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5 common misconceptions Americans have about retirement

Stephanie Asymkos
·Reporter
·4 min read

Not only are many Americans falling short on saving for retirement, they also have gaps in understanding key elements of planning for their golden years, according to a new study from Fidelity Investments.

“Regardless of whether they're in good shape or there's some sort of a shortfall, there are steps that they can take and time-proven fundamentals that will help them get to where they need to go," John Boroff, Fidelity’s director of retirement and income solutions, told Yahoo Money. 

But, he added, these retirees need to have the right facts, which the survey indicated may not be the case with everyone.  

From Fidelity Investments, the 2021 State of Retirement Planning Study identified five areas of opportunity when it comes to understanding important retirement guidelines. (Photo: Getty)
From Fidelity Investments, the 2021 State of Retirement Planning Study identified five areas of opportunity when it comes to understanding important retirement guidelines. (Photo: Getty)

The survey, which polled online a nationally representative sample of 1,204 non-retired adults with at least one investment account, found that there are five common retirement misconceptions shared by Americans.

Underestimating retirement nest eggs

According to Fidelity, a retirement nest egg should be worth 10 to 12 times your last full year of working income, but it varies depending on several factors like desired lifestyle and life expectancy.

"A lot of people underestimate what they're going to need to live in retirement,” Boroff said, citing that only 1 in 4 respondents accurately indicated the recommended savings amount. Half of all respondents thought the figure would be only five times their last full year of working income or less.

Read more: Here's how to get your retirement savings back on track

How much to withdraw in retirement

Tapping into a nest egg isn’t a free-for-all. Financial planners suggest withdrawing only 4% to 6% annually, which far outpaced the 10% to 15% annual withdrawal rate that more than a quarter of respondents thought was appropriate.

Conservative spending will extend a nest egg’s life rather than using up retirement savings quickly.

Assuming market returns will be negative

Heading into retirement amid a down market is actually the exception and not the rule. Statistically speaking, someone’s more likely to retire when the market is up rather than down because 26 of the past 35 years have seen positive returns. 

However, popular opinion is the opposite and almost three-quarters of Fidelity's respondents believe the stock market have seen negative returns more frequently than positive ones over the past 35 years.

Read more: Here's how your retirement income is taxed

Shot of a senior couple going over their finances at home
Rely on the fundamentals of saving. (Photo: Getty)

Just as those headed for retirement in 2008 couldn’t have predicted their portfolios would take a hit after the financial crisis, Boroff warned against looking at a single year “in isolation” because “a given year can be very misleading.”

People with longer horizons to retirement should rely on the “fundamentals of saving,” Boroff said, like using the correct accounts, revisiting your asset mix on a regular basis, and scaling back risk as retirement nears.

Out of touch with health care expenses

Calling health care costs “another place where people tend to underestimate,” Boroff explained that 37% of people undercut the cost of out-of-pocket health care by as much as a quarter.

The study revealed that for a couple retiring at 65, the actual average cost of health expenses throughout their retirement is $295,000.

Awareness of full retirement age for Social Security

Social Security benefits can be claimed as early as someone’s 62nd birthday, but holding out until Full Retirement Age (FRA) — between 66 and 67, depending on your birth year — comes with more benefits, yet few can correctly identify their FRA target.

Only 17% of survey respondents correctly identified their FRA, including 44% of Gen Xers, who underestimated their FRA of 67. Claiming benefits prior to FRA can trigger a permanent reduction in monthly income benefits.

“Waiting till FRA is typically the way to go for most people, but there can be scenarios where if someone doesn't reach a certain life expectancy, it can be beneficial to have taken it prior to FRA,” Boroff said. “The rule of thumb is to wait until FRA, but it really is an individual decision.”

Yahoo Money sister site Cashay has a weekly newsletter.
Yahoo Money sister site Cashay has a weekly newsletter.

Stephanie is a reporter for Yahoo Money and Cashay, a new personal finance website. Follow her on Twitter @SJAsymkos.

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