Without retirement savings, you'll risk struggling financially later in life. That's because Social Security won't provide enough income for you to live comfortably. If you're an average earner, you can expect those benefits to replace about 40% of your pre-retirement income, but most seniors need more like 70% to 80% of their former earnings, and sometimes more, to keep up with their bills while getting to enjoy their golden years.

Unfortunately, a new Wells Fargo retirement study reveals that many workers aren't on track with their long-term savings. And for 67% of Americans of all ages, the reason boils down to student loans.

These days, U.S. borrowers collectively owe more than $1.5 trillion in loans, and it's not just a young person's problem. Many Americans in their 40s, 50s, and beyond carry educational debt, whether from their own studies or because of their children.

Graduation cap on a pile of 100-dollar bills


The result? The burden of that debt is making it more difficult to save for retirement, and as such, a large number of workers today risk falling short during their golden years.

Wells Fargo reports that 49% of Gen Z workers have saved less than $25,000 for their golden years. Now that's not so terrible, since the youngest members of the workforce have ample opportunity to catch up. Rather, it's the number of more seasoned workers who are behind savings-wise that's a problem. An estimated 45% of millennials, 22% of Gen Xers, and 16% of baby boomers also have less than $25,000 socked away for their golden years.

If outstanding student debt is the reason you're behind on retirement savings, it's imperative that you find a way to manage your loan payments while contributing to an IRA or 401(k) simultaneously. Otherwise, you may be in for quite the financial shock once your career comes to a close.

Keeping up with your debt and your savings

It's not easy to fund a retirement plan when you're forking over several hundred dollars a month in student loan payments. But if you don't make that effort, you'll regret it after the fact. And while you can't stop making your loan payments, you can cut back on other expenses that eat up large chunks of your income. These include everything from your rent to your food costs to entertainment.

Set up a budget, see where your money is currently going, and find ways to scale back on spending. That could mean downsizing to a smaller living space to lower your housing costs, cooking meals in your kitchen instead of dining out to spend less on food, and hosting game nights at home rather than springing for concert tickets or events.

At the same time, it pays to consider getting yourself a second job on top of your main one. The money you earn from it can either go toward your loan payments so there's leftover income from your primary paycheck to fund a retirement plan, or go directly into retirement savings. In fact, if you hustle enough, you might manage to earn enough money to contribute more to an IRA or 401(k) while also paying more into your student loan's principal to knock it out sooner.

Of course, it also helps to lower your student loan payments if possible, and refinancing is one option in this regard. If you refinance to a loan with a lower interest rate, you'll reduce your monthly payments, thereby giving yourself the option to put the difference toward your nest egg.

You'll need a healthy amount of savings to enjoy retirement the way you want to. If you're behind on funding your IRA or 401(k), don't just point a finger at your student debt and call it a day. Rather, take steps to overcome that obstacle. You can't go back in time and undo your debt, but you can make a solid effort to build savings in spite of it.