Balancing Priorities

Your retirement is in trouble ... what are you doing about it?

Americans are losing sleep over their ability to retire, but few are doing anything about it.

Those were the findings from a recent retirement confidence survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The public policy research group polled 1,082 workers age 25 and older and 589 retirees in January.

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The study showed that while nearly 40 percent of workers said they were not too confident or not at all confident that they would have enough money saved to get through retirement, few people are taking steps to fix that.

For instance, only 1 in 5 workers in the poll have calculated what their health-care costs will be once they've stopped working.

And just 40 percent said they or their spouse have tried to calculate the amount they'll need to live comfortably in retirement. Only 11 percent of the workers said they have a written financial plan to get there.

"Since we know how much health-care costs can impact retirement, it's alarming that only 2 in 10 workers have calculated their needs," said Lisa Greenwald, assistant vice president at Greenwald & Associates, a research firm that collaborated on EBRI's study.

Retirement realities

Workers tend to sharply underestimate how much they'll need to manage the reality of retirement.

A study from Nationwide Mutual Insurance found that nearly two-thirds of women workers couldn't estimate the cost of health care in retirement for themselves and their spouse.

Data from HealthView Services, a provider of health-care cost projection software, estimates that a 65-year-old couple retiring in 2016 would spend $10,680 on health insurance for that year.

Inflation will raise those costs each year, so that same couple can expect to pay $14,594 the year they turn 70 and more than $20,000 by age 75, according to HealthView.

Further compounding the issue, 63 percent of workers believe they'll need less than $1 million for retirement, according to EBRI's survey.

A 2012 study from Aon, a human resources and insurance company, recommended that workers be able to replace 85 percent of their salary in the first year of their retirement.

Workers would need to save 11 times their pay in order to have enough money to last through the remainder of their lives, according to Aon.

Rules of thumb

You'll never know if you're saving enough unless you determine how much you'll need the day you stop working.

"Workers need to establish a goal and figure out how much they need to save for retirement," said Greenwald. "Think through your lifestyle, your housing and what your expenses will be."

If you're stuck on your retirement planning, here's where you can begin.

  • Understand your budget: "Your budget will tell you how much you need in retirement and how large your nest egg should be," said Benjamin Brandt, founder of Capital City Wealth Management in Bismarck, North Dakota.

    Look at your monthly expenses and get a sense of how your wants and needs stack up against your cash flow.

  • Don't ignore health-care costs: Health expenses are a wild card. Don't forget that Medicare Part B and Part D, which respectively cover doctor visits and prescription drugs, have premiums that are determined based on your income. Further, medical costs are subject to inflation.

    Some websites, including
    HealthView Services and AARP, offer calculators to help you estimate that expense.

  • Envision saving monthly: Rather than getting your mind around the fact that you need $1.25 million to make it through retirement safely, find out what this means for you from a monthly standpoint. How much do you need to save in your 401(k) plan to reach your goal?

"Trying to boil it down to a monthly amount of how much you need to save is a small enough goal that you can focus on it," Brandt said.

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