Older workers could encounter some unexpectedly harsh realities in retirement.

A survey released by the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS) this week shows that the retirement expectations of workers ages 50 and older don’t always align with the realities of retirees. Harris Poll conducted the survey.

TCRS President Catherine Collinson, who authored the survey report, says in a news release:

“This new vision of retirement among workers is a tremendous departure from the experiences of those already in retirement.”

For example, many workers plan to work past the traditional retirement age of 65, but retirees who are fully retired left the workplace at the median age of 62. A large percentage of retirees (60 percent), including the fully and semiretired, retired sooner than they had planned.

Additionally, 54 percent of workers ages 50 and older plan to continue working at least part-time in retirement. But in reality, just 5 percent of retirees are currently employed in some fashion.

One thing older workers and retirees have in common is the lack of a written retirement plan that incorporates financial factors, such as:

  • Government retirement benefits (including Social Security and Medicare)
  • Ongoing living expenses
  • Health care costs
  • Savings and income needs
  • A budget

Only 10 percent of older workers and 14 percent of retirees have such a plan, TCRS found.

Collinson says:

“One of the most important things within reach that retirees and pre-retirees can do is formulate a financial plan to identify opportunities, vulnerabilities, and ways to address them.”

Retirees cite their financial priorities as:

  • Just getting by/covering basic living expenses (cited by 42 percent)
  • Paying for health care expenses (37 percent)
  • Continuing to save for retirement (20 percent)

In addition, 25 percent are paying off credit card debt, and 21 percent are paying off mortgages.

The good news is that most retirees are happy and healthy nonetheless, with 94 percent being generally happy and 84 percent having a strong sense of purpose in life. Seventy percent report being in good or excellent health.

Other findings from the survey include that among retirees:

  • Only 16 percent strongly agree that they built a large enough retirement nest egg.
  • 61 percent expect Social Security to be their primary source of income throughout retirement.
  • 76 percent wish they would have saved more on a consistent basis.

What’s your biggest concern about retiring? Sound off in our Forums. It’s the place where you can speak your mind, explore topics in-depth, and post questions and get answers.

Stacy Johnson

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