For Older Generations, Paying Off Debt Overrides Saving for Retirement

Half of both Baby Boomers and Generation X are prioritizing paying off debt before saving for retirement, a survey found.

Just 10% of Baby Boomer and Generation X members give themselves an ‘A’ grade on retirement planning, while 63% give themselves a ‘C’ or lower, according to survey data from North American Company, a Sammons Financial Group member company.

Nearly half (47%) of Baby Boomers confessed that spending money on things they didn’t need and getting into too much debt were their biggest financial mistakes they made when they were young, and another one-third (33%) say it was not saving for retirement. Yet, this is not the primary information or advice that they pass along to younger generations. With more Gen Xers saying they regret spending (44%) and accumulating debt (22%) than previous generations, it looks as though they may be on course to repeat the previous generation’s mistakes.

As they approach retirement, most Baby Boomers cite issues related to paying off debt and having too many expenses (25%), as well as not making enough money (36%), as barriers to saving more for their retirement. Gen X has strikingly similar concerns—33% cited paying off debt and having too many expenses and 32% cited not making enough money—in addition to prioritizing college savings for children (28%). Half of both generations (51% of Boomers and 50% of Gen X) are prioritizing paying off debt before saving for retirement.

Two-thirds (66%) of Baby Boomers admit they are concerned about outliving their retirement savings. Gen X is even more fearful—77% report the same concern.

Nearly one-fifth of Gen X are supporting their parents, while most (71%) are also supporting their children. Given these financial obligations, it makes sense that a majority of Gen X (73%) wish they were saving more.

The survey was fielded via Toluna’s online respondent panel and platform from March 29 to April 3, 2017, among 600 U.S. adults between the ages of 36 and 69. More findings are here.