Advertiser Disclosure

Featured, News, Pay Down My Debt, Retirement

Older Americans Are Getting Crushed by Debt, New MagnifyMoney Analysis Shows

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

More American seniors are shouldering debt as they enter their retirement years, according to a new MagnifyMoney analysis of data from the latest University of Michigan Retirement Research Center Health and Retirement Study release. MagnifyMoney analyzed survey data to see whether debt causes financial frailty during retirement. We also spoke with financial experts who explained how seniors can rescue their retirements.

1 in 3 Americans 50 and older carry non-mortgage debt

The Health and Retirement Study from the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center surveys more than 20,000 participants age 50+ who answer questions about well-being. The survey covers financial topics including debt, income, and assets. Since 1990, the center has conducted the survey every other year. They released the 2014 panel of data in November 2016. MagnifyMoney analyzed the most recent release of the data to learn more about financial fitness among older Americans.

In an ideal retirement, retirees would have the financial resources necessary to maintain the lifestyle they enjoyed during their working years. Debt acts as an anchor on retiree balance sheets. Since interest rates on debts tend to rise faster than earnings from assets, debt has the power to destroy the balance sheets of seniors living on fixed incomes.

We found that nearly one-third (32%) of all Americans over age 50 carry non-mortgage debt from month to month. On average, those with debt carry $4,786 in credit card debt and $12,490 in total non-mortgage debt.

High-interest consumer debt erodes seniors’ ability to live a quality lifestyle, says John Ross, a Texarkana, Texas-based attorney specializing in elder law.

“From an elder law attorney perspective, we see a direct correlation between debt and institutional care,” Ross says. “Essentially, the more debt load, the less likely the person will have sufficient cash assets to cover medical care that is not provided by Medicare.”

Even worse, debt leads some retirees to skip paying for necessary expenses like quality food and medical care.

“The social aspect of being a responsible bill payer often leads the older debtor to forgo needed expenses to pay debts they cannot afford instead of considering viable options like bankruptcy,” says Devin Carroll, a Texarkana, Texas-based financial adviser specializing in Social Security and retirement.

Some older Americans may even be carrying debt that they don’t have the capacity to pay.

According to our analysis, 40% of all older Americans have credit card debt in excess of $5,000. More than one in five (22%) Americans age 50+ have more than $10,000 in credit card debt. On average, those with more than $10,000 in credit card debt couldn’t pay off their debt even by emptying their checking accounts.

Over a third of American seniors don’t have $1,000 in cash

It’s not just credit card debtors who struggle with financial frailty approaching retirement. Many older Americans have very little spending power. More than one-third (37%) of all Americans over age 50 have a checking account balance less than $1,000.

Low cash reserves don’t just mean limited spending power. They indicate that American seniors don’t have the liquidity to deal with financial hardships as they approach retirement. This is especially concerning because seniors are more likely than average to face high medical expenses. Over one in three (36%) Americans who experienced financial hardship classified it as an unexpected health expense, according to the Federal Reserve Board report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2015. The median out-of-pocket health-related expense was $1,200.

Debt pushes seniors further from retirement goals

Seniors carrying credit card debt exhibit other signs of financial frailty. For example, seniors without credit card debt have an average net worth of $120,000. Those with credit card debt have a net worth of just $68,000, 43% less than those without credit card debt.

The concern isn’t just small portfolio values. For retirees with debt, credit card interest rates outpace expected performance on investment portfolios. Today the average credit card interest rate is 14%. That means American seniors who carry credit card debt (on average, $4,786) pay an average of $670 per year in interest charges. Meanwhile, the average investment portfolio earns no more than 8% per year. This means that older debtors will earn just $4,508 from their entire portfolio. Credit card interest eats up more than 15% of the nest egg income.

For some older Americans the problem runs even deeper. One in 10 American seniors has a checking account balance with less than $1,000 and carries credit card debt. This precarious position could leave some seniors unable to recover from larger financial setbacks.

Increased debt loads over time

High levels of consumer debt among older Americans are part of a sobering trend. According to research from the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center, in 1998, 36.94% of Americans age 56-61 carried debt. The mean value of their debt (in 2012 dollars) was $3,634.

Over time debt loads among pre-retiree age Americans are becoming even more unsustainable. Today 42% of Americans age 50-59 have debt, and their average debt burden is $17,623.

Credit card debt carries the most onerous interest rates, but it’s not the only type of debt people carry into retirement. According to research from the Urban Institute, in 2014, 32.2% of adults aged 68-72 carried debt in addition to a mortgage or a credit card, and 18% of Americans age 73-77 still have an auto loan.

