According to a survey released last month by America Saves and the American Savings Education Council (ASEC), just 35% of Americans feel they are making good or excellent progress in saving money. Nearly two-thirds (63%) say they're making fair or no progress.
However, nearly 7 out of 10 (68%) say they are spending less than they are earning and saving the difference, and 64% report having emergency savings to cover things like unexpected car repairs. More than three-quarters of respondents say they are paying off their consumer debt or living debt-free. Although these numbers are higher than or the same as they were in 2013, they are lower than they were in 2010.
Importantly, the percentage of Americans building their net worth through home equity has declined substantially over the past few years, from 68% in 2010 to 54% this year. And those who expect to live mortgage-free in retirement fell from 78% in 2010 to 68% today.
"Only about one-third of Americans are living within their means and think they are prepared for the long-term financial future," said Stephen Brobeck, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America and a founder of America Saves.
Perhaps not surprisingly, those reporting the greatest challenges were in the lowest annual income levels measured. While no stark differences were noted between the $50,000 and $75,000 income level and the $75,000 to $100,000 range, the percentages dropped dramatically in the $25,000 to $50,000 income range. For example, although more than 8 out of 10 people in the higher income brackets said they had a sufficient emergency fund set aside, just 63% of those in the lower income level said they had enough to cover unexpected emergencies.
|Spend less than income, save difference||69%||82%||81%|
|Reduce consumer debt or debt-free||78%||88%||91%|
|Sufficient emergency fund||63%||82%||85%|
The survey authors note that one factor that may contribute to the decline is the falling percentage of Americans who say they have savings and spending plans. The percentage who report having a "savings plan with specific goals" fell from 55% in 2010 to 51% in 2014. Those with a spending plan that includes an amount set aside for saving fell from 46% in 2010 to 40% in 2014.
"As numerous studies have shown, those with a plan save much more effectively than those without one," said Dallas Salisbury, chief executive officer of the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and chairman of ASEC.
"Individuals continue to become realistic about the need to save and plan themselves, rather than assume it will be done for them," he continued. Each year in its annual Retirement Confidence Survey, EBRI finds that individuals who set financial goals tend to be more confident about their financial future than those who do not.
The 7th annual national survey assessing household saving was released as part of America Saves Week, which took place February 24 to March 1, 2014. America Saves Week is an annual event that brings corporate, government, and nonprofit organizations together to promote good savings behavior. America Saves is managed by the Consumer Federation of America, and the American Savings Education Council is managed by EBRI. Sponsored by these organizations, the survey represented the views of 1,108 adult Americans contacted by phone from January 30 to February 2, 2014.
Retirement confidence seems to have improved from record lows over the past five years, according to the 24th Annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) cosponsored by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Greenwald & Associates. In early 2014, 18% of American workers said they were "very confident" they will have enough money to retire comfortably, compared to just 13% last year; 37% are "somewhat confident." A closer look at the trends indicates that the rise came largely from higher income households ($75,000 and up) and those who had money in retirement plans, including work-sponsored plans and individual retirement accounts (IRAs).
"Retirement confidence is strongly related to retirement plan participation," said Jack VanDerhei, research director at EBRI. "In fact, workers reporting they or their spouse have money in a defined contribution plan or IRA or have a defined benefit plan from a current or previous employer are more than twice as likely as those without any of these plans to be very confident (24% with a plan versus 9% without a plan)." Nearly half (46%) of those without a plan were "not at all confident" about their retirement, compared to just 11% of those who do have money in a retirement account.
That's the good news. The not-so-good news is that American workers, particularly those without a retirement account, still have far to go.
Perhaps not surprisingly, 9 of out 10 workers participating in a retirement investment plan had set aside money for retirement, compared with just 2 out of 10 of those who don't have a plan. When asked about how much they had in savings and investments (excluding the value of a primary residence), nearly half of respondents with a retirement plan (47%) said they had at least $50,000 set aside; 17% had at least $250,000. By comparison, 73% of workers without a retirement plan had less than $1,000.
In addition, although less than half of all workers had ever tried to calculate how much they will need to retire, those who had money in some sort of a retirement account were twice as likely to have crunched the numbers as those who do not have a plan. And as the RCS demonstrates year after year, calculating a retirement savings goal can lead to retirement confidence.
Workers seemed to understand the importance of saving for retirement, as 68% said they should be saving at least 10% of their income annually. Also not surprisingly, given their low level of reported savings, those who do not have a retirement account were more likely to say they needed to set aside at least 50% of their household income for retirement than those with a retirement account. They were also more likely to say they did not know how much they need to save.
So if workers generally understand the need to save and invest, why aren't they doing so? The reasons they gave include the cost of everyday living (53%), unemployment or underemployment (14%), non-mortgage debt (6%), mortgage or housing expenses (5%), and education expenses (5%).
The Retirement Confidence Survey revealed several other interesting points:
The RCS was cosponsored by EBRI, a private, nonprofit, nonpartisan public policy research organization that focuses on health, savings, retirement, and economic security issues, and Greenwald & Associates, a Washington, DC-based market research firm. The survey was conducted in January 2014 through 20-minute telephone interviews with 1,501 people, including 1,000 workers and 501 retirees. Full results can be viewed at www.ebri.org.