Data and Research

Retirement Confidence Doesn’t Match Planning

Just four in 10 workers report they and/or their spouse have ever tried to calculate how much money they will need to have saved to live comfortably in retirement, and fewer have taken other steps to prepare.

By Rebecca Moore | March 21, 2017
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Six in 10 American workers feel confident in their ability to live comfortably in retirement, though few (18%) feel very confident, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute’s 2017 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS).

These numbers are lower than last year, noted Stephen Blakely, editor and communications director for EBRI, in a media call. “Overall confidence is stable, but fewer are feeling really confident,” he said.

However, just 18% of workers feel very confident that they are doing a good job preparing for retirement, and only 38% feel somewhat confident. Thirty-one percent report that they feel mentally or emotionally stressed about preparing for retirement.

Six in 10 workers (61%) in the 2017 RCS report that they or their spouse have saved money for retirement. Nearly as many (56%) report that they are currently saving for retirement. Workers who have any retirement plan are dramatically more likely than those who do not have such a plan to report they or their spouse have personally saved for retirement (80% vs. 11%), and to say they or their spouse are currently saving for retirement (74% vs. 7% among those without a plan).

One of the primary vehicles that workers use to save for retirement is an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan. Seventy-three percent of employed workers report they are offered such a plan by their current employer, and more than eight in 10 (83%) of eligible employees say they contribute money to their employer’s plan. 

The RCS has consistently found that retirement confidence continues to be strongly related to retirement plan participation, whether in a defined contribution (DC) plan, defined benefit (DB) plan, or individual retirement account (IRA). Workers reporting they or their spouse have money in a DC plan or IRA or have benefits in a DB plan from a current or previous employer are more than twice as likely as those without any of these plans to be at least somewhat confident (71% with a plan vs. 33% without a plan).

However, a sizable percentage of workers say they have no or very little money in savings and investments. Among RCS workers providing this type of information, 47% report that the total value of their household’s savings and investments, excluding the value of their primary home and any DB plans, is less than $25,000. This includes 24% who say they have less than $1,000 in savings.

Workers who have a retirement plan have significantly more in savings and investments than do those without a plan. Two-thirds of workers without a retirement plan (67%) report having less than $1,000 in savings and investments, compared with just 9% among workers with a retirement plan.

NEXT: How are workers preparing for retirement?