected, 52 percent retired early for health problems or to take care of a loved one. Thirty percent were laid off from their jobs or offered an early retirement incentive package.

Among the greatest fears that retirees said they believe could negatively affect savings, the following rise to the top: health care costs and changes to Social Security (cited by 57 percent of those polled), and illness or disability (45 percent).

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