4% of present retirees say they’re ‘dwelling the dream,’ survey finds

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Just 4% of today’s retirees said they are “living the dream,” according to a new survey from asset management company Schroders.

And just as many — 4% — said they are “living the nightmare.”

Most of the respondents fall somewhere in between — 44% said they are comfortable; 34% said they are not great, but not bad; and 15% said they are struggling, according to the rounded results.

“The real picture of retirement is far from the dreams Americans had hoped and worked so hard for,” said Deb Boyden, head of U.S. defined contribution at Schroders.

The survey, conducted in March and April, included 2,000 adults, with almost 500 retirees. The results come as inflation is still higher than usual and rising prices have made it more challenging for retirees to make their money last.

The top concern, cited by 89% of respondents, is inflation lessening the value of their assets.

That’s followed by higher-than-expected health-care costs, with 85%; a major market downturn that may significantly reduce their assets, 76%; not knowing how to best draw down income, 69%; and outliving their assets, 68%.

Is a retirement crisis brewing?

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The Schroders survey results come as more experts are pointing to a potential retirement crisis.

“The retirement savings crisis in the United States is no longer looming: it is here, now,” said a new report from the National Institute on Retirement Security.

Americans may face a shortfall in their golden years, as many workers still lack access to employer retirement savings plans and typical retirement savings are short of matching workers’ pre-retirement standard of living, the research found.

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One factor to blame is the decline of the availability of private-sector defined-benefit pension plans, according to NIRS, which has shifted the responsibility for saving for retirement from employers to workers.

Today’s retirees are more likely to use their own pension plan or a spouse’s pension plan for income rather than their own workplace savings account, the Schroders survey found.

It’s less likely that future retirees will have pension income to rely on, because fewer of them have pensions now than today’s retirees do, and it’s more likely that they’ll be financially vulnerable if they have insufficient savings, Boyden said.

Not everyone agrees there is an emergency

Some experts are skeptical there is a retirement savings crisis at all.

“You have this narrative of how the retirement system is doing, and yet all of the best data really do tell you the opposite,” said Andrew Biggs, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who worked on Social Security reform under President George W. Bush.

For many Americans, much of the confusion around retirement comes down to how much to save.

Americans think they need $1.46 million on average to retire comfortably, recent research from Northwestern Mutual found.

Likewise, one-third of workers who calculated how much money they will need in retirement estimated $1.5 million or more, the Employee Benefit Research Institute recently found. Yet a third of workers have less than $50,000 in savings and investments, and 14% of workers have less than $1,000, EBRI found.

Typical Gen X household only has $40K in retirement savings in private accounts

Biggs has sought to debunk the idea that retirees must have massive sums set aside, using Federal Reserve survey data as evidence.

In the Fed’s survey, of seniors with $50,000 to $99,999 in savings, 86% said they were either living comfortably or doing okay. Of seniors with more than $10,000 in retirement savings, 93% said they were doing okay or living comfortably.

“If we’re going to have a retirement crisis, why don’t we have one already?” Biggs said in an interview.

What individuals can do to address uncertainty

New projections released this week confirmed Social Security’s and Medicare’s trust funds are still on the brink of insolvency.

Within the next decade, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle will have to come together to find a solution to prevent a benefit shortfall.

Whether a retirement crisis exists may be the subject of heated debate between Democrats, who want to make benefits more generous, and Republicans, who want to limit the size of the programs to reduce government spending.

Less than half of respondents in the Schroders survey — 44% — said they’ve saved enough for retirement; 32% said they don’t have enough saved; and 24% are unsure.

Experts say there are a couple of ways people can try to address those uncertainties.

By delaying Social Security benefits past the initial claiming age of 62, they can access higher benefits. If there are future benefit cuts, that would be applied to a higher benefit amount.

It also helps to save more, even as higher costs make that more challenging.

Compound interest — interest accumulating on interest — can help even small sums grow substantially over time.