America's retirement prospects in doubt

Only about three in 10 workers (28 percent) expect to have enough money to retire comfortably.

Conversely, nearly seven out of 10 Americans have set low expectations about their retirement prospects. The breakdown:

  • One-third (33 percent) say they'll have just enough to get by.
  • Two out of 10 (17 percent) say they will not have enough money to retire without worrying.
  • Nineteen percent say they are afraid they'll never be able to retire.

Bankrate commissioned GfK Roper to conduct a random survey of Americans' expectations about retirement as part of our Financial Literacy series.

 Counterintuitive actions
Here's a surprise: One out of six Americans have increased their retirement savings as a result of the slumping economy.

Not so shocking was the discovery that the faltering economy has pushed about 15 percent of people in IRAs and workplace retirement plans into lowering their contributions. Meanwhile, three out of four workers (73 percent) kept contributions the same.

But experts are stunned that nearly 16 percent have actually increased the amount they're saving as a result of the current economic downturn.

Retirement insecurity

"That seems to me very hard to explain, or understand," says Alicia Munnell, director of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. "People don't change. One thing we have learned about 401(k) plans is that inertia is a very powerful force, and people tend to stay where they're put unless they're forced to move. And hard economic times would force people to move," she says.

Intuitively it would seem that the movement would be toward decreasing or stopping contributions altogether, but apparently some contrarians have taken the economic situation as a signal to pick up the pace on savings. It's difficult to say if they are driven by insecurity, a need to batten down the hatches or some other inscrutable force, but experts agree they must be strongly motivated.

To change anything in a retirement plan requires a catalyst, Munnell says. "People have to be driven to act by something."




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