Many Retirees Feel Better About Finances Despite Pandemic

Research from the SOA suggests that retirees are doing better than they expected they would while working, despite the ongoing pandemic and a volatile economic recovery.

Designed to understand the current state of retirement in the U.S. from an individual’s perspective, the Society of Actuaries (SOA) Research Institute’s latest “Retirement Risk Survey” looks at Americans’ retirement concerns and preparedness. Respondents were asked about their income and spending in retirement, how they plan for lifestyle changes in retirement, the impact of shocks and unexpected events and their views on health and caregiving.

Conducted every two years with adults aged 45 to 80, the survey suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic has the potential to impact retirement plans, finances, quality of life, return to work plans and living arrangements. Some respondents feel that the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted their financial situation, with 27% of pre-retirees and 18% of retirees saying as much. This compares to only 13% of pre-retirees and 11% of retirees who feel it had a positive impact.

The survey found that pre-retirees are more likely to plan to make changes because of the COVID-19 pandemic than retirees. The likeliest changes were in lifestyle (27% of pre-retirees compared to 18% of retirees) and expectations to work longer (17% of pre-retirees only).

Those with lower income and assets are more likely to be more concerned with and challenged by their finances, the SOA found. Retirees with less than $50,000 in assets are three times more likely to be concerned about running out of money in retirement than those with more than $250,000 (51% vs 17%) or that they will be unable to maintain their standard of living for the rest of their life (48% vs. 16%).

Those with higher incomes feel they have planned better, with 46% of retirees with over $100,000 in income having a spending plan versus only 16% of those with income under $50,000. Higher-income and higher-asset pre-retirees and retirees are also far more likely to have a financial adviser, the survey found.

An aspect of retirement that the SOA says it has not explored much in the past is the availability of family support systems. While fewer than one in 10 retirees rely a great deal or completely on family members for support, close to one in five relies on family to some extent.

The survey found that 7% of retirees and 9% of pre-retirees live in multi-generational households. Of these, over seven in 10 pre-retirees and six in ten retirees report that being in this situation has made it easier to care for elderly family members.

Additionally, pre-retirees and retirees are more apt to say that their family knows more about their values and beliefs than they know about their philosophy and choices when it comes to money, the survey found. Black (44%) and Asian American (45%) pre-retirees were more likely than white (35%) or Latino (25%) pre-retirees to say they have families who know about their financial lives.

Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, the SOA found that a large majority of retirees report that they are doing either the same or better now than they expected when they were working and compared to two years ago. Almost half (47%) feel that their financial situation meets their expectations and another 40% feel that they are doing better than expected. However, the study found that view is not universal. While almost half of Black (45%) respondents say their financial situation meets their expectations, only 29% say they are doing better than expected.

This study also examined the vulnerability of pre-retirees and retirees to financial shocks in retirement and how people manage them. Approximately half of the pre-retiree population report experiencing some type of unexpected financial shock, as well as more than four in ten retirees. One in five pre-retirees report that these shocks have reduced their assets by 25% or more and reduced their spending by 10% or more.

When asked what they could afford to spend without jeopardizing their retirement security, half of pre-retirees said they could only afford to spend $10,000 or less, and more than half of retirees could afford no more than $25,000, the study found. Black pre-retirees (61%) are more likely than pre-retirees in general (40%) to be impacted by an unexpected expense of up to $10,000. Among retirees, Black respondents (58%) and Latino (52%) said they are not able to spend $10,000 without it affecting their retirement security. This was much greater than the general retiree response (32%).