How Investment Losses Affect Retirement Plans

Most Americans on the verge of retirement plan to cope with the market meltdown by working longer

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Baby boomers on the threshold of retirement have suffered the greatest losses in their retirement accounts and are legitimately concerned about their financial future. Most baby boomers plan to cope by staying in the workforce longer. About 52 percent of boomers between ages 50 and 64 have thought about delaying retirement in the past year. Another 16 percent say they will never retire, according to a Pew Research Center telephone survey of 2,969 adults released today.

Surprisingly, it’s not earnings, but how much investments are down that seems to be determining which Americans are rethinking retirement plans. While 44 percent of baby boomers with a family income of less than $30,000 have considered postponing their retirement plans, so have 37 percent of those earning $100,000 or more. And those with incomes of $100,000 or more are actually slightly more likely than those with family incomes under $30,000 to say the recession will make it harder to take care of their financial needs in retirement (76 percent versus 69 percent). It is older workers who lost money on investments that are more likely than those who didn’t suffer losses to say they have considered delaying retirement (54 percent versus 45 percent). Baby boomers who lost more than 20 percent of their nest eggs are about twice as likely to delay retirement as those who sustained smaller setbacks or did not lose money.

Among all age groups, those who suffered the greatest investment losses are also the most likely to consider delaying retirement. Less than a third (29 percent) of employees who lost less than 20 percent of their savings plan to work longer than originally planned, compared to 42 percent of those who lost between 20 and 40 percent of their nest egg and 59 percent of Americans who lost 40 percent or more of their life savings.

Proximity to retirement age also seems to play a role. Older Americans ages 57 to 64 are significantly more likely than those between 50 and 56 to have thought about delaying retirement (68 percent versus 44 percent). Women and college graduates are also more likely than the general population to be considering working during the traditional retirement years. The baby boomers who do plan to retire eventually say they plan to keep working, on average, until age 66. That’s 4 years older than the age current retirees say they stopped working.