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Older Americans Are More Afraid of Running Out of Money Than Death

By Maurie Backman – Sep 25, 2016 at 3:41AM

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This is getting serious.

Running out of money in retirement is a major concern for older Americans, especially since so many are considerably behind on savings. But apparently the aptly named retirement crisis is more serious than we thought. According to a recent Transamerica study, 43% of workers 50 and older claim that their greatest retirement-related fear is outliving their savings. A survey released last year by the American Institute of CPAs had similar findings, with 57% of financial planners listing running out of money as their clients' primary retirement concern. This sentiment is further driven home by an Allianz study of over 3,000 baby boomers in which 60% were more afraid of outliving their savings than actually dying. But if running out of money in retirement really is a fear worse than death, why aren't more Americans doing something about it?


Letting retirement savings fall by the wayside

You may have heard that a large number of Americans are unprepared for retirement, but here are some sobering statistics:

  • A good 33% of Americans have zero retirement savings. 
  • Roughly 30% of Americans 55 and older have no retirement savings. 
  • 56% of Americans have less than $10,000 in retirement savings. 
  • Only 31% of seniors 65 and over have $200,000 in a retirement account. 
  • About 25% of Americans 65 and over rely on Social Security as their only source of retirement income. 

So why aren't we saving more? For many, it's a combination of factors. Hefty mortgages, college tuition payments, and other short-term needs have a way of trumping retirement savings.

But it's not just a matter of misplaced priorities. Many Americans have, in recent years, fallen victim to stagnant wages and fewer options for saving. Pension plans have all but gone away. Employers are stingy with 401(k) matching dollars. Worse yet, far too many low- and middle-income earners work for companies that don't offer a 401(k) to being with. In fact, in the past few years, 401(k) coverage has been on the decline. According to a 2015 Transamerica survey, only 66% of U.S. workers were offered an employer-sponsored retirement plan in 2015, compared to 76% in 2012.

It's for these and other reasons that outliving retirement savings is a huge concern for so many seniors. The question is: What can we do about it?

Your finances aren't set in stone

If you're an older American who's worried about late-in-life finances, you basically have two choices: You can throw your hands up in the air and admit defeat, or you can take steps to change your long-term financial picture. Even if you no longer have the luxury of being decades away from retirement with a world of saving and investment options, you can still find ways to eke out extra savings as your career draws to a close.

First, you can start by taking advantage of catch-up contributions and socking away as much money as you can in an IRA or 401(k) plan. Currently, anyone 50 and older is allowed to contribute up to $24,000 to a 401(k) and $6,500 to an IRA each year. If you max out on either option for as little as three years, it'll make a huge difference in the grand scheme of retirement.

Imagine, for instance, that you're able to amass an extra $72,000 by maxing out your 401(k) contributions during your last three working years. Over the course of a 20-year retirement, that's an additional $3,600 a year, or $300 a month, to work with, and those figures don't even account for the fact that you might further grow that sum with smart investments. Even maxing out an IRA for three years would give you another $19,500 for retirement, which translates into almost $1,000 extra each year for a 20-year retirement. Furthermore, if your employer offers a 401(k) match, you can get your hands on even more last-minute retirement cash.

Finally, if all else fails, you do have the option to extend your career a few extra years, or take on some type of part-time work in retirement. If you find something you enjoy, it's a win-win -- you'll get to earn money while occupying some of your newfound free time.

While running out of money in retirement is a legitimate concern, it's not too late to change your fate. The sooner you take action, the better your chances of amassing enough savings to last for the remainder of your life.

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