Got Retirement Plans? Your Spouse May Disagree

MarketWatch

Married couples often don't agree on when to retire or where to live.

You may plan to retire to Florida when you're 67, but there's a good chance your spouse has other ideas, according to a new survey that asked married couples about their retirement plans.

Almost two-thirds of couples don't agree on the age at which they'll retire, and one-third of couples disagree or don't know where they'll live once they retire, according to a survey of 648 married couples (a total of 1,296 people), conducted for Fidelity Investments by Richard Day Research Inc.

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Forty-seven percent of couples don't agree on whether they'll work in retirement, according to the survey of people aged 46 to 75 with household income of at least $75,000 or investable assets of $100,000 or more. Of the couples surveyed, 196 already were retired. The survey respondents were not told that Fidelity sponsored the survey.

Seventy-three percent of the couples surveyed disagreed on whether they have completed a retirement-income plan, and more than half of the couples surveyed disagreed on what their top source of retirement income would be.

The main income sources cited by pre-retirees included workplace retirement plans, pensions and Social Security, while the retirees pointed to pensions, Social Security and brokerage accounts.

The good news is that a higher portion of couples agree on their retirement-income sources now than did in the last survey Fidelity conducted on this topic: In 2009, 62% of couples did not agree on their top source of retirement income, versus 55% in the current survey.

Honey, We Have a Financial Adviser

Given the relative lack of coordinated planning among many of the couples surveyed, it's somewhat surprising that fully 58% of the couples said they work with a financial adviser. However, a majority of those couples said only one spouse -- usually the husband -- works with their finance professional. That may help to explain some of the disparate ideas husbands and wives have about their retirement plans.

Thirty-five percent of the couples said they both meet with their investment professional, while 36% said the husband has primary contact with their finance expert, 12% said the wife had primary contact, and 17% disagree about who meets with that person.

Wives Less Confident

Overall, the women surveyed described themselves as less knowledgeable than the men did about financing retirement. They also said they were more wary about taking on risk when investing.

Only 35% of the wives said they could take on full responsibility for the couple's retirement finances if needed, versus 72% of the husbands.

While 20% of the husbands described themselves as "investors," just 5% of the wives did. Instead, they tended to say they were savers or spenders.

Thirty-seven percent of the husbands said they make most of their household's financial decisions related to retirement. Just 8% of wives said they were the primary decision-maker.

Twenty-one percent of the wives surveyed said they are willing to accept lower returns in exchange for preserving wealth, compared to 16% of the husbands who said that.

Retirees Are Happier Than Expected

Sixty-nine percent of the retirees surveyed said their lifestyle is comfortable -- and 22% of the retirees surveyed said their retirement lifestyle is better than they thought it would be.

But just 54% of the pre-retirees surveyed said they expect to live comfortably in retirement.

Of the retired couples surveyed, the husband said he retired at age 59, on average, and the wife at age 58. For couples who had not yet retired, their expected retirement age was much later, on average: age 64 for the husband, and age 63 for the wife.

The top three retirement worries for pre-retirees are steep health-care costs, inflation and cuts to Social Security benefits. All told, 59% of couples agreed that they're worried about unexpected major health-care expenses.

When asked what they would advise young couples today, the survey respondents' top three recommendations were: Make all financial decisions together, create a budget and stick to it, and set up an emergency fund to cover six months of expenses.

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