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Retirement Planning > Social Security

Young Workers Loaded With Debt, Skeptical About Social Security's Future: Wells Fargo

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More than 70% of today’s retirees say they have “no idea what they would do” without Social Security, but younger working generations fear the program won’t be available when they retire, according to Wells Fargo’s 10th annual retirement study.

That’s one of the key findings of the study, which examines attitudes and savings of working adults and retirees based on an online survey of 2,708 workers age 18 to 75 and 1,004 retirees.

The survey found that more than eight in 10 retirees fund their retirement primarily with Social Security or a pension, while far fewer millennials (25%) and Gen Xers (37%) expect that will be the case when they retire.

Both younger generations, along with even younger Gen Z, anticipate that 401(k) or IRA assets will be their primary funding source in retirement, contributing around 40% or 45%.

But the ability of all three groups to save for retirement will be hampered by the amount of debt they hold, according to the survey. Sixty-seven percent of workers paying student loans say that burden is an obstacle to saving for retirement, and 31% of millennials — along with about 25% of Generation X and Generation Z members — say they have an “unmanageable amount of debt.”

What these and all other workers need is a “planning mindset” to save enough for retirement, Wells Fargo says. It involves setting a long-term financial goals and working diligently to achieving them, starting to save for retirement early and developing a financial plan.

Only 35% of workers surveyed have adopted a planning mindset, but those who have are nearly twice as confident they will ultimately save enough for retirement, 2.5 times more likely to have a strong sense of control over their debt situation and five times more likely to have a plan for handling the unexpected.

There are emotional benefits as well to that way of thinking. People who have adopted a planning mindset are happier than those who have not, more comfortable talking with a spouse about financial matters and far less likely to be divorced, according to Fredrik Axsater, head of strategic business segments at Wells Fargo Asset Management, at a media luncheon to discuss the study’s findings.

“When people have a planning mindset, extraordinary things happen,” said Axsater.

Despite these findings, more workers today are confident about having enough money saved for retirement than in years past — 67%, which is the highest level since 2004, according to Lori Lucas, president and CEO of the Employee Benefit Research Institute. About 45% are confident about Medicare and Social Security, a level not since in more than 25 years.

On the negative side, many workers expect to remain in debt throughout their lives: 52% of millennials, 43% of Gen Xers and 34% of boomers, said Lucas.

“Debt a is a problem across all generations and a tough challenge,” said Zar Toolan, head of advice and research at Wells Fargo Advisors. Many people are struggling with choosing between investing money or paying down debt, but “it’s never too early to start saving for retirement,” said Toolan.

It’s a crucial issue for all generations, and eight out of 10 workers believe retirement policy should be a top priority for all presidential candidates, Axsater said.

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