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Sure, Stocks Are Up. But the Great Recession Is Still Weighing on Retirement Confidence

Dec 14, 2016

The election may have lit a fire under Wall Street, with stocks cruising to new highs in the past month. But it’s not clear that workers contemplating retirement share the same enthusiasm.

Just two-thirds of workers are confident in their ability to retire and only half believe they are building a sufficient nest egg, according to a report from Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Researchers surveyed workers before the election. But confidence seems to have peaked two years ago and stayed at about the same level since, according to the report.

Most workers say they have not fully recovered from the Great Recession. Still, the 20% who say they have fully recovered is a sharp improvement over the 14% that felt that way two years ago, according to the report. The top three retirement fears among workers remains constant: outliving their money; cuts to Social Security benefits; and declining health, most notably the 35% that fear eventual onset of dementia.

The top retirement priority workers would like the new president and Congress to address is fully funding Social Security benefits. Another priority, which is relatively new, is including a guaranteed lifetime income option in 401(k) plans and extending retirement-plan eligibility to part-time workers.

Guaranteed lifetime income has emerged as a key missing component from many workers’ retirement plans. As traditional pensions have faded, policymakers have explored new ways to provide widely available reliable income that won't run out—so far with little progress. Some favor mandatory savings accounts that may convert to a stream of income at retirement.

For now, though, most people must answer the lifetime income question on their own—and that will not be easy. The survey reveals a broad misunderstanding of basic retirement planning and income issues. Two-thirds of workers admit they don’t know as much as they should about retirement investing and two-thirds are looking to their company for more information and advice on how to reach their goals, the report found. Other research echoes this finding and highlights workers’ desire for employers to offer more financial education and communicate with them in simpler terms.

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Among the concepts that workers struggle with most, according to the report: they have a limited understanding of asset allocation; they underestimate how much they will need to save; they overestimate their ability to stay at work until they pass away; and they underestimate how long they will live. About half simply guess when calculating their savings needs.

Just one in four workers have a backup plan if they are unable to stay at work as long as they would like. On the positive side, there seems to be broad recognition that good health and up-to-date job skills are important to remaining at work after age 65. More than half are taking steps to improve their health and perform well at the office, the report found.

That’s good because many will be unable to find work somewhere else. Fewer than one in five actively network to keep their options open for work in retirement. Yet that may work out alright for many because three quarters say their current employer is supportive of them working past age 65.

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