Average Retirement Savings

LAST REVIEWED May 02 2020 8 MIN READ

By The Human Interest Team

Nearly half of U.S. households are without any retirement savings — no IRAs, no 401(k)s, nothing at all. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports that almost 29% of households 55 and older have neither a pension or retirement savings, which is a scary picture for sure. Having adequate savings for retirement should be a critical financial goal, with your nest egg ideally following a steady upward trend over time.

Savings Overview

When planning and saving, it’s important to recognize the difference between retirement and emergency savings. Both are important and have their own set of recommended guidelines to follow.

Retirement Savings

According to estimates from The Employee Benefit Research Institute, Americans have a retirement savings deficit of $4.3 trillion. This means U.S. households, many with the head of household between 25 and 64 years old, have $4.4 trillion less in savings than is recommended for retirement.

When determining how much you should have saved for your retirement, it’s essential to understand which age group you’re in.

Generation

Years Born

Average 401(k) Account Balance in 2019

Millennials

1981-1997

$137,300

Gen X

1965-1980

$281,000

Baby Boomers

1946-1964

$366,100

The average 401(k) account balance rose 351% to $306,500, up from $68,000 a decade prior.

Meanwhile, an October 2017 Center for Retirement Research study showed the following median retirement account balances for both IRAs and 401(k)s: 

Age Range

Median Retirement Account Balance in 2017

$37,000

35-44

$80,000

45-54

$104,000

55-64

Ideally, you should aim for the level of savings held by the top 10% of retirement savers, with more than $1 million in average retirement savings between the ages of 65 and 69. However, some experts are now suggesting that retirees may need roughly $3 million to fund their retirement.

Emergency Savings

Experts recommend that you have a minimum of three months, and preferably six months, of living expenses in an emergency savings fund. This amount is determined by multiplying your budget by the desired number of months and removing luxuries until just must-pay bills are left. These amounts often range between $3,400 per month for earners in their 30s and $4,300 per month for earners in their 40s.

Some Savings Tips

These numbers may seem intimidating, but it’s important to note that contributions to the majority of retirement savings accounts aren’t taxed until the funds are taken out, presumably when the account owners fall into lower tax brackets.

Consider establishing automatic deposits into retirement savings accounts. This makes consistently setting money aside easier with the theory being if you don’t see the money, you won’t miss the money. This helps you grow your savings while adjusting to living on the money left over. Other tips for saving for retirement include:

  • Make a savings plan. This is a roadmap for how you will get where you want to go. How much do you want your investment portfolio to grow this next year? If you’re still working, how large do you hope your retirement savings account will be by the time you retire? When do you plan on stopping working? What’s your risk tolerance level? What kind of investments will help you reach your goal?

  • Determine how much is enough. Most experts suggest saving 15% of your gross income each year. This includes any company match available.

  • Determine where your money is going. If you’re struggling to find 15% in your budget to save, take time to figure out where your money is going. Create a detailed, written spending log and identify how you’re spending your money. Once you see where your money is going, you can determine which expenditures are essential and which are discretionary. You can then work on minimizing discretionary spending.

  • Determine how to boost your savings. If you are currently saving 7%, you likely won’t be able to jump to 15% in just one year, even with creative budgeting. While you should always be contributing enough to receive the maximum of any company match, most experts suggest increasing savings by 1% each year until you reach your desired level.

Keeping Average Savings in Perspective

If you feel your retirement savings are below average for your age group, it’s important to review your current plan and decide the best way to get back on track. Increase your elective salary deferrals to ensure you’re receiving the full matching contribution from your employer, and use an IRA if you aren’t eligible or don’t have access to an employer-sponsored 401(k).

It’s also important to be realistic about your retirement timeline. If you have less saved than you want, you may need to think about remaining at your full-time job longer or pick up a part-time job once you retire. Take time to calculate how much you’ll need to retire and then look at how much you already have saved. This will help you determine how much you need to reach your goal and help you develop a plan to do so.

Unmet Savings Goals

Average retirement savings aren’t the only place Americans are lacking. Although the average net worth of U.S. households has consistently risen since the Great Recession, it’s still lower than recommended. The Federal Reserve reported in 2016  that the median household net worth is $59,800 for heads of households between the ages of 35 and 44, $124,200 between the ages of 45 and 54, and $187,300 between the ages of 55 and 64. The average median net worth for all age groups increased by 16% from the previous 2013 survey.

For many retired Americans, Social Security benefits are their sole source of income, even though that was never the intent of this program. Many retired workers receive a monthly Social Security benefit averaging around $1,500 — about the same as a minimum-wage job. When you add the increasing debt levels that older Americans are experiencing, you have a situation that’s far from living the retirement dream of leisure and travel.

Understanding the recommended average retirement savings and median retirement savings by age are important components to preparing for retirement. Let Human Interest’s retirement savings experts help you determine how much you should have saved for retirement and how to get you there.

We believe that everyone deserves access to a secure financial future, which is why we make it easy to provide a 401(k) to your employees. Human Interest offers a low-cost 401(k) with automated administration, built-in investment advising, and integration with leading payroll providers.

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