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401(k) Savings Suffer When Workers Are Financially Stressed

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Everyday money matters are dramatically impacting the lives and retirement saving efforts of Americans, according to a new survey from Schwab Retirement Plan Services.

The nationwide survey of 1,000 workers with access to a 401(k) plan – half of whom are actively contributing to it (“savers”) and half of whom are not (“non-savers”) – reveals that non-savers are increasingly challenged by day-to-day financial stresses, compounded especially by credit card debt.

More than twice as many non-savers as savers say keeping up with monthly expenses is a significant source of stress (42% compared with 20%). A full 45% of non-savers say they either have no money left over or are actually behind on bills at the end of each month, compared with 23% of 401(k)-savers who say the same.

Workers in the survey identified a number of sources of financial stress.

When asked about their primary obstacles to saving for retirement, non-savers focused on immediate concerns including needing to pay monthly bills (46%), paying off credit card debt (42%), covering unexpected expenses like home repairs (34%), and paying medical bills (33%).

Savers have similar concerns, but generally in smaller numbers: unexpected expenses (36%), monthly bills (31%), being unwilling to sacrifice things that add to their quality of life (29%), and credit card debt (29%) top their list.

“Americans have many legitimate and immediate financial concerns preventing them from setting aside funds for retirement. The good news is that both 401(k) savers and non-savers understand they are responsible for their own retirement, and some may just need a little guidance to help them take steps in the right direction,” Steve Anderson, president of Schwab Retirement Plan Services, said in a statement.

The majority of both savers and non-savers identify 401(k)s as a primary source of retirement savings.

In fact, 60% of savers and 53% of non-savers who have at one time contributed to a 401(k) say their 401(k) is their largest or only source of retirement savings, even though the latter group is not currently contributing.

Outside of 401(k) plans, savings accounts and IRAs are the most common methods of saving for retirement. According to the survey, 56% of savers have a savings account, and 47% have an IRA. Meanwhile, 44% of non-savers have a savings account and 23% have an IRA.

The study finds that a quarter of non-savers say they are not saving or investing for retirement at all right now.

The majority of both groups – 86% of savers and 77% of non-savers – said they would welcome a financial wellness program from their employer, which could provide education, tools and resources to help with their overall financial health.

However, when asked if they think their current financial situation warrants professional financial advice, 40% of savers and 44% of non-savers say no. This is true even though both groups say their investment confidence would grow dramatically with the help of a financial professional.

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