No Retirement Savings? No Worries! Americans Optimistic Anyway – The 401(k) Specialist


Americans are curiously optimistic about their retirement, despite having little or no money saved according to research released this month from San Francisco-based Varo Money.

Most don’t have emergency savings, half save less than 5% or their income and 24% admit they save none of their income. How’s a 401k plan supposed to make it under these conditions?

But hey, no retirement savings doesn’t mean they think they’ll keep working past normal retirement age.

In the December 2018 survey of 1,200 adults, most (59%) respondents under 60 said they plan to retireby60, including a sizeable number of those who currently have nothing saved. Many expect to live into their 80s (37%) with another 20% believing they’ll live into their 90s.

The combination of low savings, early retirement plans, and long life may seem unrealistic, but at least their expectations are modest. The majority of people (70%) think they can be happy on less than $100,000 in annual income per year, and almost a third (31%) of respondents said they only need to make $25,000-$49,000 per year to be happy. Break out the rose-colored glasses!

Most respondents feel they are not financially better off than their parents were at their same age (56%), but they also feel that their life and career options are better than their parents’ were (61%). Enjoying themselves every day is most important when it comes to money for 41% of respondents, followed by 35% who think saving for periodic big events or purchases like a vacation is most important. Less than a quarter (24%) think saving for retirement is most important.

We’ve all got our priorities, right?

Emergency savings

Across all age groups, 55% of respondents said they did not have $500 in cash for an emergency. Men are far more likely than women to have an emergency fund of at least $500 (56% of men vs. 39% of women). Six in 10 (61%) Millennials don’t have $500 to cover an emergency expense; that percentage is even higher for Millennial women, 65% of whom don’t have that amount.

Suggesting a link to lack of emergency cash and general financial vulnerability, 43% of all people who don’t have access to $500 also do not have health insurance.

Longer-term savings

When it comes to saving in general, the picture isn’t necessarily better.

While a small group of respondents (4%) were “super-savers,” putting away at least 25% of their income, half of all respondents (49%) said they saved less than 5% of their income, and a quarter (24%) said they are saving 0% of their income.

While Boomers are most likely to have $500 in emergency cash (63% do), beyond that, a quarter (26%) are saving 0% of their money, be it in a savings account, 401k, etc.

Thirty-seven percent of respondents have no dedicated savings outside of a $500 emergency fund. Another 30% have savings of less than $5,000. Only 33% of respondents have $5,000 or more saved.

Almost half of the respondents (45%) reported that they do not have a savings account. Among those who do have a savings account, nearly one-third (30%) said they did not know the Annual Percentage Yield (APY) for that account. Of those who did know their APY, the majority (56%) said they are getting less than 1.00%. The national average APY on a savings account is 0.09%, according to the FDIC.

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