Our Blind Spots Cut Retirement Savings

Our personal biases can play havoc with how we handle our finances.

Two such biases have long been suspected as obstacles to saving for retirement. The first is a tendency to procrastinate on decisions that may benefit an individual in the long run, but also involve short-term costs, like saving for retirement – economists call this “present bias.”

The second bias is a failure to perceive the power of compounding investment returns and how this can build wealth over decades of saving.

But the impact of these biases on how much people actually save wasn’t really understood – until now.  A new study by a team of economists from Stanford University, the University of Minnesota, the London School of Economics, and Claremont Graduate University finds that people who are not blinded by these two biases in particular have saved significantly more for retirement, largely because they start putting money away earlier in life.

The researchers based their findings on a big sample of nearly 2,500 people in online surveys in 2014 and 2015; the average age was about 49. To determine the consistency with which they value the present over the future, the survey asked the participants a series of questions about whether they would, for example, rather have $100 now or a larger amount on some future date – people who want their money now are a bit like Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons, who became famous for wanting a hamburger now but offering to pay for it later. The survey questions about compounding revolved around estimating an account’s future value, using a variety of different interest rates and time periods. … Learn More


Study: College Debt Hurts Retirement

College graduates learn very quickly that paying hundreds of dollars toward student loans each month makes it difficult to afford things like a nice apartment or a car.

But they might not appreciate the long-term consequences of their record levels of borrowing: college debt is an added threat to their retirement security, according to a new study by the Center for Retirement Research.

Chart: More Young Adults Today are in DebtThe researchers gauged the debt’s impact by looking down the road to retirement and projecting what would happen if working people of all ages had started out with the same profile as young adults: 55 percent of today’s 20-something households have student debt, and they owe $31,000, on average.

College debt has a bearing on retirement security through two avenues. First, money going into loan payments is not available for a retirement savings plan. Second, lenders place limits on how much total debt a homebuyer can have, forcing many borrowers to delay home purchases; and getting a home loan would be very hard for the 17 percent of student loan borrowers delinquent on their debt.

Based on these assumptions and using 2013 data, the Center’s National Retirement Risk Index shows that those at risk of a lower standard of living when they retire would increase sharply to about 56 percent of working U.S. households – compared with 52 percent at risk when the student loan projection isn’t figured into the NRRI calculation.

This “represents a substantial increase in the already alarming rate of households at risk,” said the Center, which supports this blog. …Learn More


Retirement: a Priority for Millennials?

Saving for retirement is more crucial for Millennials than for any prior generation. Data are emerging that reveal how they’re doing.

millennialsVanguard’s 2014 data from its large 401(k) client base shows that 67 percent of young adults between 25 and 34 who are covered by an employer plan are saving – this is well above a decade ago.

A survey recently by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found evidence that this generation makes retirement a priority: a majority of working adults in their 20s and early 30s – now the largest single demographic group in the U.S. labor force – view retirement benefits as “a major factor in their decision on whether to accept a future job offer.”

This indicates that Millennials are getting the message, said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

The growth of automatic enrollment in 401(k) plans “has helped pull young people and non-participants into the plans,” Collinson said, “but I also believe it’s also due to heightened levels of awareness.” …Learn More

Picture of a bullseye on a dart board

On the Web

Top Blog Topics: Financial Ed, Retirement

It’s customary every six months for Squared Away to round up our readers’ favorite blogs. The following were your top picks during the first six months of 2015, based on an analysis of online page views.

To stay current on blog posts in the future, click here to join a once-weekly mailing list featuring the week’s headlines on Squared Away.

Retirement is a perennial favorite among readers. But the top 10 list below also includes blogs about financial education and knowledge of the U.S. retirement system, longevity, and the hardships specifically faced by older workers: …Learn More



Confidence Key to Retirement Planning

Confidence can be dangerous. It has led investors into fraudulent deals and businessmen into over-borrowing.

But new research finds one circumstance in which confidence may be beneficial: retirement planning.

Saving and investing can be so overwhelming that workers, judging by the low balances in most 401(k)s, often avoid it. So Andrew Parker, a behavioral scientist in Pittsburgh for the non-profit RAND Corporation, wanted to get at the psychological factors motivating those who do dive in and plan for their future.

Parker and fellow researchers concluded that individuals’ tendency to engage in retirement planning and their self-confidence – how much they think they know – are “significantly and positively correlated with each other.” This was true even after their study accounted for how much people really did know.

“If I feel confident in my knowledge and abilities, I may be more likely to move forward” with retirement planning, Parker explained in an interview. “If I don’t, I may be more hesitant to engage in that process.” …Learn More

Photo of generation: Grandmother, mother, daughter

Field Work

Retirement Tougher for Boomer Children

The financial media (including this blog) inundate baby boomers with articles cajoling, coddling, and counseling them about their every retirement concern.

But members of the Me Generation might want to focus on their children: retirement is likely to be an even greater financial challenge for Generation X, now in their 30s and 40s.

Economists at the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog, recently produced this striking prediction: three out of five Americans in their 30s and well over half of those in their 40s are at risk of experiencing a decline in their standard of living after they retire.

This compares with 44 percent of baby boomers.

The reasons for Generation X’s poorer prospects are due to long-term trends like the rise of 401(k)s and less generous Social Security benefits for future generations. …Learn More

Piecing together Social Security

Field Work

Getting What You Need for Retirement

You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.

Rolling Stones, 1969.

There is nothing better that most people can do to get what they’ll need in retirement than delaying when they start collecting Social Security.

The recent PBS documentary, “The Retirement Gamble,” sounded the alarm for many viewers who may be ill-prepared for the financial challenge of a long life – and not much retirement savings in the bank.

To address this growing issue, financial advisers often emphasize retirement-survival strategies to their baby boomer clients. These strategies revolve around the complexities of figuring out how much to save, how to invest, or the best way to spend one’s 401(k) assets post-retirement.

But the real problem facing most Americans is that they have meager balances in their 401(k)s – or none at all.

Putting off when one claims Social Security “is the best deal in town,” concluded an analysis by Steven Sass, program director at the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog. …Learn More

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Future Retirees Don’t Grasp Health Costs

More than half of baby boomers and Generation Xers do not realize how much they are likely to pay out of their own pockets for medical bills after they retire.

Many “were seriously underestimating the amount of savings they would need to accumulate in order to cover health in retirement,” according to what may be the first comprehensive survey and analysis of what Americans expect to pay – and how far off their estimates are.

The good news is that Medicare pays roughly 60 percent of retirees’ total costs. The bad news is that they have to somehow cover the other 40 percent, which is particularly expensive for those who live longer (read women).

If this new study carries one big message, it is that boomers need to learn more about what will certainly be one of their biggest retirement expenses. For example, by 2020, the range of out-of-pocket spending is expected to vary from $2,453 per year for a typical person with low health care needs to $7,272 for the typical high spender. Boomers also may not be aware that the bite that Medicare premiums take out of their monthly Social Security checks will increase sharply by 2020.

The new analysis of the disparity between future retirees’ expectations and what they’re facing was conducted by law professors Allison Hoffman at the UCLA School of Law and Howell Jackson at the Harvard Law School. …Learn More