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5 Reasons Americans Aren't Saving for Retirement Today -- and Why They Don't Hold Water

By Maurie Backman - Mar 15, 2018 at 6:47AM

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What excuses will we think of next?

Most of us work hard for four decades or more in the hopes of being able to retire comfortably down the line. But while today's workers would probably like to retire with a decent lifestyle, their chances of doing so are looking pretty bleak. That's because 42% of Americans have less than $10,000 saved for retirement at present, with nearly 14% having no money set aside for the future at all.

GOBankingRates, which uncovered this data, also reports that just 16% of working adults have $300,000 or more in retirement savings. Not only that, but one-third of baby boomers have less than $10,000 in a retirement plan, which means that they're running out of time to build themselves reasonable nest eggs.

Older man looking at documents while holding his head.

Image source: Getty Images.

So why aren't more of us doing a better job of saving? Here are the top reasons Americans are ignoring their retirement accounts -- and why they're all completely bogus.

Reason #1: I don't make enough money to save

The average American under 65 earns $46,409 per year, which means that maxing out a 401(k) at $18,500 or $24,500 (depending on your age) isn't feasible for most people. But that doesn't mean you can't save something for the future. If you were to set aside a mere $100 per month (less than 3% of the average worker's salary) over a 40-year period and invest it at a 7% average annual return (which is more than doable with stocks), after four decades, you'd be sitting on about $240,000. Make it $200 a month, and you'll have $479,000, all other things being equal.

Many workers are discouraged from saving for retirement because they feel their small contributions won't make a difference. But if you save steadily over time, it'll go a long way.

Reason #2: I won't need retirement savings

Countless workers believe they can count on Social Security alone to pay the bills in retirement. But that's problematic for a number of reasons. First, Social Security is only designed to replace about 40% of the average worker's pre-retirement income, but most folks need roughly twice that amount to live a decent lifestyle once they stop working. Secondly, Social Security is facing financial challenges that, if left unaddressed, could results in cuts to benefits as early as 2034. What all of this means is that relying on Social Security in the absence of independent savings is a horribly bad idea, and one that could cause you to land well below the poverty line like so many seniors today.

Reason #3: I'm prioritizing paying down debt

Let's be clear: Paying down debt is a smart thing to do when you're on the hook for a whopping credit card balance. But that doesn't mean you should let your retirement savings fall by the wayside. If you ignore your nest egg in the hopes of knocking out your debt, you'll risk having inadequate funds in the future. And that could lead to -- you guessed it -- more debt later in life. A better bet? Take whatever money you're applying to your current debt each month, divide that figure in half, and put 50% into an IRA or 401(k).

Reason #4: My job doesn't offer a retirement plan

It's estimated that a good 21% of the workforce does not have access to an employer-sponsored 401(k). And that's a bummer, because not only do 401(k)s allow for seamless contributions, but their generous annual limits well exceed those of IRAs. Still, not having a retirement plan isn't a valid excuse to neglect your savings, because anyone with earned income can fund an IRA. Furthermore, annual IRA contribution limits currently sit at $5,500 for workers under 50, and $6,500 for those 50 and over. And that's more than enough to build a sizable nest egg if you max out each year.

Reason #5: I'm already struggling to pay my bills

Countless workers today live paycheck to paycheck, and while some of that boils down to low earnings, for many folks, it's a basic matter of spending too much. Before you convince yourself that there's no room in your budget to squeeze out some retirement savings, here's a tactic to consider: Lower your bills. Review your expenses, decide which ones you're going to cut, and bank the difference. Going this route will not only open the door to retirement savings, but help take some of the financial pressure off at present.

It's easy enough to come up with reasons for why you're not saving for retirement. The question is: Would you rather struggle as a senior, or retire with dignity? If the latter sounds more appealing, then it's time to stop making excuses and start taking action. The sooner you do, the greater your chances of salvaging your retirement, even if you haven't saved a dime to date.

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