More Americans planning to delay retirement

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(MoneyWatch) Many Americans are delaying retirement or plan to work after retirement, according to a new study.

Some 82 percent of workers 50 and older say they are somewhat likely to work well into their golden years, according to an Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll. And 47 percent now expect to retire later than they previously thought -- on average nearly three years beyond what they estimated when they were 40. Men, minorities, parents of minor children, those earning less than $50,000 a year, and those without health insurance were the most likely to put off their retirement plans.

When considering factors that are very or extremely important in their decision to continue working longer, 78 percent of respondents cited finances, 75 percent said health and 67 percent said their need for employee benefits such as health insurance, according to the AP.

Many workers unprepared

A significant minority of those answering the survey gave signs of financial stress. One in six reported having less than $1,000 in retirement savings, and one in four working respondents said they aren't saving for retirement outside of Social Security. Meanwhile, some 12 percent of unretired people reported borrowing from a 401(k) or other retirement plan in the past year.

Only 29 percent of respondents reported they had at least $100,000 in savings. While the exact amount needed for retirement depends on the individual, Fidelity Investments suggests having eight times your annual earnings to reach an 85 percent replacement rate when you retire. Meanwhile, the consulting firm Aon Hewitt says your savings should be 11 times your annual earnings. Whichever number is correct, most American workers aren't coming near to saving enough to meet their retirement needs.

Are 401(k)s the problem?

Part of the reason Americans are struggling with retirement savings might be tied to how 401(k) plans are structured. Robert Shiller, one of the winners of this year's Nobel Prize for economics, says 401(k) plans are built around a flawed assumption -- that people will make the best decisions when managing these plans.

"The idea that everyone will manage their 401k plan optimally is really not right," he said in an interview with the Washington Post. "What was discovered by some of the behavioral finance research is people are inertial. They don't do anything. If they have to sign up for the plan, they won't do it. If they do sign up, they'll put their money in whatever asset seems to be recommended and leave it there the rest of their lives. You would think it's kind of obvious, that some people aren't that interested in managing their portfolios."

  • Constantine von Hoffman On Twitter»

    Constantine von Hoffman is a freelance writer and writing coach. His work has appeared in outlets such as Harvard Business Review, NPR, Sierra magazine, Brandweek, CIO, The Boston Herald, TheStreet.com, CSO, and Boston Magazine.

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