Survey Says: Middle-Class Americans Aren’t Saving For Retirement

Pink Piggy Bank On Top Of A Pile Of One Dollar Bills

A new poll conducted by Wells Fargo has affirmed what other recent surveys have already found: many Americans are putting off saving for retirement, and a significant percentage of people have no retirement savings at all.

This survey is of interest because it focused specifically on middle-class Americans.

The results:

Forty-one percent of middle-class Americans between the ages of 50 and 59 are not currently saving for retirement. Nearly a third (31%) of all respondents say they will not have enough money to “survive” on in retirement, and this increases to nearly half (48%) of middle-class Americans in their 50s. Nineteen percent of all respondents have no retirement savings. On behalf of Wells Fargo, Harris Poll conducted 1,001 telephone interviews from July 20 to August 25, 2014 of middle-class Americans between the ages of 25 and 75 with a median household income of $63,000.

Sixty-eight percent of all respondents affirm that saving for retirement is “harder than I anticipated.” Perhaps the difficulty has caused more than half (55%) to say they plan to save “later” for retirement in order to “make up for not saving enough now.” For those between the ages of 30 and 49, 59% say they plan to save later to make up retirement savings, and 27% are not currently contributing savings to a retirement plan or account.

Sixty-one percent of all middle-class Americans, across all income levels included in the survey, admit they are not sacrificing “a lot” to save for retirement, whereas 38% say that they are sacrificing to save money for retirement.


While a majority of middle-class Americans say that they are not sacrificing a lot to save for retirement, 72% of all middle-class Americans say they should have started saving earlier for retirement, up from 65% in 2013. When respondents were asked if they would cut spending “tomorrow” in certain areas in order to save for retirement, half said they would: 56% say they would give up treating themselves to indulgences like spa treatments, jewelry, or impulse purchases; 55% say they’d cut eating out at restaurants “as often”; and 51% say they would give up a major purchase like a car, a computer or a home renovation. Notably, fewer people (38%) report that they would forgo a vacation to save for retirement.

The survey also asked people how much money they had saved:

According to the survey, middle-class Americans have saved a median of $20,000, which is down from $25,000 in 2013. Middle-class Americans across all age groups in the study expect to need a median savings of $250,000 for retirement, but they are currently saving only a median amount of $125 each month. Excluding younger middle-class Americans who may be earning less money, respondents between the ages of 30 and 49 are putting away a median amount of $200 each month for retirement, whereas those between the ages of 50 and 59 are putting away a median of $78 each month for retirement.

Twenty-eight percent of all age groups included in the survey report that they have a written financial plan for retirement. That number is slightly higher, 34%, for those between the ages of 30 and 39. People with a written plan for retirement are saving a median of $250 per month, far greater than the median $100 per month that is being saved by those without a written plan.

The entire report can be read here.


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You’ve Heard of Minimum Wage. What About a Minimum Pension?

Sack filled with one hundred dollar bills. RetirementMinimum wage laws are designed, in theory, to give every worker a livable wage and a decent standard of living. But what if the same concept was applied to retirement savings?

Third Way, a moderate think tank, has proposed just that: a minimum, mandatory “pension” that all employers would give their employees based on hours worked.

From the proposal:

We propose a minimum pension law—a requirement that employers contribute a minimum of 50 cents per hour worked, for every worker, into a retirement plan. A minimum pension would provide all workers with the opportunity to create their own personal wealth—providing for a more secure retirement and a reduction of the current wealth disparity in our country. With improved access to simple investment vehicles and tax breaks that aid small businesses, employers would largely benefit too.

And from International Business Times:

“A minimum pension sounds like a minimum wage, and it is,” David Brown and Kimberly Pucher, the authors of Third Way’s report, wrote. “The minimum pension requires that, in addition to wages, employees must receive at least 50 cents an hour in retirement contributions.”

That’s a minimum contribution of $1,000 a year to full-time, full-year workers, to be indexed for inflation.

