Many Have Unrealistic Expectations for Retirement Savings

Most Americans are unfamiliar with annuities which could ensure they do not outlive their savings, a study finds.

If the latest TIAA survey is correct, many Americans will be surprised when they retire. Of course, many financial firms will not, as TIAA’s results coincide with much of the current research on workers’ misplaced confidence in sustaining a secure retirement.

TIAA points to several disconnects among the people who responded—1,000 Americans, ages 18 and up: Fifty-eight percent were confident they have enough saved to last through retirement, but less than half know the value of their retirement account. Just 35% know what they can expect in monthly income, the TIAA 2016 Lifetime Income Survey found.

Further, 41% save 10% or less for their post-employment years, where many experts now advise 10% to 15%, TIAA notes. Sixty-three percent think they’ll need 75%, at most, of their current earnings for a comfortable retirement life, where, again, many experts suggest more—75% to 100%.

The survey found that many (68%) would prefer receiving lifetime retirement paychecks to unlimited lifetime airline tickets or a brand new car every year—both 9%. But even adding the variable of maybe running out of money, “only 43% are willing to commit a portion of their retirement savings to a choice that would allow them to receive a monthly payment for life,” TIAA says.

“Saving is crucial, but it’s not enough,” says Roger Ferguson Jr., TIAA president and CEO, citing today’s longer lifespans. “Workers also need to take a realistic look at what their expenses will be, and make a plan to generate reliable monthly income to cover those expenses in retirement. Guaranteed income for life is critical to a long, comfortable retirement,” he says.

TIAA, which sells employer-sponsored plans, annuities and individual retirement accounts (IRAs) in the academic, nonprofit and government markets, sought out other attitudes toward annuities through the survey. Sixty-six percent said they were unfamiliar with the products, just 10% actually own one, and 68% said they have no plans to buy one. “Only 23% have a favorable opinion of them,” the survey report says.

NEXT: Familiarity seems to bring mixed reviews

“These findings may stem from a lack of understanding about annuities, however,” the report continues. “With increased awareness come more favorable views: Overall, 45% of respondents who were familiar with annuities had a favorable impression of the product, compared with just 12% of those who were unfamiliar. Seventy-five percent of those who are unfamiliar with annuities either don’t know or have a neutral impression of them—revealing an opportunity for continued education about how [the strategy] can help individuals meet their retirement goals.

Still, according to the report, it was the generation least familiar with annuities—Millennials, at 20%—who were most apt to say they’d be willing to invest some retirement savings in one, versus Generation X with 38% familiar and the Boomers with 41%.

Use of traditional retirement strategies tend to vary by generation: Baby Boomers plan to rely more heavily on Social Security (84%) than their other accounts or holdings, compared with Generations X and Y (69% and 61%, respectively). The younger generations, however, expect to lean more on their retirement accounts: 60% of Gen X and 62% of Gen Y respondents vs. less than half of responding Boomers.

Counting all the generations, 29% will draw down from a defined benefit (DB) plan, and 54% from a defined contribution (DC) plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), or an IRA.

When asked whether their employer offers a retirement plan with a monthly-income-payment option, 33% said yes. Of those whose plan doesn’t offer the option, or where the respondent didn’t know, “56% said they would be interested in a plan that does.” Sixty-two percent said they would rather access such an option through their employer than, and 31% said they would rather purchase it themselves.

Ferguson recommends that employers offer investment options—such as annuities—and savings tools that can meet their employees’ needs. “Planning for retirement can be a daunting task, and individuals look to their employers for direction,” he says.