Friday, June 5, 2015

New GAO Study on Underfunded Retirement Savings

The Government Accounting Office just released a new report on retirement security. Their conclusion: most households approaching retirement have very low savings. Just how low, though, is startling. Among households age 55 and older, one-half have no retirement savings at all in 401(K), IRA or similar defined contribution accounts. Similar findings were reported in a 2013 study of the Federal Reserve Bank, along with the fact that for those age 55 and older that do have retirement accounts, the median balance was just $111,000.

The GAO study, however, also found that 29% of respondents had neither funded retirement accounts nor any employer-sponsored defined benefit plan coverage. Of this group, 41% do not own a home, while an additional 24% own a home with some level of mortgage indebtedness outstanding. For this population, social security, with a median benefit of $15,000 per year, may provide their only means of support in the years ahead. The US Census Bureau estimates that there are currently 40 million Americans aged 65 and older, with this population growing by 10,000 each day. By 2030, an estimated 65 million Americans will have reached retirement age. If 29% are projected to live on a median Social Security income of $15,000 per year (and with Social Security by the Social Security Administration's own projections to become insolvent by 2033) America may soon look like a very different place.

As you might have guessed, the data is no better for younger generations. According to a Harris Poll in 2011, an amazing 32% of the members of Generation X, aged 34-45, reported no personal savings whatsoever. In a recent report of Allianz, 84% of Gen X reports that they see traditional retirement as a romantic fantasy of the past (see post below).

What was most interesting about the GAO report was the distribution of retirement savings among households 55-64. While 41% reported no savings and 20% with savings of less than $50,000, it was the distribution of retirement savings of higher level savers that showed some intriguing patterns. While 9% of the group surveyed showed total savings between $250,000 - $500,000, an additional 9% or an equal number as in the prior group, showed total savings of greater than $500,000. Unfortunately, it's only this latter group, or 9% of those surveyed, that will have much chance of funding a comfortable retirement through 401(k), IRA and similar defined contribution savings plans. The full chart is provided below.