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85% of Older Adults Are Setting Themselves Up to Fail in Retirement

By Katie Brockman - Jan 31, 2020 at 9:05AM

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Retirement could be a challenging time for the majority of older Americans -- but it is possible to change course.

Everyone wants to succeed in retirement, but it's not as easy as it may seem.

Retirement is becoming more expensive. The average worker thinks it will take $1.7 million to be able to afford to retire comfortably, according to a survey from Charles Schwab, and 1 in 10 workers believe they'll need at least $3 million to get through retirement.

Also, many workers no longer have access to pensions, and there's a chance Social Security benefits could be reduced in the next few decades. That means that future retirees will likely need to survive primarily on their personal savings in retirement.

However, new research shows that the vast majority of workers aren't even remotely prepared for that challenge.

Older man sitting at a table alone looking depressed

Image source: Getty Images

Soon-to-be retirees are severely behind on retirement preparation

When you're just a few years away from retirement, you should have a fairly robust nest egg. You've (hopefully) been saving for several decades by this point, and your main goal should be to start thinking about how you'll transition into retirement.

However, too many older adults are just getting started on their savings journey as they near retirement age. In fact, a whopping 85% of adults age 50 and older have less than $50,000 stashed away for retirement, according to a survey from TD Ameritrade. Even more surprising is that of those workers, more than half are in their 60s or 70s with less than $50,000 saved.

With retirement as expensive as it is, $50,000 won't get you far. The average retiree receives just over $18,000 per year in Social Security benefits, meaning you'll likely need to pull tens of thousands of dollars from your retirement fund each year just to make ends meet. If you only have $50,000 (or less) in the bank, you may only make it a year or two before your savings run dry and you're forced to depend on Social Security for all your retirement income.

The good news is that if your savings aren't as strong as you'd hoped they'd be, you're not destined to live a miserable retirement -- as long as you start making adjustments as early as possible.

How to survive retirement with a less-than-ideal nest egg

If you're closing in on retirement and you don't have much saved, the first step is to supercharge your savings as much as you can. Will you be able to retire a millionaire if you only have a few years to save? Realistically, probably not. But that doesn't mean you can't build a stronger retirement fund. Depending on how many years you have left to save, you could still be able to save tens of thousands of dollars in a relatively short period of time.

As hard as you try to save more, however, it just may not be enough to retire as comfortably as you'd like. In that case, you have a couple more options.

First, you could delay claiming Social Security benefits to earn bigger checks. By claiming at your full retirement age (FRA) -- which is age 67 for those born in 1960 or later, or either age 66 or 66 plus a few months for those born before 1960 -- you'll receive the full benefit amount you're entitled to.

But if you wait until after your FRA to claim (up to age 70), you'll receive even fatter checks. In fact, if you have an FRA of 67 and you wait until age 70 to file for benefits, you'll receive a 24% bonus each month on top of your full benefit amount. If you're forced to depend on your monthly checks just to get by in retirement, that extra money can make a big difference.

Another option is to rethink what you want retirement to look like. More and more workers are considering a non-traditional approach to retirement. In fact, more than half of workers in their 40s and 50s say they'd prefer "unretirement" to a traditional retirement -- meaning they'd rather work longer but take several extended breaks every few years rather than stopping work altogether at a traditional retirement age -- according to a survey from TD Ameritrade. Although you'll be working more, taking this approach means you'll likely be able to enjoy a more comfortable lifestyle, even with less money in savings.

Preparing for retirement is becoming more difficult, and it can be challenging to ensure your savings are on track. If you're falling behind, it's not the end of the world. Just make sure you create an action plan so you can give yourself the best chance of enjoying a comfortable retirement.

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