For millions among the aging baby boomers hitting or approaching 60 years of age, the best retirement advice can be summed up in one word: Don’t.
Or, at least in three words: Put it off.
From all the studies and numbers we’ve seen, the average 60-something in the United States simply hasn’t saved nearly enough to afford to quit work completely. In the face of rising medical costs, frozen if not disappearing pensions, and the frequent need to still care for frail parents, the average American would have a difficult if not impossible time financing a retirement that could last 30 years or more.
The boomers’ solution? Shuck off retirement by declaring it is bad for you and that we want to keep working so we can continue to be active and engaged, not because we just haven’t saved enough.
“In inimitable boomer style, we find an alternative. We won’t retire,” said Deena Katz, former editor of the Journal of Retirement Planning and a boomer herself.
“But we are not likely to admit that the decision to reject traditional retirement is forced on us by lack of resources,” Katz wrote in “Retirement Income Redesigned,” a book for professional advisers she edited with Harold Evensky of the firm Evensky & Katz in South Florida.
Personally, we embrace the notion of this new retirement and we intend to keep writing as long as we are capable, because we enjoy it. But for most boomers, continued work past traditional retirement age will be a necessity, not a choice. We have the numbers to prove it.
Also, a few more years of work can enhance our financial security in retirement, and we have those numbers too.
First the not-so-good statistics: Among workers in their 60s who have participated in their 401(k) retirement plans since at least 1999, the average account balance was about $141,000 as of the end of last year, according to annual research by the Investment Company Institute and Employee Benefit Research Institute.
Admittedly, $141,000 is nothing to sniff at, and these workers could have had other assets, such as IRAs or money in a former employer’s plan. The research does not show one way or the other. But $141,000 by itself is clearly not enough to fund a 30-year retirement,
In addition, as steady 401(k) participants, these workers are likely in much better financial shape than the average American of the same age.
Among all workers 55 and over, for example, more than half had less than $50,000 saved for retirement and only 26 percent had saved more than $250,000, according to the separate 2006 Retirement Confidence Survey.
The latest research does show that workers who stick it out with their 401(k) plans can grow their nest eggs to significant amounts over time.
For example, among all workers who stayed in their 401(k) plan the entire period, average account balances rose from less than $68,000 at the end of 1999 to more than $102,000 at the end of 2005.
Aging boomers can put this power of persistence to work by staying on the job longer. Research published in the Journal of Financial Planning shows that retiring at age 70 rather than 62 and postponing Social Security benefits until then can cut by almost 77 percent the savings needed to sustain a retirement lifestyle for a couple earning $58,560 after taxes.
While numbers can vary widely based on the assumptions made, the message is clear: Working longer may be the only way millions of Americans will be able to afford retirement.
Humberto and Georgina Cruz are a husband-and-wife writing team. Send questions to AskHumberto@aol.com.