Retirement Challenges for Baby Boomers and What to Do About It


Many people dreamed of retirement from the day you began working. You watched your parents’ move into their golden years, and envied them, just a little, for the freedom received when work life was over. Perhaps some traveled, while others doted on grandchildren. Regardless of how they spent their time, it was the ability to do as they pleased without worrying about finances, that painted such an idyllic picture.

Now, it’s your turn. You are approaching an age that was supposed to allow you the freedom your parents had. However, for many baby boomers, that image of retirement is still very much the dream it was when you started working. Economic downturns, the eroding relationship between employee and employer, virtually extinct pension plans, and insufficient planning, have caught the baby boomer generation by surprise. This generations’ retirement will be very different from the one their parents enjoyed.

The Myth of Social Security

Every other day you hear about the woes of the Social Security program. The trust fund is running out of money, and by the year 2037, it will be completely exhausted. Social Security payments are not a form of savings for retirement. Instead, it is a pay as you go plan, where today’s workforce pay for today’s seniors. Longer life expectancy expanded disability payouts, and a smaller working population are turning the payout numbers upside down.

The shift from contributor to recipient percentage will grow from 2.8 to 1 in 2015 to 2.1 to 1 by 2035. Tax increases and payout decreases could extend the program for future generations. However, for the 59% of the baby boomers who have made retirement plans based on the receipt of Social Security as a major source of income, the challenge could be income replacement after retirement occurs.

The Retirement Savings Conundrum

Based on Insured Retirement Institute (IRI) data, in 2016, as high as 45% of baby boomers surveyed have nothing saved for retirement. These numbers are a significant decline from just two years ago in 2014, where 8 in 10 respondents had some level savings. The declining trend in investment balances explains the reliance on Social Security, but it’s the lack of a plan for supplemental income that is keeping so many boomers in the workforce. Healthcare costs are rising, and the cost of living is growing at a faster rate than wages, making it difficult for older workers to keep up.

The Age of Retirement is Growing

A recent trend addressing the lack of savings and rising costs, includes, putting off the long-coveted retirement in favor of continuing to build a nest egg. Although early retirement is still age 62, most are working until 65 or beyond. Many potential retirees plan on waiting until age 70 or older, and many are looking for second careers to supplement social security income. In the baby boomer age bracket, the IRI report estimates 6 out of every ten people, eligible for retirement, are choosing to stay in the workforce, and 26% of that number expects to work until 70 or older. There is a significant jump from the 2011 report that stated only 17% planned to continue working into their seventh decade.

The Great Recession’s Impact on Retirement

Between December 2007 and June 2009, the world experienced The Great Recession. Baby boomers, quickly put savings on the back burner to keep up with the declining situation. Paying basic living became the top priority and finding or maintaining employment became a struggle forcing some into early retirement, permanently impacting their financial security. Others lost large amounts of their investment portfolios with little or no time to recover. Increased market fluctuations lead to selling investments, which proved to be a flawed strategy because they didn’t stick around for the stock market recovery.

The IRI reports that 30% of baby boomers have stopped contributing to retirement accounts, and 16% took early withdrawals. As a result, 46 out of every 100 baby boomers have insufficient or no retirement savings, a significant jump from the 2014 numbers, which concluded only 21% had insufficient funds.

Heavy Debt Loads of Boomers

It was once taboo to retire with debt, but now, the majority are leaving jobs without clear balance sheets, hoping social security will be enough. Mortgage debt, a staggering amount of credit card balances, student loan payments, and unforeseen medical debt take center stage in this growing problem.

Nearly 25% of adults retire with mortgage debt with average balances of $24,500. Whether it was trading up for a larger home or refinancing to fund a lifestyle, Baby Boomers have found expanded debt payments strangling their retirement budgets. In a bid to keep up with house payments, some file early for Social Security payments, permanently limiting future income. Receiving payments at the age of 62 can reduce payouts as much as 30%, leaving thousands of dollars on the table.

Credit card debt for the average retiree between the ages of 65 to 69 is $6,876. For a household headed by someone 75 or older, the amount doesn’t change significantly at $5,638, as an illustration of surging senior debt.

The Solution to the Problem

Though the boomer generation is looking at a different retirement, all is not lost.

Working longer: Seniors in good health have the option of remaining in the workforce or finding second careers using valuable job skills gained over your career. By continuing to work, you can use wages to cover monthly obligations, reduce debt balances, and save for emergencies. Meanwhile, delaying social security builds the monthly payout by approximately 8% a year beyond the standard retirement age.

Downsize your home. Reducing housing costs through a smaller home, living in a less expensive town, and multigenerational living, are options creating more money for savings and debt reduction.

Downsize your lifestyle. Eliminate debt accumulation and attack debt balances with vigor. Using a budget and tracking spending will help you stay on track and measure your progress.

With self-discipline and time, you can find your way to a successful retirement.