American workers’ confidence in their ability to retire comfortably, which hit record lows between 2009 and 2013 before increases in 2014 and 2015, leveled off at “very confident” this year.
The 26th annual Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), the longest-running survey of its kind, finds the percentages of workers who are somewhat confident increased and workers who are not at all confident decreased.
Twenty-one percent of workers are now very confident they will have enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement years (statistically unchanged from 22% in 2015 but up from 13% in 2013). Forty-two percent say they are somewhat confident, compared with 36% in 2015 and 38% in 2013.
EBRI also found that the increase in confidence between 2013 and 2016 occurred primarily among those with a plan. Among those with a plan, the percentage of those very confident increased from 14% in 2013 to 28% in 2015 and is back down to 26% in 2016.
In contrast, the percentage of those describing themselves as very confident has remained statistically unchanged among those without a plan (10% in 2013, 9% in 2014, 12% in 2015, and 10% in 2016). Workers without a plan are more than three times as likely to say they are not at all confident about their financial security in retirement (11% with a plan vs. 38% without).
For plan sponsors, the top takeaway is that confidence in retirement continues rebounding since the financial crisis, says Luke Vandermillen, vice president at Principal Financial Group. “It’s no surprise that people’s confidence took a dip in 2008-09, and we’ve been crawling back since,” he tells PLANSPONSOR. “We’ve seen increases year over year since then, and 2016 is better than 2015.”
Picking apart the data, Vandermillen says, the top factor that drives confidence is whether or not someone has access to a retirement plan, either through an employer or by using an individual retirement account (IRA). Next, people who spoke to an adviser are more confident than those who did not.NEXT: The difference an adviser makes
Whether plan advisers are working with employees whose retirement is around the corner or years down the road, that interaction has a huge impact, Vandermillen says. According to EBRI’s data, 53% of retirees who spoke with an adviser are very confident about retirement. Retirees who did not speak with an adviser were less confident (just 31% said they were confident). For those people not yet retired, the gap is even bigger: 32% vs. 16%.
While the survey didn’t yield any big surprises, Vandermillen says it is interesting to look at whether people are saving enough, especially for people who describe themselves as confident. “Are they confident with good reason?” he asks. “Is there a difference between confidence levels and participation rates?" Participation rates have been kind of flat within plans, in the range of 70% to 80%. While awareness of retirement plans continues to rise along with confidence, participant behavior has not really changed. “What can we do to make people take more action?” he asks.
Vandermillen recommends plan sponsors make use of automatic features, such as auto-enrollment and auto-escalation up to a contribution rate of 10%, to help employees take meaningful steps: “It’s the No. 1 thing plan sponsors can do.”
The survey also examined other financial aspects of retirement: workers express the highest levels of confidence about their ability to pay for basic expenses (43% very confident). They are less likely to feel very confident about their ability to pay for medical expenses (22%) and least likely to feel very confident about paying for long-term care expenses in retirement (16%). Compared with 2015, more workers feel very confident about having enough money for basic expenses. However, there has also been a gradual rise since 2012 in worker confidence about paying for medical and long-term care expenses in retirement.
Nineteen percent of workers are not at all confident that they will have enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement years (still above the low of 10% in 2007 but below the 24% in 2015 and 28% in 2013). Finally, 35% of workers are not too or not at all confident they will have enough money for retirement, down from 49% in 2013.
The 2016 Retirement Confidence Survey report is available at EBRI’s website.