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Published: Apr 03, 2024 5 min read
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What’s the magic number you need in savings to have a comfortable retirement? Americans now predict they’ll require $1.46 million to bankroll their third acts: the highest estimate on record, according to research released Tuesday.

That's yet another uptick in the sum of money U.S. adults think they'll need to retire, according to wealth management company Northwestern Mutual’s 2024 Planning & Progress study. But their actual retirement savings are far from their expectations of how much retirement will cost.

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How much money do you need to retire?

Northwestern Mutual's survey — which included responses from about 4,500 Americans 18 and up reached in January — found that, across generations, people think they’ll need upwards of $1 million to retire comfortably.

The average estimate, $1.46 million, is a 15% increase from last year. It's also a huge jump from 2020, when people guessed they'd need $951,000 to retire.

But Americans' actual savings aren’t even close to that — in fact, they’ve declined as their cost expectations have risen. This year, the average amount adults have saved is just $88,400, a bit less than the $89,300 recorded by Northwestern Mutual last year. That’s a $10,000 drop from the average amount of retirement savings in 2021, when the metric hit its five-year peak of $98,800.

“People’s ‘magic number’ to retire comfortably has exploded to an all-time high, and the gap between their goals and progress has never been wider,” Aditi Javeri Gokhale, Northwestern Mutual's chief strategy officer, president of retail investments and head of institutional investments, said in a news release.

That’s true for every age group, the study found:

  • Respondents in Gen Z, which includes people born between 1996 and 2021, had the highest expectations for what they’ll need to retire at $1.63 million, though their average savings were just $22,800.
  • Millennials, born between 1981 and 1995, said they’ll need $1.65 million compared to their actual average savings of $62,600.
  • Gen Xers, born between about 1965 and 1980, estimated that they’ll need $1.56 million but have only $108,600 saved on average.
  • Baby boomers, born between 1955 and 1964, had the smallest gap between their retirement expectations and reality, estimating that they’ll need $990,000 while their average savings were $120,300.

There's no universally agreed-upon target number when it comes to retirement savings. The amount you need depends on factors like your location, the age you want to retire, lifestyle expectations and how long you expect to live. As a general rule, though, financial services firm Fidelity recommends saving 10 times your final salary to retire at 67. Another strategy is to save enough so that you'll have 80% of your pre-retirement income each year in retirement.

Preparing for retirement amid a looming savings crisis

Inflation may be influencing people’s expectations for retirement savings, according to Javeri Gokhale. As everything from housing to food has exploded in cost in recent years, it's natural that Americans are giving more thought to how variables like rising prices will impact their retirement.

On the flip side, the decline in what they’re squirreling away reflects the growing retirement crisis as competing expenses and other factors limit Americans’ ability to save. A February report from the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee found that over half of all Americans are facing financial insecurity in retirement. Roughly half of people 55 and older have nothing saved at all.

The study also showed that Gen Xers, who are quickly approaching retirement age, and baby boomers aren’t very confident in their retirement readiness. Only 35% of Gen Xers said they’ve planned for the possibility of outliving their savings, while 37% of Boomers said the same. Only about half of Boomers and 40% of Gen Xers said they know how much they’ll need to retire.

What’s more, Americans overall may be underestimating how much taxes will impact their savings. Only 30% said they have a plan to minimize their tax bills in retirement.

“Putting money into a 401(k) may not be enough to retire comfortably if the financial plan doesn’t address the impact of taxes on retirement income,” Javeri Gokhale said, adding that it may be taxed 20% or 30% upon withdrawal.

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