Conversations with my friends have increasingly concerned when we plan to retire.
Some have done the math and figure they’ll have to work longer at their current jobs, hoping they can boost their retirement savings before health issues set in.
Yet studies show that what people expect regarding retirement doesn’t often match what really happens. To that point, the Employee Benefit Research Institute has just issued a report about the gap between expected and actual retirement. Coupled with a retirement confidence survey released earlier this year, EBRI is matching reality with expectation.
In the confidence survey, EBRI found that only 9 percent of workers said they planned to retire before age 60. But often the best-laid plans can fall through — 35 percent of actual retirees reported they ended up leaving their jobs before 60. And 15 percent of workers reported that their expected retirement age had increased in the past year. Here are the reasons people cited for delaying retirement:
●Inadequate finances or can’t afford to retire
●A change in employment situation
●Lack of faith in Social Security or government
●Higher-than-expected cost of living
What’s most interesting about the latest EBRI report is the ability to examine the expected and actual retirement decisions for the same set of people. In looking at another set of data, from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study, which every two years since 1992 has been surveying a representative sample of 26,000 Americans 50 and older, EBRI found that 38 percent retired before they expected, 48 percent retired after they expected, and only 14 percent retired the year they thought they would.
Clearly, many workers are overly optimistic about how long they will be able to keep working compared to the reality reported by those who have already retired, notes Sudipto Banerjee, EBRI research associate and author of the report.
In 2012, the expected probability of working full time after age 65 was 48.7 percent for men and 46 percent for women. But only 12.7 percent of men and 6 percent of women actually worked full time after age 65, the report found.
“Retiring earlier than planned can affect retirement security adversely — especially, as it often is, for reasons beyond the worker’s control — and such gaps between expected and actual retirement should be a cause of concern,” Banerjee wrote.
The findings showed that people without a defined contribution plan such as a 401(k) or a defined benefit plan such as a pension had larger differences between expected and actual retirement, compared with those who had such plans.
EBRI also found that prior to the onset of the financial crisis in September 2008, 83.9 percent of survey participants retired either earlier or no later than three years after their expected retirement date. But after the economic downturn, only 59.3 percent followed this pattern.
So how does this all relate to you?
Well, just look at the news from the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp., the federal agency that insures and protects the private-sector pension benefits of millions of Americans. In its annual report, the PBGC noted its overall deficit increased to about $62 billion.
The PBGC forecasts a frightening picture for multi-employer plans, which saw a more than fivefold deficit increase to $42.4 billion. This was a record for the multi-employer program, which insures the benefits of more than 10 million workers and retirees in industries such as building and construction, retail, manufacturing, trucking and transportation.
“The risk of insolvency rises over time, exceeding 50 percent in 2022 and reaching 90 percent by 2025,” the PBGC report said. “When the program becomes insolvent, PBGC will be unable to provide financial assistance to pay guaranteed benefits.”
In the PBGC’s single-employer program, the deficit has been reduced but still stands at $19.3 billion. That program insures the pensions of about 31 million workers and retirees in about 22,300 plans sponsored by private-sector employers.
I’m facing a significant reduction in my own pension because of a planned freeze in benefits that could derail my plans for retirement. But I’m not going to panic. I’ve started going back over my numbers to figure out what more I can do to stay on track for my expected retirement date.
That’s the thing about retirement. It can be a moving target with so many variables, some of which are out of your control. But when things change, often the most you can do is adjust your expectations.
Readers may write to Michelle Singletary at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071 or firstname.lastname@example.org. To read previous Color of Money columns, go to postbusiness.com.