(iStock)
Columnist

The good news is Americans are living longer.

The bad news is Americans are living longer.

Okay, it’s not bad that folks are living longer. It’s just that for many people, there’s a greater chance that they will outlive their savings, and that’s scary.

But a new survey by Fidelity Investments has found that Americans are doing much better at preparing for retirement. The typical saver is on target to have 80 percent of the income needed to cover expenses in retirement, according to Fidelity’s Retirement Savings Assessment. This most recent retirement score is a great improvement from the score of 62 percent reported in 2005.

What’s changed?

“This improvement is driven largely by a higher median savings rate: now at 8.8 percent, up significantly from 3.6 percent in 2006,” Fidelity says.

Here’s how folks scored, according to age groups.

— Baby boomers (born 1946-1964) score: 86
— Gen X (born 1965-1980) score: 77
— Millennials (1981-1992) score : 78

I was happy to see young adults busting the myth that they aren’t saving.

“Millennials are clearly putting money aside for retirement and taking more control of their personal situations to ensure a financially secure future,” said Ken Hevert, Fidelity’s senior vice president of retirement. “While younger generations typically don’t have jobs with access to pensions as a source of guaranteed retirement income, there are many actions that can be taken to improve retirement readiness, including saving more, managing debt and making smart investment decisions. For the average saver — regardless of age or income level — these findings demonstrate the positive impact of knowing where you stand and taking appropriate actions to get on the path to retirement readiness.”

However, there is a “but” to the report, which is based on data from more than 3,100 survey responses.

Half of survey participants are at risk of not having the money to fully cover essential retirement expenses.

So what’s your retirement readiness score?

Get your score, which shows whether you’re on track to have enough income in retirement, according to estimates by Fidelity. Click the link that says, “Not a Fidelity customer? Get your retirement score.”

After you take the test, tell me how you did. Are you happy or concerned about the results? Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Include your name, city and state.

Don’t let the Dow’s plunge scare you

We knew it would happen. What goes up, comes down. And, the stock market took a big dip on Friday.

And it’s down again at the start of this week.

Last week, as CNN reported, “The Dow closed down 666 points, or 2.5 percent, its biggest percentage decline since the Brexit turmoil in June 2016 and steepest point decline since the 2008 financial crisis.”

If you’re nearing retirement or retired and still have money in the market, you may be worried. But Greg McBride, Bankrate.com’s chief financial analyst, says don’t panic about the decline.

Last week, McBride said, “Stay the course. The latest drop in the market takes us back just three weeks. The market closed higher on Friday than it did on January 10. Resist the urge to make knee-jerk reactions that are clouded by short-term volatility but could negatively affect your long-term nest egg. The economic fundamentals are the best we’ve seen in more than a decade, so don’t fear some temporary turbulence when the big picture is very positive.”

Think about it this way, he says: It’s a “payday for a number of people, and that means your 401(k) contribution went further as a result of the market pullback. Don’t fear the volatility, embrace it. The market had gotten a little bit ahead of itself in recent months, so a brief pullback is to be expected. Take a deep breath. Go for a walk. But whatever you do, don’t let a 4 percent pullback scare you to the sidelines.”

Retirement rants and raves
I’m interested in your experiences and concerns about retirement and aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?

If you haven’t retired, what concerns you financially? You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line, put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”

Robert Hall of Nutley, N.J., wrote, “We have been retired in Northern New Jersey for about 20 years. Because we are only about 15 minutes from New York City we have steady access to the best theater, film and music, and that is why we will never move. Access to health care is important, and there are large numbers of physicians you can see on very short notice. Norther New Jersey is very diverse ethnically, and that means a lot of excellent cuisine within a short drive. [Retirement] Satisfaction: High.”

Diana Tull, who retired to the Shenandoah Valley, had some good advice on preparing for retirement. She’s a widow who remarried.

1. “Don’t count on being able to work until full retirement age. Anything can happen. I have noticed many older workers being replaced by younger, cheaper labor, and then they have an impossible task to match their income in a new job, if they can even find one. Start saving now!! A friend of mine says she’s always been poor, so she’ll just be poor in retirement and is NOT saving anything!”
2. “If you don’t sacrifice for what you want, what you want will be the sacrifice! I wanted to retire SO badly! I thank God almost every day for the sacrifice my late husband and I made to build up a retirement fund. I’m thankful for the excellent profit sharing and 401(k) plans that we tried our best to maximize. We’re going on 69 — don’t know what the future holds, but we LOVE retirement. It was worth all the sacrifice.”

I’m still getting comments about the debate on when to file for Social Security benefits.

“Upon reaching 62 In late 2007, we decided that I would start taking Social Security,” one reader wrote. “Numerous things went into our decision. But the biggest factor was the age 78 ‘break even’ point for taking the early Social Security versus age 66’s check. We thought that we’d be able to enjoy the extra income while we were relatively healthy (knock on wood). Also, in the back of my mind, my father died at age 76 and my mother at 83 (although strokes at age 77 changed her quality of life). While by no means rich, we still try to remember two old maxims: ‘Happiness is good health and a poor memory.’ And, ‘Happiness is having someone to love, something to do and something to look forward to.’”

Kurt Arehart of Raleigh, N.C., wrote, “I am a retired analyst who built many financial models during my career. I independently modeled the discounted cash flow of delaying Social Security and also arrived at the notion that delaying brings a guaranteed 8 percent annual return, provided that you are around until 85 or older. So if you:
— do not need the income boost now,
— like the idea of a guaranteed 8 percent return
— believe you are from the deeper end of the gene pool where a longer than average life expectancy is reasonable,
… then delay the income. I retired at age 62, and will elect to start Social Security income somewhere between age 67 and 70, depending on my life expectancy and income requirements.”

Tom of Annapolis, Md., wanted to weigh in on the debate pointing out that the decision of when to take Social Security should also include whether you’re working.

“If you work there is an offset of up to 50 percent of your Social Security payments until you reach full retirement age,” he wrote. “I worked until I was 68 and if I had taken my Social Security [benefit] at 62, I would have lost half of it for four years. As it was, I waited to 70 to begin SS. I now receive more than $3,000 per month, which I think is a pretty good annuity. Frankly, I need it more now and am very glad I didn’t take it earlier.”

For more on working and collecting Social Security read: The great Social Security benefits debate: Take it early or wait?

You can still work and collect Social Security. But if you haven’t reached your full retirement age, your benefits are reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn above the annual limit. For 2018, the limit is $17,040.

From Social Security read: Retirement Planner: Getting Benefits While Working

Also read from The Balance: How the Social Security Spouse Benefit Works: Find out how to maximize Social Security spousal benefits

Newsletter Comments Policy
Please note it is my personal policy to identify readers who respond to questions I ask in my newsletters. I find it encourages thoughtful and civil conversation. I want my newsletters to be a safe place to express your opinion. On sensitive matters or upon request, I’m happy to include just your first name and/or last initial. But I prefer not to post anonymous comments (I do make exceptions when I’m asking questions that might reveal sensitive information or cause conflict.)

Have a question about your finances? Michelle Singletary has a weekly live chat every Thursday at noon where she discusses financial dilemmas with readers. You can also write to Michelle directly by sending an email to michelle.singletary@washpost.com. Personal responses may not be possible, and comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer’s name, unless otherwise requested. To read more Color of Money columns, go here.

If you’re viewing this post online sign up to receive Michelle Singletary’s newsletters right into your email box: “Your Retirement” on Mondays & “Personal Finance” on Thursdays.

Read and share Michelle Singletary’s Color of Money Column on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Follow Michelle Singletary on Twitter @SingletaryM and Facebook.