This original article was written by Maurie Backman, The Motley Fool at USATODAY.
For many Americans, retirement is a mixed bag. On one hand, countless seniors enjoy the flexibility and freedom retirement offers. On the other hand, finances, or a glaring lack thereof, are a major concern for older Americans, especially since so many go into retirement ill-equipped to live off a fixed income. Here’s some key data that might open your eyes to the reality of our country’s retirement crisis.
Life expectancies today are increasing, and while that’s a good thing in theory, it poses a challenge from a savings perspective. Think about it: If you’ve been saving for a 20-year retirement and wind up living 10 years longer, you may have trouble paying the bills at a time in your life when you’re at your most mentally and physically vulnerable.
That’s the latest out of a recent GoBankingRates survey, which also found that among those who have saved, 56% are sitting on less than $10,000. Given that most retirees can’t survive on Social Security alone, that paints a pretty bleak picture.
And frankly, that’s asking way too much. Social Security is only designed to replace about 40% of the typical worker’s pre-retirement income. Most people, however, need at least 70% of their previous earnings to pay the bills in retirement, which explains why more than 25 million Americans aged 60 and older live at or below the poverty level .
In its latest retirement survey, Transamerica found that only about half of workers feel they’re building a nest egg that will sustain them in retirement. Given the number of people who aren’t saving anything, this certainly isn’t shocking.
And it’s not just because they want the mental stimulation. A large number of Americans feel they’ll have no choice but to remain employed in some capacity during retirement to supplement their limited income. That said, a recent TD Ameritrade study found that one in 10 retirees winds up going back to work to combat boredom. It pays to keep your skills up-to-date later on in your career so that you have the option to continue working during your golden years.
In an Allianz study, 60% of baby boomers admitted that they’re more concerned with running out of money during retirement than actually dying. Seeing as how 30% of workers 55 and over have yet to start building a nest egg, it’s a valid fear.
A Merrill Lynch study found that most Americans fail to account for the cost of keeping themselves entertained. Given that retirees typically have a ton of free time on their hands, factoring in leisure expenses is crucial when mapping out your retirement budget and goals.
Frightening as it may seem, recent data suggests that we may be underestimatingthe true cost of healthcare in retirement. HealthView Services, a provider of healthcare cost-projection software, reported last year that when we account for the typical out-of-pocket costs not included in Medicare coverage, like dental and vision care, the average healthy 65-year-old couple today can expect to spend a whopping $377,000 on healthcare in retirement. And that’s just what healthy couples might pay. If you have a known medical issue going into retirement, you can, and should, expect that number to climb. Furthermore, that $377,000 doesn’t even take long-term care expenditures, like nursing home fees, into account.
Contrary to what many of us have been led to believe, being retired doesn’t necessarily mean spending less. A report by the Employee Benefit Research Institute found that 46% of seniors spend more money during their first two years of retirement than during their working years. Meanwhile, 33% of households uphold this spending pattern for six years into retirement.
Back in 1991, only 2.1% of bankruptcy filers were 65 or older. By 2007, that number had climbed to 7%. Though untapped retirement accounts are typically protected in bankruptcy, or at least up to a certain limit, filing for bankruptcy can wreak utter havoc on your credit. And without a job or income stream to convince lenders otherwise, you may have a hard time opening credit cards, securing transportation, or renting a home as a senior if you’re forced to go this route.
While the above data isn’t exactly chock-full of encouraging news, there is a silver lining to all of this. If you still have a number of working years ahead of you, you can take steps to ramp up your savings and build a pretty sizable nest egg. Currently, workers under 50 can contribute up to $5,500 a year to an IRA and $18,000 to a 401(k). If you’re 50 or older, these limits climb to $6,500 and $24,000, respectively.
Because IRAs and 401(k)s offer tax-deferred growth, you can reinvest your savings year after year and turn a series of relatively small contributions into a considerable sum. Socking away just $300 a month, for example, will give you close to $200,000 after 25 years if your investments generate a reasonably conservative 6% average annual return.
It’s easy to spend your working years worrying about the future. But if you instead choose to focus your efforts on saving money and investing it wisely, you stand a strong chance of retiring when and how you want to.