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Here's How Americans Grade Their Retirement Savings

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When it comes to saving for retirement, most Americans 40 and older have a well-defined plan, but all too many of them aren’t saving enough — certainly not as much as they would like, according to a new survey conducted for TD Ameritrade by The Harris Poll.

Sixty percent of the 2,000 U.S. adults 40 to 79 years old polled online Aug. 30 to Sept. 10 for the Road to Retirement Survey claimed to have a well-defined retirement strategy.

However, nearly as many Americans surveyed — 58% — would give themselves a grade of “C” or lower on their retirement savings, TD Ameritrade said Thursday. While 31% gave themselves a “C,” 15% rated themselves a “D” and 12% gave themselves the dreaded “F” — the same percentage that gave themselves an “A.” Thirty percent gave themselves a “B.”

There was good news for financial advisors: Those surveyed with higher assets indicated they were “planning to lean on” financial advisors and lower retirement withdrawal rates, according to the firm. Thirty-eight percent with $250,000 or more in investable assets planned to get help or were getting help from an advisor on a retirement plan, it said.

The number of Americans surveyed who had at least $100,000 saved for retirement doesn’t change significantly until you look at those 60 and older, according to the survey’s findings.

While only 41% of Americans 40 to 49 and only 46% of those 50 to 59 who were surveyed had saved at least $100,000 for retirement, the percentages increased significantly for those 60 and older, with 62% of those 60 to 69 and 67% of those 70 to 79 saying they had saved at least that much.

“Americans don’t ramp up their retirement savings until they reach their 60s — this is where we see the biggest shift in saving attitudes,” Dara Luber, senior manager of retirement at TD Ameritrade, said in a statement. “At the same time, the top retirement advice they’d give to their younger selves would be to start saving (68%) and investing (60%) earlier in life.”

The average target age to retire is 67 but, of those surveyed, only 60% in their 40s and 65% in their 50s thought it is likely they would be able to retire at their desired age, according to the survey. Meanwhile, 66% of pre-retirees surveyed would retire today if they had the financial means to do so, TD Ameritrade said.

Nothing Ever Goes as Planned

There are many Americans who start out with a well-defined retirement strategy, but the road to retirement gets windy and bumpy for many of them for various reasons. As the rock band Styx wrote in a 1981 song of the same name, nothing ever goes as planned.

Americans in their 40s and 50s, as well as those with $250,000 or more in investable assets, are especially likely to change course with their retirement plans. Among those surveyed, 59% of them 40 to 49 years old said they had changed their retirement savings plans at least once, compared with 58% among those 50 to 59, 37% of 60- to 69-year-olds and 19% of 70- to 79-year-olds. Meanwhile, 25% of those surveyed with $250,000 or more in investable assets had changed their retirement plans more than six times.

Career (26%) and family (22%) events were the most common impetuses for Americans to reassess or make changes to their retirement plans, according to the survey’s findings. Nearly one in 10 (9%) of those surveyed said new political leaders had “triggered them to reassess or make changes” to their retirement plans, TD Ameritrade said.

Of those surveyed, a whopping 46% of those in their 40s had already withdrawn from their retirement accounts, according to TD Ameritrade. Meanwhile, only 31% of those 50 and over were taking advantage of catch-up contributions, the firm said.

With a weakened reliance on Social Security, Americans are also adjusting to living longer, it pointed out. Eighty-one percent of those surveyed said they were shifting their financial strategies to prepare for a potentially longer lifespan.

Among the survey’s other findings: Most Americans planned to cut back during retirement in anticipation of longevity; to prepare for a potentially longer life, 59% planned to lower their overall expenses during retirement; and 35% with $250,000 or more in investable assets planned to take less or were taking less out of their retirement accounts during retirement.

The U.S. adults surveyed all had at least $25,000 in investable assets, TD Ameritrade said. The audience was divided into four decades, with 500 respondents from each: 40s, 50s, 60s and 70s, it said.

— Check out 12 Worst States for Retirement: 2020 on ThinkAdvisor.