Cover | Published in July 2012

How Much Is Enough, Anyway?

It can be complicated—the trick is helping participants create plans that work.

By Rebecca Moore | July 2012
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Illustration by Josh Cochran

The amount of income workers will need in retirement and how much they should save to reach that goal have gained more attention since the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009 depleted many retirement accounts. Before the downturn, service providers and researchers in the industry estimated that workers would need to replace between 70% and 75% of their preretirement income— i.e., what came from all sources. But even then, that estimate was being scrutinized.

Target income replacement ratios should be higher, the Retirement Advisor Council now contends. In a paper, the council says this is to account for the always increasing projected cost of health care in retirement, as well as other financial planning concerns workers face, such as children’s educational needs and the cost of caring for elderly relatives.

So, how much is enough, anyway? Josh Cohen, defined contribution practice leader at Russell Investments, says that while the appropriate replacement rate is different for each person’s situation, 80% is a good target, because studies have shown it is about the average amount needed to maintain current lifestyle.

When trying to arrive at the best income replacement rate for themselves, workers should use their imaginations, says Jason Scott, Ph.D., director of the Financial Engines Retirement Research Center. They should imagine continuing to do things postretirement that they did preretirement. Then they should consider expenses they will no longer have once they retire. For example, most retirees will be taxed at a lower rate, and many will no longer have a mortgage; plus, they will be free of work-related expenses, such as for wardrobe, lunches and commutation. Some retirees can make it with a lower income in retirement, Scott believes, but, he notes, if individuals will travel or spend more in their free time, expenses they incur will offset the savings, meaning they may need more income.