Will Retirement Be a Bust for Boomers?

by | May 7, 2012 | Weekly Column | 2 comments

If you’re a Baby Boomer, or your parents are, here’s a ray of sunshine to brighten your day: Boomers have so severely underfunded their retirements that Congress may turn to their children to bail them out.

This is the gist of an article in the April issue of Financial Advisor magazine by Dr. Somnath Basu, professor of finance at California Lutheran University. He notes, “The problem could be as big, if not bigger, than the 2008 financial crisis.”

A new study by the Center For Retirement Research, Boston College, detailed on CNBC.com, finds the retirement years for Boomers will be much leaner than for their parents. An estimated 51% of them will be unable to maintain their current lifestyles in retirement.

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Ironically, one major contributor to this bleak picture is the Boomer generation’s own optimism and positive thinking. Raised in a society of abundance with expectations of prosperity, Boomers have over-spent and under-saved for decades. Many of them assume they will receive ample inheritances. They see increased life expectancy as a wonderful thing, forgetting to factor in the higher medical costs that will come with it. They expect to work well into their 70’s, disregarding statistics that show many of them will be forced to retire sooner due to health problems or job layoffs.

Let’s look at some decidedly pessimistic numbers from the Center For Retirement Research study. The median 401(k) and IRA balance for Boomers nearing retirement is $78,000. Only around half can expect to inherit from their parents, with the median inheritance amount $40,000. That adds up to a total nest egg of $118,000, which at a 4% withdrawal rate provides less than $400 a month for life. Combining that with the average Social Security check of $1,077 means retiring on an income just above the poverty level.

What’s the solution? Many Boomers say they plan to never quit working. Unfortunately, this is delusional. According to a new survey by the Society of Actuaries, “The 2011 Risks and Process of Retirement Survey,” over one-third of Boomers think they will never retire and only 10% say they will retire by 60. Statistics show, however, that 50% have actually retired before age 60. The main reasons are health and downsizing, which boomers discount. Well over 90% of them maintain they have a healthy lifestyle and won’t get sick. Boomers are so out of touch with reality I wonder how many, if asked, “Will you ever die?” would answer, “No,” or “Maybe.”

Sadly, only one-third of Boomers have a plan for financing their retirement, other than planning to work until the day they die. What’s the solution for the remaining two-thirds who are unprepared?

Unfortunately, for many older Boomers it is already too late. Their lack of planning for their retirement years may mean forcing their children and grandchildren to decide whether taxpayers can afford to pick up the tab.

Younger Boomers can take control of their retirement by radically downsizing their lifestyles and increasing their income. This means selling expensive homes, cars, and toys and living as frugally as possible. The resulting savings should first go to pay off high-interest debt, then to fund to the max every available retirement plan. Another possibility is to consider various employment options, including government jobs which offer pension plans unavailable in most private sector jobs.

Wise Boomers will also encourage their own children to emulate the frugality and money skills of their grandparents. The kids will need those skills for their own futures—especially if they have to help their Boomer parents pay the bills.

Related Readings:

Financial Advice for Beginning Adults

Preparing for Retirement When It’s Too Late to Start Early

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