Even student loan debt, a debt typically associated with millennials, is causing angst among seniors. According to the debt styles study from the Urban Institute, as of 2014, 2%-4% of adults aged 58 and older carried student loan debt. It’s a small proportion overall, but the burden is growing over time.

According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, in 2004, 600,000 seniors over age 60 carried student loan debt. Today that number is 2.8 million. Back in 2004 Americans over age 60 had $6 billion in outstanding student loan debts. Today they owe $66.7 billion in student loans, more than 10 times what they owed in 2004. Not all that student debt came from seniors dragging their repayments out for 30-40 years. Almost three in four (73%) older student loan debtors carry some debt that benefits a child or grandchild.

Even co-signing student loans puts a retirement at risk. If the borrower cannot repay the loan on their own, then a retiree is on the hook for repayment. A co-signer’s assets that aren’t protected by federal law can be seized to repay a student loan in default. Because of that, Ross says, “We never advise a person to co-sign on a student loan. Never!”

How older Americans can manage debt

High debt loads and an impending retirement can make a reasonable retirement seem like a fairy tale. However, an effective debt strategy and some extra work make it possible to age on your own terms.

Focus on debt first.

Carroll suggests older workers should prioritize eliminating debt before saving for retirement. “Several studies have shown a direct correlation between debt and risk of institutionalization,” he says. Debt inhibits retirees from remodeling or paying for in-home care that could allow them to age in place.

Downsize your lifestyle

As a first step in eliminating debt, seniors should check all their expenses. Some may consider drastic measures like downsizing their home.

Cut off adult children

Even more important, seniors with debt may need to stop supporting adult children.

According to a 2015 Pew Center Research Poll, 61% of all American parents supported an adult child financially in the last 12 months. Nearly one in four (23%) helped their adult children with a recurring financial need.

Wanting to help children is natural, but it can leave seniors financially frail. It may even leave a parent unable to provide for themselves during retirement.

Work longer

Older workers can also eliminate debt by focusing on the income side of the equation. For many this will mean working a few years longer than average, but the extra work pays off twofold. First, eliminating debt reduces the need for cash during retirement. Second, working longer also allows seniors to delay taking Social Security benefits.

Working until age 67 compared to age 62 makes a meaningful difference in quality of life decades down the road. According to the Social Security Administration, workers who withdraw starting at age 62 received an average of $1,077 per month. Those who waited until age 67 received 27% more, $1,372 per month.

Retirees already receiving Social Security benefits have options, too. Able-bodied retirees can re-enter the workforce. Homeowners can consider renting out a room to a family member to increase income.

Consider every option

If earning more money isn’t realistic, a debt elimination strategy becomes even more important. Ross recommends that retirees should consider every option when facing debt, including bankruptcy. He explains, “A 65-year-old, healthy retiree would be well advised to pay down the high-interest debt now. Alternatively, an 85-year-old retiree facing significant health issues is better off filing bankruptcy or just defaulting on the debt. For the older person, their existing assets are a lifeline, and a good credit score is irrelevant.”

Don’t take on new debt

It’s also important to avoid taking on new debt during retirement. “The only exception,” Ross explains, “[is taking on] debt in the form of home equity for long-term medical care needs, but then only when all other reserves are depleted and the person has explored all forms of government assistance such as Medicaid and veterans benefits.”

Every senior’s financial situation differs, but if you’re facing financial stress before or during retirement, it pays to know your options. Conduct your research and consult with a financial adviser, an elder law attorney, or a credit counselor from the National Foundation for Credit Counseling to choose what is right for your situation.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Hannah Rounds
Hannah Rounds |

Hannah Rounds is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Hannah here

TAGS:

Advertiser Disclosure

Retirement

Millennials Have More Appetite for Stocks Than Reports Suggest

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

millennial retirement savings
iStock

Are millennials afraid of the stock market? This cohort came of age at the height of the Great Recession, and some recent media reports suggest that this has made young adults more reluctant to put their money into the markets.

A new analysis from MagnifyMoney, however, shows that millennials aren’t exactly allergic to “risky” investments such as stocks. We examined 20 years of workplace savings account data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances and compared millennials’ investing habits with prior generations of young savers.

