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21 Retirement Saving Statistics: Getting Ready for the Inevitable

Retirement Saving Statistics - Two people counting coins

Financial experts say we ought to start saving in our 20s if we want to enjoy a comfortable, worry-free retirement.

How realistic is that? Are we responsible enough to invest in our futures, or are we mainly concerned with living in the present and surviving on a day-to-day basis? In order to find out exactly where America stands on this matter, we’ve taken a look at some of the latest and most relevant retirement saving statistics on the web.

Of course, before we dive into these statistics, we ought  to learn a little bit about retirement plans and their main characteristics. If you’re lucky enough, you might stumble upon an employer willing to pay your benefits for you and calculate your retirement based on your salary. Most of the time, though, you’ll have to deal with payments yourself, with or without the help of your employer. Here are some of the basics:

  • Defined benefit plan

One of the oldest and most attractive retirement plans in the United States is, without a doubt, the defined benefit plan – also known as a pension. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see it that often nowadays, because it puts a lot of pressure on employers. As a general rule, bosses don’t like this plan because they have to provide employees with a specific amount of money after they retire. 

The figure each employee gets is based on the years they have worked and their average salaries.

  • Defined contribution plan

Employers who are not willing to take all the risk can opt for a defined contribution plan. This is the most popular choice for companies in the United States because employees have to pay into these funds out of their own paychecks. 

In this system, employers sometimes contribute. Whether you get a one-to-one match or something much less generous depends entirely on your company. You could be looking at a 401(k) plan, a 403(b), a 457, or something altogether different.

  • American IRA

Besides these plans, or in combination with one of them, you could also end up with an individual retirement account. This tax-advantageous option has nothing to do with the employer. It relies strictly on your individual payments. An IRA gives you complete control of how you save for your future. 

There are two basic IRA plans: traditional and Roth. The traditional option works out better for people who expect to be in lower income brackets in the future, as they don’t pay taxes until they retire. A Roth IRA retirement plan suits people in higher income brackets because it allows them to withdraw their savings at any time. It works great as an emergency fund, regardless of whether you’re retiring or not. Additionally, people are able to use the funds from their IRA plan to finance the costs of starting a business. This is called ROBS (Rollover Business Start-up), which is a structure approved by IRS and ERISA. ROBS allows entrepreneurs to invest in businesses without taking on debt or paying taxes and penalties, and the credit score is irrelevant.

Of course, we’ve only scratched the surface. There are numerous other variations and combinations that could help you enjoy your retirement to the fullest. In order to choose the best retirement plan for your financial situation, it’s important to inform yourself as thoroughly as possible. That’s why you’ve come here, and that’s why we’ve compiled this list of relevant stats and facts for you.

Key Retirement Savings Statistics

  • 22% of Americans have less than $5,000 in retirement savings.
  • 56% of people in the United States have no idea how much they need to save for retirement.
  • People in the United States feel the best age to retire is 61.
  • 31% of Americans take loans from their retirement plans to pay their credit card debts.
  • When they lose their jobs, 36% of Americans take cash out of their retirement plans to pay living expenses.
  • There are nearly 350,000 IRA and 401(k) millionaires in the United States.
  • 7.4 million people in the United States have IRA savings.

Stats on Retirement

1. 22% of Americans have less than $5,000 in retirement savings.

(Northwestern Mutual)

Statistics show that 15% of people in the United States have absolutely nothing saved for old age, and it’s not just young people who are unprepared for the future. In fact, if we compare the numbers for millennials and baby boomers, we’ll notice some unpleasant similarities. 

According to US retirement statistics, 14% of both generations have exactly zero dollars saved for retirement. Despite the fact that baby boomers are at the threshold of retirement, their attitude doesn’t seem to be any better.

2. 56% of people in the United States have no idea how much they need to save for retirement.

(Northwestern Mutual)

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons why Americans don’t save as much as they need to is that they don’t really know what figure they should be aiming for. According to statistics on retirement, 30% of people strongly believe they need $200,000 or more for a comfortable retirement. That amount is probably so terrifying for the majority of people that they simply give up before they even start.

3. The average American believes there’s a 45% chance they’ll outlive their savings.

(Northwestern Mutual)

Although most people would like to live longer, aging comes with its own set of problems. If you outlive your American retirement fund, your quality of life will decline drastically. That’s why it’s so important to plan ahead. That said, even though people in the USA believe there’s a good chance that they’ll be left incomeless in their late years, 41% of them have done nothing to stop it.

