Data and Research

Americans Get an 'F' on Retirement Planning

A majority of people believe they have plenty of knowledge about retirement planning, but only 33% of these people passed a quiz on ways to make their nest eggs last.

By Javier Simon editors@plansponsor.com | May 02, 2017

When it comes to retirement 101, Americans are getting an “F.” According to a study by the American College of Financial Services, three in four retirement-aged adults failed a quiz on ways to make their nest eggs last through retirement. Moreover, older Americans between the ages of 60 and 75 have trouble comprehending vital financial topics including investment considerations, paying for long-term care expenses, and strategies for sustaining income throughout retirement.

This is particularly troubling considering that in the next 12 years, about 10,000 Baby Boomers are expected to reach age 65 each day -- in the midst of market volatility and a major gap in financial literacy.

“More and more Americans are retiring but so few understand basic facts and strategies when it comes to ensuring that their retirement is a comfortable one,” says David Littell, retirement income program co-director at The American College of Financial Services. “The results of this survey are alarming and a stark reminder of the need to be prepared for the decades in retirement when you are not earning a steady stream of income.”

However, many Americans might not even be aware they are unprepared for retirement. More than half or 61% of respondents reported having high levels of retirement income knowledge. Of these, however, only 33% passed the quiz highlighting a need for more effective targeted communication around essential topics. These efforts can be aided by the variety of tools and services surrounding retirement planning.

In particular, the survey found there is a great divide among particular demographics. The survey concluded that only 17% of women passed the quiz as opposed to 35% of men, 49% of respondents with more than $1 million in assets passed as opposed to 20% of respondents with below $1 million in assets, and 40% of those with a at least a graduate degree passed – as opposed to just 9% of respondents without a college degree who passed. Littell adds, “The drastic demographic differences are unsettling because all Americans – regardless of background – deserve to live out their retirement comfortably. This divide underscores how important it is for everyone to plan ahead.”

But preparing for the future may be achieved by grasping some basic points about retirement planning. The survey found that only 33% understand that it is more effective to work two years longer or defer Social Security for two years than to increase retirement contributions by 3% for five years just prior to retirement, fewer than half (45%) recognize that a life annuity can protect against life expectancy risk, and only 38% of participants in the survey know that 4% is the amount they can afford to “safely” withdraw per year from a retirement account.

Adding to the delusion behind retirement planning, most respondents (82%) don’t believe most older Americans would need long-term care at some point in their lives. Just one in three (33%) know that Medicaid pays for the majority of long-term care expenses provided in nursing homes. Only 30% know that family members – not nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or hospitals – provide the majority of long-term care costs, the organization notes.

Hopkins also noted, “It is extremely hard to put a good retirement plan in place when consumers are not literate about the risks they face and how to solve for these risks. For instance, the misunderstandings about long-term care shown in the survey indicate that people don’t understand the huge burden a long-term care event will have both on their finances and family.”

Littell continued, “With more and more Americans entering into retirement each year, there is a premium on retirement literacy. The time is now for retirees and pre-retirees to gain the knowledge they need to make smart decisions for a financially secure retirement. It is critical to have a plan in place in order to ensure you are on track for secure retirement years.”

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