Retirement Savings Charts `Going in the Wrong Direction'
WASHINGTON- Are your members saving enough for their retirement? Probably not, according to Don Blandin, president of the American Savings Education Council. In fact, Blandin says, "The charts are going in the wrong direction." He's referring to the latest Income of the Aged Chartbook which shows 20% of the elderly relying on Social Security for 100% of their total income, 33% relying on it for 90%, and 65% for more than 59%. Blandin points out those figures are up from 13%, 24% and 59%, respectively, in 1991. The Social Security Administration is another voice trying to sound a wakeup call alerting people the average $895 a month Social Security check won't exactly enable a retiree to enjoy endless days mirroring the television series Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. In the yearly Social Security Statement now sent each year to all potential recipients, Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart stresses the limits of Social Security. "It is very important to remember that Social Security was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire. Social Security can't do it all," she writes. "You will also need other savings, investments, pensions or retirement accounts to make sure you have enough money to live comfortably when you retire." But at the same time the ranks of people who expect to rely on Social Security in retirement has climbed, the rate of personal savings has dipped from 10.2% in 1980 to 2.3% in 2001, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Commerce. Then there's ASEC's own 2003 Retirement Confidence Survey, a project also involving the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Mathew Greenwald & Associates. The study shows Americans' overall faith in their ability to retire without major financial worries has decreased only slightly from last year. Twenty-one percent of workers feel very confident about having enough money to live comfortably in retirement, and 45% are somewhat confident. That's true despite growing anxiety about stock market losses and an economy still lingering in the recovery room. But some are indeed worried. The share of workers not at all certain they will have enough money saved for retirement is now 16%, up from 10% a year ago. Basically, Blandin indicates, many Americans simply aren't well-informed about financing their retirement. "Many workers do not know how much money it takes to live comfortably in retirement," he says. "The Retirement Confidence Survey indicates most have never tried to figure this out." ASEC points out financial experts say people need 70 to 80% of their pre-retirement income to live adequately after they wave a final goodbye to their coworkers. But 39% think they can get by nicely on less than 60% of what they're earning now. In addition, many people are unaware the normal Social Security retirement age for full benefits is increasing from 65 to 67. Only 16% of current workers can cite the correct age when they will qualify. Seventy-nine percent have given little or no thought to the need for long-term care insurance, and 56% haven't considered what they will require in terms of general health insurance. There are some bright points. Workers say they do plan to work longer than current retirees. In fact, 70% say they plan to work for pay after they retire. What does this mean to credit unions? After all, many already sponsor pre-retirement sessions and have also established CUSOs that offer financial planning and investment advice. Is this kind of service especially important right now? "Credit unions have unique relationships with their shareholders," Blandon answers. "This relationships provides the opportunity to offer financial education in a trusted environment. Financial education for all life stages is always important, especially now with a tighter economy, job losses, a barrage of `spend' messages and uncertainty over the future." He urges credit unions to help members by encouraging them to take four basic financial planning steps each year: * Calculate how much money is needed for retirement and other personal and family needs. * Plan how to accumulate money and other assets to help meet those needs. * Act to implement the plan and save the necessary money. * Reassess progress every year during the three months between the time you receive your annual personalized Social Security Statement and your birthday. If your requirements have changed, or your plan isn't working, make adjustments. "Persistent financial education messages are vital," Blandon says. "Credit unions need to consider in-branch education, kiosks, public service announcements, statement stuffers, worksheets showing compound interest, a ballpark estimate pre-retirement planning worksheet, information on the credit union Web site and so on." Credit unions can also refer members to information on-line at www.saveforyourfuture.org. The site was established as part of a national Save for Your Future campaign sponsored by a coalition that includes ASAE, SSA, State Farm and the U.S. Departments of Labor, Treasury, Health and Human Services and Defense. The site includes a Ballpark Estimate Retirement Planning Worksheet for calculating expected retirement income and a downloadable booklet, "How to Save For Your Future." Getting people to think about finances isn't easy, judging from some more data from the ASEC survey. Both workers and retirees say they spent more time in the past year getting ready for holidays and social events than preparing for retirement. Even doing a bit of retirement calculation doesn't assure someone is saving according to a specific plan. Thirty-seven percent of those who have done a pre-retirement calculation don't know or remember how much they will need to save by the time they retire. But knowing how much they will need does motivate many people. Research also reveals 40% of workers who assessed what they need to save for retirement realized their current savings plans would fall short. They adjusted those plans accordingly. -