Dark tunnel

Behavior

In the Dark about Retirement?

There’s new evidence to remind us that nothing much changes: we are still baffled by our DIY retirement system.

And no wonder!

First, saving must start at a young age, when retirement is an abstraction. Saving is further stymied by two big questions: how much to save and how to invest it?  It’s also smart to anticipate how one’s compensation arc might affect Social Security – taking into account, for example, that women withdraw temporarily from the labor force to have children and that earnings can decline when workers hit their 50s.  As we fly past middle age and retirement appears on the horizon, it’s a little late to figure this retirement thing out.  And there’s no plan for long-term care when we’re very old.

The evidence: Start with Merrill Lynch’s new survey in which 81 percent of Americans do not know how much money they’ll need in retirement.  This makes it very difficult to know how much to deduct from one’s paycheck for retirement savings. Employers, frankly, could do more to help us figure this out. (Some answers appear at the end of this blog.)

Being in the dark now about how much to save is a cousin of being afraid of running out of money later, in retirement. More than 70 percent of accountants say this fear of running out is their clients’ top concern – followed by whether they can maintain their current lifestyle and afford medical care in retirement – according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Our inclination to avoid difficult issues does not go away with age.  Yes, we’ve gotten wiser, but advanced old age means death, and who wants to think about that?

The upshot: seven in 10 adults have not planned for their own long-term care needs in the future, Northwestern Mutual reports.  Even among a smaller group who anticipate having to take care of an elderly parent, one in three of them “have taken no steps to plan” for their own care.

“You would think that would prompt them to action,” said Kamilah Williams-Kemp, Northwestern’s vice president of long-term care. And while the constant barrage of news and statistics is making Americans more aware of their rising longevity, Williams-Kemp said, caregivers are often more interested in talking about their emotional and physical challenges and the rewards of caregiving than about its substantial financial toll.

There is a “disconnect between general awareness and prompting people to take action,” she said.

The potential for dementia or diminished capacity late in life isn’t on our radar either, the survey of CPAs found: the vast majority of people either choose to ignore the issue, wait and react to it, or are confused.

Squared Away exists in part to educate people about retirement essentials, based on facts and high-quality research. The following blogs might help you:

How Much for the 401(k)? Depends.

Investment Focus: Follow 5 Simple Rules

TDFs: What’s Under the Hood?

Beware: Strange Influences on Financial Decisions

Your Social Security: 35 Years of Work

Getting What You Need in Retirement

Social Security Delay: the Value to You

Medicare Primer: Advantage or Medigap?

Annuities Have Real Value

Fewer Need Long-term Care Insurance

Target Your Retirement: financial calculators for baby boomers

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on our blog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here

One Response to In the Dark about Retirement?

  1. Paul Brustowicz says:

    There is a “disconnect between general awareness and prompting people to take action,” she said. This quote from Ms. Williams-Kemp is the crux of all financial planning. The surveys all say that people recognize the need for planning for premature death, disability, long-term care, and retirement. Nobody recognizes the need for a product to meet the need until a trained professional shows them how a financial product can replace the income that is lost at death or disability or supply the money that is needed to pay for long-term care or supplement Social Security in retirement.

    The disconnect is inertia. Inertia has to be overcome by motivation from an outside source which usually comes in the form of a salesman. From experience I can tell you that no matter how good, how accurate, how pretty a financial plan is put down in front of someone, they will not take action until motivated or sold on the idea.

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