2024's Retirement Vibe? More People Fear Running Out of Money Than Death

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Nearly two-thirds of Americans worry more about running out of money than death. 

It's possible that stat grabbed your attention out of shock. But the odds say it grabbed your attention because you can relate.

Either way, sure, there's certainly a little more nuance to the state of retirement, as compiled in Allianz Life's 2024 Annual Retirement Study. But at a high level, most people are worried about the finish line. 

Today, we'll discuss some of the difficulties Americans are having, as well as a few ways they can start turning things around.

The Tea

Most people are at least vaguely (if not keenly) aware that, at a certain point, by choice or out of necessity, they're going to stop working. And at that point, income from a job needs to become income from … well, somewhere else. 

Social Security is absolutely one of those somewhere elses. But for many people, Social Security simply won't cut it on its own. Retirement savings, built up across a lifetime of work, have become increasingly critical to maintaining a high quality of life in Americans' post-career years.

WealthUp Tip: Something important to note when planning around Social Security: Those benefits can be taxed.

So, that's the goal: Save up enough money—in accounts that grow that money—so that you can afford what you need in retirement.

It's a simple concept, perhaps, but a difficult goal to achieve, as many Americans are increasingly realizing.

Living in the Ground > Living in the Basement?

That brings us to the headline number mentioned above: According to Allianz Life's 2024 Annual Retirement Study, which polled a nationally representative study of 1,000 individuals in the U.S. during February and March 2024, 63% of Americans say they worry more about running out of money than death—up from 57% in 2022.

"More people are more afraid of living with their kids in the basement than living in the ground," says Kelly LaVigne, VP of Consumer Insights, Allianz Life. "That puts into perspective how great that fear is."

That fear varies significantly by generation, though. Boomers—many of whom are already retired—are the least worried, though at 53%, still over half of them worry about running out of money more than death. Those numbers rise to 64% for Millennials, and 71% of Gen Xers.

"People who are already retired are relatively not afraid of running out of money," LaVigne says. "You get a few years under your belt, and as long as you don't have significant negative returns, you know you're going to make it, and you understand what retirement is like.

"But late Boomers were the first generation where at least some people have had to do it themselves with a 401(k) instead of a pension. So when the market gets hit, they worry they're not going to be able to retire. And Gen X and Millennials see this happening to their parents and say, 'What if this happens to us?'"

WealthUp Tip: What are some of the alternatives to a 401(k)? Well …

Inflation, Inflation, Inflation

Those who said they were more worried about running out of money than death were asked to provide three factors that contributed most heavily to that concern. Inflation crushed all other options, at 43% overall. 

Per Allianz Life, Black/African American (52%) and Asian/Asian American (51%) respondents were more likely to say inflation contributes to their worry about running out of money than white (41%) or Hispanic (39%) respondents. Meanstwhile, Boomers (48%) were more likely than Millennials (44%) or Gen Xers (39%) to say high inflation contributes to their concern about running out of money.

"Inflation isn't really out of control anymore, but nothing went down. Milk still costs $5 per gallon, eggs still cost $8, so it doesn't feel like everything is under control," LaVigne says. "That adds to the fear: 'What am I going to do if we get another jump in prices like this? I could definitely run out of money if things keep getting more expensive."

Some of the other highest contributing factors: Social Security won't provide as much financial support as it should (24%), high taxes (22%), and low income (20%).

Gen Xers are also more concerned than other generations that not saving as much as they should for retirement would contribute to them running out of money—adding to a laundry list of already-troubling Gen X retirement statistics.

The Take

If there's any consolation, Americans don't seem paralyzed with fear—though they do differ on exactly how they'd address running out of money in retirement.

Making Sure You Don't Run Out of Money

Respondents who worried about running out of money were asked to rank a variety of ways they could avoid their worst fear. The top responses:

  • Increase retirement savings (41%)
  • Reduce current spending and save more (38%)
  • Put portion of retirement savings in a product that provides lifetime income payments (35%)
  • Work longer and retire later (35%)
  • Put portion of retirement savings in a product that provides a balance of market protection and growth (26%)

Most of these top answers revolve around either building up retirement savings or optimizing how they're used. And while WealthUp.com addresses all of these in more length, let's quickly address a few basics:

How much you're able to save hinges on a number of personal circumstances—your age, your earnings, whether you have children, high health expenses, and so on. But whatever your situation, it helps to start with a goal. You can get started by checking out our primer on how much you should save for retirement depending on your age group.

It also helps to know where you can save. Most people are at least aware of brokerage accounts, and if you work for a decent-sized business, chances are you have a 401(k) at your disposal. But even if you don't have a 401(k), there's a wide world of different retirement plans out there—special plans for government employees, small-business owners and workers, plans for the self-employed, and a variety of other personal plans, many of which boast powerful tax advantages that help you grow your wealth far more efficiently than in a standard brokerage.

And as for "a product that provides a balance of market protection and growth"? Believe it or not, there aren't just a few, but numerous products that do exactly that. But one of the best you'll come across is the target-date fund (TDF), which you can buy when you're 20, 30, 40, and so on, and hold it until and even through retirement. All the while, that fund will gradually shift the assets to provide an appropriate blend of growth and income for someone roughly your age. You'll often find these in 401(k) plans, but you can buy them in an individual retirement account (IRA) and other personal plans, too. This target-date fund primer goes over some of the biggest and best-known TDF lines.

WealthUp Tip: It's important to remember that retirement plans have contribution limits. For instance, here's how much you can sock away in an IRA.

A Lot of People Want Solutions From the Pros

One last thing.

Allianz's survey respondents generally consisted of people who are in a good enough position financially to get use out of a financial advisor. But less than half (47%) currently work with one.

But those who do (and those who want to work with one) have some very strong feelings about several financial topics.

"I've never had 88% of respondents respond 'yes' to anything," LaVigne says. "This is like when you're really sick, you really want to talk to a doctor. These people aren't feeling well about their finances."

Some people are true financial DIYers who can map out their full retirement without a helping hand.

WealthUp Tip: One place to start if you're DIYing your retirement: Fidelity retirement funds.

But many people aren't—and there's no shame in that. That's why professional financial planners and advisors exist. And much like finding a great family doctor, you should start looking for a financial advisor sooner than later, because it takes time to get a right fit.

"You want to work with somebody that you like," LaVigne says. "But what you do find is that it takes a little bit of work to find the right person, someone you get along with, someone you trust. Getting that level of trust takes a while."

Riley & Kyle

WealthUp (Young and the Invested is now WealthUp)

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On the date of publication, Kyle Woodley did not have (either directly or indirectly) positions in any of the securities mentioned in this article. All information and data in this article is solely for informational purposes. For more information please view the Barchart Disclosure Policy here.