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Is Retirement Confidence Beside the Point?

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What You Need to Know

  • NAPA scrutinized a recent survey that found 8 in 10 American workers were confident they'd live comfortably in retirement.
  • Over half of NAPA's poll respondents said financially literate workers were nearly always or definitely more confident.
  • But poll findings and readers’ comments suggest people's high confidence in a secure retirement is misplaced, or at least optimistic.

A recent survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald Associates found that 8 in 10 American workers were confident in their ability to live comfortably throughout retirement.

The National Association of Plan Advisors decided to dig deeper into the findings by asking its readers whether they thought that financially literate workers were more confident about retirement than their less-informed counterparts. 

About 150 readers responded to the poll. More than half of respondents said financially literate workers were nearly always or definitely more confident.

Thirty-two percent said “it depends,” 10% said “not really” and the rest said “only if they have a reason to be” confident.

In a blog post last week, Nevin Adams, chief content officer for the American Retirement Association and its sister organizations, including NAPA, noted that the EBRI-Greenwald study found only 24% of respondents very confident. Moreover, half of workers and 7 in 10 retirees said their confidence in achieving a secure retirement had not changed because of the pandemic.

Why So Confident?

NAPA also polled readers about the confidence level of the participants in the plans they work with. Fifty-five percent said they were more confident than a year ago, while 30% said their confidence was unchanged from a year ago. 

Only 9.3% said they were less confident than a year ago, and 5% were much less so.

More on this topic

Asked whether confidence matters when it comes to retirement preparation, 80% said it absolutely or nearly always does. Eleven percent said it does not matter much, if at all.

Why might people have relatively high confidence in a secure retirement if, as the poll findings and readers’ comments suggest, their confidence is misplaced, or at least optimistic?

Adams put this question to readers, allowing them to give more than one response:

  • They figure they have time to work it out: 54%.
  • They don’t know what they don’t know: 52%.
  • They legitimately think they’ll be OK: 43%.
  • They overestimate resources like Social Security: 27%.
  • They just don’t admit it: 13%.
  • They think they have a pension coming — and probably don’t: 5%.
  • They must all have rich relatives: 2%.

Finally, the poll asked readers how confident they were about their own retirement. Fifty-seven percent purported to be more confident than a year ago, 38% were about as confident as a year ago and 5% were less confident.

In an email message, Adams observed that “retirement confidence can have a positive impact on retirement preparations, but that confidence in and of itself can easily be misplaced — overconfidence, in other words, can lead to complacency.  

“The issue isn’t whether or not you’re confident in your retirement prospects, but rather if there is a rational justification for that confidence.”

Image: Adobe Stock