Sunday, March 18, 2012

'Good' Vibrations

Last week the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Mathew Greenwald & Associates, Inc., unveiled the 22nd annual Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS).

Among the things we have learned after doing this survey for more than two decades: People’s confidence about retirement frequently seems out of line with the financial resources they indicate they have on hand to fund it. Of course, most (56%) of this year’s respondents admit neither they nor their spouse have made even a single attempt to determine how much they need to achieve that comfortable retirement—so it shouldn’t be too surprising that, asked how much they think they need to have saved in order to provide for a comfortable retirement, many hold forth a number that seems lower than some might expect.

While we spent a fair amount of time this week discussing the results with reporters, one question that came up repeatedly was “Why do you do this survey? What do you hope people take from it?”

The survey itself is meaningful both for the kinds of issues it deals with: Questions that, as in this year’s RCS, deal not just with confidence as a “feeling” but also the criteria that underlie and influence that sentiment. It looks at the perspective both of those already in retirement, as well as those still working and heading toward that milestone. It also (with a perspective based on two decades of conducting this particular survey) offers insights on how those feelings and factors have changed over time.

Those good reasons notwithstanding, this past week EBRI reminded reporters that the RCS has found that people who have taken the time to do a retirement needs assessment are generally more confident than those who haven’t done so, and not necessarily because they find that they are in better shape than they’d thought. In fact, most report that they set higher savings goals AFTER they had done the assessment—and were THEN more confident in their situation.

That is why EBRI joined many others in 1995 to establish the American Savings Education Council (ASEC), and then the ChoosetoSave(r) program and the BallparkE$timate(r). Millions of Americans have used the BallparkE$timate(r) at www.choosetosave.org to help them climb the hill to savings and greater financial security, and according to the RCS, a more realistic view of the future.

There’s something to be said for knowing the size and extent of what was previously unknown, particularly when it comes to setting a financial goal as complex as planning for retirementcan seem.

If the annual publication of the RCS does no more than remind individuals of the importance of taking the time to do so, then it’s not only good information—it’s information that does some good.

- Nevin E. Adams, JD


Results of the 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey (RCS) are now available online HERE

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