Third Way drafted the proposal, in part, because of a recent barrage of statistics suggesting many Americans aren’t nearly as ready for retirement as they’d like. From International Business Times:

The public sector and most private sector companies offer retirement plans, but about 30 percent of non-retired Americans have no money saved for retirement, the Federal Reserve reported last month. Most workers who aren’t saving for retirement have lower incomes and two-thirds of them work for companies that don’t offer a retirement savings plan, according to Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research. Many of those who are saving aren’t saving enough, so though Americans pay $140 billion each year subsidizing retirement accounts, millions are nearing retirement with little or nothing saved.

You can read the entire proposal here.


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VIDEO: Pennsylvania Lawmaker Pushes For Hybrid Pension Plan

Republican Rep. Mike Tobash has taken to YouTube to promote his plan for a hybrid pension system in Pennsylvania.

The plan was introduced July 2 as House Bill 1353.

The group Pennsylvania Needs Pension Reform, which supports the plan and also hosts the above video on its YouTube account, provided a summary of the benefits on its website:

What the Plan Does
1. Shifts risk.
Under this plan, the future pension investment risk facing the state, school districts, and taxpayers will shift to members of the retirement plans as hybrid tier participation grows. The Commonwealth and its taxpayers would be more sheltered from risk, irrespective of market performance.
2. Delivers competitive benefits.
This plan provides new employees with retirement benefits that are every bit as competitive and desirable as those they would receive in the private sector.
3. Protects earned benefits.
The plan proactively works to protect the benefits that hard-working Pennsylvanians have already earned. Under this plan, no current employee or retiree would see any changes to his or her plan.
4. Demonstrates responsible spending.
This is the fiscally responsible thing to do; not a “quick fix” like we have seen in the past. We would be making a fundamental change to ensure we can responsibly meet our statutory obligation to the retirement systems moving forward.
5. Stops the bleeding.
The projected debt associated with our current pension systems is expected to be eliminated by fiscal year 2044 as we meet our annual payment obligations. We can eliminate the unfunded liability years sooner by putting savings back into the systems.
6. Safeguards Pennsylvania’s credit rating.
The Commonwealth’s credit rating has already suffered from the pension crisis. Our approach protects taxpayer money by helping to avoid inflated interest rates on our credit.

As Workers Grow Older, Their Retirement Contributions Get Bigger

Retirement Saving street signs

As one grows older, one also grows wiser. Perhaps that explains the findings of a recent survey, which found that workers contribute more to their retirement accounts–both in terms of dollar amount and percentage of salary–as they get older. From Pension Benefits:

Our study revealed that 60.2% of employees were saving for retirement at an average salary deferral rate of 6.7%.
As employees aged and drew closer to retirement age, a higher proportion of them elected to make contributions to their retirement plan, with participation increasing from 48.4% for employees aged 20 to 29 years to 64-4% for employees aged 61 to 69 years (Exhibit 1). Salary deferral rates similarly increased with age, with employees aged 20 to 29 years deferring on average 4-9% of salary and employees aged 61 to 69 years deferring on average 9.2% of salary. The pattern of older workers saving more than younger workers was true for both genders.

Predictably, a worker’s income bracket plays a large role in how much he/she decides to save. From Pension Benefits:

Overall, more of those in higher compensation groups were saving, and they saved at higher rates. Among those earning $20,000 to $29,999, 36.8% of employees were saving, and they saved on average 4-7%. Among those earning $110,000 to $199,999, those percentages rose to 81.8% and 7.9%, respectively.
When considering compensation groups individually, the research showed that more females were saving for retirement than males and they saved at a higher rate than males in most compensation categories.

The full survey results can be found here (registration required).


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Retirement Confidence Climbing (For Most) As Workers Become More Engaged With Their Plan

Graph With Stacks Of Coins

A recent survey reveals that more workers are confident in their retirement income in 2013 than in 2009, but most are still worried about their long-term prospects–especially those 50 and older. From Pension Benefits:

Retirement confidence climbed between 2009 and 2013, and nearly one-quarter of employees are now Very confident’ of having enough income for the first 15 years of retirement. This reflects improving financial conditions over the past four years as employees have rebuilt their savings. When asked to assess their prospects 25 years after retiring, however, only 8% remain confident of a financially comfortable retirement.

