How Middle-Class America is Setting Up for Failure in Retirement

The state of Americans’ retirement savings is unsettling. Too many people in middle-class America do not set anything aside for their retirement, nor have a healthy attitude toward it. If you’re asking yourself “Could this be me?” then it’s time to take a hard look at your retirement planning.

Wells Fargo released a survey at the end of October that studied middle-class Americans’ feelings on retirement, and the results are shocking.

The survey polled just over 1,000 people between the ages of 25 to 75 with an annual household income ranges from $25,000 to $99,000. This immediately grabbed my attention because the group overlaps with some of the research I did for my book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think.

According to the Wells Fargo study, almost half of all the non-retirees in this study are not confident that they have enough to live the life they want in retirement. This lack of confidence jumped up to 71% for people in their 50s. The group’s median amount saved for retirement was $20,000. That’s far below of the minimum benchmark of $500,000 I found happy retirees typically have.

Even so, most admitted that they were not sacrificing a lot to save. In fact, 41% of the people in their 50s, the peak years for saving for retirement, said they saved absolutely nothing. Zero. And when it comes to planning, they get depressed. Some even said if they do not have enough money, they would rather die early.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

Working longer seems to be the plan for half of the people in their 50s, who said they need to work until they are at least 80 because of a lack of retirement savings.

These middle-class Americans also reported that they believed $250,000 would be enough for comfortable retirement, but the median amount that they saved is $125 a month. If you do the math, $125 per month for 30 years is $45,000. If they invest the funds and earn 5% a year, that’s still only about $100,000, not even half of what they aimed for. Compared with the $500,000 I suggest aiming for, $100,000 clearly doesn’t cut it.

All of these reactions and statistics are just nerve-wracking. I’m not saying that saving for retirement is easy, but it is possible. You can sacrifice spending or pick up extra work. Anyhow, you need to be doing something to set yourself up for a comfortable retirement. Don’t just plan to work until you die.

An overwhelming majority of the surveyed group said that they should have started saving earlier. Hindsight is 20/20, so learn from those who already have it, and start saving today. There’s no time like the present.

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Wes Moss, CFP, is the chief investment strategist for Capital Investment Advisors and a partner at Wela, both in Atlanta. He hosts “Money Matters,” a live financial advice show on Atlanta’s News 95-5 and AM 750 WSB Radio. In 2014 Barron’s Magazine named him as one of America’s top 1,200 Financial Advisors. His newly released book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think published by McGraw Hill, is available on Amazon, iTunes and at your local bookstore.

Wes writes weekly about personal finance in the “Bargain Hunter Section” for, the site of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Wes is also the editor and writer for’s Personal Finance blog. Connect with Wes on Twitter at @WesMoss365 and on Facebook at Wes Moss Money Matters. You can also visit his website to learn more about Wes, and take his complimentary Money and Happiness Quiz.

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