Study Finds Little Change in Retirement Planning Habits

The economic downturn might have prompted some changes in the behavior of Americans, but a new study suggests that their level of retirement planning (or lack thereof) remains unchanged.

The study by the Society of Actuaries (SOA) found that the proportion of individuals planning to save money and work as much as possible is statistically unchanged since the economic downturn. In 2009, as in 2007, almost one-third of pre-retirees said that retirement will not really apply to them. Of that group, 31% said they will be financially unable to retire and almost a fourth (23%) said they will choose to continue working.

Other findings for pre-retirees in 2009 mirrored those in 2007, including:

  • In terms of strategies to manage risk, a little more than half of pre-retirees said they already saved as much as they could.
  • Less than one-quarter of pre-retirees said they do not plan to completely pay off their mortgage. Retirees are now much less likely to indicate they have already completely paid off their mortgage (48%, down from 76% in 2007).
  • Fifty-five percent of pre-retirees in 2009 invested a portion of their money in stocks or stock mutual funds, compared to 54% in 2007.
  • Twenty-eight percent of pre-retirees planned to retire from their primary occupation at age 65.

For retirees, the study found that about three-quarters had no plans to purchase a financial product or choose an employer plan option that provides a guaranteed annual level of income for life. Furthermore, only 8% of retirees in 2009 and 9% in 2007 planned to buy long-term care insurance.

On the upside, more retirees and pre-retirees plan to get rid of debt: 81% of retirees and 90% of pre-retirees indicated they eliminated or plan to eliminate all of their consumer debt, compared to 79% of retirees and 89% of pre-retirees in 2007.

“We’ve found that retirees and pre-retirees continue to try to protect themselves against financial risks by decreasing debt, increasing savings, and cutting back on spending,” said Anna Rappaport, chair of the SOA Retirement Risk Survey and owner of Anna Rappaport Consulting, in a release of the results. “These steps are simple, but they are only a starting point. More follow-through is needed on the larger actions, such as considering purchasing a product that guarantees lifetime income or planning for widowhood and severe healthcare challenges.”

Two-thirds of retirees (66%) and eight in 10 pre-retirees (79%) reported that the recent stock market and economic downturn has affected their financial concerns about retirement, according to the survey.

Six in 10 retirees and seven in 10 pre-retirees (up from six in 10 in 2007) expressed concern that the value of their savings and investments might not keep pace with inflation. However, 26% of pre-retirees do not have plans to calculate how much inflation will affect how much money they have later in life.

While inflation is the top concern, retirees and pre-retirees are also concerned about health care. Roughly half of retirees (49%) and two-thirds of pre-retirees (67%) expressed concern about having enough money to pay for adequate healthcare. Almost half of retirees are very or somewhat concerned about having enough money to pay for extended care at home or in a nursing home (46%).

SOA also found that some visions pre-retirees have do not match the realities that retirees have experienced. For instance, pre-retirees are more likely to state they will receive income from retirement savings plans, such as an individual retirement account (IRA), bank, or investment account, than retirees are to state they actually received such income (66% versus 45%). Pre-retirees are also more likely than retirees to invest some or all of their funds that provide a series of regular payments where they control how the principal is invested (67% versus 43%).

The SOA report results were developed from a 2009 telephone survey of 804 Americans aged 45 to 80. The full report, "Risks and Process of Retirement," is available here.