Investing Strategies

Retirement goal expectations vs. reality: How Americans stack up

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Saving for retirement is one thing, meeting your goals in the golden years is another.

That’s where worry creeps in.

Among older workers, just 34% of baby boomers and 26% of Gen Xers feel like they’re on the right track with their retirement savings, according to a recent Bankrate survey.

Younger workers are more likely to say they are where they need to be. In fact, 45% of Gen Z and millennial workers feel somewhat optimistic.  

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And yet, Gen Z workers are the biggest cohort of non-savers, Bankrate also found. 

The average 401(k) balance among boomers is $220,900, according to the latest data from Fidelity Investments, the nation’s largest provider of 401(k) plans.

Gen Xers have saved $153,300, on average, while millennials have $48,300 in a 401(k). For Gen Z, the average balance is $8,100.

There is often a disconnect between what people think they need for retirement and how much they are setting aside, said certified financial planner Douglas Boneparth, president of Bone Fide Wealth in New York. 

“There’s a conundrum with expectations versus reality,” he said.

How much Americans think they need for retirement

Overall, Americans expect they will need $1.25 million to retire comfortably, a separate study from Northwestern Mutual found.

However, what $1 million means to one household versus anther comes down to lifestyle expenses, tolerance for risk and other factors, such as social security payments and homeownership, said Boneparth, who is also a member of the CNBC Advisor Council.

Those who feel on track to reach their retirement goals are most likely to working with a financial advisor and have a diversified mix of assets, including stocks and bonds, according to another report from Country Financial.

They are also significantly more likely to have at least $100,000 in a retirement savings account, the report found.

How to figure out your retirement number

There are a few simple rules of thumb, such as saving 10 times your income by retirement age and the so-called 4% rule for retirement income, which suggests that retirees should be able to safely withdraw 4% of their investments (adjusted for inflation) each year in retirement.

However, these guidelines have their flaws, according to Chelsie Moore, director of wealth management at Country Financial.

To get an accurate picture of where you stand, “it’s important to work with a financial advisor to discuss your unique situation and goals to determine the amount you need to save,” Moore said.

“In a world where there are a lot of retirement calculators, we are often taking too broad of an approach,” Boneparth added.

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