Personal Finance

Most people flunked this retirement quiz. Can you pass?


Most people don't know much about retirement.

Fidelity Investments' recent retirement IQ test is a prime example of the lack of nest-egg knowledge. The company asked 2,054 adults in December, nearly half ages 55 to 65, eight fundamental questions about retirement planning.

A majority of people, regardless of age, flunked the quiz.

Retirement's magic number: Do you have enough?

Sadly, Americans' understanding of retirement is "worse than this survey shows," said Annamaria Lusardi, academic director of George Washington University's Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center. For example, only 47 percent of people ages 51 to 61 have ever tried to figure out how much they may need in retirement, according to research from Lusardi and her colleagues.

To be fair, "[Fidelity's] questions are complicated. Most people don't even have the basic knowledge of personal finance," Lusardi said. She and Wharton economist Olivia Mitchell found fewer than one-third of people age 50 and older that they surveyed could answer three simple questions about compound interest, inflation and the benefits of diversification.

It's easy to make fun of retirement dunces. But can you do any better? Here are the questions Fidelity asked people and their answers:

1. Roughly how much do investment professionals suggest people save by the time they retire?

Answer: Fidelity recommends people save at least 10 times the amount of their last full year of income. Three-quarters of the people surveyed underestimated how much is needed and 25 percent expected to only need to save two to three times the amount of their last full year of income, well below the preferred level.

2. How often over the past 35 years do you think the market has had a positive annual return?

Answer: The U.S. stock market, as measured by the S&P 500 index, has enjoyed a positive annual return 30 out of the past 35 year years. Only 8 percent answered this question correctly.

3. If you were able to set aside $50 each month for retirement, how much could that end up becoming 25 years from now, including interest if it grew at the historical stock market average?

Answer: Fidelity's answer is about $40,000, which 16 percent of people figured out. The estimate assumes a 7 percent annual rate of return, which is the historical average market return for the S&P 500 when adjusted for inflation from 1929 to 2016. A good online financial calculator can help you find your own answer.

4. Given the current average life expectancy, if you want to retire at age 65, about how long would you need your retirement savings to last?

Answer: The average life expectancy is 85 for men and 87 for women, meaning the answer is about 22 years. Thirty-eight percent estimated they would only need to make their savings last for about 12 to 17 years, which could mean they would run out of money in retirement. Use the Social Security Administration's life expectancy calculator to estimate your longevity.

5. Approximately how much did the average monthly Social Security benefit pay in 2016?

Answer: It's about $1,300. Overall, 43 percent of people surveyed got this one right and half of people near retirement aced it. Knowing the average is fine. What's better is calculating how much your Social Security retirement benefit will be.

6. About what percentage of your savings do many financial experts suggest you withdraw annually in retirement?

Answer: Fidelity suggests you withdraw no more than 4 to 5 percent of your nest egg each year adjusted for inflation. That's commonly known as the 4 percent rule. Here are some retirement withdrawal strategies that might work better for you. Just 42 percent of people near retirement answered this question correctly.

7. What do you think is the single biggest expense for most people in retirement?

Answer: It's housing, not health care. Only 17 percent of people got this one right. Meanwhile, 63 percent of people near retirement said they worried about their ability to afford health care. "It shows that a lot of folks are nervous about their health-care costs," said Keith Bernhardt, Fidelity's vice president of retirement products.

8. About how much will a couple retiring at age 65 spend on out-of-pocket costs for health care over the course of retirement?

Answer: Fidelity estimates that a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2016 would need roughly $260,000 to cover health-care costs during retirement. Sounds like a daunting number. But keep in mind that is over all your retirement. So if you have 22 years of retirement, that's roughly $985 per month. It is still a high number, but not insurmountable. To keep costs down, give your health coverage a checkup before your retirement.