6 reasons boomers worry and 6 ways to fix it

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Are you a baby boomer with a dim view of how the economy is going and a fear that it will diminish your ability to retire or continue to live in retirement comfortably?

If so, you’re in the majority: 57% of boomers surveyed say they are dissatisfied with the way the economy is working for them, up from 24% in 2011, according to a study released Monday by the Insured Retirement Institute, or IRI, a trade organization for the retirement planning industry.

Here are 6 things that the study says make boomers nervous:

  • Only 24% are confident they will have enough savings to last through retirement.
  • Just 27% believe they will have enough money for health-care expenses.
  • A fraction — 16% — believe they could shoulder the cost of long-term care.
  • 30% have stopped contributing to retirement accounts.
  • Another 30% have found it difficult to pay their mortgages.
  • 20% believe they won’t have enough money in retirement to pay basic expenses.

Considering that the economy appears to be more stable than it was 5 years ago, why are boomers more fearful rather than less? Members of a panel assembled by the IRI to analyze this study offered these 6 reasons:

  • Savings aren’t growing because interest rates are so low. “People are saving, but they aren’t getting what it takes to grow their nest egg,” says IRI President and CEO Cathy Weatherford.
  • The recession was long and discouraging. “We’re on the upswing, but the length of the recession took a toll on boomers. Many were laid off or had to retire early because of transitions in the workplace,” says Weatherford.
  • Grown children are still living in the basement. “They’ve had to take in their children and grandchildren,” Weatherford says.
  • Health care costs are rising. Fear of the unknown — how much will health care really cost — is particularly daunting, she says.
  • Bad news about the economy abounds. “We haven’t seen a drop in preparedness, but consumers are more aware of potential problems,” says Jamie Hopkins, associate professor of taxation at the American College.
  • People are bombarded with complexity. You used to get your pension and Social Security checks and that was it. Today, people have to be a lot more educated to plan adequately for retirement. “Confidence drops based on confusion,” says Brent Neiser, senior director of strategic programs and alliances for the National Endowment for Financial Education.

Fixing the problem

The 6th annual survey was released just in time for National Retirement Planning Week. Right or wrong, this appears to be the way life is, so what can boomers do to ease their minds?

Hopkins offers these 6 suggestions. All of them have been said many times before. Nevertheless, actually doing them can make a big difference in your ability to retire comfortably.

  • Understand Social Security. For two-thirds of boomers, Social Security will provide more than 50% of retirement income, Hopkins says. “You have to make good Social Security decisions.”
  • Take advantage of home equity. If you have it, focus on ways to use it to your best advantage. “It is an untapped and unplanned resource,” Hopkins says.
  • Save in a tax-advantaged retirement plan. If you are entitled to an old-fashioned pension, you’re lucky. If you’re not — and even if you are — save early and often.
  • Be realistic about retirement timing. “People are saying they expect to retire later, but perception differs from reality,” Hopkins says. “Research shows you need 2 things to keep working once you reach retirement age: a financial need to keep working and you have to enjoy your job. If you don’t have both of those things, the likelihood you’ll keep working is about 0.”
  • Make a plan. Any old plan won’t do it, Hopkins says. What you need is “a written, comprehensive plan. … It greatly improves your knowledge and your likelihood of success.”
  • Get good advice. Smart retirement advice can make all the difference.

Here are 5 things that make Roth IRAs a superb planning tool.

Follow me on Twitter @jennielp.