4. People in the United States feel the best age to retire is 61.

(Bankrate)

In its 2018 retiree statistics survey, Bankrate compiled answers from 1,001 respondents to find the perfect age for a range of financial milestones. When asked about retirement, millennials said they would like to retire at 61, Generation X at 60, and baby boomers at 62. 

The so-called Silent Generation – which consists of people who are now aged over 73 – said 65 is the perfect retirement age. Considering they are the only ones who have already passed that threshold in their lives, their insights might be worth listening to.

5. 78% of Americans will work past 65 years of age because they don’t have enough retirement funds.

(Northwestern Mutual)

The 2019 retirement statistics published by Northwestern Mutual found just over half of people would continue working after 65 simply because they choose to do so. People who will have to work out of necessity are generally concerned about how much money they have saved up or distrust the social security system’s ability to provide enough for them. Of those who would continue working by choice, 58% enjoy their jobs, 46% want more income, and 39% simply want to remain social.

6. Among employees who participate in defined-contribution retirement plans, employers and employees together contribute an amount equivalent to 13.5% of the employee’s salary.

(Fidelity Investments)

This average US retirement savings figure from the first quarter of 2019 follows the recent trend of ever-increasing contributions to retirement plans. Ten years ago, employers and employees were combining to contribute 11.9%, but now this figure is slowly moving towards 15%, which is what experts recommend.

Although it’s still far from a one-to-one ratio, employers are now closer to matching their employees’ contributions. Nowadays, employees pay an annual average of $4,040, while workers pay $6,940.

7. 98% of employer-sponsored retirement programs are based on target-date funds.

(Fidelity Investments)

By definition, target-date funds aim to reach an intended figure by a specific date to give you a better idea of what you can expect in the future. They provide great incentives for employees, which is why 90% of employers use them by default. As a result of that, the average retirement fund asset allocation has dramatically improved over the last decade or so. 

The percentage of employees who hold either 100% or 0% equity in their retirement accounts has fallen to just 10%, which is the lowest it has been in the past 10 years.

8. Among those who take out loans against their retirement accounts, 31% say they use the money to pay off credit card debts.

(Fidelity Investments)

Taking money out of your retirement fund early is never a good idea. But for a lot of people, it’s the only way to deal with pressing debts. American retirement saving statistics show that 24% of people who take a loan from their plans usually lower their deferral or stop saving altogether. 

9. When they lose their jobs, 36% of Americans take cash out of their retirement plans.

(Fidelity Investments)

Of all the retirement statistics in 2019, this might be the most problematic. One of the main issues here is that many people who dip into their retirement funds early don’t realize they’re giving away huge chunks of their hard-earned money through taxes and penalties. This option is especially popular among people under 30, 42% of whom decide for full distribution. 

On the other hand, 42% of employees choose to stay in their existing plan when changing jobs, while the remaining 22% go for the rollover option. The latter option allows you to withdraw saved funds and invest them in a similar retirement plan within 60 days without incurring penalties or taxes.

The Latest Retirement Plan Statistics from 2019

10. On average, 401(k) accounts that have been open for 10 years have increased in value by 466%.

(Fidelity Investments)

This study by Fidelity compared the accounts of 1.64 million 401(k) users to see how they had changed since 2009. Ten years ago, the average balance of these accounts was $52,600. By the first quarter of 2019, that average had grown to a whopping $297,700. 

One reason the accounts enjoyed such impressive growth is that their owners continued to make contributions to them every month during the 10 years.

Millennials who had a 401(k) account 10 years ago are sitting pretty. In 2009, those accounts had an average balance of just $7,000. However, today they’re worth $129,800 on average. That’s a phenomenal 1,762% increase.

11. There are nearly 350,000 IRA and 401(k) millionaires in the United States.

(Fidelity Investments)

According to American retirement savings statistics from Q1 2019, there are 180,000 people in the United States whose 401(k) plans have hit the million-dollar mark. The same report shows that there are slightly fewer IRA millionaires, with that number reaching 168,100. In both cases, this number represents substantial growth from the last quarter of 2018. 

12. 73.5% of Americans whose employers offer defined-contribution retirement plans are enrolled in those plans.

(Fidelity Investments)

The percentage of people who use defined contribution plans has been increasing steadily since 2008, peaking last year at 73.5%. One of the main reasons for this is the auto-enrollment principle, which numerous employers have adopted. Relevant 401k plan statistics have shown that 91% of people who are auto-enrolled stay with the plan. This appears to be one of the main reasons why millennial participation has increased by 82% in the past decade.

13. The average balance in a defined contribution plan in 2019 is $103,700.

(Fidelity Investments)

The amount of money Americans in defined-contribution savings plans have in their accounts climbed to $103,700 in the first quarter of 2019, according to US retirement saving statistics. This is a slight increase of 1% from the year before. 

