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What Retirement Barriers do Americans Face Today?

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Retirement barriers

What Retirement Barriers do Americans Face Today?

Today’s definition of retirement is much different than before.

It’s no longer a postscript to career, but instead a time to enjoy freedom. This could be the freedom to learn new hobbies, the freedom to travel, or the freedom to start an online business. Unfortunately, this freedom is proving to be difficult to achieve for most.

In this infographic from New York Life Investments, we discuss the retirement gap—what it is, why it exists, and how advisors can help reduce it.

What is the Retirement Gap?

New York Life Investments partnered with AARP to survey over 3,000 Americans about their retirement plans. They uncovered that across all ages, there was a gap between i) people’s perceived importance of retirement planning, and ii) their actual preparedness.

Age groupPerceived importance of preparing for retirementActual preparedness
20s77%45%
30s87%41%
40s87%40%
50s92%47%
60s93%58%
70-7484%70%

Based on a survey of 3,025 Americans aged 20-74.

These results suggest that the status quo around retirement planning isn’t working for most people. This is further supported by other survey findings. For example, 65% of respondents said they didn’t feel optimistic about retirement.

What Barriers do Americans Face?

The survey determined that Americans are struggling to overcome five retirement barriers. Let’s hear from survey respondents to learn more about them.

#1: Managing multiple priorities

Juggling between retirement savings and more immediate needs such as childcare can lead to emotional overwhelm.

”It’s difficult to put substantial money in a 401 or IRA while also paying off debt at the same time.”
– Alex B. (20s)

#2: Figuring out how much is enough

Uncertainty about how much savings is needed causes many people to avoid retirement planning altogether. The problem can simply feel too large to tackle.

”Retirement and aging are not things I look forward to, mainly because of the lack of preparation and fear of the unknown.”– Janet F. (50s)

#3: The complexity of resources

Many Americans find retirement resources are too difficult to understand. This issue is related to a lack of financial literacy, which happens to be a growing problem in the United States.

”They don’t break it down into where you can understand it.”– Amy E. (40s)

#4: Lack of representation in the marketplace

People feel that available resources are not speaking to them, or are not relevant to their life circumstances. This type of “alienation” can discourage people from seeking professional advice.

”I don’t see people who are anything like me. I see representations of upper management people…and I know that won’t be my reality.– Penni B. (60s)

#5: Don’t know who to trust

People feel that the financial industry does not have their best interests in mind. They often seek information from sources who seem more like “them.”

”I avoid professionals because I hear so many stories of financial planners who cheated people in their investments. I believe in some of the people I follow on YouTube more.”– Dino M. (50s)

Bridging the Gap

Altogether, these barriers highlight a disconnect between who the market is targeting, and who is most in need of help. Financially advisors have the power to bridge this gap by doing two things.

The first is to view investors as “customers for life”. Large firms often push advisors to work with clients who have a greater level of assets—typically those in their 40s or older. This could create a major challenge for younger generations who hope to one day retire.

For example, survey data shows that people’s expected retirement age increases as they grow older. This suggests that young adults are struggling to develop the right financial plan for their needs.

Age of respondentExpected retirement age
20s55.7
30s60.7
40s64.6
50s64.9
60s67.8

Based on a survey of 3,025 Americans aged 20-74.

By viewing investors as “customers for life”, advisors have the opportunity to steer people onto the right path at an earlier age. This can help them create positive impact in their communities, as well as grow their business through word-of-mouth marketing.

The second thing advisors can do is reach out to underserved communities. Data shows that Black and Hispanic Americans are less likely to have retirement savings, while those that do feel much less confident.

EthnicityHave retirement savingsPerceive retirement savings as being on track
White80%42%
Black63%23%
Hispanic58%22%
Asian85%47%

Source: Statista (2021)

Up to this point we’ve focused on the financial aspect of retirement, but what about health & wellness?

Redefining Retirement: Health, Wealth, and Self

The rising importance of personal health has been a major phenomenon of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to McKinsey, 48% of Americans increased their prioritization of wellness compared to 2-3 years ago.

This shift in thinking must also be reflected by retirement plans. One way to do this is to integrate health & wellness considerations alongside wealth.

For example, poor physical health can significantly drive up the costs of retirement. In fact, the average American aged 65-84 already spends nearly $17,000 per year on healthcare.

Mental health, on the other hand, can be severely affected by money-related stress. Symptoms include a loss of sleep, high blood pressure, and a negative impact on personal relationships.

Perhaps most interesting is that the relationship between health and wealth goes both ways. In other words, wealth can be a driver of better emotional and physical health. The following table shows how individuals with greater income felt better about their wellbeing.

Income levelConsider themselves to be emotionally healthyPhysically healthy
Under $40K50%47%
$40K - $75K63%56%
$75K - $100K68%63%
Over $100K73%68%

Based on a survey of 3,025 Americans aged 20-74.

To develop a more holistic retirement plan for their clients, advisors must transform from financially focused representatives to holistic life coaches.

Barriers are Meant to be Broken

With the concept of retirement, many Americans feel like they are on the outside looking in. They suffer from a lack of representation, a mistrust for the financial industry, and have few resources that are catered to them.

