More Americans are forced to retire early—and are unprepared for the long haul

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Talk about a calamity trifecta.

The big three? According to recent surveys, many Americans are forced into retiring earlier than they imagined. To make matters worse, they don’t have an inkling of how much they need to save to live comfortably during their retirement years. Nor do they have a firm grasp on how many years they might need to finance after they leave the workforce — putting them at risk of outliving their money.

Let’s start with that involuntary retirement.

According to a recent Edward Jones study, 40% of its clients were forced into retirement. That’s “not entirely shocking because life is full of surprises and that doesn’t stop with retirement,” Jennifer Schoonmaker-Dasch, an Edward Jones financial adviser in Lexington, N.C., told Yahoo Finance.“I see clients being forced into retirement for a variety of reasons such as company downsizings or, most frequently, personal health issues.”

That meshes with a survey by the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) and Greenwald Research earlier this year, which found that there is a big disparity between when active workers expect to retire and when retirees say they actually did: Workers continue to report an expected median retirement age of 65, while retirees say they retired at a median age of 62.

Workers are even likely to say they expect to retire at ages 70 or older. One in three workers expect to retire at 70 or beyond or not at all, while only a slim fraction actually hang on that long.

Thoughtful retired elderly man wearing eyeglasses looking up with raised eyebrows against pink background

Many Americans simply don’t want to think about saving for retirement. (Getty Creative)

Don’t want to think about it

The looming specter of being forced to retire sooner than expected is complicated by the fact that many people haven’t planned appropriately.

For many folks, retirement savings is a guessing game, according to a survey by the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS), in collaboration with the Transamerica Institute.

Roughly 1 in 5 workers across generations estimate they will need to save $2,000,000 or more including baby boomers (24%), Gen X (22%), millennials (21%), and Generation Z (17%). But among those providing an estimate, nearly half of workers said they were just, well, guessing.

They don’t even want to entertain the idea.

Some 4 out of 10 workers agreed with the statement, “I prefer not to think about or concern myself with retirement investing until I get closer to my retirement date,” including 13% who strongly agree and 29% who somewhat agree. (Generation Z and millennials are even more likely to agree than Generation X and baby boomers.)

How long will I live?

To add to the triad of disturbing stumbling blocks: Many Americans fail to grasp how long they could potentially live. Just over a third of Americans knew the average lifespan of retirees, according to a report from the TIAA Institute and the Global Financial Literacy Excellence Center at the George Washington University School of Business. And only 12% knew the right responses to a basic quiz designed to gauge longevity literacy.

On average, a 65-year-old man will live to age 84 and a 65-year-old woman to age 87. Moreover, a 65-year old man has a 30% chance of living at least until age 90 and a 65-year-old woman has a 40% chance of hitting that mark.

Coworkers using laptop and working together in factory

Fifty-five percent of workers plan to work after they retire, including 18% who plan to work full time and 37% who plan to work part time, according to the Transamerica research. (Getty Creative)

Making ends meet

In other words, retirement can be a huge problem for workers without a plan. In preparing for retirement financially, clients struggle the most with developing an income withdrawal strategy (35%) and determining the optimal timing for claiming Social Security benefits (35%), according to the Edward Jones report.

One solution: Sorry, get back to work. Nearly all of the advisers surveyed by Jones said they have discussed or would like to discuss deciding how their clients could return to work after being forced into retirement. Staying mentally active (99%), earning health insurance benefits (99%), and feeling a sense of purpose (97%) are the most important benefits of working in retirement, according to the financial advisers.

This idea of continuing to work in some fashion — even if you have been booted into retirement — is not a far-out concept for most workers.

Fifty-five percent of workers plan to work after they retire, including 18% who plan to work full time and 37% who plan to work part time, according to the Transamerica research. Workers across generations similarly plan to continue working in retirement, including 53% of Generation Z, 56% of millennials, 54% of Generation X, and 55% of baby boomers.

“It’s becoming increasingly common that I talk to my clients about what working in retirement would look like and what their goals are in doing so,” Schoonmaker-Dasch said. “It’s different for everyone than in the peak of their careers, but the right employment opportunity can help provide financial stability and give retirees a sense of purpose.”

Sad mature businessman going to retirement and leaving the office while carrying his belongings.

According to a recent Edward Jones study, 40% of its clients were forced into retirement. (Getty Creative)

The biggest takeaway from these studies from my perch: Saving for retirement is not something younger workers can kick down the road. You probably will have decades to live post-retirement and being “retired” sooner than you hoped is often out of your control.

What is in your control is saving even small amounts, especially, when you’re younger, contributing as much as you can to employer-provided retirement plans and automatically adding to that pot paycheck after paycheck. Then steadily juice the percentage you contribute annually.

If saving for retirement is something you don’t want to think about, how about reframing it as saving for your life? Life savings, now that has a sweeter ring to it.

Kerry Hannon is a Senior Reporter and Columnist at Yahoo Finance. She is a workplace futurist, a career and retirement strategist, and the author of 14 books, including “In Control at 50+: How to Succeed in The New World of Work” and “Never Too Old To Get Rich.” Follow her on Twitter @kerryhannon.

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