More Than Half of Americans Feel They Trail Behind Their Peers When It Comes to Retirement Savings [Survey]

RETIREMENT - RETIREMENT PLANNING
The FinanceBuzz team surveyed U.S. adults to find out when they think they will retire, how their retirement savings stack up to others, retirement roadblocks, and more.
Updated April 11, 2024
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retirement savings clock ticking

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Inflation, student loans, and rising interest rates have made 2023 a year where financial issues are particularly prominent. All of these issues have long-term ramifications for people that can impact their ability to plan and save for their financial futures, including how people approach retirement.

FinanceBuzz wanted to know how current events are affecting Americans’ retirement plans. To find out, our team surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults on their financial habits around their retirement accounts, plus their outlook on their financial future.

In this article

Key findings

  • 53% of people feel they’re behind their peers when it comes to retirement savings.
  • 54% of student loan borrowers say they will contribute less to their retirement because of student loan payments resuming.
  • 41% of people feel they aren’t earning enough to save money for retirement.
  • 40% of people cite recent inflation as a roadblock to retirement savings.

When people start saving, and when they think they will retire

A key part of effectively saving for retirement is knowing when you want to retire and how much money you need. Once you know, you can actively work toward your goal. So, how many people actually have a good grasp on their retirement plans?

A chart showing how people of different generations report approaching retirement. The represented data covers the average age at which people hope to retire, and at what ages people begin saving for retirement.

On average, respondents said they hope to retire at age 60, though that number rises to 65 among baby boomers. People in Gen Z hope to leave the workforce by 56 on average. Across the board, Americans think they will actually retire between ages 63 and 67.

Saving early is essential to successfully retiring at your target age. 23% of respondents said they started saving for retirement in their 20s, while nearly the same percentage (22%) started saving in their 30s.

Notably, more than a quarter of Americans (28%) haven’t started saving at all. That includes a whopping 44% of Gen Z respondents — the youngest age group surveyed.

How do your retirement savings stack up to your peers?

Knowing when you want to retire is one thing, but knowing how much money you need to achieve that goal is another, more complicated question.

A chart showing how people of different generations feel they compare to their peers as far as retirement savings go.

When asked how they feel their retirement savings compare to their peers, we found that the majority of people feel they’re lagging behind. 53% of respondents said they are behind their peers, including 29% who feel they’re far behind. Notably, at least 44% of people in every generation indicate they feel behind, showing just how inadequate people of all ages feel their retirement savings are.

Retirement roadblocks, and sacrifices people would make to retire earlier

Of course, even the best laid plans can be derailed by things beyond our control. There are a number of real-world factors that can act as roadblocks to retirement for many people.

A chart showing what roadblocks people report facing when it comes to retirement.

Low earnings was identified as the number-one biggest roadblock for retirement. 41% of people say insufficient income has impeded their ability to save. That is a notable increase from two years ago, when a previous version of this survey found only that 29% of people had encountered the same roadblock.

A roadblock that has been impacting lives more often recently is inflation, something that 40% of people cited. And the third-most common impediment to retirement savings is credit card debt, something that one in three people say is preventing them from maximizing their retirement savings.

A chart showing what people say they would be willing to do in order to retire 10 years earlier.

One way to potentially overcome these kinds of roadblocks and keep retirement plans on track is to make personal sacrifices in other areas. When asked to identify which hypothetical trade-offs they would be willing to make if it guaranteed they could retire 10 years earlier, more than one-third of people said they would move somewhere with a lower cost of living — that was the most popular choice.

Alternatively, 31% of people said they would be willing to forego purchasing anything new for two full years (except for essentials such as groceries). 30% of people said they would get a second, or even a third job if they knew it would allow them to retire a decade early.

How student loans are affecting retirement planning

Student loan debt is something that impacts more than 40 million people across the United States. The federal government had paused payments for the last few years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, that pause ended recently, which puts those bills back on the table for millions of borrowers.

A pie chart showing how many people answered yes or no to the question of if they will contribute less to retirement savings due to student loan payments resuming.

Unsurprisingly, the resumption of student loan payments will have a big impact on the financial outlook of millions of people, including their ability to save for retirement. Among respondents who indicated they currently have student loan debt, more than half of them, 54%, said that the unpausing of student loan payments will cause them to contribute less towards their retirement savings.

Expert insights

Dr. Erik Davidson, CFA, CTFA

Assistant Professor of Finance –  Hankamer School of Business
Baylor University

How much will returning student loan payments affect retirement plans?

Returning student loan payments may affect retirement plans as it could reduce disposable income for many households. This could have a negative effect on the markets and, therefore, on retirement investments. However, this alone is not reason enough for investors to be overly concerned and make substantive changes to their retirement investments.

Do you feel there is a large generational gap in regard to personal finance knowledge? If so, why?

Yes, but maybe not as much as one might presume. While many of us older investors wish that we had known more about personal finance when we were younger, and express concern about the financial knowledge of younger generations, I see it differently. 

My students are much more aware of personal finance issues than I was when I was their age. Many of them already have IRAs from part-time income. With the advent of low minimum, no commission, app-based investment platforms, many of them are already becoming familiar with the basics of investing: risk and return trade-offs, the importance of diversification, etc. They're also being exposed to investment topics earlier than previous generations through television shows like Shark Tank, the internet, and social media (although some of the guidance is suspect).

What do you believe is the biggest roadblock preventing people from saving more money for retirement?

The biggest roadblock that prevents us from saving more money for our retirement is our own nature. We face a constant battle between our present and future selves in areas like health, eating habits, exercise, and money habits. While we know we need to invest in our retirement and take care of our future selves, we are often tempted by unhealthy habits and immediate spending by our present selves. To overcome this, the best thing that people can do is establish guardrails and accountability to develop good habits and prioritize our future selves.

Responses have been slightly edited for clarity and concision.

Tips for maximizing your retirement savings

  • Save for retirement as soon as possible. Saving for retirement is a huge part of making sure you have what you need in the future. When you start early, you have more time for investments to pay off and more time for markets to stabilize over time. That said, every bit you can save is helpful, even if you’re getting off to a later start.
  • Make your money work for you. Investing money is a good way to make your money work for you and build wealth for your future. Our guide to the best investment apps can help you get started.
  • Budget your money. In times when money is tight, budgeting can be helpful. Here are some of the best budgeting apps.

Methodology

FinanceBuzz surveyed 1,000 U.S. adults ages 18 or older using a survey platform. Results were stratified across age and gender to create a nationally representative sample. Previous versions of this survey were produced in 2022, 2021, 2020, and 2019.

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Author Details

Josh Koebert Josh Koebert is an experienced content marketer that loves exploring how personal finance overlaps with topics such as sports, food, pop culture, and more. His work has been featured on sites such as CNN, ESPN, Business Insider, and Lifehacker.

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