Spokane Journal of Business

Study finds U.S. workers not confident about retirement

More respondents show pessimism about their ability to live comfortably

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A recently released report suggests that nearly half of American workers surveyed lack confidence in their ability to live comfortably in retirement and most are hungry for sound retirement planning advice.

The 23rd annual Retirement Confidence Survey found that 49 percent of respondents are "not at all" or "not too" confident in their ability to retire comfortably. The survey, touted to be the longest-running of its kind, was conducted by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc., and co-sponsored by The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America.

The survey data indicate that workers continue to lose confidence in their ability to pay for basic expenses into retirement—29 percent lack confidence now, compared with 18 percent in 2007—and medical expenses—52 percent today, compared with 32 percent six years ago.

"The EBRI survey chronicles a growing level of pessimism among Americans about their financial well-being in retirement," says Michael B. Cefole, an EBRI board member and senior vice president of Guardian Retirement Solutions. "We also know that workers are in need of professional advice and guidance, and the EBRI survey demonstrates the importance of preparing people to plan effectively for their retirement years."

In fact, 52 percent of surveyed workers said it would be "very valuable" to receive recommendations about how to make savings last throughout retirement, and 36 percent said they think it would be "somewhat valuable." Significantly, 45 percent of workers in the survey reported that they simply guessed when calculating the level of savings necessary to live comfortably in retirement.

The continued decline in workers' confidence about retirement might be due to the realization of what is necessary to prepare for retirement. Forty-one percent of survey participants said the cost of living prevents them from saving more.

One of the survey's key findings was that roughly 60 percent of workers and 40 percent of retirees reported debt problems and were the least likely of all respondents to have confidence in their overall retirement outlook.

The survey also found that employees who have done a calculation of retirement savings needs tend to have higher savings goals, and are more confident, than workers who haven't.

"Education and financial literacy are the keys to ensuring that people are planning properly for retirement," says Doug Dubitsky, vice president of product management and development for Guardian Retirement Solutions.

As part of Guardian's ongoing efforts to educate future retirees and bring clarity and focus to the psychological aspects of retirement planning, the company launched a new website last fall called Retirement Style Matters, at retirementstylematters.com. That interactive tool is designed to teach people that who they are can have a major impact on how they invest.

"There is more to retirement planning than just charts and graphs," says Dubitsky. "We know personality also plays a large role in the way people prepare for retirement."

The website's approach is intended also to help financial advisers gain a better understanding of their clients' financial behaviors and personality, and thus create a personality-compatible retirement plan.

The site was created with the help of behavioral finance expert Daniel Crosby and identifies four different retirement styles, or personalities, that can give people insight into who they are and how they invest. Armed with that knowledge, the pre-retiree can work with his or her financial professional to develop a holistic retirement plan, the company said.

Forty-one percent of survey respondents said that they are "not at all" confident about future Social Security benefits. However, 72 percent of employed workers participating in the survey said they have access to employer-sponsored retirement plans. Of these respondents, eight in 10 currently contribute to the plan.

"Employer-sponsored retirement plans such as 401(k)s continue to gain favor with employees and their employers," says Jason Frain, vice president of 401(k) product management and development for Guardian Retirement Solutions.

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