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By Martha C. White
February 18, 2015

When it comes to retirement, Americans’ biggest fears are that they’ll run up huge medical bills, or that they’ll outlive their savings and run out of money. But what’s surprising is which Americans worry about these things the most.

According to a new Bankrate survey, people who earn more than $75,000 a year worry more about healthcare costs in retirement than the population overall. Perhaps surprisingly, they also worry more than those who earn less than $30,000 a year.

That’s probably because while people at the low end of the income spectrum might expect to fall back on Medicaid as a safety net, this isn’t an option for more affluent Americans, points out Bankrate senior investing analyst Sheyna Steiner. “The more assets and savings one has, the more difficult it will be to qualify for government assistance,” she says. “Certainly, the thought that your entire nest egg could be wiped out due to illness or injury is chilling.”

Rich Americans don’t think they’ll be getting much help from Uncle Sam, either: More than three-quarters say they think Social Security will provide less than half — or none at all — of their income in retirement, the highest percentage of any income bracket and higher than the 66% overall who share this view.

People who earn more than $75,000 also have a greater fear that they’ll run out of money in retirement. Overall, 23% of survey respondents say their top worry is that their savings will run out, but 29% of those in the $75,000-and-up income bracket say the same.

Some of this is just a fear of the unknown — and possibly the realization that they have further to fall if they outlive their savings. “A major change of life like retirement is especially daunting,” Steiner says. “People with high incomes have the opportunity to save more but they can also spend more as well which is a trap too many people fall into.”

These fears persist despite the fact that about half of high-income Americans say they’re happy with the amount they’re socking away for retirement, compared to the 29% overall who say they’re happy with their current retirement savings. And even among those earning more than $75,000 a year, more than a quarter say just keeping up with basic living expenses is hampering their retirement savings.

“There’s definitely a contingent of high earners who are not saving enough for retirement,” Steiner warns. “Their current lifestyle may not allow them to save much which may force them to cut back as they get older.”

Steiner says that’s because the people who do have disposable income might not be able to resist spending it today rather than banking it for retirement. “People often spend above their means or right up to the limit,” she points out. “People who maximize their lifestyle without saving for the future run the risk of severely downsizing in retirement or running out of money.”

 

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