Key findings

  • In 2016, millennials had 60.3% of retirement accounts like IRAs and workplace savings accounts like 401(k) plans allocated to stocks or stock funds. This means millennials have 8 percentage points more of their retirement account funds invested in stocks than those 53 and older — the widest gap since 2001.
  • In general, exposure to stocks (equities) has trended downward over the past 20 years. In 1998, all generations had an average of at least 60% of their workplace retirement savings in stocks and stock funds. In 2016, millennials were the only age group who allocated more than 60% of retirement assets to stocks and stock funds.
  • How investors view their tendencies and what they actually do can be two different things. Some millennials claiming they are risk-averse (and thus claim they don’t invest in stocks) may unknowingly own stocks through target date funds (TDFs) and other multi-asset class investments in their retirement plan.

Millennials’ stock-heavy portfolios in line with conventional advice to young investors

Overall, millennials have more of their retirement funds invested in stocks and stock funds than older savers. Here’s a look at the allocation of retirement account assets across millennials (ages 35 and younger), Generation Xers (ages 35 to 51) and baby boomers (ages 51 and over).

In 2016, millennials had, on average, 60.3% of their retirement savings in stocks and stock funds, compared with just 53% for Generation Xers and 52.3% for baby boomers.

This trend of millennials allocating a larger portion of savings to higher-risk or more volatile assets such as stocks is actually in line with conventional retirement planning advice. Younger workers are advised to be more aggressive investors — with decades left to save and weather market ups and downs, they can afford to front-load risk (and reward) today.

Older generations, on the other hand, are advised to allocate retirement funds to less volatile assets as they get closer to retirement age. Baby boomers, in particular, might be planning to live off of retirement savings soon — or might already be relying on those savings. So it’s important to shield retirement savings from high-risk and volatile investments.

Across age groups, today’s investors are choosing stocks less

Overall, this analysis shows that today’s investors are less likely to have a large portion of retirement savings allocated to stocks and stock funds. Here’s a chart that compares the percentage of retirement savings allocated to stocks among age groups, over time:

Stock allocations across all three age cohorts show a largely downward trend, with current stock investments among the lowest levels reported.

Two major changes since 1998 may explain these shifts better than differences in generational risk aversion: the decline of workers with pensions and the rise of target date funds.

TDFs are playing a role in “right-sizing” asset allocations based on age, including those of millennials, who have had access to them since the beginning of their saving careers.

Meanwhile, most private-sector workers today only have defined contribution plans (401(k)s), and not defined benefit (DB) plans.

Major market ups and downs also correlate to some of the trends in this graph above, too. Stock allocations rose in the late 1990s, for example, as the dot-com bubble boomed — and fell in 2000 following its burst. Another small dip in stock investing is seen from 2007 to 2010, in line with the Great Recession and following recovery.

How to start investing in stocks

Whatever your age, buying stocks can be a smart way to grow your net worth and build a secure financial future. However, weathering stock market volatility isn’t always easy — and you’ll want to make sure your stocks strategy is in line with the rest of your financial goals.

If you’re interested in adding stocks to your investing or retirement savings strategies, here’s where you can begin.

Learn the stock market lingo. The world of stocks can seem complicated at first, so picking up on common stock terms can help you make sense of options. You should figure out what stock funds and exchange-traded funds are, for example, and know the difference between preferred and common stocks.

Set your stock investing goals. It’s important to make sure you align your stock investments with your bigger goals. Maximizing your 401(k) funds for a retirement that’s 30 years away will call for a much different investing strategy than if you’re investing in short-term savings. If you know what you want to accomplish by investing, you can choose stocks and funds that are most likely to make that happen.

Research stocks and funds. Once you’re aware of the types of stocks, funds and other assets you can buy, you can look for specific shares that you think are a smart buy. You can research how stock prices are set, and how you can evaluate whether a stock is overpriced or undervalued. Keep an eye out for deals you think are good, and figure out which ones would match well to your investing goals.

Review your account allocations. Many investors have a 401(k) or IRA but might not know how their funds are invested within those savings accounts. Revisit your retirement accounts to see if you want to adjust your allocations for new contributions. You might even want to rebalance your portfolio, selling some assets and buying others, to align with your targeted returns (and risk).

Set up a brokerage account. Most investors can’t buy and sell stocks directly — they’ll need a brokerage account to do so. A traditional broker can be an affordable way to get started — just look for one with low fees to ensure that your returns aren’t eaten up by investing costs.

Download an investing app. Downloading an investing app can be a smart and simple way to get started. Some of the best investing apps can help you analyze stocks, trade and manage investments and even find more funds to invest. Robinhood, for example, charges no commission fees on trades. Or try Acorns, where you can link your checking account to round purchases up and invest the change.

Stay cautious when getting started with stocks. No matter how well-researched or experienced an investor you are, no one can predict the future. As a new investor, however, it’s easy to make rookie mistakes that can cost you big. Keep in mind that every investment you make carries a risk of loss, so start investing a little bit to get comfortable while figuring out the right investing strategy for you.

