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Not worried about retiring comfortably? You should be

America is facing a $14 trillion retirement crisis. It's a serious problem that cannot be ignored.

Even affluent Americans don't feel the American dream is within reach anymore. And in a recent study, we at Personal Capital found that close to 30 percent of Americans don't own a retirement account — whether it's an employee-sponsored 401(k) plan or an individual retirement account.

Savings
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Even more shocking, the median retirement account balance of working households is only $3,000. For those nearing retirement, that balance is a meager $12,000. With the average projected savings needed to retire comfortably hitting at least $1 million, people are blissfully unware that they're staggeringly behind.

Unfortunately, the retirement strategy of delaying planning is the path of least resistance, chosen by millions of Americans. Not knowing provides false comfort that we can live in the moment and still make it out OK financially in the end. Yet it also perpetuates the looming prophecy that no matter how we live today, we're not going to be able to save enough for retirement.

Let's use these numbers as a wake-up call. It's the duty of those in the financial services industry to ensure that the next generation doesn't gamble away their future as they start to build their wealth.

There will always be obstacles that impact our ability to retire comfortably, and younger generations are facing some hard truths: They're living longer, they're taking on more debt, they've hit economic challenges (some out of their control), and they've lost the pension system as a means of retirement savings.

However, the good news is that they have time. Time to know. Time to plan. Time to invest. And time to save.

Knowing allows you to live in the present without feeling one step behind in your financial life. Knowing encourages people to look at their net worth and plan the life they want on their own timeline.

"The American dream is attainable. The 'goal' just needs to be adjusted to meet your own definition of what it means to retire comfortably."

So what can investors do to ensure they reach a financially secure retirement?

1. Don't rely on the problem to fix itself. There's a lot of controversy around how to fix this looming crisis. Some are calling for Social Security allotments to increase, while others are saying interest rates should be increased so we have better returns on savings.

These solutions could help, but even if there are changes implemented in the next 10 to 15 years, the crisis still lives at the individual level. So it's imperative to create your own action plan.

Set realistic retirement goals and track your progress against them. As soon as you know how much you need to save for retirement given your target retirement age and spending level, you can adjust your immediate spending, saving and investing strategy.

2. Understand your net worth. This isn't a status symbol. Knowing your net worth and putting money toward retirement are two critical factors for taking charge of your financial future.

We know from our research that 73 percent of millennials don't know their net worth and 40 percent don't have a single retirement savings account. As many are combating debt due to outrageous student loans, knowing this information can help inform a payment plan and an investment strategy over the course of a lifetime.

3. Stop overspending and start investing today. Once you know where you stand with your net worth, the easiest way to grow your savings is to cut back unnecessary spending and start building a solid investment strategy.

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In your 20s, it's wise to start putting 10 percent to 12 percent of your income per year toward investing in your retirement if you hope to retire around age 65 while maintaining your current lifestyle. If you wait until your 40s, you'll have to save more than double that amount — closer to 25 percent — of your annual income to have the same spending power in retirement.

4. Don't wait for a bailout; hold yourself accountable. The American dream is attainable. The "goal" just needs to be adjusted to meet your own definition of what it means to retire comfortably. So set your goals, consult an advisor if you need help, make a plan, and start living it.

Sadly, the result of most Americans having no private retirement savings is that these folks will face a lower standard of living in their golden years.


— By Bill Harris, CEO of Personal Capital