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Why even high earners are struggling to save

Even wealthier Americans are struggling to save enough for retirement, according to a new survey.

The report, released Thursday by SunTrust, found that even among households with incomes of $75,000 or more, roughly a third live paycheck to paycheck at least some of the time, and one-fourth of those with incomes of $100,000 or more do the same. (Tweet This)

According to Census Bureau data, less than a third of households across the country earn $75,000 or more a year, though median incomes are higher in some areas than others.

A third of respondents said a lack of financial discipline at least sometimes holds them back from achieving their goals. But older respondents were significantly more likely than the younger cohort to say they were not saving enough for retirement, or were not sure if they were. To some extent, that may reflect lifestyle habits more than financial struggles. Respondents cited spending on things like entertainment, clothing and dining out as affecting their ability to save.

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Pamela Sandy, CEO and founder of Confiance, a financial advisory firm, points to other causes as well. Her clients are contending with such things as student loans, the cost of child care and the need to help family members. "Do I think people are just out there being frivolous? It is damn expensive to live in the country today, and it's damn expensive to raise kids, and that's just the bottom line," she said.

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There is also the matter of financial smarts. A survey released Thursday by Guardian Life Insurance found that 401(k) plan participants have a low understanding of financial concepts and practices, which the company said "likely contributes to lower plan engagement and less successful retirement outcomes."

Read MoreAmericans' retirement know–how rates an 'F'

The Guardian survey also found that saving for retirement is low even among those nearing that life stage, with the average 401(k) plan participant over age 50 contributing $9,100 per year. (Tweet This) And only half of all the survey respondents are confident they will reach the level of retirement income they are targeting.

Sandy said low savings rates are to be expected. "We don't really have a problem with savings vehicles," she said. "We have a problem that people don't have the money to save."