These tips can get you started if you want to invest in stocks, but make sure you aren’t overlooking other ways to invest.

In some cases, stocks won’t be the best way to invest your funds and keep them growing. If you’re stocking away money for a shorter-term goal, you might want to consider a certificate of deposit. And a savings account is an old favorite if you want to safely store emergency funds or keep your funds easily accessible.

Adding stocks to your investing and money management strategy can be a move that pays off big. The U.S. stock market has consistently performed well, and lots of people have grown their wealth and net worth by investing their funds here. Start small and simple, investing what you can afford to each month, and you could see the effects add up over time.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney examined 20 years (1998 to 2016, inclusive) of workplace savings account data from the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF) to determine if millennials (young adults ages 35 and under in 2016) are more risk-averse than prior younger savers.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Elyssa Kirkham
Elyssa Kirkham |

Elyssa Kirkham is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Elyssa here

TAGS:

Advertiser Disclosure

Retirement

The Average Retirement Savings of Millennials Isn’t Enough

Editorial Note: The editorial content on this page is not provided or commissioned by any financial institution. Any opinions, analyses, reviews, statements or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the author’s alone, and may not have been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities prior to publication.

The Average Retirement Savings of Millennials Isn’t Enough

A new MagnifyMoney analysis of recent Federal Reserve data reveals that millennials aren’t saving enough for retirement. This might not be shocking on its own, but the data also reveals that the gap between what millennials have saved compared with what they should be saving is surprisingly wide.

To set our benchmark, MagnifyMoney used the guideline promoted by retirement industry experts, such as Fidelity, that workers should have roughly two times their annual income in retirement savings by age 35.

We then compared the earnings, savings and ages of millennials as reported in the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances to see whether they are hitting that mark.

Here’s what our dive into the data revealed about millennials’ retirement savings.

Key findings

  • The median 2016 retirement savings level for households headed by 30-somethings was about $23,000, while the median income level was $55,400. This means that typical millennials in their 30s have saved just 41% of their income.
  • Based on that level of income, median households should have saved $112,000, according to a common rule of thumb suggested by retirement plan administrators and financial planners. That’s almost five times more than the actual median savings of $23,000.
  • This shortfall isn’t specific to the current cohort of savers in their 30s (millennials). Prior surveys show a persistent shortfall in retirement savings among 30-somethings in previous generations, too.
  • While high earners are saving slightly more than median or average earners, they still fall short of retirement savings guidelines. Recent data show 30-something households with income at the 90th percentile — $146,000 — have saved roughly 1.1 times their income ($160,000) in retirement accounts when the rule of thumb suggests that figure should be $292,000.

Millennials are 80% behind on retirement savings


Unfortunately, millennials’ retirement saving efforts are far behind the recommended benchmark. The median income for workers in their 30s is $55,700 per year. This puts the retirement saving target at around $111,400 by age 35.

The actual savings are far behind that, however, with the median retirement savings at just $23,000. In fact, a typical millennial has saved only 40% of their annual income at age 35. This is just about one-fifth of the amount they should have saved. (Average retirement savings levels are similarly short).

Median earners in their 30s aren’t saving nearly enough. But perhaps more surprisingly, a better paycheck doesn’t seem to help much, as even high-earning households are coming up short.

High earners save more, but are still behind

High earners do a better job saving for their golden years than their median-earning peers. This makes sense, as higher-income households will have more funds at their disposal that they can use to save.

But even high-income millennials still fall short of the target of saving twice their incomes. Part of that is because earning more results in higher salaries, which also raises the target amount they should save.

In 2016, households earning at the 90th percentile — those earning about $146,000 or more per year — had saved $160,000 so far for retirement. That might seem impressive since it’s nearly seven times the $23,000 median retirement savings balance among their cohort.

But based on their level of income, the retirement savings standard suggests they should have close to $300,000 saved. Yet these high earners are around five years behind on their savings, having saved just 1.1 times their annual salary.

Of course, these numbers won’t reflect every saver’s individual progress. A household that falls in line with the median retirement savings of $23,000 with an annual income of $20,000 might actually be doing OK. Or they might earn $200,000, and be even further behind than most.

Other households might have their retirement savings right on target for their 30s or even be saving more aggressively with the aim of retiring early. Overall, however, it’s safe to say that millennials whose retirement savings are on or ahead of schedule are the exceptions to the undersaving trend.

Millennials’ retirement savings are on par with previous generations’

Millennials are way behind the ideal benchmarks for their retirement savings, and that’s worrying. But do these millennials have it worse than past generations?

