Spokane Journal of Business

Calculating minimum asset comfort level for retirement

Survey finds that passing $250,000 mark provides greater overall confidence

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As Americans emerge from the Great Recession, confidence in a future retirement sets in for people who have $250,000 or more in investable assets, says the latest findings from theWells FargoAffluent Retirement Survey.

For the survey, Harris Interactive contacted via telephone 1,800 Americans between the ages of 25 and 75. While an overwhelming majority (88 percent) of affluent Americans with investable assets of $250,000 or more feel confident they will have saved enough for the life they want in retirement, far fewer Americans with less than $250,000 in investable assets (57 percent) have confidence in their retirement savings.

In this survey, a majority (61 percent) of the working affluent with $250,000 or more in assets had a household income of less than $150,000.

"What is striking about the 'affluent' is that their overwhelming confidence is not from guessing what they'll need, but from disciplined saving, watching their spending and detailed planning," says Karen Wimbish, director of retail retirement atWells Fargo Bank.

Almost three quarters (71percent) of the affluent have a written plan for their finances in retirement, compared with only 43 percent of those with less than $250,000 in assets. Moreover, a majority of the affluent (55 percent) indicate they used detailed planning and calculations to estimate the percentage of their current household annual income needed to live on in retirement versus about a quarter (24 percent) of those with less than $250,000 in assets.

While a majority of the affluent take a methodical approach to retirement planning, a majority (73 percent) of Americans with less than $250,000 in assets "guess" the percentage of their current household income needed to support them in retirement.

Further evidence of the confidence among affluent Americans is that a strong majority (61 percent) say they have "no financial fears" concerning their retirement because they are confident in their planning and preparation, which is about twice the level of those (32 percent) with less than $250,000 in assets.

Conversely, one third (33 percent) of the affluent "fear doing all the right things today but it still won't be enough" for retirement, compared with half (52 percent) of those Americans with less than $250,000 in assets. Moreover, while one-fourth of affluent Americans say they need to significantly cut back spending today to save enough for their retirement, half of those with less than $250,000 in assets indicate they will need to cut back spending.

When it comes to their current financial savings for retirement and expectations about finances in retirement, the affluent are more prepared than those with lower asset levels. In fact, the median amount already saved for retirement by the affluent is $500,000, which far exceeds the median ($60,000) amount that people with less than $250,000 in assets say they have saved for retirement.

A quarter (27 percent) of the affluent cite health care costs as their primary day-to-day financial concern, compared with 16 percent of those with less than $250,000, who instead say "paying the bills" is their primary concern (43 percent). The affluent estimate out-of-pocket health care expenses in retirement at $60,000 and those with less than $250,000 estimate $49,000.

"Although the affluent are more financially prepared for their retirement, both groups have grossly underestimated the health care expenses they will need in retirement," Wimbish says. "They need to be more aware and plan for the real costs of health care in retirement."

Stock market confidence

Half of affluent Americans feel confident that the stock market is a good place to invest for retirement versus 35 percent of those with less than $250,000 in assets.

Along these lines, if given $5,000 to invest for retirement, a plurality of affluent Americans (48 percent) would invest the money in stocks or mutual funds, compared with about a third (31 percent) of those with less than $250,000 in assets. Those with less than $250,000 in assets are more likely to put the money in a savings account or certificate of deposit than would the affluent (32 percent compared with 18 percent, respectively) and are more likely to invest that money in gold and other precious metals than the affluent (22 percent compared with 15 percent).

"The stock market may have felt like a roller coaster for some, but over the long term, it has been an engine of growth, and this has certainly been true in the last four years as we've emerged from recession," Wimbish says. "There is a paradigm shift where you no longer just switch to fixed income 10 years before retirement. With increased longevity, there is more time to build assets in a well-allocated portfolio and then turn that into retirement income."

Working in retirement

Working in retirement due to financial necessity will be a reality for a third (34 percent) of Americans with less than $250,000 in assets, compared with only 9 percent of the affluent, based on the expectations of survey respondents. More broadly, four in 10 affluent Americans expect to work because they want to and not out of any financial need, compared with a third of those with less than $250,000 in assets. Interestingly, about half of affluent men say they will work in retirement because they want to, versus 31 percent of affluent women.

While half of affluent Americans plan to fully retire and not work, only one third (32 percent) of those with less than $250,000 in assets believe they won't work during retirement, the survey indicated.

One-fourth of Americans with less than $250,000 in assets agree they will need to work until they are "at least 80" to afford retirement, despite the fact that only one-third think they will be mentally and physically capable of being a productive employee in their 80s.

Conversely, while only 6 percent of affluent Americans agree they will need to work until they are "at least 80" to afford retirement, 43 percent expect they will be physically and mentally capable of being a productive employee into their 80s.

Savings vehicles

About half of all Americans surveyed said they view the 401(k) as the best retirement savings vehicle when asked to select from a list of options (52 percent among affluent; 49 percent among those with less than $250,000 in assets). Not surprisingly, affluent Americans contribute a higher percentage of their salary (the median is 12 percent) to their 401(k) plan than those with less than $250,000 in assets (the median is 7 percent).

Additionally, affluent Americans expect Social Security to play a smaller role in their retirement than those with less than $250,000 in assets, who expect Social Security to cover a higher median percentage of their monthly retirement income.

However, both groups have similar expectations on the following:

When asked to assign a proportion of responsibility for funding their retirement, 50 percent assigned responsibility to the individual through saving and investment, followed by the employer through a pension (25 percent), and then the government through Social Security (20 percent by the affluent and 25 percent for others).

They expect to begin taking Social Security payments at the median age of 65.

Similarly among those not retired, majorities of affluent (78 percent) and those with less than $250,000 in assets (71 percent) believe they will have the option of delaying the age at which they begin taking Social Security so that they'll receive higher payments.

Majorities of the affluent (54 percent) and those with less than $250,000 in assets (61 percent) aren't willing to take a reduction in their Social Security and/or Medicare benefits even if it would help the country head towards a path to reduce its debt burden.

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