Disconnect Between Financial Perception and Reality

A majority of people surveyed say they are in control of their financial future, yet 30% say their level of debt is ruining their life.

Seventy-three percent of people feel in control of their financial future, according  to Aon Hewitt’s “Financial Mindset Study,” based on a survey of 2,001 plan participants.

Seventy-nine percent say it is important to be debt-free. However, there is clearly a disconnect, as 44% say credit cards make it easier to spend more than they want to, and 30% say their level of debt is ruining their quality of life.

Asked what they would do if they were given $1,000, 51% either say they would save or invest nearly all or most of it.

While 59% say their personal financial situation is going fairly well, 44% say they have just enough to get by and only 38% are completely optimistic about the future. They also appear to be quite concerned about the cost of health care and saving for the future. When asked what worries them the most financially, 48% say the cost of health care; 44% say saving for the future, be it for retirement or a child’s education;  36% say keeping up with the cost of living; 26% of non-home owners say paying their rent; 22% say paying their monthly bills; and 20% say financially supporting a parent or adult sibling.

NEXT: What motivates them to save

Asked what motivates them to save, 80% say being financially responsible, 77% say being able to do what they want when they retire, 76% say being prepared for any unforeseen problem and 51% say being able to buy something they want but can’t afford right now.

Aon Hewitt asked respondents to list their savings priorities. Eighty-six percent said having an emergency fund, followed by: retirement income (82%), wealth accumulation (67%), a vacation or travel (51%), making a large purchase such as a car (41%), education expenses (37%) and a home purchase (35%).

Then, asked what they are actually saving for, 78% said vacation or travel, 74% said retirement income, 70% said an emergency fund, 59% said making a large purchase such as a car, 56% said a home purchase, 55% said education expenses and 53% said wealth accumulation.

Forty-eight percent said they are doing some broad financial planning but need to do more, and 57% said they are doing some retirement planning but need to do more. As to what is keeping them from saving, 37% said not being able to afford to save is a very significant or significant barrier. Other significant or very significant barriers: concern that they may not be able to access their savings when they need it (19%), not understanding where to save (16%), not having the need to save (15%) and not understanding how to save (14%).

NEXT: How many have determined their retirement needs

Only 54% of respondents have compared how much they will need in retirement to how much they are likely to have, only 53% have projected how much they will need to live on when they retire and only 40% have created a financial plan to reach their goals. Thirty-eight percent say they save regularly but don’t have a long-term plan, 30% say they save regularly according to their long-term plan, 15% don’t save because they cannot afford to, 9% save only from time to time and 5% plan to start saving but say they haven’t had the time to start.

Twenty-five percent think they will need less than 80% of their pre-retirement income in retirement, and 25% have no idea of what they will need.

People clearly like automatic features, because when asked what influenced their decision to save, 91% said automatic enrollment, 86% said their company’s match, 76% said the tax advantages of a 401(k) plan and 72% said access to good investments that are monitored by the company. Asked how much they contribute to their plan, 37% said 5% or less, 35% said 6% to 10%, 11% said 11% to 15%, 8% said 16% to 20%, and only 9% said 21% or more.

For those not contributing to their employer’s retirement plan, 48% say they cannot afford to do so, 19% say they don’t know enough about the plan, 16% are concerned about losing money, 15% believe they can get better returns elsewhere, 13% say they are too young to make contributions a priority, 11% are worried about not being able to access the money when they need it, 10% think they don’t need to make any additional contributions, and 8% want a greater range of investment options.

NEXT: Risk tolerance

Asked about their risk tolerance, 40% say they are cautious, 32% say they are balanced and 21% say they are aggressive. The most frequent time that participants check their retirement account is quarterly, cited by 42%, and of this group, only 17% make a change to their retirement plan. Asked what are the most important factors in making investment decisions, first up is the fund’s past performance (37%) followed by the fund’s risk level (35%), expectation of the fund’s future performance (33%), economic factors such as the stock market (30%), the length of time until the money will be needed (29%), the advice of a professional financial planner (15%), and information on the retirement plan website (15%).

As to the percentage of their retirement income coming from various sources, the majority (36%) expect it will be from their current employer retirement plan, 29% say Social Security, 24% say other assets and income, and 12% say different employers’ retirement plans. Forty-six percent strongly agree or agree that they are satisfied with their current retirement plan, and 49% think their employer’s retirement benefits are on par with other companies’. Only 33% think it is well above or above other employers’ retirement benefits.

Asked what they think their employer should help them with financially, 91% say saving for retirement, 56% say establishing an emergency fund, 52% say saving for a child’s education, 52% say saving for short-term needs, and 42% say creating or managing a personal budget.

The Futures Company conducted the survey among 2,001 employees for Aon Hewitt in April. The full study can be downloaded here.