What’s needed is a democratization of retirement planning.

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Infographics

How Experts Think About Bear Market Opportunities

We look at quotes from investing legends like Warren Buffett and Peter Bernstein to take cues on how investors should approach a down market.

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How Experts Think About Bear Market Opportunities

Today, the majority of Americans are worried a bear market is looming.

The good news: there are silver linings. Bear markets can present bargains for investors, thanks to inefficient pricing and fear in the market. Going further, many investing greats have made key investments during market downturns including:

  • Warren Buffett: Automotive sector during the 2008 Global Financial Crisis
  • Shelby Davis: Financial sector during the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis
  • Peter Bernstein: Gold during the 2000 Dot-Com Crash

In this infographic from New York Life Investments, we show four quotes on bear market opportunities and the data behind their insight.

How Experts Think About Bear Market Opportunities

When faced with the challenges of a bear market, how do experts respond?

1. “Whether we’re talking about socks or stocks, I like buying quality merchandise when it is marked down.”

— Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

Just like a bargain on socks may be an opportunity for buyers, a bargain on stocks is an opportunity for potential upside. In fact, the S&P 500 Index has seen double-digit gains 85% of the time after extremely pessimistic sentiment since 1987.

Investor pessimism can be measured by a ‘bull-bear spread’. This is based on an AAII survey that measures investor expectations for the market in the next six months. It is calculated by taking the percentage of investors who are ‘bullish’ on the market minus those who are ‘bearish’.

For example, in the week of April 29, 2022:

  • Bullish: 16.4%
  • Bearish: 59.4%
  • Bull-Bear Spread: – 43

Here’s how the S&P 500 Index performed after periods of extreme investor pessimism:

DateBull-Bear SpreadS&P 500 Index
12-Month Return
10/19/1990-5426%
3/6/2009-5167%
10/5/1990-4422%
9/21/1990-4325%
11/16/1990-4321%
4/29/2022-43?
8/17/1990-4118%
1/11/2008-39-36%
3/14/2008-39-41%
8/31/1990-3823%
2/21/2003-3735%
10/16/1992-3614%
7/9/2010-3625%
9/14/1990-3521%
10/26/1990-3526%
2/20/2009-3544%
4/12/2013-3514%
12/21/1990-3417%
7/21/2006-3424%
1/25/2008-34-38%

Source: Bloomberg, 5/12/22

As the above chart shows, investor pessimism is at its highest in 20 years.

Instead of thinking of how bad the market is doing, investors may be better of thinking of the market as being significantly less expensive.

2. “History provides crucial insight regarding market crises: they are inevitable, painful, and ultimately surmountable.”

Shelby Davis, founder of Shelby Cullom Davis & Company

Bear markets hurt. On the bright side, they only account for 29% of the market environment, with bull markets making up the lion’s share (71%). What’s more, stocks have spent the vast majority of time at or near their all-time highs.

Market EnvironmentDescription% of Time in Market Environment
All-Time HighStock market hits all-time high35%
Bull Market DipStock market falls under 10% from all-time high33%
Bull Market CorrectionStock market falls over 10% but less than 20% from all-time high3%
Bear Market DrawdownStock market falls over 20% from peak to trough10%
Bear Market RecoveryTime it takes to reach next all-time high19%

Source: Morningstar Direct, PerformanceAnalytics, UBS 4/30/2022. Based on monthly returns from 1945.

Overall, stocks have spent around two-thirds of the time at or near all-time highs.

3. “The most important lesson an investor can learn is to be dispassionate when confronted by unexpected and unfavorable outcomes.”

— Peter Bernstein, economist and financial historian

To avoid falling for the behavioral pitfalls of a market cycle, investors can identify key macro indicators of each stage. Below, we show the economic indicators and how they associate with each type of market cycle.

Market CycleMonetary Policy Shock*Consumer SentimentEmploymentSalesPurchasing Managers Index (PMI)
BullPositivePositivePositiveHighly PositiveHighly
Positive
CorrectionPositiveNegativePositiveNegativeNegative
BearPositiveHighly
Negative
Highly NegativeHighly NegativeHighly
Negative
ReboundHighly
Negative
PositiveNegativeNegativeNegative

Source: Goulding, L. et al., May 2022. *Represents an unexpected move in monetary policy.

As the above table shows, bear markets are associated with low consumer sentiment, high unemployment, low corporate sales, and weak manufacturing performance—with a high number of macroeconomic shocks.

4. “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

— Winston Churchill, former Prime Minister of Britain

Just like bear markets can stoke investor uncertainty, rising interest rates can cause stock market disruption. However, since 1954 the S&P 500 Index has returned an average 9.4% annually during Fed rate hike cycles.

Fed Rate Hike CycleS&P 500 Index Annualized Total Return
Aug 1954 - Oct 195714%
Jun 1958 - Nov 195924%
Aug 1961 - Nov 19667%
Aug 1967 - Aug 19694%
Mar 1972 - Jul 1974-9%
Feb 1977 - Jun 198111%
Mar 1983 - Aug 198413%
Jan 1987 - May 198916%
Feb 1994 - Feb 19954%
Jun 1999 - May 200010%
Jun 2004 - Jun 20068%
Dec 2015 - Dec 20188%

Source: Morningstar, Haver Analytics, March 2022

Not only that, the S&P 500 Index has had positive returns 11 out of 12 times during periods of rising interest rates. Despite the short-term impact to the market, stocks often weather the storm.

