Where were you, financially speaking, five years ago?
Since 2013, millennials’ retirement savings have nearly doubled, while baby boomers and Gen Xers have seen their median retirement accounts surge by 60 percent, according to a new survey by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies.
Before anyone gets too comfortable, however, consider this:
– Just 16 percent of Baby Boomers, people born between 1946 and 1964, said they are very confident they'll be able to retire comfortably, according to the survey of 6,372 U.S. adults.
– Today’s median retirement savings are far short of levels needed to replace a high percentage of workers’ pre-retirement income. Boomers have a median $164,000 saved, Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1978) have $72,000 and millennials (defined in the survey as born between 1979 and 2000) have $19,000.
– Men reported having nearly three times the amount of retirement savings than women. Across all age groups, men reported median savings of $123,000, compared with women’s median savings of just $42,000.
“The disparity between men’s and women’s savings is quite shocking,” said Catherine Collinson, the organization’s president.
Women’s median savings inched up about 24 percent from $34,000 five years ago. During that time, men’s median savings rose 81 percent.
“The gender pay gap persists,” Collinson said. Women are also more likely to experience employment gaps while they care for family, which affects savings levels, she said. “It also appears that women tend to be more conservative as investors (meaning they may have disproportionately missed out on the past decade’s bull stock market) and less engaged in the management of investments.”
What to take away from all this? Collinson suggests making it personal.
“The last few years we’ve seen extraordinary growth in financial markets, but we’ve also seen people taking loans and early withdrawals from retirement accounts, which inhibit their growth,” she said.
In that spirit, consider your own circumstances and whether you are truly on track.
Think backward five years and remember how much was in your retirement account at that time. Has your balance grown as fast as a target-date mutual fund? (The five-year average annual return for the Vanguard Target Retirement 2030 Fund, for example, was 8.35 percent as of May 31.)
That’s just one benchmark, and with steady contributions an account should be growing by more than just the rate of investment growth. But did you raid your account for a personal emergency? Stop contributions due to job loss or some other crisis? Incur a big, unplanned expense that crowded out your ability to save?
Now, think about the next five years. Where do you want to be? If you’re several years from retirement age, forget for a minute about trying to calculate how much retirement income you'll need. Just think realistically about how much your savings could grow and about how to make sure you’re moving forward every year, even if it’s only by a little. You may not be miles ahead, but you'll be ahead.
A note to widows: In February, the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General said its investigation found that field offices routinely do not inform widows and widowers that they can apply for work-based and survivor benefits separately, a move that can add substantially to their lifetime benefits. The office estimates that estimate 9,224 survivors were underpaid by $132 million as a result. Have you applied for survivor benefits in the last few months? We’d like to hear about your experience at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Janet Kidd Stewart writes The Journey for Tribune Content Agency. Share your journey to or through retirement or pose a question at email@example.com.