According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, or EBRI, 24% of people are not at all confident about having enough money for retirement, and 37% describe themselves as only "somewhat confident."
That's a worrying majority of people who aren't feeling very confident about their golden years. Luckily, the EBRI dug into the data and found some of our biggest sore points about retiring. Here are three seemingly small but critical ways to gain more confidence about your retirement.
First of all, start saving
A major source of doubt is simply the lack of a starting point: 46% of people who don't have a retirement plan describe themselves as "not at all confident," compared with only 11% of people who do have a plan.
So the first thing you can and should do is sign up for a retirement savings account.
Whether it's a company 401(k), an individual 401(k), or one of the many IRAs out there, start by finding the type of account most appropriate for your particular situation. If you have an obvious best candidate, maybe a company 401(k), then it's easy.
Otherwise, Google your employment situation and "retirement savings" -- if you're self-employed, you have a number of IRA and 401(k) options, and if you're married but not working, your spouse can contribute to a spousal IRA in your name.
Once you know what you need to do, it's just a matter of taking the time to do it. Set aside that time -- it can be just 15 minutes -- and get started. Opening the account will be the best thing you ever did toward alleviating uncertainty.
Step two: Assess your needs
According to the EBRI survey, 44% of people currently working think they need to save over 20% -- or even over 30% -- of their income to have enough money for retirement. But 22% don't know how much they should be saving at all.
Both overestimation and total uncertainty aren't helping confidence levels. So what can you do?
Take the time to do a needs assessment for your retirement. These exercises are never going to be 100% accurate, but they are a critical starting point in figuring out roughly what you're aiming for and what it'll take to get there.
And there's nothing like a specific number to help alleviate worry.
Most calculators are based on some combination of your current income, your expected retirement age, your longevity, your lifestyle, and assumptions about account performance and inflation. You can find a mess of them online, or check to see whether your plan provider offers this service.
From there, you can set a savings goal. Maybe you'll need time to build to "your number," but that first step still counts, and it'll be a major milestone toward achieving your goals.
Finally, get out of debt -- and keep it that way
Debt is a major source of stress when it comes to retirement. Fully 58% of those currently working and 44% of retirees have a problem with their debt levels, and that problem is a very effective way of eroding confidence.
On top of this, one-fourth of people working say that their debt is higher today than it was five years ago. In other words, for many people, debt is not just a problem -- it's a growing problem.
The best way to tackle it?
Make debt your ultimate priority, and do everything you can to address it. It might seem impossible now, but every step you take in this direction will count.
There are a ton of methods out there for paying down debt: You could divert money from savings, sharply reduce your expenses, or find ways to earn extra income to put toward debt payments.
The Internet is your friend here once again. If you have any debt issues, you are far from alone, and there is a lively and friendly universe of advice-givers out there who usually have firsthand experience.