Something big is happening in our country this year. You hear about it every time you watch the news, and it’s likely come up in conversations with friends, family members and clients.
In 2024, more American workers will turn 65 than at any point in history. This is a momentous milestone for the Boomer generation and especially for those who will celebrate reaching the traditional retirement age this year, up to 12,000 people every day.
Many of these workers have spent their careers saving and planning for a secure financial future. The focus for most of them has been on accumulating and growing savings in their workplace retirement plans. But upon reaching age 65, some may be looking toward retirement with trepidation.
After focusing for so long on building wealth, they’re now facing uncertainty about generating steady retirement income and drawing down their savings. Many feel they’re not as financially prepared for retirement as they thought they’d be.
A recent Nationwide Retirement Institute® survey polled 1,000 people between the ages of 60-65, split almost evenly between those who are still working and those already retired. The results revealed that many people who have yet to retire have expectations for their futures that differ from the realities experienced by many current retirees. These unrealistic expectations could lead to financial missteps, but they also offer opportunities for financial professionals to step in with guidance to boost their clients’ confidence and financial security.
Retirement expectations vs. realities
For those in this age cohort who have already retired, the average age of retirement was 60, with about two-thirds (64%) saying they had retired earlier than planned. Among those who are still working, two in three said they’re on track to retire as planned, with an average expected retirement age of 67—which happens to be the age at which they’re eligible for full Social Security benefits.
These and other differences in experiences and expectations between retirees and soon-to-be retirees can be valuable in helping you bring your clients’ retirement expectations into clearer focus before misperceptions lead to lasting consequences.
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As one example from our survey, more than three-quarters of pre-retirees (77%) said they expect to be at least moderately financially comfortable in retirement. Yet, a smaller share of retirees—just 68%—said they actually are financially comfortable. This may not seem like a large difference, but according to our data, about one in ten pre-retirees could find themselves unexpectedly on the wrong side of that gap upon retirement.
Retirement fears can weaken confidence
What factors may weaken your clients’ financial comfort and confidence as they approach retirement? For starters, the cost of living in retirement could be much different than what they expect. Among those not-yet-retired, survey respondents expect to spend on average just 42% of their retirement income on basic living expenses (e.g., food, housing, etc.). But retirees in this age group reported that more than half of their income on average (53%) goes toward these essential costs—a significant difference.
Household debt could also weigh on financial confidence. The average amount of debt carried by the 60-65-year-olds we surveyed (both retired and not retired) was over $70,000, and 80% of survey respondents said this debt burden has some impact on their retirement finances.
This age cohort is also concerned about inflation and potential cuts to Social Security and Medicare. However, these concerns are largely beyond the control of individual clients. That may explain why they outranked other worries, including health care costs or running out of money.
Retirees consider going back to work
These sources of financial anxiety may lead many retirees to consider going back to work. Work gives many people a valuable sense of social contact, purpose, and structure, all of which may become absent upon retirement. However, financial concerns can often be a bigger motivator for decisions to un-retire.
One in three current retirees in our survey said they’re considering going back to work again, and of those, 45% said fear of running out of money was their top reason.
Many clients at this stage in their lives may be unpleasantly surprised by the amount of income provided by Social Security. In our survey, a little over one-third of current retirees in the 60-65 age range (36%) reported receiving less from Social Security than they expected before retirement. Helping these clients cover a potential shortfall with other income sources can help boost their retirement confidence.
Financial life lessons for younger clients
The experiences of those turning 65 in 2024 and in the next few years will carry valuable lessons for anyone still in the planning and saving stages of retirement. These are lessons I think about when I speak with my three adult children, who are on their own individual career paths in public service, the non-profit world and private sector respectively.
All three of my kids have tremendous opportunities to save and build wealth through their workplace retirement plans—better opportunities than I had at their age. Each has a variety of tools to help them save, including pensions, 401(k) and 403(b) plans, IRAs and health savings accounts.
I talk regularly with my children about maximizing the benefits offered by their respective employers. My message is always the same—don’t wait to save for retirement, take action right now by optimizing your opportunities to start building toward greater retirement security.
Younger savers like my kids have time to shift course, adopt better financial habits, and take control of factors that may make a huge difference when they reach 65. With time on their side, your younger clients can learn from the successes and setbacks that older investors experienced earlier in their lives.
We asked the 60-65 age group in our survey about the decisions they made that helped improve their retirement readiness. The most common decisions that had a positive influence on their financial lives included:
- Worked with a financial professional to draft a retirement plan
- Started saving for retirement before age 30
- Used auto-increase options in a retirement plan to boost savings
- Maxed out retirement plan contributions
Of course, not all decisions had positive results. We wanted to understand the actions these investors had taken that had the opposite effect—reducing their retirement readiness. The decisions that contributed to financial harm most often included:
- Made bad investments that resulted in losses
- Tapped retirement savings early
- Waited until after age 30 to start saving for retirement
- Took a loan from 401(k) savings
Taking this one step further, we asked our survey respondents (both retired and not retired) what advice they would give their younger selves to get better prepared for retirement. By far, the top answers were related to planning and saving earlier in life, but the leading pieces of advice were all actions that most people have within their control.
“What advice would you give to your younger self on planning for retirement?”
- Start saving early – 63%
- Start planning early – 41%
- Don’t live above your means – 34%
- Create a budget and stick to it – 24%
- Always max out retirement plan contributions – 23%
Words of advice from people who have traveled further on their journey to retirement can be great points of reference to share for clients who are at the early or mid-stage of their working years. While most younger savers generally won’t have access to defined benefit pensions and will have to account for uncertainty around Social Security’s future, simple actions like saving, budgeting, and controlling spending are all things that offer immediate opportunities.
Your role as a financial professional
One of the most crucial tasks that you face as a financial professional is ensuring your clients understand how everyday choices impact their financial futures. To promote retirement preparedness, it’s essential for a client to have a holistic plan that covers a wide range of retirement challenges and risks. A good place to start is an honest discussion about the realities they can expect in retirement.
The most important thing you can do right now as a financial professional is dedicate yourself to helping clients plan for decumulation with a stream of income they won’t outlive.
You can trust Nationwide for our experience in guiding retirement savers throughout their working lives and into retirement. Every day, we see success stories from workers who were able to plan for their future financial security. Now, we’re helping retirement savers transition into retirement with confidence with a new suite in-plan protected retirement solutions.
In your role as a financial professional, you can turn to Nationwide for insights, tools and resources on Social Security and retirement health care cost planning to help you address your clients’ needs for savings, income, and protection. Solutions from our full suite of annuities, life insurance, mutual funds, and workplace retirement plans help simplify the complexities of retirement planning so you can better prepare your clients for a more secure financial future.