happy retired couple (Photo: Shutterstock)

Retirees and workers are both more confident about their ability to live comfortably throughout retirement, according to the 29th Retirement Confidence Survey released by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

Eighty-two percent of retirees are optimistic about a comfortable retirement, which is a record high and up from 75% last year, while 67% of workers feel that way, up from 64% previously. In both cases the confidence level had rebounded to levels like those that existed in 2005, before the great financial crisis.

Greater confidence in the ability to handle medical expenses in retirement underpinned the increase in confidence for both retirees and workers. Retirees also reported fewer than expected higher expenses for health care, long-term care and other needs. Workers anticipate staying in the job market to fill spending gaps.

The EBRI study, conducted in concert with the research firm Greenwald & Associates, surveyed 1,000 retirees and 1,000 workers age 25 and older online in January, months before the government announced its latest fiscal projections for the Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds.

(Related on ThinkAdvisor: Social Security Trust Fund Set to Go Bust by 2035)

The Medicare hospital insurance fund is expected to deplete its reserves in 2026, while the Social Security trust fund is forecast to use up its reserves in 2035. Benefits for both program would still be paid out afterward since they are funded with payroll taxes, but they would be reduced. Meanwhile, the share of retirees who say Social Security is a major source of their retirement income fell to 59%, the lowest percentage in 20 years, according to the EBRI report.

Retirees and workers surveyed shared several other findings in addition to more optimism about retirement:

  • Both view income stability as a higher financial priority than maintaining constant value of wealth (principal). That was true of two-thirds of retirees surveyed and three-quarters of workers.
  • If given a choice, both workers and retirees prefer managing their assets on their own rather than purchasing a guaranteed lifetime income product, although more than 20% would prefer a combination of both options.
  • Three in four workers expect their personal savings and investments to be a source of income in retirement, which is the case for 70% of retirees.

There were, however, key differences between the two groups:

  • 23% of workers report using a financial advisor for retirement planning while 38% of retirees do
  • Four in five workers expect to continue to working for pay in retirement; only one in four retirees actually do
  • Workers expect to retire at a median age of 65; retirees left the workforce at a median retirement age of 62

“It is risky for workers to assume they will be able to work into retirement when, for so many retirees, this has not been the case,” said Lisa Greenwald, executive vice president of Greenwald & Associates, in a statement. “I understand there’s a strong desire for income stability, but for many, continuing to receive a regular paycheck from work may not be the solution.”

The survey has consistently found that 43% of retirees leave the workforce sooner than they had planned with 35% citing illness or disability or changes at their company.

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