Consumer Nation

One Couple, Two Views of Retirement


Couples make vows to stay together for richer or poorer, but that pledge doesn’t mean they are on the same page when it comes to their finances.


Fidelity Research has revisited a survey they conducted two years ago aimed at finding out how much couples communicated their financial goals and plans for retirement with each other. Even with the potential catalyst of unprecedented turmoil in the financial markets and the steep slowdown in the economy to trigger conversation, couples have made no progress in communicating these issues better than they did two years ago.

In fact, less than half of the couples – some 45 percent of the 502 married couples born between 1937 and 1964 who were polled in April for the survey - make decisions jointly regarding the day-to-day financial decisions of the household. This includes budgeting and bill payment.

“We would have hoped in doing the survey again that we would have seen different results,” said Jon Skillman, president of Fidelity Investments Life Insurance Company.

Other findings:

  • 38 percent of the couples discuss investment decisions for retirement savings.
  • 60 percent don’t agree on the proper age to retire
  • 44 percent don’t agree on whether they will work in retirement
  • 42 percent have different ideas about their expected lifestyle in retirement.

What’s more, couples often had different answers about whether they owned products such as annuities, life insurance policies or IRAs. Forty-four percent didn’t agree about whether they would sell real estate to help fund retirement.

And perhaps the most surprising statistic of all: only 15 percent felt confident that both partners could assume responsibility of their joint finances if needed. That’s down from 21 percent in 2007.

Another interesting element of the survey was that Fidelity polled about 157 of these same couples who participated its first couples retirement survey in 2007 again in order to see how the financial crisis impacted investing behavior and retirement plans.

Not surprisingly, the turn in the market has had an impact on the expected timing of retirement. Compared with the prior survey, husbands and wives are expecting to delay their retirement by one year, with husbands looking to retire at age 64 and wives at age 63.

Another notable change from the previous survey is a heightened concern about the impact of inflation on retirement savings. The cost of health care and its impact on savings remained the biggest concern, but 41 percent of those surveyed were concerned about inflation this year. That’s up 13 percentage points from the 2007 survey.

Fewer Taking Action, Less Comfort

Also noteworthy: nearly 10 percent fewer couples had completed critical plans such as a retirement plan, an estate plan, or a will, compared to 2007. Those surveyed had to have a household income of at least $75,000, or investable assets of $100,000 or more to participate.

The group was more likely to portray themselves as savers and not spenders than they had two years ago.

“Couples are less comfortable about the future,” Skillman says. “Odds are that there is an increased likelihood that one or both will need to be working in retirement.”

Although the events of the past year have put people into a “bunker mentality,” Skillman says he has seen people “begin to reengage.”

That's why it may be worth repeating that couples should be discussing their retirement goals and making a plan to get there. This isn't lost on the group.

In fact, what was the leading advice these couples had for newlyweds?  Make all financial decisions together, about 57 percent responded.

"It's a classic case of 'do as I say and not as I do,'” Skillman says.

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