Why One-Third of Americans Haven't Saved for Retirement


More than a third of Americans haven't started saving for retirement, according to a recent report by Bankrate.com. Interestingly, it's not just young workers who aren't banking their bucks. The survey found that more than a quarter of those aged 50 – 64 haven't started saving for retirement, either. (See also: 10 Easy Ways to Supercharge Your Retirement)

While it's true that the current generation of retirees and pre-retirees are more likely to have a pension plan to cushion their financial burden, the Bankrate.com results point to a staggering conclusion. A large number of Americans — regardless of age — are unprepared to take financial responsibility for retirement. So, what's holding us back?

1. We're Living Paycheck to Paycheck

One-third of American households live paycheck to paycheck. Of those families, 66% are middle class and have a median income of $41,000.

It's difficult to save for retirement when disposable income is limited, but if you manage to do it, most employers offer a match on your 401(k) contributions. An employer match can add a substantial boost to your retirement account balance. (See also: Trick Yourself into Saving More of Your Biweekly Paychecks)

2. We Procrastinate

It's tempting to put big decisions off and wait for the next big raise, until the next bill is paid off, or until the kids are through college. The problem, as defined by one financial journalist, is that savings levels aren't all that different between new workers and those already retired.

Putting an end to procrastination can have a monumental effect on your end balance. According to recent research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 401(k) participants who consistently contributed to their accounts over the five years ending in 2012 saw a healthy 6.8% average annual uptick in their collective balances, even despite a 34.7% drop during the financial crisis of 2008.

Further, the earlier you start, the easier it is to build substantial savings. In his analysis of the Bankrate.com poll results, Greg McBride, CFA and Bankrate's chief financial analyst says, "the power of compounding is most evident over long periods of time, and having a longer period of time for your retirement savings to grow and compound makes today's contributions much more impactful." (See also: This is Why You Can't Postpone Planning for Your Retirement)

3. We Don't Have a Retirement Plan at Work

Even if you don't have access to an employer-sponsored retirement savings option, don't let that keep you from having a plan of your own. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute study noted above, those with a plan are 72% likely to feel very or somewhat confident about their prospects for retirement. Those without a plan, meanwhile, are 69% more likely to feel not at all or not too confident about retirement.

Those without a plan can benefit from several plans such as the traditional IRA, Roth IRA, MyRA, or a traditional brokerage account.

4. We're in Denial

Some workers assume they can maintain their current workload for the remainder of their lives and so choose to forego or limit retirement savings. While later-life retirements are increasing in frequency, the assumption that one can work until death doesn't account for uncontrollable factors like an unexpected job loss or medical issue.

Even among those who are saving, many are not saving enough. In a recent article, one finance giant CEO tagged the average retirement contribution level at 6% while suggesting that 10% would be better. (See also: 6 Harmful Money Beliefs That Are Keeping You Poor)

Low or nonexistent contribution levels indicate that many workers aren't taking the time to figure out just how much they'll need in retirement. Being aware of your end goal number is the first step to getting financially prepared for retirement — at every age.

Are you among the one-third of Americans who haven't saved for retirement?

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Guest's picture

Other "necessities" like a second car, vacation, new phone, internet and cable, etc. all reduce available income as well. Wants and needs are often misinterpreted.

Guest's picture

One of the problems was and still is a lack of education about retirement and retirement planning. Planning for retirement should be a priority for everyone. The key is to start planning ans investing early in life and do it with every paycheck. The power of compounding is lost on many people.. There are many sites on the web that provide information on this. I found that the site Retirement And Good Living offers information on financial topics, health, retirement locations, part time work and also has a great blog of guest posts from around the globe about a variety of retirement issues.

Guest's picture

CarlyT, hit it on the nail on the head. There still is a lack of education about retirement and retirement planning. Pay yourself first is the first step to saving. I also suggest that the key component to everyone's retirement plan should include life insurance.

Guest's picture

Most of us need to save more, much more. This spring I finally bit the bullet and reviewed my whole financial situation and actually made a plan for retirement. It wasn't fun or pretty, but I had to do it. Here are the biggest ways that I found personally to put more money away.

1. I now put away the maximum amount in my 401K (5% for me) that my employer will pay into the plan as a match. It is free money and dumb not to do it. It was basically a raise I gave myself.

2. After calculating my expenses, I found that driving was my biggest expense. I fixed that by buying a fuel efficient car thats durable (Honda Civic), finding an affordable insurance policy for it ($25/month from Insurance Panda, yay!), and using apps like Gasbudy/Waze to save money at the tank. I cut my transportation costs in half!

3.I cut wayy back on eating out. I am having a year of putting away money hard, and food was a huge portion of my budget. I save about an extra $100 a week now, and eat healthier and better. Ditto for others if you spend a lot of money in bars.

4. I need life insurance to protect my 2 daughters, but I ditched a $275 a month whole life policy for a policy from LifeAnt and now I only spend $25 a month. I save the difference to my Roth IRA. If you are unfamiliar with this and want to learn more watch shows or read articles from Suzey Orman or Dave Ramsey sometime. They are huge proponents.

There really were no two ways about it. If I plan on having a full savings account (getting there) and a comfortable retirement (I will) I have to make good decisions with my money.

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