We took a look at the historical Federal Reserve data going back to 1998 to find out how millennials’ retirement savings levels compared with previous generations’ savings habits.


As this chart shows, millennials are actually saving better than previous cohorts of 30-somethings. This could reflect the conservative money management attitudes found among many millennials. After coming of age in the Great Recession, this cohort saw the importance of personal fiscal responsibility.

The average retirement savings for millennials in 2016 is $64,000, which is 14% higher than the $56,000 30-somethings’ average retirement savings in 1998 (all figures are in 2016 dollars).

Interestingly enough, millennials are saving more without earning more than previous cohorts — U.S. wages haven’t grown much in that time.

On top of stagnant pay, millennials have also faced historically higher levels of student debt. The average student debt among recent graduates was $39,400, and a typical monthly student loan payment for a millennial is $351. With this student debt, millennials have had fewer discretionary funds they could use to make retirement savings contributions.

The fact that millennials’ savings habits are outpacing previous generations despite these financial obstacles is a promising trend, but it still might not be enough.

The guideline to have twice your salary saved by 35 is, admittedly, an aggressive goal — one that 30-somethings have been falling short of for the past 20 years. But it’s what millennials should be shooting for to ensure a comfortable and financially secure retirement.

How millennials can catch up on retirement savings

If you’re a millennial, you might be wondering how your retirement savings stack up — and if you’re behind, what you can do to make up for lost time.

The first thing to do is figure out where your retirement savings “should” be, according to this guideline. If you’re 30, this will simply be equal to your annual salary; for 35-year-olds, it will be twice that amount.

For every year in between or above, you can simply add on an additional 20% of your annual income. A 38-year-old, for example, should be shooting to have 2.6 times their annual income in retirement savings accounts.

Once you have your number, start planning for retirement and taking steps to catch up. Here are some ways you can start saving more.

  • Take advantage of employer-provided retirement plans. If your employer offers a retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k), it can be an easy and simple way to contribute through your paycheck.
  • Contribute enough to get the full employer match. Many employers will include retirement savings matching in their benefits package. This usually means that they will deposit extra funds into your retirement account to match your own contributions, typically capped at a certain amount. Find the details about your employer plan and contribute at least enough to take advantage of this full match.
  • Open an individual IRA. You don’t need an employer to open a retirement savings account, however. Almost anyone can open an IRA or Roth IRA and start contributing to it on their own.
  • Get debt costs and payments under control. If you have student loans, credit card balances, or other debt, these monthly payments and interest costs will limit your ability to save for retirement. Look for ways you can decrease the costs of your debt, such as consolidating credit cards or refinancing student loans to lower interest rates. Prepaying debt can also be a smart way to avoid interest charges and get rid of debt, freeing funds up to use for retirement savings.
  • Shoot to save 15% or more. As you might have figured out, saving a year’s worth of earnings every five years requires some intense saving habits. Of course, these funds will be invested and generate growth and returns that will do some of the work for you, so you can save a little less than 20% of your gross income. Saving 15% of your annual earnings is the typical suggestion.
  • Increase your savings rate a little at a time. If saving 15% feels out of reach, start smaller. Increase your retirement contribution rate by just 0.5%-1%. Then give yourself a few months to adjust, then raise it again and repeat until you’ve reached your target retirement savings rate. This method can help you ease into higher savings and find the right amount to balance retirement contributions with today’s costs.
  • Save “extra” funds when you can. If you’re behind on retirement savings, you can use extra income to play catch up. Instead of using bonuses and raises as more take-home pay, for instance, you can contribute this increase in pay to retirement savings.

It’s not too late to start saving for retirement, and every dollar you contribute now will count more than what you’d save later. That’s because saving for retirement in your 30s gives these funds over three decades to grow and for that growth to compound — time and money you simply can’t make up for later.

Take a look at your retirement savings and find one thing you can do to save more. Your future self will thank you.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney examined data from the Survey of Consumer Finances, a triennial report issued by the Federal Reserve, to determine relative retirement savings levels for various age and income ranges from 1998 through 2016 (the date of the latest study). We only include households with savings in at least one retirement account. All figures are in 2016 dollars.

Advertiser Disclosure: The products that appear on this site may be from companies from which MagnifyMoney receives compensation. This compensation may impact how and where products appear on this site (including, for example, the order in which they appear). MagnifyMoney does not include all financial institutions or all products offered available in the marketplace.

Elyssa Kirkham
Elyssa Kirkham |

Elyssa Kirkham is a writer at MagnifyMoney. You can email Elyssa here

TAGS: