EBRI released its 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey on Tuesday, finding once again that Americans who have a retirement plan are more likely to be confident about their retirement outcomes.

Their confidence is well-earned. Workers in a retirement plan are 10 times as likely to be saving for retirement as those who don’t have a retirement plan of some kind.

However, the percentage of workers who say they are confident about retirement has fallen, and workers reported high levels of stress as a result. Many of those workers said they were less productive at work, putting the blame squarely on their financial concerns. About half said various employer-sponsored financial programs could help them be more productive.

The survey was conducted with Greenwald & Associates online in January among more than 1,000 workers and nearly 600 retirees.

The survey asked workers how confident they were that they and their spouse could live comfortably through retirement. After trending up for several years, fewer workers reported some level of confidence, with a commensurate uptick in the percentage of workers who said they were not very or not at all confident about their prospects.

Back in 2012, overall retirement confidence was at one of its lowest points at 52%, Lisa Greenwald, assistant vice president for Greenwald & Associates, said on a conference call discussing the results. Now, at 60%, confidence is pretty comparable to its 2015 level.

“Overall retirement confidence seems to have remained relatively stable over the past two to three years,” Greenwald said.

Among workers with a retirement plan, whether a DC or DB plan or an IRA, confidence increases to over 70%, compared to just a third of those without a plan.

“This dichotomy between those with a plan and those without extends beyond just overall confidence,” Stephen Blakely, editor and communications director, said on the call.

EBRI found that 74% of workers who have a retirement plan are actively saving, compared with 7% of workers without a plan. That’s not to say workers who do have a plan have made a lot of progress in saving for retirement. The survey found just over a quarter have saved more than $250,000, but only 9% are in the same dire situation as their non-planning counterparts.

Blakely noted that the difference in total investable between workers with a plan and those without shows “just how precarious their situation really is.” Two-thirds of workers without a plan have less than $1,000 in total savings, he said.

“Retirement confidence is much lower for Americans without any type of retirement plan,” Blakely said. “For these Americans without a plan, achieving a financially secure retirement is highly unlikely, and not surprisingly, they’re feeling stressed about it.”

“It’s no wonder that three-quarters of those without a plan think that they will need to wait until at least age 70 to retire, or won’t retire at all, or don’t even know when they plan to retire,” he continued.

Stress and Wellness

EBRI asked some new questions on this year’s RCS about how stressed workers and retirees are about retirement. EBRI found 30% of workers said preparing for retirement is causing them mental or emotional stress. Workers without a retirement plan are almost twice as likely to feel stressed as those with a plan.

Stressed-out workers tend to be older, with a median age of 46, compared to 42 among the not-stressed workers. They’re also struggling with too much debt. The report found 30% of the stressed workers describe their debt as a “major problem,” compared with 12% of not-stressed workers.

That stress is resulting in less productivity at work. The report found that 30% of workers say they worry about their financial problems while on the job. That number jumps to 63% among stressed workers.

Regardless of stress level, more than half of workers said retirement planning programs would help them be more productive by relieving them of some of their money worries. Forty-nine percent said general financial planning programs would be helpful, followed by health care planning.

The study found 48% of retirees stopped working earlier than expected, according to Greenwald.

Health problems are the most common reason for early retirement, Greenwald said, but just 20% have tried to estimate how much they’ll need saved to cover health care costs.

How Advisors Can Help

Beyond employer-sponsored programs, workers could be doing more to take control of their retirement planning. Greenwald said on the webinar that just 40% of workers have tried to estimate how much they need to save for retirement, and even fewer have thought about how much monthly income they’ll need.

About a quarter of workers have paid for financial advice, the report found, and almost half believe that they will work with an advisor as they get closer to retirement. Almost three-quarters of workers and 70% of retirees believe professional advice is in their best interest.

“Consumers tend to believe that the advice they’re getting from their advisors is good and in their best interest,” Greenwald said. “We see this in survey results often: ‘My advisor is great. Other advisors are doing harm.’”

She added that these results indicate a “lack of understanding about the DOL fiduciary rule […] and a lack of concern that the advice they’re getting is not in their best interest.”

It’s worth noting that workers are much more likely to look for advice on how they should manage their money themselves, rather than someone who will manage it for them. Just 28% said they were likely to get advice from an online-only source.

Workers who feel stressed about their retirement are just as likely as those who don’t feel stressed to have used online calculators or talked to their partner about retirement, Greenwald said.

“Thinking about retirement, how you will occupy your time, estimating your income needs and possible expenses does not cost workers anything. This can be done over dinner conversation with a spouse or a loved one, or by using one of the many tools or calculators available online today.”

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