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Time to think about saving for retirement (again)

Dan Weissmann Nov 28, 2014

Time to think about saving for retirement (again)

Dan Weissmann Nov 28, 2014

The end of November doesn’t just mean holiday shopping and leftover turkey. For people lucky enough to have jobs with benefits, it also means the end of open enrollment – time for choices about health insurance, flexible-spending accounts, and how much they plan to invest for retirement in the coming year.

Let’s skip to the hard part: Saving for retirement. Many people have a nagging feeling that they haven’t been doing enough. 

They’re right, as indicated by the title of Andrew Eschtruth’s new book, written with colleagues at the Boston College Center for Retirement Research, “Falling Short: The Coming Retirement Crisis and What to Do About It.”  

People are living longer, so nest egg needs to last longer. Social Security and Medicare are both headed for shortfalls in the next 20 years – so it would be smart to think about benefit cuts as a risk factor. That leaves savings and pensions.

“Roughly half of current workers are not participating in any kind of employer-sponsored retirement plan at their current job,” says Eschtruth.

The average household that’s approaching retirement, ages 55 to 64, has just $110,000 socked away in retirement accounts. He looks up what that would buy you if you bought an annuity – guaranteed monthly income.

The answer: $500 a month. That, plus Social Security, he says, “is all most people have.”

And the lower your income, the lower your total savings tend to be – if any.

401K balances for working households by income bracket

The Boston College Center for Retirement Research used 2013 figures from the Federal Reserve System’s Survey of Consumer Finances to calculate average 401k savings for workers. 

The center estimates that more than half of everyone will fall significantly short of what they need to maintain a standard of living in retirement that’s like what they have now.

Andrew Biggs, with the American Enterprise Institute, does the math differently. He concludes that just a quarter of people will fall short. For instance, he says, young adults may have different, but not necessarily unwise, financial priorities – like paying for school.

And if keeping your standard of living is the yardstick, then he says people who are poor today have a different problem.

“Your problem is not that you’re not saving enough for retirement,” he says. “Your problem is that you’re poor.”

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