It's financially grueling to be a retiree in America today. New polling data shows about 37% of American retirees have nothing saved for their retirement years, and a staggering 44% of retirees are struggling to cover basic living expenses.
The Clever Real Estate survey of 1,000 retirees also found 41% of respondents would have delayed their golden years had they known inflation would climb so high in 2022. Many retirees are carrying medical debt and making sacrifices — even skipping meals — to make their savings last.
What caused a retirement savings crisis?
There are a few key reasons why so many Americans have trouble saving for retirement. Firstly, wages are not keeping up with inflation, making it challenging to build a retirement cushion when grocery and gasoline prices skyrocket.
Because of inflation, 93% of Americans say they have cut costs. However, according to another Clever survey on inflation, only 37% experienced an income increase in 2022. As the gap between earnings and inflation widens, those nearing retirement age might have to delay their plans or get by with less discretionary income than expected during their retirement.
Another problem is rising health care costs, which burden those already struggling to save money. Those who don't have access to employer-sponsored insurance plans or adequate public health coverage may have to pay out-of-pocket expenses that eat into their potential savings. Additionally, some people may not know how much they'll need to cover medical expenses in retirement or what types of health care plans will be available when they retire.
A data brief from HealthView Services reports even a short period of high inflation can drastically increase the amount of money retirees will need to cover health care needs in the long term. These health care costs will likely exceed their Social Security benefits, meaning retirees need more savings to cover their basic needs.
"The (Social Security) program was never meant to be the sole source of income during retirement," said John Pham, a personal finance expert and founder of The Money Ninja. Yet, Clever's survey found 30% of retirees rely solely on Social Security in retirement.
If health care costs continue rising and Social Security is not adequate to cover these costs, more seniors will be left scrambling. Many retirees might be unable to meet their basic needs and cover modest living expenses, let alone plan for serious health issues or long-term care.
Financial advisor Walter Russell, CEO of Russell and Associates LLC, said a general lack of financial education also contributes to Americans not saving enough for retirement.
"Financial education has not been passed down inside the family walls," Russell said.
That sentiment is consistent with retirees' most common savings-related regret: Clever's survey found 67% retirees wish they had better understood retirement savings when they were still working.
Improving the retirement outlook
Retirees or those who want to retire soon can take several steps to lessen their financial burdens. Prioritizing paying off debt, for example, can do much to help alleviate both financial and emotional stress.
Clever's research reports a significant majority of retirees (71%) carry non-mortgage debt, averaging just under $20,000. Monthly payments on loans, credit cards, cars, and other expenses can negatively impact cash flow, an essential part of retirement planning.
Just under one-third of retirees (32%) said they have considered working again, whether that's consulting, part-time work, or full-time work. Putting retirement on pause, while not ideal, may be the best available solution for the 57% of retirees who were surprised by how expensive retirement can be.
Lastly, of retirees who stopped working earlier than they planned, Clever's data shows 50% of them left work because of health issues. An early exit from the workforce could drastically reduce available retirement funds, making it challenging to stretch retirement savings to cover necessary expenses.
The finding shows that if more people prioritized their physical health, they'd have a good chance of reducing their future medical costs and improving their quality of life in retirement.
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