Why Your Parents Had an Easier Retirement Than You Will


Regardless how old you are now, it’s likely you’ll have a harder time pulling off a financially secure retirement than your parents did.

Many of us haven’t planned and saved well, it’s true. But, also, fundamental changes in American life make it harder for today’s generations to achieve a comfortable life after work.

In the video above, Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson explains why retirement was easier in the past and what makes it so tough now. After you’ve watched it, keep reading to learn eight ways retirement is harder now and eight things you can do to rescue your retirement.

1. We’re living longer. The number of Americans 90 and older is expected to quadruple in the next four decades, says the U.S. Census Bureau.

In 1935, a 65-year-old would live on average another 12 years. Today, the Social Security Administration says, the average man at 65 can expect to live another 17½ years. The average woman will get 20 more years.

Living for 20 years without working takes much more money than getting by for 12 years. If members of your family lived long lives, plan for the chance your retirement savings will need to stretch 30 years or more.

2. Seniors can’t shake the recession. The Great Recession robbed more earning power from men and women in their 60s and late 50s than from any other group, The New York Times reports.

Home values and investment savings also plummeted, affecting people of all ages. Seniors have less time to make up those losses.

Many older workers lost jobs in the recession, or their jobs have shrunk. Workers near retirement have low unemployment rates, the Times says, “but once out of a job, older workers have a much harder time finding another one.”

3. Private pensions are nearly extinct. In 1981, large employers covered between 80 and 90 percent of their full-time workers with pensions, guaranteeing retirees and their spouses a fixed monthly payment for life.

Those plans, so common 30 years ago, are a pipe dream now. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that in 2011 just 1 in 10 large employers offered fixed benefit plans and only 18 percent of private industry employees were covered.

Now, if we’re lucky, we have 401(k) plans that workers, not investment experts, have to manage. Some employers match a portion of workers’ contributions, others don’t. For example, Facebook (FB), worth an estimated $200 billion, made no matching contributions for employees in 2012 or 2013, but is this year. Bloomberg wrote:

Employers are squeezing their workers’ retirement savings, holding back on both the amount and the timing of 401(k) matching funds and dragging out vesting schedules. Taken together, these measures are making it more difficult to save for old age.

4. Social Security is still under pressure. The Social Security Trust Fund reserves are expected to run out in 2034, according to a new report from the Social Security Administration. After that, payments for beneficiaries, which are funded primarily by a payroll tax, would have to be cut overall by 23 percent unless Congress acts. But it wouldn’t take a lot of tinkering to keep benefits intact, Motley Fool contributor Dan Caplinger observed on DailyFinance.

5. Interest rates are low. Retirees in previous generations earned higher interest on savings and low-risk investments. Today’s retirees must take risks in search of income or endure historically low fixed-income returns.

Income from interest, dividends and rent fell from 24 percent of total income in 1990 to 11 percent in 2012 for people older than 65, mostly because of falling interest rates, says AARP.

6. Seniors have more debt. Our parents’ generations tried to enter retirement with a paid-off home and no debts. That’s harder to do today. USA Today reports that older Americans are taking on increasing amounts of credit card debt and mortgage debt.

7. We’re working longer. Americans’ average age at retirement is creeping up, to 62 this year, according to Gallup. It’s the highest since Gallup began asking the question in 1991, when the average retirement age was 57.

Workers on average tell Gallup that they expect to retire at 66. But poor health, job loss and the need to care for older parents, grandchildren and ill spouses can cut that short.

8. More seniors are single. Divorce is rising among older Americans, and women tend to outlive their husbands. As a result, reports The Fiscal Times, a third of the record 32.7 million Americans who live alone are older than 65. Many find freedom in being single, but it costs more for a single person to support a household than to share overhead.

For nearly three-quarters of single Social Security recipients 65 and older, their benefit checks are most or all of their income, according to the National Council on Aging.

8 Tips For a Better Retirement

How can you counter these headwinds? Here are some ways to take care of yourself:

1. Get out of debt. One of the hardest things about debt is that it feels so overwhelming. The ugly reality can feel too scary to face. The thing about reality, though: It doesn’t go away.

You probably already know that delaying the inevitable only piles on more trouble. Better just to take on your debt and get through it. See: “7 Steps to Get Ruthless About Paying Off Your Debt.”

2. Be strategic about claiming Social Security. Most people claim their Social Security benefits 62, as soon as they can. But with that approach, you’re likely to lose money you’ll need when you’re older.

You get a reduced benefit when you claim early. For example, if your full retirement age is 66, the Social Security Administration says, your reduction in benefits is:

  • 25 percent at age 62.
  • About 20 percent at 63.
  • About 13.3 percent at 64.
  • About 6.7 percent at age 65.

Want to get a larger, rather than a smaller, monthly check? See: “13 Ways to Get More Social Security.”

3. Find a trusted financial adviser. A fee-only certified financial planner who is recommended to you by someone you know can help you plan for retirement and make the most of your resources in ways you might not have anticipated. Take time to find someone really superb.

4. Keep retirement savings off-limits. Shun the temptation to borrow from your retirement savings. Don’t do it for any reason, not even to pay off debt.

5. Let the kids fend for themselves. Unemployment and low wages have made it hard for many young adults to launch their independent lives, and many families are getting through tough times by living together. But a 2011 survey by the National Foundation for Financial Education and Forbes found that almost 60 percent of American parents were giving adult children financial support for housing, transportation, medical care, insurance, spending money and other expenses.

This help, in some situations, may be undermining adult children’s ability to become independent. It also may be dooming parents’ retirement. The kids have more time than you do to make up financial losses. Put retirement savings ahead of paying for college.

Decide what children truly need, set limits and make a loving, firm plan for weaning them from the bank of Mom and Dad while giving wholehearted support in nonfinancial ways.

6. Save more. Follow the basic rules for retirement savings, including minimizing taxes, working longer, investing regularly and keeping on top of your investments. Boost savings by every penny you can. Keep increasing 401(k) contributions to meet your retirement goal. Don’t have a goal? Use several retirement calculators to decide how much you’ll need and what to save to get there. Here are several retirement calculators.

7. Don’t touch home equity. If your retirement is looking shaky, don’t even consider using home equity for nonessentials like remodeling. Treat it like an emergency fund, MSN Money says:

Delay tapping it as long as possible. You’ll need it in your 80s or 90s for surprises like home repairs, escalating heating fuel costs, medical bills or hiring in-home help.

8. Look ahead. Don’t wait until you’re in trouble to take action. If you’re struggling now, even if you want badly to stay in your home, for example, start right away to figure out a fallback plan if you cannot.

Pride can prevent you from taking needed action when you’re in trouble. Don’t spend retirement savings or home equity trying to repay unmanageable debt.

Get help if your debts equal half of your income, personal finance expert Liz Weston told MSN Money. She suggests finding a credit counselor through the nonprofit National Foundation for Credit Counseling and a bankruptcy attorney from the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys.

What are you doing to rescue your retirement? Tell us below or on Money Talks News’ Facebook page.

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