Don't make the retirement mistakes we did, boomers say

2006

Nearly three quarters of older Americans wish they had started saving for their retirement earlier and almost all worry that today's generation of workers has not started saving early enough.

At the same time, employees are being warned that, in a climate of increased costs for employers, you can no longer afford to sit back and assume your company pension or healthcare insurance is performing as it should.

A study by of 2,500 adults aged 45-64 by Thrivent Financial for Lutherans found that 71 per cent wished they had started saving for retirement when they had their first full-time job.

And 86 per cent urged younger generations to start saving as soon as possible.

More than six out of 10 said they would invest a $1m windfall in retirement savings rather than start a business, buy a luxury home or go on a shopping spree, the survey found.

"Unlike the frugal mentality of my parents' generation, our carefree approach to life may have kept us from saving for retirement. However, that carefree attitude about retirement planning could carry a price – a price we might pay in our golden years," warned Pam Moret, Thrivent Financial executive vice president of marketing and products.

Although the majority of pre-retirees (67 per cent) anticipated they would either enjoy a lifestyle similar to life now, or even thrive in retirement, they admitted to wishing they were better prepared.

Most ranked "starting to save and invest too late in life" as the number one obstacle that kept them from saving more money for retirement.

Other top-ranking obstacles included the cost of healthcare or health insurance (32 per cent), a low-paying job (29 per cent) and credit card debt (28 per cent).

When it came to advice for younger generations, top of the list was "don't procrastinate, retirement will come sooner than you think", followed by "plan for the unexpected", "seek professional help" and "actions speak louder than words".

And while 56 per cent said they expected to enjoy a standard of living similar to or better than their own parents on retirement, 71 per cent worried that a lack of money might hinder this optimism.

There was evidence of this in the finding that one in four hadn't begun saving for their retirement and one in five did not start until they were at least 45 years old.

A total of 59 per cent had neither gone through a formal retirement planning process with a financial professional nor done serious calculations on their own.

And 41 per cent were worried about the effect of healthcare costs on their retirement savings.

In separate research, employment law firms have urged employees to take more responsibility for their own health insurance and retirement savings, as any glitch in those areas could seriously harm their personal finances.

Too often employees coast into retirement believing all is well only to find out too late that their company has been having financial problems and their retirement pot is either not there or not as large as they had anticipated.

Another rare, but not unheard of, occurrence is for an employee to believe they are on track for retirement through their company pension scheme, only to find out their employer has not been transferring contributions to the savings plan.

"Out of the many companies that sponsor retirement plans, this type of action would be unusual," said Barry Cowan, employee benefits attorney at Winstead Sechrest & Minick.

"As businesses go into bad times, one of the first things they do is they don't pay their payroll taxes in a timely fashion, and they don't make their [employee benefits] contributions in a timely fashion," Thomas White, an employee benefits lawyer and partner at Chapman and Cutler in Chicago told the Dallas Morning News.

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