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Is The Credit Crisis Good for Your Retirement Plans?

Thursday, 25 Jun 2009 | 3:32 PM ET

Has the economic crisis actually been a good thing for your retirement savings?

If you asked this question, most people, still reeling from the hit their 401(k)'s took from during the market's dive, would think you were nuts. But there is at least one potential plus-side to what we've been though over the past year.

Many consumers appear to be responding to the recent economic and financial turmoil by increasing — not decreasing — their retirement savings, according to responses to Principal Financial's latest Well-Being Index.

The survey, which polled more than 1,000 workers and 500 retirees of small and mid-sized businesses in late April and early May, found that 14 percent of workers have increased the amount of money they are saving for retirement over the past six months.

  • Americans' Debt Rises at Lowest Level in Nearly A Year

Also, the number of workers not saving for retirement has dropped from 20 percent in the first quarter this year to 16 percent.

Retirees and workers alike also are socking more money away in an emergency fund. Sixty-six percent of retirees and 36 percent of workers said they could cover more than six months of living expenses. Both numbers are up significantly from the fourth quarter of 2008, when Principal last asked this question.

It seems consumers are finally being nudged into doing what financial advisors have coached them to do all long. Save and pay off your credit cards.

"The fact that 92 percent of workers are contributing to or increasing their retirement contributions is great news," says Dan Houston, president of Retirement and Investor Services at Principal. Unfortunately, about 8 percent of workers have reduced their contributions, the survey found.

And, even with the increased savings, most workers are not saving enough for their retirement, according to Houston. He says most people are putting away about 7 percent of their salary, and that contribution should be closer to a 10 to 15 percent range.

But the the trend is "directionally correct," he says.

Houston attributes the shift in behavior to the unprecendented events of the past few months.

"In a very loose credit market, people weren't as disciplined," he says.

In order to sock more money away for retirement, many of those polled are reining in spending on food, activities and clothing. Despite this more cautious behavior, consumers are optimistic.

According to the data, more than a third of workers and 31 percent of retirees expect the current economic crisis to be better by the end of 2009.

"If the eye of the storm was over us in the first quarter, it sure seems to be moving out to sea," he says.

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