It's not news that Americans aren't saving enough for retirement. The question though is why? Ameriprise Financial's new Retirement Derailers survey offers clues.
The survey found that 90% of Americans ages 50-70 with $100,000 or more in investable and retirement assets, have experienced at least one “derailer” an economic or life event that has made an impact on their retirement savings goals. The average survey participant experienced four such calamities. The drama ranged from things beyond their control like the recession, to family and lifestyle choices that have lasting financial consequences, according to the survey. In the end, these events set those polled back $117,000 on average. Nearly 37% experienced five or more unanticipated events costing them approximately $144,000.
Low interest rates took a toll on the growth of investments. Many said their savings were significantly lowered due to market declines and one-third said their home equity is now not going to help fund retirement as much as they expected.
Truth is, any number of derailers can throw your retirement off track. You or your spouse could get sick, or lose a job, for example. While some things are just unforeseen and out of your control, there's plenty where your smart moves can make a difference.
Failure to build an emergency fund
If you have sufficient money saved for emergencies you won't have to tap your 401(k) in a pinch. “You're required to pay back that money when you leave your current company. This typically results in a reduction in the value of the account due to loan interest, as well as using some of the principal in the account to pay off the loan,” says Grant Moore, financial advisor at Savant Capital Management. Have at least 3-6 months of living expenses in cash accounts.
Unexpected early retirement
Maybe it's an illness or you got laid off, but retiring before Medicare kicks in at 65 can mean paying the entire bill for medical coverage until you turn 65, which can be a huge expense. “A couple who retires before 65 may find themselves paying $15,000 a year or more just to have appropriate medical insurance. These large, sometimes unexpected bills can start depleting retirement accounts much sooner than you may have thought,” says Moore.
Giving too much
Although you may be slowing down with your spending, that does not mean that you can skip out on everything. Family events such as weddings, babies and birthdays can put a strain on your bank account. “Try giving creative gifts rather than splurging on store bought items for these types of events and always make sure you avoid buying presents you cannot afford. You can also consider working part-time in retirement to help supplement your income and be sure to take advantage of senior discounts when available,” says Leslie Tayne, an attorney specializing in debt with the Law Office of Leslie Tayne.
Learn to say “no” sometimes. Otherwise, you could find yourself contributing more than you can really afford to support grown children and grandchildren, warns Brian Gordon, president of MAGA, Ltd., which specializes in long term care planning. The bottom line, “Don't fund your child's college fund instead of your retirement account,” says Mary Kelly, author of Money Smart: How Not to Buy Cat Food When You Don't Have a Cat.
Inappropriate asset allocation
Investing too aggressively can backfire. If you lose your shirt close to, or in retirement, it's tough to make up the losses. “Many people do not monitor the investments in their 401(k) plans as closely as they should. As a result, many folks in their 50s and 60s may be taking on more investment risk than is age appropriate. This could severely alter their lifestyles during retirement, in the event that a bear market occurred as they approach retirement,” says Moore.
Emotional investing will do you in as well. When the market tanked in 2008, many investors sold stocks at a low point simply out of fear. “By not having a disciplined investment process, these individuals may never fully recover from these catastrophic investment losses,” says Moore. Have an appropriate asset allocation. Monitor your asset allocation at least annually to ensure that it is still sufficient. Be disciplined in your approach to managing these assets, says Moore.
Buying the hype
One of the effects of the tough economic environment is an increase in criminal behavior as scam artists prey on the vulnerable like the elderly. Retirees may be more at risk as they struggle to finance their retirement years, says Kelly. There are plenty of scammers out there who make false promises of unrealistic rates or encourage investors to take big risks when they are in no position to stomach the losses.
The Ameriprise survey also revealed regrets. When it comes to what they would do differently if they could do it over again, 57% say the would have started saving earlier. Many also said they would be in better financial shape if they had known more about investing or if they had spent less on extras like eating out and vacations.