The pandemic has upended the personal finances of many Americans, leading some to delay their retirement plans and others to speed them up.
Nearly one-third of consumers — 30% — said their timeline for retiring has changed because of the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, according to a study by financial services company Northwestern Mutual.
While some perceive new obstacles to retirement in light of this challenging year, others appear to be preparing for life after work with a new sense of urgency.
Barriers to retirement have changed
Before the pandemic, 42% of Americans found a lack of savings to be the greatest obstacle to achieving financial security in retirement. That was followed by 38% who cited health care costs and 34% who named the economy as the biggest barriers.
However, the pandemic has shifted many consumers’ viewpoints. Since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, the economy has risen to the top of survey respondents’ list of obstacles with nearly half — 49% — saying it is the top barrier to achieving a financially secure retirement. The economy was followed by:
- A lack of savings (33%)
- Health care costs (32%)
The pandemic is also changing some consumers’ long-term retirement plans. While 48% say their retirement timeline is still the same, 20% said they will now retire at an older age because of the pandemic.
On the other hand, 10% said the pandemic has changed their retirement timeline in a different way, as they plan to retire at a younger age than they planned before COVID-19.
Millennials most likely to speed up plans
Perhaps some younger Americans view the pandemic as a call to be more aggressive about saving money for retirement since they were more likely to move their retirement timelines up. In fact, 15% of millennials said they now expect to retire sooner than they did before the pandemic, followed by:
- 8% of Generation Z
- 6% of Generation X
- 4% of baby boomers
However, Gen Xers were most likely to push their retirement dates back as a result of the crisis. A quarter of Gen Xers (25%) said they now will have to wait longer to retire, followed by:
- 22% of Gen Z
- 19% of millennials
- 14% of baby boomers
One reason consumers may have to push back retirement is because pandemic-related financial challenges may prompt them to sacrifice long-term savings in order to pay for everyday expenses. For example, some may feel compelled to withdraw money from their 401(k) plan.
More than 1 in 5 adults — 21% — expect to work past the traditional retirement age of 65, though 45% expect to do so because they have to and 55% expect to do so by choice.
Among those who expect to work past 65 because of necessity:
- 60% believe they won’t have enough saved to retire comfortably
- 58% said they don’t think Social Security will cover their needs
- 49% said they will need to work to take care of rising costs such as health care
Methodology: Northwestern Mutual commissioned public opinion and research firm The Harris Poll to survey 2,702 adults between June 26–July 10, 2020. The study also referred to a previous survey of 2,650 adults polled between Feb. 12–25, 2020 and 2,077 adults polled between April 29–May 1, 2020. Note: The Northwestern Mutual survey didn’t include definitions for the various generations, but many pollsters use cutoffs similar to those of Pew Research, which describes Generation Z as those aged 18-23, millennials as those 24-39, Generation X as covering the ages 40-55 and baby boomers as 56-74.