One-fourth don’t think they’ll ever be able to stop working.

5 minute read

Even though one of retirees’ biggest sources of income, Social Security, is said to be depleting, that’s not their biggest fear – it’s not being able to retire at all.

Almost a quarter (24 percent) of Americans report that their fear of never retiring trumps all of their other fears, according to a GOBankingRates survey. [1] Their other fears during retirement include…

  • Affording healthcare (21 percent)
  • Suffering from boredom (15 percent)
  • Being alone (9 percent)

Even though a quarter of Americans worry they won’t retire, the percentage should be larger, since “nearly half of working-age families have nothing saved in retirement accounts,” according to the Economic Policy Institute. [2]

An obvious reason more Americans don’t feel prepared to retire is that they don’t save. But some reasons – longer lifespans, the gender wage gap, expensive healthcare – are out of their control.

Debt is crushing retirement dreams

Saving for retirement is hard when mounting debt is holding you back. Sixty-six percent of Americans say that paying off debt is their biggest concern, says a study from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.[3]

Working Americans prioritize paying off debt over building savings (59 percent), saving for retirement (57 percent), and “just getting by to cover basic living expenses” (34 percent).

“Retirement is all about cash flow. In my mind, it doesn’t matter what your income is. It doesn’t matter what your portfolio size is,” retirement expert Bill Losey told Bankrate.[4] “It really all boils down to habits: having a plan, being frugal, making sure that you have a debt reduction plan.”

Since the debt load will carry on with us long into retirement, we’re already planning on working well into our golden years to make sure we can afford to live. Because younger generations are relying less on government help, they’re finding other means of income to get them through, like investment payouts and self-employment.

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Retirees aren’t prepared to pay for healthcare

With Americans living longer, retirees are spending more time in retirement than in years prior. Insurance group COUNTRY Financial suggests budgeting until you’re 90 years old, unless you’ve got a family history or personal health history that implies you won’t make it that long.[5]

For some of us, health care will cost much more than it will for others. Women, for example, will pay more for health care later in life simply because they are women. Since ladies are living longer than their male counterparts, they end up shelling out more cash later in life.

Because of the wage gap, women also earn less money from the very start of their careers. Saving for retirement is even harder on them throughout their lives because they face financial setbacks much earlier. Women might not see true equal pay for more than 200 years, so affordable health care costs for them could be further away than that, says the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.[6]

So if you’re coming up on retirement time and you anticipate growing health problems (or may already be facing them), what should you do? One option is: Move. Your state may be offering a more expensive plan for long-term health care compared to others, so look around to see if moving makes sense for you. Downsizing to a smaller place could also mean big savings.

Also, consider opening a health savings account. There may be some gaps in your regular insurance coverage, so contributing to an HSA now might save you thousands of dollars when you otherwise couldn’t afford it.

Most Americans don’t save much for retirement

The older you are, the more likely you are to feel like your money isn’t going to last you your entire life. Retirees are increasingly scared about being broke before dying, and since the world is running out of retirement money, it’s on us to make sure we have enough during our golden years.

But most of us don’t really care about saving for retirement. Some of us don’t even remember our retirement plans when we leave jobs. That’s probably because no one knows how their retirement plans work. While we say we care about retirement, studies show we don’t put those words into action.

With short-term goals overpowering long-term goals, Americans are realizing their fears are coming true the older they get. Since Americans are living longer than ever before, they should be investing in their golden years now so their future selves can thank them later. Sadly, the lack of help for retirement savings from jobs is hurting workers – 68 percent of millennials don’t have a 401(k) plan, according to survey company Pew Charitable Trusts. [7]

“Many people today are outliving their assets because they did not include retirement in their long-term financial goals,” says Doyle Williams, an executive at COUNTRY Financial. “Americans need to seek financial guidance now so they can eliminate the fear of never being able to retire. By taking some simple steps almost everyone can put a plan in place to secure their financial future.”

Know your retirement plan

A World Economic Forum study says our biggest problem is more of us are living longer, and it may be hurting our workforce.[8]

“The key driver of the challenges facing retirement systems is increasing life expectancy and a falling birth rate,” the study says. “This leads to a smaller workforce supporting an ever-growing population of retirees.”

One of the biggest obstacles is the lack of financial literacy. This isn’t just a United States thing. This is a worldwide epidemic.

“The lack of awareness of the basics on how interest and returns will compound over time, how inflation will impact savings, and the benefits of holding a broad selection of assets to diversify risks means that many individuals are ill-equipped to manage their own pension savings,” WEF says. “Some groups are particularly vulnerable, including women, the young and those who cannot afford, or choose not to seek, financial advice.”

Other problems, like low-growth environments and inadequate savings rates, contribute to another problem: a lot of personal responsibility. WEF says the way the plans are designed puts a huge strain on individuals to manage their own retirement savings. But all these factors, combined with a lack of financial literacy, is only hurting us.

Younger? Start saving now

More than half of millennials have less than $5,000 saved for retirement, according to a survey from the Indexed Annuity Leadership Council.[9] While it could limit your spending now, look toward the future: putting $100 a month into a retirement fund has many different results if you’re 20 years old versus if you’re 40. The younger you are, the more likely you’ll have enough money saved by retirement age.

Avoid waiting to plan your retirement years. Where you live and how you live can have a huge impact on how much money you’ll have by the time you retire. While it may seem like a long and laborious process, a little savings early on can go a long way, especially if you’re investing it well.

Check out’s complete guide on how to save for retirement.

Kristen Grau contributed to this report.

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About the Author

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn

Dori Zinn is a full-time freelance journalist based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. She’s president of Blossomers Media, Inc., a web development and online media consulting company. Along with her work on, she’s been a longtime freelancer for Money Talks News — a personal and consumer finance website — and South Florida Gay News — the largest weekly LGBT newspaper in the South. Zinn has written for a variety of other publications, including Huffington Post, The Week, Quartz, Fort Lauderdale Magazine, Indulge, and

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