Since the start of the financial crisis, confidence levels for workers age 50 and older have declined by 10 percentage points. In 2007, 34% were very confident of their ability to afford the first 15 years of retirement, compared with only 24% in 2013.

Workers with defined-benefit plans are more confident than those with defined-contribution plans. On the flip side, the prospect of benefit cuts worry workers in DB plans. From Pension Benefits:

Participants in defined benefit plans (DB) are 35% more likely to be satisfied with their finances than those with only a defined contribution (DC) plan.


Roughly half of DB plan participants (45%) are afraid their retirement plan might be cut and about one-third (36%) fear having to bear more investment risk in the future. And for DB plan participants who have recently undergone a cut to their retirement program, 70% fear more curtailments are on the horizon.

Another interesting trend: Workers are becoming more engaged with their retirement plans. From Pension Benefits:

Since 2010, employees have become more involved and interested in retirement planning. Slightly more than half of all employees review their retirement plans frequently. Sixty-three percent of DB plan participants track their savings carefully compared with 48% of DC-plan-only participants. Older and midcareer workers report greater engagement with retirement than younger workers and saving for retirement is their number one financial priority.

You can read the full survey results by clicking here (subscribers only).

The article is published in Pension Benefits.

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The Double DB Plan: An Experiment in Plan Design

Several retirement plan consultants have put their heads together and come up with an interesting new idea for designing defined benefit plans. Why is it interesting? Because it’s a defined benefit plan, but it is fixed-cost; on top of it, the creators claim that both employees and employers will benefit.

It’s called the “Double DB”. Will the plan work? We won’t know until its put into action. For now, it’s certainly serves as an interesting though experiment.

You can hear an in-depth conversation on the topic in the video above. Or, you can read an explanation below, from Kamp Consulting:

Here is an example for illustrative purposes only and does not imply any future results as outcomes are based on specific plan and market data.

Suppose that a plan sponsor of an existing traditional DB plan wants to soon transition their employees to a DC structure. Let’s also assume that the plan sponsor’s existing DB has current annual cost of 30% of salary, with 20% paid by the employer and 10% by the employees. Instead of shuttering the DB plan and adopting the DC plan, the plan sponsor can adopt Double DB, a hybrid DB structure whose assets can be commingled with the existing trust assets.

For accounting purposes, there are two component pieces in the Double DB design. Once the plan is established, each of the two DB components receives 15% of payroll in the initial year (or, half of the hypothetical current annual cost). The first component (DB one) is a regular DB plan with features similar to a traditional DB plan, but with more modest fixed benefits. The second DB component is referred to as a partner plan, and its benefits are not fixed.

Based on our selected funding method, actuarial assumptions and plan design, assume that the traditional DB plan is calculated to provide a multiplier of 1.5% of FAS (final average salary). However, if investment experience in the first year is poor and the first DB plan now requires 16% of the contribution instead of the 15% paid in year one to support the 1.5% multiplier, DB one (regular DB) gets 16% and DB two (partner DB) gets 14%.

If instead, the plan’s experience in year one was favorable and the regular DB plan requires only 13.5% of pay to support the 1.5% multiplier, regular DB gets 13.5% and the partner DB gets 16.5%.

This process continues year after year. The actuarially determined percentage of payroll cost of continuing the 1.5% multiplier in the regular DB is always provided and the partner DB always gets the residual amount. Annual benefits to the pensioner from the regular DB are always 1.5% of one’s FAS times the number of years of service. Partner DB assets contributed to one’s final benefit will be determined year-by-year and by experience.

Upon retirement, the beneficiary will receive one check with the benefit from the first DB component being added to the variable benefit from second DB accounting to provide a monthly payment. With this plan design, the assets of both the traditional DB and residual DB can be commingled, whereas a traditional DB and its new DC assets can’t be combined. The same investment management team can be used, as well as all service providers, granting the plan sponsors greater economies of scale, less complication, and potentially happier employees who don’t have to manage their retirement program.


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