Wes Moss: A Retirement Chart Sure to Give you Anxiety

Wes Moss
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Wes Moss

I love how easily two-step charts are able to relay information to us. You look left, look right and then find your corresponding data point that reveals your answer. If only we could answer all of life’s tricky questions through a quick two-step chart.

The other day I shared JP Morgan’s 2015 Guide to Retirement chart on my Facebook page, and judging by the traffic, it clearly struck a chord. This particular chart tells you how to calculate how much money you should have saved for retirement based on your age and income level.

Taking a quick look at the chart, you might say, “Okay, I’m 35 years old and making $100,000, so I need to multiply $100,000 by 1.4. That’s a total of $140,000 that I should have saved (already). Good thing I started saving early and often”

An alternative ending to this might be, “Wait, WHAT!?! How am I already so far behind!?!”

According to Vanguard’s study released in 2014, How America Saves, their median participant retirement account balance was $31,396. The median participant age was 46 with an income of $75,000. According to JP Morgan’s chart, those participants should be clocking in with over $165,000 in savings already. That’s a difference of over $100,000!

Clearly there’s a disconnect between where the financial planning community says people should be, versus where people actually are.

Back in the real world, we’re seeing that most people are still struggling to save for retirement. According to a study released by the National Institute on Retirement Security in March 2015, 62 percent of working households between the ages of 55 – 64 have retirement savings worth less than their annual income. According to JP Morgan’s calculations anyone making above $50,000 a year should have at least three times their annual income saved for retirement by the age of 55!

In fact, this same study says that the median retirement account balance for households nearing retirement is $14,500. That’s truly terrifying!

Now after looking at both sides of this spectrum of savings, I have good news. There is hope!

There are plenty of surveys and financial planning articles that say that you’re supposed to have $1 million or even $2.5 million put away for retirement. While having either of these amounts would likely set you up for a comfortable retirement, the reality is that there’s no set number that everyone needs to reach for retirement. Just hearing numbers like this can be disheartening.

The real issue with retirement savings in America is that people are constantly bombarded with large savings goals that they “have” to reach to retire comfortably, so instead they just don’t save anything.

When doing the research for my book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think, I found that it was important for “happy retirees” to reach a minimum threshold of $500,000 in retirement savings. With that said, though, ultimately the real deciding factor in how much you need to retire depends on how much you need for spending each year once you stop working.

JP Morgan’s chart says that if you are currently making $400,000 a year while working, by the time you retire at age 65 you should have $6,640,000 in your retirement accounts. That’s assuming that during retirement you’ll still need 80 – 90 percent of that $400,000 forever.

What the chart seems to miss, is that by the time you retire you’ll hopefully own most of your larger assets outright; like your home, car, boat, and whatever else that you’re planning to enjoy in retirement. If that’s the case, then it’s pretty unlikely that you would need such a high percentage of your peak income year after year to be comfortable in retirement. It also means you don’t need to have that $6.6 million saved before retiring.

While I wish planning for retirement was as simple as following a chart, it’s better to actually know how much you plan on spending on a yearly basis in retirement. From there you can create your own retirement salary. A quick and easy way to do this is to head over to yourwealth.com, and use one of my favorite retirement calculators.

Don’t panic when people throw out crazy numbers in regards to what your nest egg should look like. Your own personal situation will have its own uniqueness with its own twists and turns. That’s why they call this personal finance, and why it will never be as simple as looking at a chart.

Certified financial planner Wes Moss offers financial and accessible investment advice to Atlanta Bargain Hunter readers.

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