Are You Behind in Retirement Savings? Here's How to Tell

A financial expert shares her advice on what you should be basing your progress on.

Most of us dream of the day we can hang up our work clothes for good, all while knowing that it takes decades of planning and saving up before we reach that point. But what happens if you reach your 60s, and you don't have enough money in the bank to retire? That's a question many in the U.S. are asking themselves these days, as a majority of people worry that they're behind in retirement savings

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A Sept. 2023 survey from Bankrate found that more than half of Americans are concerned about their retirement prospects. The researchers spoke to over 2,527 U.S. adults, with 1,301 of them being either a full-time or part-time worker, or temporarily unemployed. According to the survey, 56 percent say they feel that they are "significantly behind" on their retirement savings.

In comparison, only 21 percent of respondents said they feel like they are right on track, while 16 percent said they believe they are actually ahead on their savings.

"Amid the tumultuous developments of the past several years, including a short but severe recession and a period of high and sustained inflation, a majority of Americans say they are not where they need to be to achieve their retirement savings goals," Mark Hamrick, Bankrate's senior economic analyst, said in a statement. "Compared to our survey about a year ago, there has been no progress on this front. Those closer to retirement age are among those feeling this sense of urgency the most."

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But what does it really mean to be behind in retirement savings? When respondents were asked how much money they would "need to retire comfortably" for Bankrate's survey, 1 in 4 workers admitted that they do not actually know what the ideal amount is.

According to Rebecca Awram, financial expert and mortgage advisor at Seniors Lending Centre, one way to tell if you're behind is to "compare yourself to benchmarks and the sums of money that are recommended you have in savings based on your age." For instance, it's recommend that people generally have around 10 times their salary saved to retire at 65.

"Usually, when people say they are behind in retirement savings, they are referencing being behind general benchmarks relative to their age," Awram tells Best Life. "However, this is daunting because, as suggested, most adults from every generation are lagging far behind this benchmark."

With that in mind, Awram advises that people use a different approach to determine if they are actually "behind" instead.

"More helpful would be calculating what you need for retirement based on your current budget and assets and how they are prospected to change," she says.

For example, almost a third of workers in the Bankrate survey said they would need to save more than $1 million in order to retire comfortably.

"If you are well behind this but are prospected to pay off your mortgage before you retire, you are much better off than you think," Awram explains.

RELATED: 9 Things You Should Stop Buying If You Want to Retire Early, Financial Experts Say.

On the other hand, if you're not there either—don't panic. There are several things you can do to catch up, according to Awram. First things first: Check in on how much you're actually contributing.

"Ensure you are maxing out your contribution rates to registered retirement accounts and inquire with your employer if you have a matching program," she recommends.

If you are nearing retirement age, Awram says you should also consider your loan options.

"Ensure you max out your borrowing power before you leave your employment and leave the steady income behind. As many loans have an income requirement, approval is much easier before you retire," she shares. "A line of credit that does not incur interest until used can serve as an excellent emergency fund in retirement. It is always better to have it and not use it than to need it and not have it."

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Best Life offers the most up-to-date financial information from top experts and the latest news and research, but our content is not meant to be a substitute for professional guidance. When it comes to the money you're spending, saving, or investing, always consult your financial advisor directly.

Kali Coleman
Kali Coleman is a Senior Editor at Best Life. Her primary focus is covering news, where she often keeps readers informed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and up-to-date on the latest retail closures. Read more
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