Americans More Confident About Retirement—But Should They Be?

September 12, 2016

A new study finds that American workers are feeling more confident about their retirement prospects these days, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re saving more.

According to the 2016 Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employee Benefit Research Institute, 63 percent of workers are either very or somewhat confident they’ll be able to afford a comfortable retirement. That’s up from 51 percent in 2013 and just 49 percent in 2011.

However, that confidence doesn’t seem to stem from additional retirement saving or planning. Just 69 percent of workers said they or their spouse is saving for retirement, down from 75 percent in 2009. Fewer than half of workers (48 percent) have sat down to figure out how much money they’ll need in retirement. Fully 26 percent of workers said they’d need less than $250,000 to retire comfortably, and just 36 percent have talked to a financial adviser about retirement planning.

A little extra planning can go a long way. Among those surveyed, workers who had retirement plans in place were more confident than those who didn’t. More than one in four (26 percent) workers (and spouses) who have a defined contribution plan, an IRA or a defined benefit plan from a current or previous employer said they were “very confident” about retirement. Just one in ten workers without a plan said the same.

Additionally, workers who had determined how much money they’d need for a comfortable retirement had more realistic expectations about how much they needed to save. Among workers who had made the calculation, 31 percent said they’d need at least $1 million for retirement. Among those who hadn’t run the numbers? Just 18 percent estimated they’d need that much.