‘Unfounded Optimism’ Noted in Schwab Survey

Results from the Charles Schwab Money Myths survey show a prevailing sense of overconfidence and unfounded optimism among U.S. workers planning for finances after age 50.

The survey reached a nationally representative sample of 998 respondents, ages 30 to 79, with an annual household income of at least $35,000. Researchers say the results show many common money misconceptions that may lead to inappropriate decisionmaking—especially when it comes to such subjects as carrying debt into retirement and working late into life.

Schwab researchers also point to troubling statistics that show in most marriages, one spouse shoulders the primary responsibility for financial planning and the other spouse has minimal involvement. This can have serious ramifications in the event of an unexpected death or divorce.

While a majority of survey respondents (52%) identified themselves as “very” or “extremely” savvy about personal finance, this population was more likely to agree with a number of money misconceptions, indicating a possible gap between perceived and actual financial knowledge.

The survey also shows that while roughly three out of four Americans (76%) believe it is harder to plan for retirement now than it was for their parents’ generation, they may be overly optimistic about their financial options in the future. For instance, 39% of survey respondents who are still in the work force expect to receive income from a part-time job in retirement, Schwab says, yet only about 4% of current retirees actually do so.

“People want to make good decisions about money and many believe they’re on the right track with their finances, but often they just don’t know what they don’t know,” says Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, senior vice president of Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. “These blind spots can lead to missteps that can undermine the best-laid plans.”

Common Money Myths

The Schwab survey suggests many Americans operate under money misconceptions, indicating more guidance is needed for important financial decisionmaking. Here’s a rundown of the most prevalent misconceptions described by Schwab researchers:

  • “A will is the best way to ensure your property will be distributed the way you want.” – More than nine in 10 (91%) respondents agreed with this statement, but Schwab researchers point out that a will is often not sufficient to completely control the distribution of assets—especially those in retirement and brokerage accounts. If there is a discrepancy between the beneficiaries named on financial accounts and those named in a will, the beneficiary designations on the financial accounts will prevail, Schwab says.
  • “It’s important to eliminate all debt by the time you retire.” – Not necessarily, Schwab says. Researchers point out that there is “good debt” and “bad debt.” Good debt means lower interest, tax-deductible debt like a mortgage loan. Bad debt means high-interest, non-deductible consumer debt like credit cards. Nearly nine in 10 respondents (88%) agreed with this statement.
  • “After you retire, you can always get another job if you need more money.” – Schwab warns that growing competition in the job market, corporate downsizing and personal health issues make this far more challenging than expected for most retirees. Again, just four in 100 current retirees report holding a part-time job, yet 79% of respondents agreed that working in retirement is a feasible option to address longevity risk.
  • “Every adult should have life insurance.” – Life insurance isn’t for everyone, Schwab argues, but 78% of respondents answered otherwise. Among those who most likely need life insurance are people with minor children or other dependents. Small business owners are also often counseled to carry life insurance, but if a worker doesn’t have dependents, life insurance may be a waste of resources.
  • “You should start taking Social Security as soon as you’re eligible.” – In general, most people leave money on the table because they file too early, Schwab says. The earlier the filing, the smaller the monthly payment that will be received for life. To make the best personal decision, it’s best to crunch the numbers with a skilled adviser, but 52% of respondents erroneously agreed that the earlier the claim, the better.
  • “Retirees shouldn’t have their money in the stock market.” – Nearly four in 10 (38%) respondents agreed with this sentiment, but Schwab points out that stocks are an important part of most portfolios. It’s often appropriate to gradually decrease the percentage of stocks as a worker gets older, but a diversified selection of individual stocks, or stock mutual funds or exchange-traded funds provides the best protection against inflation over the years.

The Importance of Family Finances

Over the last 50 years, the financial world has changed dramatically, researchers explain. Increased life expectancy, the continued demise of the pension plan and the prospect of rising health care costs require Americans to work longer and save more.

Despite a more challenging retirement landscape, nearly one in three survey respondents indicated that they do not seek input from anyone when making financial decisions. Similarly, 43% believe that it’s better for one adult in a household to have primary responsibility for the family’s financial planning and decisionmaking, as opposed to sharing the responsibility across the household, and one in five also say they don’t need to worry about the household finances because they are handled by someone else.

Also of interest in the findings, Schwab says, is that more than twice as many women (13%) as men (5%) say they are not the primary financial decision-maker in their household.

“It’s so important for both adults in a household to be involved in the important money management decisions,” says Schwab-Pomerantz. “In far too many marriages, one spouse shoulders the primary responsibility and the other spouse has minimal involvement. In the event of death or divorce, the ramifications of this can be devastating.”

More information on the “Money Myths” survey is available at www.aboutschwab.com.