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Friday, November 16, 2012 - 10:00
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Friday, November 16, 2012 - 10:00

15 Reasons the U.S. Retirement Crisis Is Even Worse Than You Think

Friday, November 16, 2012 10:00 AM

We are supposed to look forward to our golden years, right? Do a little traveling, play with the grandkids, host dominoes nights. Yet, increasingly, this isn't what some Americans are experiencing. What's going on?

In American society, our expectations have risen over the decades. We expect to command enough money to live as well as during our working years. But as pensions go away and interest rates drop, reality is changing. So what has happened to our retirement plans -- or lack of them?

A new study brings to light 15 frightening facts about how swiftly the U.S. retirement scenario is changing. Dwindling saving patterns seem to be sweeping away the image of the relaxing "golden years" and replacing them with a harsh reality.

In earlier years, no one envisioned working past 65. Now it's becoming quite common. And when prospects and savings don't work out, what remains are high hopes of finding work in later years, even if the hopes are unrealistic.

The new information begs the question, what lifestyle will America's elderly have in 20 or 30 years?

Quite simply, this list of facts indicates that workers are saving less, planning to work later in life and have concerns and misunderstandings about how much money they'll need to save before retiring, according to a 2012 survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI). The results of the survey mimic what some insiders are noticing.

"I see a lot of people coming to the conclusion that retirement is not going to be an option," said Long Island-based attorney Leslie Tayne, who helps individuals with debt-related issues. "And that those who have gone into retirement are now finding it difficult to stay in retirement because their investments have decreased in value and the cost of living has gone up."

The survey was conducted in January through 20-minute, random-dialed telephone interviews with 1,262 individuals (mostly workers, with 25% retirees).

The results of the EBRI study show:

1. The percentage of workers who expect to retire after age 65 has increased to 37%. In 1991, only 11% expected to retire after 65.

2. One third of the working population interviewed expected to retire far past 65 -- at age 70 or older -- or never plan to retire.

3. Most workers, or 70%, expected to work in retirement. But planning to work into your golden years may not be in the cards for everyone. In reality, only 27% of the retirees surveyed said they actually worked.

4. Despite their best intentions, half of retirees interviewed who retired early did so not by choice but for negative reasons, such as health trouble or layoffs.

5. The survey also shows a large percentage of workers would not be prepared for a major financial upset because 30% have less than $1,000 in savings and investments.

6. Many workers report they have virtually no savings and investments.

7. Some 60% of workers report that the total value of their household's savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any defined benefit plans, is less than $25,000.

8. Although financial planners generally recommend setting aside money for retirement starting in your 20s, only a third of retirees said they planned for retirement at least 20 years before they quit working.

9. Fewer than half of workers say they or their spouses have tried to calculate how much money they will need saved for a comfortable retirement. (Single workers are less likely to have tried to do a calculation.)

10. Most workers, or 67%, feel they are a little or a lot behind schedule on saving for retirement. The feeling of being a lot behind schedule is inversely tied to household income, assets, health and education.

11. Just 14% are very confident they will have enough money to live comfortably once they retire.

12. Sometimes expectations exceed reality. Although 56% of workers expect to receive benefits from a defined benefit plan in retirement, only 33% report that they and/or their spouse have such a benefit with a current or previous employer, according to the survey.

13. Few seem to realize that the cost of out-of-pocket health care can soar in retirement -- some industry estimates put health care costs at about $260,000 or more. Yet one-third of workers surveyed believe they won't need to save more than $250,000 for their entire golden-year living expenses. This may be because of guesses or misunderstandings with calculations, as well as current feelings of financial stress. Worker confidence about having enough money to pay for medical expenses and long-term care expenses in retirement remains well below confidence levels regarding paying for basic expenses.

14. The percentage of retirees who report they are leaning more heavily on Social Security as a major source of income is higher than the percentage of current workers who expect to do so.

15. In the turbulent economy, retirement planning has been upset by other concerns, such as job uncertainty, making ends meet and making payments for mortgages, debts, health insurance and medical expenses.

Action to Take --> Workers who contribute to employer-sponsored retirement savings plans are more than twice as likely to have savings and investments of at least $50,000. Begin calculating how much money you will need to retire as young as possible to allow your investment to grow. Also, take advantage of employer matching programs. It is best to consider medical costs when retirement planning and to realize that many retirement calculators do not factor out-of-pocket medical expenses. [And when it comes to investing on your own, we highly recommend you own what we call Retirement Savings Stocks. For more details, go here.]

This article originally appread on InvestingAnswers.com:
15 Reasons America's Retirement Crisis Is Even Worse Than You Think

Christine Giordano does not personally hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.
StreetAuthority LLC does not hold positions in any securities mentioned in this article.