Well-Off Show 'Worrisome Disconnect' on Retirement

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Most Americans dream big about their retirement, a new survey has found, but when it comes to paying for our post-career fun, we are living in a dream world.

More than three-quarters of the 1,000 relatively affluent adults from 50 to 70 years of age who participated in a survey for Ameriprise Financial said they expect to be happy in retirement, and no wonder: 72 percent said retirement ought to include plush vacations and leisurely hobbies.

Participants were less sure of how they'd pay for those treats. A third of respondents said they had never calculated how much their current savings would yield them in retirement income. A greater number, 38 percent, hadn't figured out what kind of income they would need to support their lifestyle.

Yet almost two-thirds of those surveyed said they are doing all they can for retirement, and fewer than a third said they are worried they aren't saving enough. Ameriprise calls this a "worrisome disconnect" between Americans' emotional preparedness for retirement and the economic reality.

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The generation under study can be excused in part for this disconnect. After suffering grindingly slow growth in personal income over the past two decades, the baby boomers at the center of Ameriprise's study took the hardest hit from the Great Recession. They saw their portfolios shrink drastically in the stock market collapse of 2008, and now have little time left before retirement to recoup their losses.

Many of the respondents in the survey may be reasonably arguing that they did all they could do to prepare, only to see their financial pictures change drastically as they approached retirement age. For some, denial may seem the only response.

But that doesn't change the facts, and the Ameriprise findings add a few more reasons to worry. There are the raw numbers, of course: though Ameriprise selected for their survey only near-retirees who had at least $100,000 in investible assets (including employer-based retirement vehicles), 22 percent said they have less than $250,000 dedicated to retirement.

And Ameriprise's survey showed that the gap extends well up the economic ladder. On average, those surveyed had investible assets of $696,000, including their employer-sponsored retirement plans, but expected to need an amount closer to $1 million for a comfortable retirement.

According to Fidelity Investment's "eight times" rule, which says that retirees need to have saved eight times their annual income to be comfortable, the respondents in Ameriprise survey are looking in their retirements to replace incomes of upwards of $100,000, putting them in the top six percent of American earners. Savings shortfalls, in other words, are not restricted to those who can't afford to save.

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If these well-to-do savers have been burned by macroeconomic forces, they don't seem to have learned their lesson. To bridge the gap between what they have and what they need, almost half of respondents (47 percent) said they would to use equity in their homes, despite the housing market's uneven recovery from its massive bubble.

Almost 68 percent, however, were more of a more practical bent: they said they expected to do what many seniors are already doing — working at least part-time into their golden years.

It's not exactly the retirement we once dreamed about.