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Americans Are Outliving Their Retirement Savings



We keep convincing ourselves we’re doing OK on retirement when we’re really not.

That’s what one new study from the group of insurers from the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council are saying about American attitudes toward retirement.[1] Ninety-four percent of those who are planning for retirement grade their efforts with a C or higher. But 1 in 3 say they’ve taken time off from saving.

Not having enough money saved for retirement is going to create big problems when the time comes to stop working. More than a quarter of Americans say they will miss their health insurance when they retire — health care costs alone can add up to $250,000 in retirement.

Almost a quarter of those surveyed say they don’t even know what they’re saving for. Half say the No.1 thing we will miss in retirement is a paycheck, while many will be banking on Social Security as a steady source of income — hopefully that won’t be all they have planned. Especially if you start claiming it early, it might not be enough to cover the bills.

Here are some other ways Americans are unprepared for retirement, and how to make sure you are.

Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement

Research from the Social Security Administration has shown that pensions are declining, people are living longer, and health care costs have steadily increased.[2]

Americans also feel saving for retirement is becoming more difficult due to “middle class” salaries not keeping up with the cost of living.

But we’re not seeing any real sense of urgency to save more — we’re too stressed about today to worry about tomorrow. Unfortunately, the number of people retiring with little to no savings shows this is becoming a concern we’re all going to face.

Social Security isn’t enough to live on

A survey of more than 1,000 folks near or in retirement reveals more than half expect the current administration to cut Social Security benefits. And nearly 80 percent think the fund is going to run out in their lifetime. Those are some of the gloom-and-doom statistics from a recent Nationwide Retirement Institute report.[3]

Those aren’t new fears, but they’ve now hit a four-year high.

The average American can’t do much about governmental policy, but managing when and how to tap their retirement money can make a difference of hundreds of dollars each check and thousands in the long run.

“When and how Americans file for Social Security is one of the most important financial decisions they will make in their lifetime,” says Tina Ambrozy, president of sales and distribution for Nationwide.

Most people surveyed figure they’ll wait until age 65 to collect Social Security — because one bit of wisdom is the longer you wait, the more money you’ll be able to collect. Sadly, most current retirees actually began collecting when they were 62.

Most future retirees expect to receive about $1,578 in monthly Social Security benefits. But typically, the average check for a recent retiree is nearly $100 less than that.

And a majority also calculate that Social Security will cover about half their expenses in retirement, when the program was designed to cover only 40 percent.

People can’t get a pension plan

Pick one: a $500,000 lump sum at retirement or $2,700 a month for life.

Nearly two-thirds of Americans would pick the monthly payment, according to financial firm TIAA.[4] But only 32 percent say their current retirement plans would provide them with a monthly income when they retire. This means that as much as people want a lifetime of retirement, they won’t be getting it.

“A steady stream of income in retirement helps cover your expenses, no matter how long your retirement lasts,” says Ron Pressman, CEO of Institutional Financial Services at TIAA. “Lifetime income helps ensure Americans have the financial security they need in their retired years — it’s not a ‘nice-to-have,’ it’s an absolute necessity.”

It’s true: you need to survive retirement with money, even if you can’t always work. While a shift in retirement help and life expectancy has changed how Americans are seeing retirement, many of us are planning on just working until they die.

People regret how they’ve spent money

It’s obvious people think they should’ve saved more money throughout their lives — but research tells us what expenses they regret and what they consider worthwhile.

Investment company Charles Schwab polled Americans with 401(k) accounts about their retirement plans and learned a few things about hindsight…[5]

  • Two-thirds of Americans (64 percent) wish they’d spent less and saved more
  • They particularly regretted “meals out, expensive clothing, new cars, and vacations.”

But they didn’t regret “spending on more enduring and significant items” like:

  • Housing
  • Weddings
  • Student loans
  • And tuition for their kids

“The survey shows that if given the chance, many Americans would have spent differently on short-term pleasures,” says Steve Anderson, Schwab’s president, “especially compared to spending that supports their families’ long-term happiness and success.”

Financial strategies for a successful retirement

It’s no secret that saving for retirement may seem like something to be worried about for tomorrow, but most successful retirees focused on saving even when it seemed impossible.

