Americans Unlikely To Save More for Retirement in 2017

Even though saving for retirement is America’s top financial concern, only 32% of people plan to increase contributions to their retirement accounts in 2017, according to the latest research by NerdWallet.


Moving into the New Year, Americans’ prospects for a comfortable retirement are not looking too bright. A year-end report by NerdWallet finds that only 29% of respondents reported feeling confident that they saved enough for retirement this year. Nearly one in three aren’t saving at all.

The survey also revealed major anxiety over lack of savings, and other financial obligations that may be forcing retirement savings to take a back seat. The top financial concerns are health care bills and expenses (35%), lack of emergency savings (35%), lack of retirement savings (28%) and credit card debt (27%).

Not surprisingly, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services predict health care spending to increase at an average of 5.8% per year between 2015 and 2025, and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services projects per-person cost in 2016 to top $10,000 for the first time. Moreover, NerdWallet’s analysis found that credit card debt averages at $16,060 and has increased 11% in the last decade.

“Every dollar Americans have to put toward health care, debt and other expenses is a dollar that isn’t saved for retirement,” says Kyle Ramsay, CFA, head of investing and retirement for NerdWallet. “This struggle to keep up with competing financial priorities is part of why Americans of all ages are falling behind in their retirement savings goals.”

And 2017 may not be any better for nest eggs. Of the 70% of people saving for retirement, only 32% plan to increase contributions into their work place retirement accounts.

The survey results also offered some interesting insight into how different generations approach retirement planning. Those between ages 45 and 54 were the most likely to be concerned about retirement saving. Of these individuals, only 20% reported feeling confident that they saved enough this year. Forty-three percent of Millennials, defined in the study as those between ages 18 and 34, are not saving for retirement at all. This is true for 30% of all respondents.

NEXT: Not Saving Correctly

Moreover, several Americans are missing out on key tax advantages by funding their retirement through ordinary savings accounts rather than an employer-sponsored one or an individual retirement account (IRA). NerdWallet found that 55% of people are using regular savings accounts to support their nest eggs. This figure increases to 63% for Millennials, suggesting a major education gap about retirement account benefits.

“Consumers should heavily consider saving in retirement accounts like IRAs and 401(k)s to take advantage of substantial tax savings and the flexibility to invest for higher potential returns,” says Ramsay.

The firm notes that “In a traditional IRA or 401(k), the money invested grows tax-deferred, and distributions in retirement are taxed. Consumers who meet the Roth IRA rules should also take advantage of that account, which doesn’t offer a tax deduction on contributions but allows tax-free distributions in retirement.”

Ramsay adds, “The tax-advantaged status of contributing to a 401(k) or traditional IRA is a useful tool in two ways. First, you can manage your tax bracket by increasing your contribution and reducing your modified adjusted gross income. Second, because 401(k) and IRA contributions are pre-tax, the dollars you contribute to those accounts are worth more than regular savings. If your marginal tax rate is 25%, $100 saved is worth $133 if saved pre-tax in a 401(k) or traditional IRA.”

Using a set of constants, NerdWallet also found that annually increasing contributions by 1% by starting 5% of income and reaching 15% income, a person can generate more than $600,000 in savings, as opposed to staying at a 5% contribution level.

Plan sponsors can also offer retirement calculators to help individuals visualize their retirement goals and develop strategies.

Even if investors max out their retirement accounts, they can move onto taxable brokerage accounts, which historically have produced larger returns than what bank accounts offer in interest.

“Low interest rates mean using a bank savings account to save for retirement can lead to a substantial retirement savings shortfall,” says Ramsay. “That can be particularly harmful to young investors — their long time horizon enables them to ride out short-term market swings and compound their investment returns over time.”

Findings from the survey can be found here.