This number is higher for auto-enrolled employees who have been contributing to their plan for 10 years: $111,600. It appears the automatic enrollment option has yielded some positive results for American workers.

14. Millennials who have invested in direct contribution plans for 15 years have a 17% larger average balance than those who have invested for 10 years.

(Fidelity Investments)

National 401k statistics show an average account balance of $152,400 for those who have consistently invested for 15 years compared to $129,800 for decade-long contributors. The situation is slightly better for Generation X, with a 29% increase, and baby boomers, who have seen a 20% rise. 

One of the most important things to learn from this study is the importance of starting as early as possible. Experts recommend you start saving in your 20s to make sure you reach a decent amount by the time you retire.

15. 7.4 million people in the United States have IRA savings.

(Fidelity Investments)

According to Fidelity IRA statistics, there are around 9.4 million IRA accounts in America, which suggests that many people have multiple accounts. Why? Different types of IRA plans offer different benefits. By playing your hand carefully with multiple accounts, you can make the most of tax advantages, a larger number of investments, more diverse withdrawal options, and greater financial security.

16. The combined average balance of Americans who have both IRA and workplace retirement plans is $307,622.

(Fidelity Investments)

Retirement saving statistics prove that this is by far the best way to maximize your savings. On average, people who have both an IRA and a retirement plan have a balance nearly three times higher than people who opt for a single plan. Every retirement savings plan has its own limitations. If you want to save more, combining different plans is an effective approach.

Retirement Savings by Age

17. 28% of Americans in their 20s believe they will need to support their parents when they get older.

(Transamerica Institute)

Transamerica Institute’s Center for Retirement Studies surveyed 4,550 workers to get a better understanding of their attitudes towards retirement, their saving habits, and their thoughts on the future. More than a quarter of people in their 20s expressed concern that they would have to support their aging parents. It seems they have little faith in retirement plans and can feel the pressure coming down on them.

18. More than half of Americans in their 30s feel they’re putting away enough money for their retirement.

(Transamerica Institute)

Retirement savings statistics show that 51% of people in their 30s believe they’re building a large enough retirement nest egg. However, of that number, only 17% strongly agree with this statement. Their confidence seems to drop a bit in the 40s and 50s, only to return to similar levels when they reach their 60s. It’s fair to assume that at this point in their lives, people don’t really know how much they’re saving and don’t have a realistic picture of their future.

19. Only 10% of people in their 40s believe they’ll be able to retire comfortably.

(Transamerica Institute)

Whether it’s the onset of a midlife crisis or the fact that people in their 40s have a more realistic take on life, they just don’t seem to be optimistic about the future. If we look at other age categories in these retirement crisis statistics, we can see a clear drop in confidence in the 40s, creating an inverse pyramid. These are Americans who were in their prime during and after the recession, which probably affected their view of the world.

20. 37% of Americans who are in their 50s say retirement is their financial priority.

(Transamerica Institute)

Americans’ retirement savings just don’t seem to be a priority. This is true even for people in their 50s, with 63% having more important financial issues on their mind. This could be denial, or they could just be resigned to the fact that they won’t be able to save enough for their retirement. The third explanation is that they simply don’t have the time to think about retirement because they’re still heavily focused on their careers and paying off their debts.

21. Nearly half of Americans in their 60s turn to financial planners for advice on retirement.

(Transamerica Institute)

The average retirement savings statistics number starts low for people in their 20s, with just 20% of respondents opting for professional planning services. As you’d expect, this number increases over time, reaching 42% for people in their 60s. 

For Americans nearing retirement, it’s important to understand exactly what they can expect from their retirement plans and whether they’ll be able to retire peacefully at 65 or not.

 

Q&A

What does the average American have saved at retirement?

According to 2019 retirement statistics in the United States, the average American with a defined contribution plan has saved $103,700. 

How much should you have saved for retirement by age 50?

Experts from Fidelity Investments say by the time you turn 50, you should have saved at least six times your annual income. For example, if your annual income is $50,000, you should have saved at least $300,000 by the end of your fifth decade.

How much should I have saved for retirement by age 65?

Retirement saving statistics from Fidelity show that the amount you should have saved increases exponentially as you age. By the time you’re 60, you should have saved eight times your salary. By the time you’re 67, that figure should be 10 times. Based on that, we can conclude that by the time you’re 65, you should have saved more than nine times your salary.

 

Sources:

Bankrate

Fidelity Investments

Northwestern Mutual

Transamerica Institute

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