The successful savers tapped by a PNC survey are working or retired, ages 25 to 75, with at least $50,000 in investable assets (if they were younger than 44) and at least $100,000 (if they were 44 and older). Believe it or not, that didn’t include any 401(k) investments.[6]

Here are some tips to help you save, from successful retirement savers themselves.


Americans want retirement income to last a lifetime, but most workplaces don’t offer those kinds of plans. Investing is one important way to maintain an income while you aren’t working — but you’re still very much alive.

Seventy percent of the respondents to PNC’s survey were investing with investment firms, banks, and brokerage firms and in mutual funds.

We know the world is running out of retirement money, according to the World Economic Forum, so it’s up to us individually to save as much as possible on our own.[7] While it’s recommended to diversify your investments, maybe look into a few different options before putting all of your retirement savings in one place.

Health Insurance

When saving for retirement, consider whether your current health insurance will carry over into retirement. If not, you need to start saving in the event of an emergency.

A couple retiring this year needs an estimated $280,000 saved for healthcare costs alone, says a study from Fidelity.[8] That has increased by 2 percent since last year’s estimate, and 75 percent since 2002, the first time the investment firm estimated retirement healthcare costs. It was $160,000 at the time.

Part of a successful retirement is accounting for every possibility — including unexpected healthcare costs.

Long-term savers

According to the PNC survey, 45 percent of successful retirement savers have been saving for at least 20 years.

Even when it seems impossible to think ahead, you should still be stashing away at least small sums until you can focus a significant amount towards a 401 (k) or IRA.

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Retirement strategies for a non-working spouse

It is important to remember that there are many households that run on a single income. Non-working spouses may include stay-at-home partners, those who are handicapped or physically incapable of working, or for other personal reasons. This means that their retirement strategy should include a plan for both spouses; regardless of their earnings from outside the home.

The retirement needs of households with a non-working spouse are comparable to those of the working partner. This means that the living expenses for both must be accounted for, without the benefit of a second paycheck. Let us look at common retirement strategies that help the non-working spouse save for retirement.

Spousal IRA

Spousal IRA is like a regular IRA; with the exception being that it is opened in the name of the non-working spouse. To be eligible for spousal IRA, you must be married, file taxes jointly, and contribute an amount equal to or less than you and your spouse’s combined earned income for the year.

One of the major drawbacks of this IRA is the contribution limit set on it.[9] When you have to contribute to two IRAs — one for yourself and one for your spouse — the contribution limit is doubled. If you and your spouse qualify individually for each, you can have a Traditional IRA for yourself and a Roth IRA for your spouse, or any such combination.

Social Security

Through Social Security, the non-working spouse can independently collect 50 percent of what the working spouse receives; without having paid into the system, after the working spouse files.

For example, if an amount of $1,000 is collected in a month, then your spouse can independently collect $500 for a total of $1,500. The non-working spouse is eligible to generate income once he or she reaches retirement. If they don’t have any independent Social Security benefits, they can even continue to collect 50 percent after the working spouse has died.

The non-working spouse can collect the ‘spousal’ benefits at retirement. This benefit usually amounts to 50 percent of the monthly Social Security payment that is received by the working partner. The amount will vary depending upon the age at which the benefits are first claimed. There are some minimal restrictions. If you start collecting Social Security benefits at the age of 62, your benefits will reduce by 25 percent and your spouse’s benefits will be reduced by 50 percent.

Cameren Boatner and Rick Pendykoski contributed to this report.


[1] Indexed Annuity Leadership Council – New Study: 1 in 3 Americans Confess Stopping Retirement Savings At Least Once
[2] – The Disappearing Defined Benefit Pension and Its Potential Impact on the Retirement Incomes of Baby Boomers
[3] The Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) i – Long-Term Services and Supports for Older Americans: Risks and Financing Research Brief
[4] TIAA – News & press
[5] Charles Schwab – Meals Out, Pricey Clothes & New Cars Top Spending Regrets for Americans Trying to Save for Retirement, Schwab 401(k) Survey Finds
[6] The PNC Financial Services Group – PNC Survey Reveals Emotions Influence Planning, Life Goals, Retirement
[7] World Economic Forum – We’ll Live to 100 – How Can We Afford It?
[8] BUSINESS WIRE – A Couple Retiring in 2018 Would Need an Estimated $280,000 to Cover Health Care Costs in Retirement, Fidelity® Analysis Shows
[9] – IRA FAQs

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