The economic recession may have sparked a retirement crisis in America, but other significant factors played a role in the derail.

On average, retired and pre-retired Americans reported to have lost $117,000 in retirement savings due to unanticipated events, according to a survey conducted by Ameriprise Financial in February.

Beyond the effects of the recession, the average respondent experienced a total of four derailers in their lifetime, including family and lifestyle choices that have lasting financial consequences. Nearly two in five of the respondents (37%) experienced five or more unanticipated events, costing them approximately $144,000.

“Expecting the unexpected is clearly more important than ever in preparing for retirement,” says Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise. “We know the recession had a huge impact on American pre-retirees and retirees, but families are realizing that other unexpected events like supporting a grown child or grandchild can also hit the bottom line — both immediately and long-term.”

While other unexpected events played a role in the retirement crisis, the effects of the recession should not be understated.

The top three most cited derailers are related to the recession: 63% of respondents say low interest rates impacted the growth of their investments. Fifty-five percent say their savings were significantly lowered due to market declines and 33% admit their home equity is now not going to help fund retirement as much as they expected.

Fifty-six percent of respondents blame others for their financial situation, but they also take responsibility for their own financial destinies. When it comes to what they would do differently if they could do it over again, 57% say they would’ve started saving earlier. Thirty-seven percent also say they’d be in better financial shape had they known more about investing, while 33% say eating out and going on vacations less would have put them in a more financially secure situation.

But despite the regrets, most are optimistic that they can turn things around, with 64% of respondents describing their road to retirement as “smooth” rather than “bumpy.” They also have goals in place, with more than two in five planning to rely on a spouse (44%) or a financial adviser (42%) to get their retirement finances back on track.

“Ninety percent of us will likely be faced with at least one of these big events at some point in our lifetimes,” says de Baca. “Being ready for these derailers and having a written plan to help manage through them can make a world of difference when it comes to securing a long, successful retirement.”

Lim writes for Financial Planning, a SourceMedia publication.


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