The gradual disappearance of pensions from the American workplace means employees are largely on their own when it comes to funding retirement savings. For many investors that’s a daunting task.
Among the biggest questions is, how much does one need to save for one’s later years? By most measures the typical worker in the U.S. is falling well short of where he or she needs to be. A 2016 survey by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies finds that baby boomers—those born between 1946 and 1964—have median retirement savings of $147,000. A typical member of Generation X, which includes those born between 1965 and 1978, has socked away $69,000. Meanwhile, the youngest generation in the workforce, the Millennials, who were born between 1979 and 2000, have a median retirement savings of $31,000.
Source: Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies
The Savings Gap
Those numbers aren’t tiny, but they pale in comparison to what most people will actually need in retirement savings. So even if you’re outpacing a representative member of your age bracket, you may need to give your savings a boost.
The amount of money needed to sustain a comfortable retirement will vary significantly from one individual to the next. Certainly, the couple who plans on trotting around the globe after exiting the workplace will need a lot more than someone with relatively modest goals.
But it can be useful to look at basic guidelines on how much to save for long-term goals. Fidelity Investments, for instance, uses something it calls the “savings factor” to serve as a retirement yardstick. It’s the number that – when multiplied by your currently salary – reveals the amount you should already have invested.
How Much to Save
Fidelity Investments uses its savings factor as a rule for retirement planning. Multiplying your current income by your age-specific savings factor reveals what you should already have put away.
Source: Fidelity Investments
For a 30-year-old Fidelity’s savings factor is “1x.” If you’re making $40,000 a year, that’s how much you need squirreled away in order to stay on track for retirement.
It’s when you apply the metric to slightly older workers that America’s savings deficit becomes more apparent. Case in point: Fidelity assigns 45-year-olds a savings factor of “4x.” So if they’re making a fairly typical salary of $70,000 a year, they really should have $280,000 in their retirement accounts. That’s more than four times what the median Gen Xer has saved, according to the Transamerica survey.
For Boomers, most of whom are already retired or nearing retirement, the picture is even bleaker. Consider 60-year-olds, who have a savings factor of “8x.” If they, too, brought home an annual salary of $70,000, they’d need roughly $560,000 already put away. That makes the typical Boomer more than $400,000 short of the mark.
Role of Retirement Accounts
It’s no secret that America’s personal savings rate is decidedly lower than that of most of the developed world, including much of Western Europe. In fact it’s quite a bit lower than it was here just a few decades ago. Workers today save roughly four percent of their total income, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.
There are plenty of theories trying to explain that decline, from stagnant wages to a soaring homeownership rate that’s left low- and moderate-income households drowning in debt. In some cases it may simply be prioritizing short-term wants over long-term needs.
Regardless of the cause of our poor saving habits, there’s one factor that’s been shown to play an essential role in building a strong nest egg: regularly putting money into a tax-advantaged retirement account. A recent study by the National Institute on Retirement Security revealed that Boomers aged 55 to 64 who had a retirement account had saved over seven times more than their age group as a whole.
Unfortunately, 45 percent of the U.S. population doesn’t own a retirement account. In large part that’s because almost half of workers don’t have access to a workplace retirement plan such as a 401(k). Tellingly, the portion of the workforce without an employer-based 401(k) plan is also about 45 percent.
However, those workers can open an IRA, which offers similar tax benefits. Investors in a Traditional IRA can deduct today’s contributions from their taxable income and watch their balance grow on a tax-deferred basis until retirement. Or they can skip the tax deduction and open a Roth IRA, if they meet income qualifications, and withdraw both their savings and earnings tax free at retirement.
Indeed, the original vision of the individual retirement account was to provide a savings tool specifically for those without an employer-based plan. The unintended outcome is that most IRA holders today are folks who already have a workplace plan. Only a small percentage of those without a 401(k) have established an IRA. Our ability to close the national savings gap could hinge on whether we find ways to expand adoption of these tax-reducing retirement tools.