Gen X, young Boomers unprepared for retirementNews added by Benefits Pro on May 17, 2013

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By Paula Aven Gladych

Generation X took a major hit during the Great Recession, losing nearly 50 percent of its median net worth between 2007 to 2009.

That's the bad news.

The worse news? This generation is carrying about $20,000 more in debt than the next closest generation and wasn’t saving enough for retirement before the recession hit, leaving it at risk of not having enough savings to maintain its standard of living upon retirement.

In a report titled, “Retirement Security Across Generations: Are Americans Prepared for their Golden Years?” The Pew Charitable Trusts took a close look at how the Great Recession affected the wealth and retirement security of those over the age of 38.

The report from the nonpartisan public policy experts at Pew adds to the growing worry about retirement in America, amid a debate in Washington over whether to trim Social Security and Medicare.

Broken down into generational groups, the report compared Generation X to the youngest Baby Boomers, oldest Baby Boomers and what it calls the War Baby and Depression Baby generations.

In 2010, Gen Xers had more than $80,000 in debt, which is historically high, said Diana Elliott, research manager of Pew’s economic mobility project.

In comparison, Depression babies—those ages 78 to 87—and War babies—those ages 68 to 77—had very high levels of assets relative to their debt. The oldest Baby Boomers—those ages 58 to 67—also are entering retirement with historically high levels of debt. This debt includes mortgages, credit cards and student loans.

Generation X had a low net worth even before the recession but experienced a 47 percent decline during the Recession, with a median loss of $33,000. This generation also had a lower rate of home ownership, with only 63 percent owning homes in 2010.

Those who owned homes during the economic downturn lost 27 percent of their home equity between 2007 and 2010 and aren’t expected to be able to replace more than 50 percent of their current income in retirement.

Most retirement advisors recommend that individuals plan to replace between 70 and 100 percent of their current earnings in retirement.

In the meantime, older Boomers are in good shape for retirement, Elliott said. They have higher wealth levels than the group that came before them and will replace 70 to 80 percent of their income when retired. But for younger Boomers, those ages 48 to 57, “it’s not as clear they are on track for a secure retirement,” she said.

This group is expected to only be able to replace 60 percent of its income in retirement which, like Generation X, falls short of the recommended income replacement ratios that financial advisors put so much stock in.
According to the data, the median gain in retirement accounts for younger Boomers was $21,600 and the median loss was $32,700. GenXers had a similar story but on a smaller scale, with a median gain of $11,000 and a median loss of $13,000.

And while the Pew study didn’t go into the reasons behind the numbers, the authors of the study believe it is important for policymakers to see how wealth and retirement security have changed over time.

“It is wise to focus attention on how to help these youngest groups change course and prevent downward mobility in the long-term,” Elliott said.

Derek Gabrielsen, a wealth advisor with Strategic Wealth Partners in Seven Hills, Ohio, said that it is clear from working with clients in these younger age groups that a large percentage of them are unprepared for retirement.

The main cause? “Probably 95 percent of the time (the cause) is overspending and a lack of savings. Rather than setting aside money for retirement, they are spending it and not taking advantage of the different retirement savings tools available to them,” he said.

Many of these people are not contributing the maximum amount up to their match in their employer-sponsored plan, which is leaving money on the table, and many are not saving at all, he added.

“We’ve seen a lot of people, especially in the age range we’re talking about, making bad investments in real estate throughout that time period beginning in 2005. They were getting in when the market was really high and losing a lot of money in whatever type of real estate [they invested in],” Gabrielsen said.

Many bought homes to fix and flip within two years, or they bought rental properties just as the housing bubble was about to burst.

Gabrielsen doesn’t believe you can blame Generation X or the younger Baby Boomers for their lack of savings behavior. It is more of a societal problem, he said.

A lot of the problems with bad real estate investments took place because of greed. People saw other people making tons of money in real estate and decided to put their nest eggs into these investments instead of traditional retirement vehicles, like 401(k)s or IRAs.

“Some people say they were looking to make more of a profit, but other people may call it greed. In my opinion, one of the main reasons for the deficit in retirement savings in that generation is very simply a lack of proper savings,” he said.

The situation isn’t hopeless.

“One thing that is very important is to learn from your mistakes and not get too greedy in the short-term to make up the deficit in your retirement savings. If you are 55 years old and you don’t have much saved in your 401(k), simply put, start saving more. (But) don’t get too aggressive in the investments you make inside that plan or an IRA. Don’t make the same mistakes again,” Gabrielsen said.

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