3 Hard Retirement Truths Facing Baby Boomers

Source: Thinkstock

The truth hurts sometimes, but it allows us to make necessary adjustments. America’s retirement landscape is constantly changing as workers adapt to a new financial environment. Pensions and similar defined benefit plans are becoming extinct, while questions linger about Social Security’s longevity. Unfortunately, baby boomers are running out of time to make adjustments.

Baby boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, were already well into their working careers when retirement planning started to focus on 401(k) plans instead of defined benefit plans. This transfer of responsibility from the employer to employee has not exactly been smooth. A recent report from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS) finds that 19% of baby boomers who are offered a 401(k) or similar plan do not participate in that plan. Furthermore, 23% of boomers with retirement accounts such as a 401(k) or IRA have taken a loan and/or early withdrawal.

The side effects from these actions will be felt in due time. Let’s take a look at three retirement truths facing baby boomers, according to the TCRS report.

Source: TCRS

1. Having to work longer or forever

Employment is no longer a taboo retirement activity. Sixty-five percent of baby boomer workers plan to work past age 65 or do not plan to retire at all. While a small handful of boomers plan to keep working past age 65 or throughout retirement in order to stay involved, the majority need employment for financial reasons. In fact, 34% say they haven’t saved enough, 19% want the income, and 9% need health benefits. Only 21% of respondents expect to immediately quit working when they retire.

“For most baby boomers, retirement is no longer a point in time at which one immediately stops working. It is now a phased transition which may involve shifting from full-time to part-time work, taking on a position which is more satisfying and/or less demanding, or pursuing an encore career. Few baby boomers expect to immediately stop working when they retire,” said Catherine Collinson, president of the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.

Source: TCRS

2. Getting by with less

Money isn’t everything in life, but it certainly helps. A crippling combination of stagnant wages, stock market crashes, and poor savings habits have tarnished boomers’ so-called golden years. The report finds that 44% of boomer workers expect their standard of living to stay the same when they retire, and 41% expect a decline. A mere 8% anticipate an increase in living standards in retirement.

Making matters worse, 36% of boomer workers expect to rely on Social Security as their main source of income, despite the program’s well-publicized shortfall. Retirement accounts are a close second at 34%, while company-funded pensions and other investments are tied for a distant third at 12%.

Without some type of reform, Social Security benefits will need to be cut by 23% in aggregate in 2033, according to a recent report from the Social Security Administration. In other words, after the depletion of reserves, continuing tax income is expected to be sufficient enough to only pay 77% of scheduled benefits in 2033.

Source: TCRS

3. Harboring mixed feelings

It’s not all doom and gloom when it comes to retirement. While the financial crisis decimated investment portfolios, household retirement savings have increased from $75,000 in 2007 to $127,000 in 2014 (estimated median). Nonetheless, if you weren’t invested in stocks or owned a home, you likely missed a significant portion of this wealth accumulation.

We have a bifurcated economic recovery. Some people feel like the Great Recession ended years ago, while others feel it’s still in process. Forty percent of boomers believe the Great Recession has not yet ended, and 13% say they “may never recover.” This leads to mixed feelings about retirement. The report finds that 49% of boomer workers are “somewhat confident” about retiring with a comfortable lifestyle. Yet 38% are “not too confident” or “not at all confident” about a comfortable lifestyle. Furthermore, 43% “somewhat disagree” or “strongly disagree” that they are building a large enough retirement nest egg.

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