Half of American Baby Boomers Face a Frightening Retirement Reality: But There's Worse News Incoming

By Markets Fool.com

There are plenty of tough retirement facts out there. Social Security is facing tough times. Pensions are on the decline. And, according to a recent survey, retirement savings are nowhere near where they need to be.

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According to the financial services company PWC's 2016 "Employee Financial Wellness Survey," 51%of American workers have $100,000 or less saved for retirement.

Of course, that number doesn't really tell you that much on its own. Millennials are included in that number, and 77% of them have $100,000 or less in retirement savings. That's not so bad, as Millennials have decades to save and invest their money, so a small account balance for that group isn't so scary.

But here's what is frightening: Fifty percent of baby boomers also have $100,000 or less saved for retirement.

That's not even the worst news, though. According to the same PWC survey, 25% of baby boomer workers have already taken money out of their retirement accounts for non-retirement expenses. What's more, 36% think they'll need to pull money out of their retirement accounts for non-retirement expenses in the future.

Let that sink in for a moment.

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Half of baby boomers have less than $100,000 in savings. A quarter of baby boomers are already tapping their retirement accounts to cover other expenses. And over a third think they'll have to do so.

Image source: Getty Images.

Tough circumstances

Many baby boomers are backed up against a wall, with little time to save and put the stock market's compounding magic to grow their nest egg. And can you really blame them?

MetLife estimates that almost 10 million adult children -- most of whom are baby boomers -- are caregivers for their aging parents. That's expensive: In fact, MetLife estimates that these caregivers have forfeited roughly $3 trillion in Social Security benefits, wages, and pension payments for taking care of their parents.

On the flip side, 32% of young adults aged 18-34 are living with their parents. That's the first time Pew has found a plurality of adult children in the U.S. living with their parents (the survey dates back to 1880). Given continued high rates of unemployment and underemployment for Millennials, their parents are doing their best to help -- something that comes with financial consequences.

And don't forget the decline of the traditional pension plan system, which means that around 18% of the private labor force is covered by a guaranteed benefit plan, down from 35% two decades ago. That's left baby boomers -- many of whom were raised on the expectation of a pension -- stuck without time and without the resources to build up the savings needed to replace those pensions.

The medicine won't be easy, but there's still time -- and hope.

Two simple (but difficult) solutions

The first -- and most obvious -- solution is for baby boomers to work longer. It's the solution that most cash-strapped baby boomers are planning to implement -- 52%, according to the PWC survey.

It's easy to see why: It has a multitude of financial benefits. These include more time to build savings, less time to need savings (a shorter retirement period), and a greater annual Social Security benefit (an 8% increase per year that you delay taking Social Security from age 62 -- the earliest age you can claim -- to age 70). There are significant health benefits, too.

The key problem with this solution is that most current American retirees retired sooner than they expected -- and not by choice, either. And with a median retirement age of 62 (and often little savings), many were left without the option of delaying their Social Security payout.

Door No. 2 involves debt reduction. Twenty-three percent of baby boomers who plan to delay retirement cited debt as a reason for their delay. And with 46% of the same generation reporting that they consistently carry a balance on their credit cards (roughly one-third of whom have trouble making their minimum payments), it's no wonder. Debt, after all, takes the power of compounding and turns it against you -- creating a situation in which the money you owe keeps growing unless you take intentional steps to pay it all back.

Debt reduction is difficult, and there are no simple shortcuts. But we have a list of ways you can wipe out your debt that should help you get started.

If you're a baby boomer without any debt, option three is to boost your savings rate. Also not easy, but the first step is to think through budgeting.And there are a number of innovative ways you can reduce your spending. The money you save can be contributed toward a 401(k) (2016 limit: $24,000 for workers aged 50 and older) or an individual retirement account (2016 limit: $6,500 for workers aged 50 and older).

Here's what it all really comes down to

None of these solutions is necessarily a silver bullet by itself -- but some combination can hopefully help you improve your financial position so you have a better opportunity to get the retirement you want. There's still time: Use it wisely.

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