December 1, 2014

Why Don't Americans Save Their Money?

Veronique de Rugy

George Gibbs Chair in Political Economy
Summary

One-third of Americans have nothing saved for retirement, according to a study published in August by the financial data aggregator Bankrate. That grim factoid joined a growing chorus of reports highlighting Americans' dismal savings habits.

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This article appears in the December edition of Reason Magazine

One-third of Americans have nothing saved for retirement, according to a study published in August by the financial data aggregator Bankrate. That grim factoid joined a growing chorus of reports highlighting Americans' dismal savings habits. In 2013, the National Institute of Retirement Security (NIRS) determined that 84 percent of Americans are falling short of "reasonable" retirement savings targets. Data from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College reflect a similar trend, and a recent PBS poll found that 92 percent of Americans believe we face a retirement crisis and that government should act now.

The reality is not quite as grim as these reports suggest. The American Enterprise Institute's Andrew Biggs took a hard look at the NIRS numbers and concluded that "the substance of the NIRS study should give pause to anyone considering drastic policy actions." One reason is that the study uses savings guidelines outlined in a 2012 Fidelity Investments report. But Fidelity suggests that people have enough money saved to enjoy 85 percent of their working income, while the Social Security Administration says most financial advisors recommend a lower 70 percent pre-retirement earnings target. The study also ignores that lower-income earners receive larger Social Security payouts, so their savings do not need to be as high.

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