Couples Show Little Financial Confidence in Each Other

June 10, 2009 ( - The results of Fidelity Investments' second Couples Retirement Study, first fielded in 2007, show that despite two years of unprecedented economic and financial instability, husbands and wives have done little to improve their communication, planning and management of retirement finances.

Only 15% of couples in the study feel confident that both of them could assume responsibility for their joint finances if necessary, according to a press release. The study found that less than half of couples make decisions jointly regarding the day-to-day financial decisions of the household such as budgeting and bill payment (45%).

Even fewer couples jointly discuss investment decisions for retirement savings (38%), the press release said. The study found couples are out of sync on critical retirement decisions: 60% of couples don’t agree on their respective retirement ages, 44% are not in agreement on whether they will work in retirement, and 42% have different ideas regarding their expected lifestyle in retirement.

Couples generally agree what unpredictable financial issues in retirement concern them most, citing health care expenses (57%), inflation’s impact on savings (41% – up 13 percentage points since 2007) and Social Security reductions (19%) as their top three. They also agree that their expected retirement age will increase by one year — with husbands now planning to retire at age 64 and wives at 63, and less than half (49%) of couples expect a comfortable lifestyle in retirement.

However, nearly 10% fewer couples than in the 2007 study report they had completed critical plans — a retirement plan, an estate plan, or a will.

Fidelity Investments' second Couples Retirement Study revealed that ownership of retirement investment products continues to be at high levels, but there is still confusion among couples regarding what they own and how these products work.

According to a press release, the study found:

  • Thirty-nine percent of couples don't agree on whether they own an annuity, and less than one-quarter of couples know the actual amount of money their annuity will generate for them in retirement.
  • Although eighty percent of couples agree that at least one of them has life insurance, when asked if they understood the insurance coverage rule of thumb (7 times annual income), more than 9 out of 10 couples (95%) did not, and upon learning of it, nearly half (49%) agree they do not have enough coverage based on this rule.
  • Fifty-nine percent of couples agree they own an IRA, while 26% don't agree. In more than one-in-ten couples (11%), one of the spouses does not know when they can begin withdrawing funds from their own IRA.
  • Forty-four percent of couples don't agree about whether they will need to sell real estate to help fund their retirement.

When couples were asked whether their risk tolerance had changed as a result of the recent volatility, 41% of husbands and 54% of wives indicated they have a lower risk tolerance for their investments. However, 73% of husbands and 64% of wives indicated their gut reaction during the crisis was to "stay the course", while 15% of husbands and 18% of wives reported a sense of "panic" and wanting to "pull out of the market".

Fidelity conducted the research with just over 500 married couples, comprising Baby Boomers and older pre-retirees, born between the years of 1937 and 1964.