Finding Bright Spots

In summary, it is helpful to remember the following historical characteristics of a bear market:

  • Extreme pessimism
  • Short-lived
  • Higher macroeconomic shocks (employment, sales, PMI)

Investors can find opportunities by considering a contrarian point of view and learning from the time-tested experience of investing legends.

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Infographics

Retirement Savings: How to Calculate If You’re on Track

This graphic shows how to plan for sufficient retirement savings, and how the U.S. population measures up at each step.

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Retirement savings by age group, to help people gauge their own retirement planning. Retirement balances get bigger until age 65-74 and go down for those over age 75.

This infographic is available as a poster.

Retirement Savings: How to Calculate If You’re on Track

Setting a retirement savings goal can be overwhelming. In fact, one in three Americans have no idea what they need to save to retire at their target age.

Luckily, we can use a retirement calculator to help outline what you need to consider. This graphic from New York Life Investments walks you through setting your retirement savings goal, and shows how the U.S. population measures up at each step.

Step 1: Your Age

A calculator will typically start by asking for your current age and your target retirement age. This is to determine how long you have left to build up your investments. In the U.S., the average age of retirement has remained relatively stable and is currently 62.

Keep in mind that your retirement age can depend on many factors:

  • Your cost of living
  • Your job satisfaction
  • Your debts
  • Your spouse’s retirement plan
  • Your health

After you have your projected retirement age figured out, you’ll also need to estimate the length of your retirement.

The life expectancy for Americans at birth is 77 years. Once you’ve lived to age 65, that number is higher. This is because you’ve survived many untimely causes of death, including the higher mortality associated with childhood. The below table shows how the expected age of death changes as you age.

 At BirthAt Age 65
Male7482
Female8085
Both Sexes7784

To estimate your particular lifespan, you’ll also need to consider things like your genetics and your lifestyle. Having an idea of how long you might live may help you better manage longevity risk, or the risk you’ll outlive your savings.

Step 2: Your Savings

The next step in setting your retirement savings goal is to take stock of how much you’ve already saved. For context, here is how much Americans have saved for retirement by age group.

 Median BalanceAverage Balance
< 35$13,000$30,170
35-44$60,000$131,950
45-54$100,000$254,720
55-64$134,000$408,420
65-74$164,000$426,070
> 75$83,000$357,920

You’ll also need to decide how much you’ll be putting toward your retirement each year. Experts typically recommend saving about 15% of your pre-tax income. This can include your employer’s contributions, if any. Of course, this amount will vary based on how early you start saving and when you plan to retire.

Your expected investment earnings will play a big role, too. Here is what average annual returns have been for different types of portfolios based on historical data from 1928-2021.

 Conservative
(80% bonds, 20% stocks)
Balanced
(40% bonds, 60% stocks)
Growth
(20% bonds, 80% stocks)
Nominal Return8%10%11%
Real Return5%7%8%

Inflation has averaged about 3% each year. Remember to include inflation in your calculations so you can maintain purchasing power in retirement.

Step 3: Your Income

In the final step of setting your retirement savings goal, you’ll need to decide how much of your current household income you will use in retirement. Financial experts typically estimate you could need 70-80% of your pre-retirement income.

At this stage, it can be helpful to plan out a detailed budget. Here’s a spending overview for the average American over age 65.

CategoryAnnual Spending
Housing$17,435
Healthcare$6,668
Transportation$6,221
Food$5,698
Donations, Child and Spousal Support$3,119
Personal Insurance and Pensions$2,721
Entertainment$2,293
Clothing$821
Alcohol and Tobacco$635
Other$2,033

Other includes personal care products and services ($505), education ($450), reading ($157), and miscellaneous expenses ($921).

Now that you have an estimate of your expenses, you can factor in all sources of income you expect to receive in retirement. This helps narrow down what you need to have set aside in your retirement savings. For instance, most people collect Social Security in addition to their own pension. The below table shows what percentage of retirees have each income source.

SourceRetirees Age 65 and OlderAll Retirees
Social Security92%78%
Defined Contribution or Defined Benefit Pension66%57%
Interest, Dividends, or Rental Income49%43%
Wages, Salaries, or Self-employment25%32%
Cash Transfers Other Than Social Security7%11%

Respondents could select multiple answers. Sources include the income of a spouse or partner.

Based on all this information, a retirement calculator will estimate whether you are on track to sufficiently fund your retirement years.

Turning a Retirement Savings Strategy Into Action

It’s important to note that retirement calculators are a starting point. To come up with a customized strategy, you’ll likely want to consider:

  • Your current and expected tax rate
  • Increases in your income and savings rate
  • A contingency plan for unexpected events

However, retirement calculators can make the concept of retirement savings more concrete—and help you take action toward your goals.

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