Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Americans' 5 Big Fears About Retirement

By Todd Campbell - Updated Mar 14, 2018 at 2:50PM

You’re reading a free article with opinions that may differ from The Motley Fool’s Premium Investing Services. Become a Motley Fool member today to get instant access to our top analyst recommendations, in-depth research, investing resources, and more. Learn More

Retirement is supposed to be fun and exciting, but it can also be frightening. Here are some suggestions that can alleviate that fear.

If you're among the millions of American workers worrying that retirement may fail to live up to your expectations, you're not alone. A new study by Transamerica shows that American workers are wrestling with fears involving financial security and health in retirement. If you have similar worries to the respondents to this survey, here are some ways to overcome them.

No. 1: Outliving my savings and investments

Transamerica's 17th Annual Retirement Survey finds that 51% of American workers are nervous that their nest egg isn't going to cut it in retirement. Unfortunately, retirement savings statistics indicate that they're right to be nervous.

A piggybank floating in blue water.

Image source: Getty Images.

In April, PWC's Employee Financials Wellness Survey reported that 47% of American workers have less than $50,000 in retirement savings, and that roughly half of baby boomers, who are fast approaching retirement, have retirement savings of less than $100,000.

Given that the common financial wisdom is that retirees withdraw no more than 4% of their savings per year in retirement, those savings aren't likely to do much heavy lifting, when it comes to retirement expenses.

While you may be behind in saving for retirement, making even small changes today can have a big, positive impact on your nest egg. On average, Americans contribute only 8% of their income to workplace 401(k) or 403(b) plans, and that means most participants aren't anywhere near contributing the maximum allowed to these plans.

In 2017, 401(k) or 403(b) participants can contribute $18,000 plus an additional $6,000 if they're over 50 years old. If you're not maxing out your contributions, the best move you can make right now is to bump up your contribution rate. Even if you can't contribute the maximum allowed, an extra 1% or 2% per year can still add up. 

No. 2: Social Security will be reduced or cease to exist in the future

Almost as many workers -- 47% to be exact -- worry that changes to Social Security to bolster its finances could result in changes to the program that jeopardize its role as retirees' financial safety net.

Typically, Social Security replaces approximately 40% of a worker's pre-retirement income, and according to the Social Security Administration, nearly half of single seniors count on it for at least 90% of their income.

Clearly, Social Security is critically important, but it's running out of money. According to Social Security's trustees, the program's outlays are outstripping payroll tax revenue, forcing them to tap Social Security's trust fund. That fund is expected to run dry in 2034, and without legislative changes, recipients could face an across the board 25% cut in benefits.

Undeniably, that's a scary proposition, but solutions that will shore up Social Security's future may be coming. Proposals, such as increasing retirement ages and payroll tax rates, aren't being voted on right now, but a growing population of voting baby boomers has me thinking that Social Security will be protected, not gutted. Even so, the best way to reduce the fear of Social Security's failure is to plan for it, and that means saving more and spending less so that you don't have to rely on it.

No. 3: Declining health that requires long-term care

Long-term care is incredibly expensive and it's uncovered by private insurance and Medicare, so workers are right to be concerned. In Transamerica's survey, 45% of people listed long-term care as a retirement fear.

Americans are living longer than ever before, and that means they're increasingly suffering illness or injury that limits their independence. More than two out of every three Americans turning 65 this year will require long-term care at some point in their lifetime, reports the Department of Health and Human Services.

The financial toll of that care could be staggering. Genworth's annual cost of care survey finds that the average cost of assisted living is $3,628 per month currently, and that the average cost of nursing home care is $6,844 per month, for a semi-private room.

If you've got health concerns or family health history that suggests you might end up needing long-term care, or you simply want protection against the risk of needing it, now could be a good time to consider long-term care insurance. Long-term care insurance is cheaper if you buy it in your 50s, rather than your 60s, so investigate long-term care insurance benefits sooner rather than later to find out if it's right for you.

No. 4: Cognitive decline, dementia, or Alzheimer's disease

Cognitive decline is major cause for needing long-term care, so it's not too surprising that 35% of workers are worried about it.

Alzheimer's disease is increasingly common, and the number of cases is expected to rise substantially over the coming decades. Today, 5.4 million Americans live with Alzheimer's disease, but that number is expected to climb to 7.1 million by 2025 and to 13.8 million people by 2050.

In addition to the patient losing their independence, Alzheimer's disease is a big burden on loved ones. In 2015, an estimated 18.1 billion unpaid hours were spent by families and friends caring for people with Alzheimer's disease, according to the Alzheimer's Association. Also, the cost of healthcare, long-term care, and hospice care for Alzheimer's disease patients is an estimated $236 billion per year. 

While you may not be able to prevent cognitive decline, you can have open and honest discussions about it with your family. Explaining your concerns and establishing plans ahead of time can ease worries. Long-term care insurance may provide additional peace of mind. Donating to organizations researching cognitive disease or helping patients in need might, too.


No. 5: Lack of adequate and affordable healthcare

Medicare provides financial support to seniors requiring healthcare, but Medicare only goes so far, and uncovered Medicare costs can be high. That's probably why 32% of Transamerica respondents list it as a big retirement fear.

Medicare Part A covers hospitalization costs but only after a deductible is met and only for a certain period of time. After the clock runs out, Medicare coverage phases out, and since there's no limit on patients' out-of-pocket spending, an extended hospital stay can wipe out a lifetime of savings. Similarly, Medicare part B helps with every-day healthcare expenses, like lab tests and doctor visits, but patients pay monthly premiums, 20% co-insurance, and, like part A, there's no out-of-pocket maximum for part B, so expenses can mount quickly.

Since there are gaps in part A and B coverage, consider alternative insurance that can be more comprehensive. Medicare Advantage plans, for example, provide part A and part B coverage, and they typically include drug coverage too. If you're happy with Parts A and part B coverage, a Medigap plan that picks up where Medicare leaves off, may be your best bet to a worry-free retirement. 

Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

Invest Smarter with The Motley Fool

Join Over 1 Million Premium Members Receiving…

  • New Stock Picks Each Month
  • Detailed Analysis of Companies
  • Model Portfolios
  • Live Streaming During Market Hours
  • And Much More
Get Started Now

Related Articles

Motley Fool Returns

Motley Fool Stock Advisor

Market-beating stocks from our award-winning analyst team.

Stock Advisor Returns
S&P 500 Returns

Calculated by average return of all stock recommendations since inception of the Stock Advisor service in February of 2002. Returns as of 08/19/2022.

Discounted offers are only available to new members. Stock Advisor list price is $199 per year.

Premium Investing Services

Invest better with The Motley Fool. Get stock recommendations, portfolio guidance, and more from The Motley Fool's premium services.