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Retirement Planning > Saving for Retirement

Many Retirees Wish They'd Planned, Saved Earlier: EBRI Survey

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What You Need to Know

  • Half of surveyed retirees said they would have changed their financial habits during their working years.
  • But those who paid a professional to develop a financial plan were satisfied and felt the service was worth the expense.
  • Unexpected medical expenses, preventive health spending, inadequate retirement savings and inflation led the list of retirees' pre-retirement financial concerns.

Nearly half of retirees wish they’d started planning earlier for their post-working lives and 70% would tell their younger selves to start saving or investing more or earlier, according to a new survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute.

Half of the surveyed retirees said they would have changed their financial habits during their working years to improve their current situation.

EBRI’s wide-ranging Retiree Reflections Survey, conducted in April and May, also found that retirees with a financial advisor, a financial plan and more assets were less likely to experience regret about their previous money decisions. Most who’d paid a professional to develop a financial plan were satisfied and felt the service was worth the expense.

Among the more than 1,100 American retirees participating in the survey, most reported they had identified their financial goals for retirement, but more than half said they lacked a written plan. Only 42% had both identified financial goals in retirement and developed a written plan. Sixty-five percent of those with a financial plan worked with a professional advisor.

Surveyed retirees ranged from age 55 to 80 and had at least $50,000 in liquid assets. Only 29% had used a financial advisor to write a plan; among those, 71% started working with an advisor long before retirement, while 15% turned to a professional just before retirement and 14% sought expert advice after retiring, EBRI found.

According to the report, prepared by EBRI research and development strategist Bridget Bearden, “Overall, retirees wished they saved more during their working years in order to improve their current financial situation and would encourage their younger selves to save more and save earlier.” 

The report encouraged benefits managers to use these findings “to help support programs that increase savings and help pre-retirees prepare for retirement through practices like creating a financial plan that addresses risk tolerance and retirement income sources. This preparation may help to improve major decisions such as age of retirement and spending in retirement.”

The reasons retirees cited for not identifying financial goals in retirement included procrastination, lack of knowledge, unexpected events and a spontaneous nature, EBRI reported. 

Unexpected medical expenses, preventive health spending, inadequate retirement savings and inflation led the list of retirees’ pre-retirement financial concerns — in that order — while inflation led the list in retirement, with more than half citing it as keeping them awake at night.

Health-related expenses, the possibility of running out of money and market volatility also ranked high among retirees’ current worries,  EBRI reported.

Among other findings, those who worked with a financial advisor as they made the transition to retirement “reported that the primary benefits were asset-allocation related, including assistance in identifying their risk tolerance and help understanding how to turn their retirement savings into an income stream.”

Many retirees said that while working in their primary career, they didn’t understand how taxes would affect their financial situation in retirement;  almost 40% said they were paying different taxes than they’d anticipated.

Only 25% said their former employers had offered a financial planning benefit.

The survey respondents were overwhelmingly white, and most reported they had attained at least a college degree. Sixty-three percent had an investment portfolio.

 While 82% reported their status as “retired, not working,” some identified themselves as retired and working part-time or retired from a primary career but with a non-retirement working status. (Other statuses cited included disabled and unable to work, unemployed and homemaker.)

The roughly one in five retirees who did not identify themselves as simply “‘retired, not working’ indicates that work, conceptually, is often tied into the retirement identity,” EBRI said, noting that as its previous research has shown, “among the retirees working in this later stage of life, the most frequently cited reason for continuing to work into retirement was ‘work is rewarding.’”