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Most Americans are wrong about how much they need for retirement

Jessica Dickler
  • When it comes to their golden years, most people say they'd like to spend more time with their friends and family, buy a vacation home and possibly travel the world.
  • However, they haven't saved even close to enough to afford all of that once they stop working, according to a new report.

When it comes to retirement dreams, most people envision a house by the beach or golf course, quality time with family and friends and a chance to see the world.

But all of that requires the kind of nest egg many Americans just don't have.

The majority of those polled said they would like to save $100,000 to $250,000 by the time they reach retirement, according to a new GoBankingRates report. The personal finance site surveyed more than 1,000 people in September. The survey has a margin of error of 3.1 percentage points.

"That seems like a lot of money but if you think how long retirement is — we're talking two decades for many people — $100,000 is not going go very far," said Cameron Huddleston, a life and money columnist for GOBankingRates.

Forty-one percent of workers said they hoped their savings would afford them a vacation home , and a little more than a third said they would like to spend their time with loved ones in their golden years, followed by traveling the world .

However, in reality, more than half of Americans, or 57 percent, have less than $1,000 in their savings accounts, according to a separate GOBankingRates survey .

Another report by the Stanford Center on Longevity found that nearly one-third of baby boomers had no money saved in retirement plans in 2014, when they were on average 58 years old.

Among boomers with positive balances, the median savings was around $200,000.

Experts have said people may need a nest egg of more than $1 million to carry them through a 30-year retirement.

And even that may not be enough.

For most Americans, there's been a serious lack of proper investment income and planning, Huddleston said.

Add to that a looming pension crisis and longer life expectancy — particularly for women — and "people don't seem to have a clue as to how much they need," she said.

A report by the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies found that 4 in 10 workers who provided an estimate of their retirement savings needs last year said that they "guessed" the amount needed, a finding that was basically unchanged from a decade earlier.

To get a more accurate picture of your retirement number, Huddleston recommends using a retirement calculator or following some basic guidelines.

For example, the Stanford Center advises aiming to save 10 percent to 17 percent of your income if you plan to retire at 65 — about double what most people are actually socking away .

And while it sounds obvious, one of the best ways to catch up on retirement savings is to work longer .

Delaying retirement for just three to six months has the same impact as saving 1 percent more of your salary over 30 years, according to a report by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The power of saving continues to decrease as workers approach retirement age, the working paper found.

Aside from the added income, working longer also allows you to preserve your retirement savings and even keep building those assets in tax-advantaged retirement plans while also reaping the benefits of delaying Social Security past full retirement age .

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