By Dan Kadlec
September 2, 2016

Imagine trying to take an around-the-globe trip without looking into the details. In essence, that’s what millions of Americans do every day as they ponder retirement. They head out on the journey and hope for the best.

But it usually doesn’t work, and new research from BlackRock points up the futility of thinking about retirement without a plan. Those who describe themselves as unsure about their retirement prospects are far less likely to have taken even basic steps like estimating how much they need to put in the bank to afford the retirement they want.

BlackRock, an asset manager with nearly $5 trillion under management, surveyed participants in 401(k)s and other defined-contribution plans. It found 52% believe they are on track for retirement. Another 28% say they are unsure if they are on track—and many in the unsure camp could gain confidence by taking simple steps.

For example, 66% of those unsure about retirement say they don’t know as much as they should about investing, BlackRock found. That compares to just 38% of those who say they are on track. Likewise, 68% of those who are unsure say they don’t know how much money they will need to fund their retirement. That compares to 32% of those who are on track.

For many, then, moving towards retirement confidence may be a fairly simple matter of learning more and doing some basic math. Just 11% of those who are unsure have even bothered to estimate how much they should be setting aside right now, BlackRock found. That compares to 35% of those who believe they are on track.

This is not string theory. Investing for retirement can be as simple as directing all your assets to a target-date mutual fund. Decoding your savings needs requires some thought. But you can estimate your expenses and figure how much income you will need with an online calculator such as this one from Vanguard.

Those who are unsure about retirement are also less likely to have increased their contribution rate in the past year or reviewed their investments in the past three months. Again, these are not difficult tasks. Most retirement plans allow you to automatically increase plan contributions by one percentage point 1% or 2% a year. It’s one decision: opt in.

Reviewing your investments quarterly is a good idea to stay abreast of your saving progress and to rebalance to your desired asset mix if you are an active investor. Checking progress once a year is sufficient if you are in a target-date fund or some other managed account.

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Here’s the rub, though. Those who are unsure about their retirement prospects are far less likely to seek answers, BlackRock found. For example, just 43% of the unsure take advantage of employer-sponsored financial education programs or other guidance. That compares to 67% of those who are on track. As financial wellness programs at work proliferate, workers must make better use of this important resource.

 

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