Save and Invest

Here's how many Americans have nothing saved for retirement

A man fishes in a lake.

Americans as a whole aren't saving nearly enough for retirement. In fact, an alarming number of people have absolutely nothing put away for their golden years.

That's according to new data from Northwestern Mutual's 2019 Planning & Progress Study, which found that 15% of Americans have no retirement savings at all.

Younger generations who have had limited time to save aren't skewing the numbers either. For both Gen X-ers (defined here as ages 39 to 54) and baby boomers (defined as ages 55 to 73), 14% of survey respondents in each group say they have nothing saved for retirement.

Just 17% of respondents say they have between $1 and $74,999 earmarked for retirement, which falls short of the $1 million experts typically recommend.

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For many Americans, it comes down to a disconnect between realizing that they need to save more and actually taking steps to do so, Emily Holbrook, senior director of planning at Northwestern Mutual, tells CNBC Make It.

Over the past 10 years that Northwestern Mutual has performed the survey, "people feel like their financial habits and security has improved," Holbrook says. However, despite this perception of growth, "we're still seeing major gaps and troubling signs" that Americans aren't following through on their good intentions.

For 2019, only 10% of respondents are confident that they'll have enough put away for retirement, and on average, people say there's a 45% chance that they'll run out of money in retirement. However, 41% say that they haven't taken any action to address the issue.

That needs to change, Holbrook says. "They need to become educated, they need to meet with a financial advisor, they need to discuss options and understand what it is they are going to do," she explains.

This simple equation will tell you if you're saving enough for retirement
This simple equation will tell you if you're saving enough for retirement

To make sure you're able to live comfortably in retirement, it's crucial to start saving and investing as early as you can. A simple way to get started is by contributing part of your paycheck directly into your employer's 401(k) plan, if they offer one. If they don't, you can look into other tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles, such as a Roth IRA or traditional IRA.

Retirement plan provider Fidelity recommends putting away 15% of your income each year, which can include the percentage, if any, that your employer matches of your contributions.

But even if you're not able to save the full 15%, start with what you can. "It's something to work towards over time," Meghan Murphy, a VP at Fidelity, previously told CNBC Make It. "Always make sure you're getting that company match, then try to increase your savings by 1% annually until you reach that 15%."

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