Personal finance

55-year-old Americans are ‘critically underprepared’ for retirement, survey finds

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Americans with about 10 years to go before reaching retirement age are “critically underprepared,” according to a new study by Prudential.

The study found that 67% of 55-year-olds surveyed said they fear they will outlive their savings, compared with 59% of 65-year-olds and 52% of 75-year-olds. To that point, with just a decade until retirement, 55-year-old Americans have less than $50,000 in median retirement savings, the study reported.

Those factors could lead to a rise in “silver squatters” who are forced to rely on family for housing and financial support.

The study found that 24% of 55-year-olds surveyed said they expect family to provide support in retirement, twice the proportion of current 65- and 75-year-olds who said the same. But nearly half of those 55-year-olds have not discussed this need with family.

“Silver squatters” is the term coined for people who expect to move in with their adult children, and their plans may surprise millennials and Gen Z.

“You don’t necessarily think about that generation who’s been providing for their own parents and providing for their children as then turning around and needing that help,” said Rob Falzon, vice chair of Prudential Financial, in an interview with CNBC’s senior personal finance correspondent, Sharon Epperson.

The 2024 Pulse of the American Retiree Survey was conducted by Brunswick Group from April 26 to May 2, 2024, among a national sample of 905 American.

The study concluded that amid the broader demise of defined benefit pension plans that supported prior generations, 55-year-olds are nearly twice as likely as 65- and 75-year-olds to rely on “do-it-yourself” employer-sponsored plans like 401(k) plans to fund their retirement.

Gen X is more likely to still have children at home or be caring for aging parents than older generations.

“If you’re asking them in the moment how much financial support they’re going to need, they’re looking at their kids on the one hand, and then they’re looking at their parents on the other side,” said Simon Blanchard, associate professor of marketing at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, who has done research on financial wellness. ”It feels very daunting.” 

It is important for people to manage negative emotions they may have around money so they don’t disengage from their finances, forget saving because “you only live once” or try risky get-rich-quick scheme, Blanchard added.

There are steps pre-retirees can take now, both financial and emotional, that can help them get prepared, experts say. 

Start the conversation 

Communicating your needs and expectations to family members is a good place to start.

“This doesn’t mean telling them ‘I’m going to move in with you’ or ‘I’m expecting that you will supplement me financially,'” said Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, a financial therapist based in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

It’s much better to start the conversation with something like, “‘I’m getting closer to retirement age, we need to have a serious conversation about what that’s going to look like for me and how it might impact us together,'” Bryan-Podvin explained.

In this way, the adult children can be primed to have a serious conversation, Bryan-Podvin said.

She notes that it’s a good idea to streamline these conversations with all siblings at the same time to avoid confusion. 

For those pre-retirees with children still at home, experts advise that you should prioritize your retirement savings versus helping to pay for your children’s college education.

“Your child has the gift of time,” said Bryan-Podvin. Whereas the parent may experience job loss, poor health or other factors that may lead them to retire earlier than planned.

Reset expectations

Also, get creative about what your retirement years will look like.

“I think for so long, the default has been to buy a house to age in place and hope that everything works out,” said Bryan-Podvin.

She points to new trends emerging, like having roommates, a trend called ‘boommates,” cooperative living.

Bryan-Podvin also notes that parents moving in with adult children can be a benefit by providing both financial and emotional support, in addition to receiving it.

“Address the stigma of ‘here is what I thought retirement would look like,'” said Bryan-Podvin, who is the founder of Mind Money Balance. “It’s not all doom and gloom. There are new ways to think about retirement and aging, outside of what we have traditionally been kind of preached.”

Think positively and understand your finances

Experts say getting a clear understanding of your financial picture is the key.

To that point, pre-retirees need to have a full inventory of how much income they expect from Social Security and other savings and what they will need to cover everyday expenses.

It’s also critical to have a positive mindset.

“You don’t have to die at your desk,” said Gregory Marc Corneille, an investment advisor with Choice Wealth Management based in suburban Atlanta.

“The first step in achieving a comfortable retirement is believing it is possible,” he said. 

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