How Low Interest Rates are Impacting Retirees

Some retirees are choosing riskier investments in hopes of higher returns.

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It’s difficult to earn more than 1 percent interest on money held in a savings account or certificate of deposit. And interest rates for savers aren’t expected to go up any time soon. The Federal Reserve Board has announced its intention to keep interest rates low at least until late 2014.

Older woman on hiking trail for 10 Tips for Picking the Ideal Retirement Spot slideshow.

Most adults support this policy, with 73 percent of working Americans agreeing that low interest rates are good for borrowers and the benefits outweigh the costs, according to a recent Wells Fargo and Gallup survey. But retirees, who are depending on the interest their savings generates to help finance their retirement, view low interest rates much less favorably. Only 47 percent of retirees think low interest rates are good for borrowers, while 43 percent say low interest rates primarily hurt investors.

Current interest rates “are challenging for retirement nest eggs, particularly when core inflation rate growth is about 3 percent a year and CD rates are yielding less than 1 percent,” says Karen Wimbish, director of retail retirement at Wells Fargo. “Some people may feel like they’re pushing mud up hill.”

Here are some of the strategies retirees are using to cope with low interest rates on their savings:

Spending down their savings faster. Instead of living off the interest their retirement savings generates, many retirees are dipping into the principal. Over a quarter of retirees (27 percent) say low interest rates have caused them to take more distributions from their investment portfolio. And a third (34 percent) of those surveyed now fear they might outlive their retirement savings.

Taking on more risk. Savings accounts and CDs are generally FDIC insured up to certain limits, which means your savings will still be there for you even if the financial institution fails or the stock market tanks. However, some retirees are choosing riskier investments to try to earn more than a 1 percent return on their money. Almost a quarter (24 percent) of retirees are now taking on more overall investment risk than they would if interest rates were higher. And 18 percent of retirees have put money into investments they might otherwise avoid.

Cut back on helping others. Some retirees like to use their accumulated wealth to help family members or their community. But many retirees say that low interest rates have caused them to give less to charity (39 percent) and provide less financial help to their children or parents (29 percent).

Learning to live on less. Some seniors have cut back their lifestyle in order to live on the amount that today’s low interest rates provide them. A third (34 percent) of retirees say they now live less comfortably in retirement than they did when interest rates were higher.

Back to work. A few retirees (14 percent) have chosen to work part time in retirement to supplement the interest they earn from their retirement savings.

Twitter: @aiming2retire