The Top 11 Sources of Retirement Income, According to Retirees

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Happy retired couple checking finances or budgeting and doing financial planning for retirement
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According to a recent survey from the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute, 74% of retirees say they can live comfortably on their income during retirement.

Where’s their money coming from? A combination of income sources, according to the latest annual Retirement Confidence Survey, which polled more than 2,500 Americans to reach its conclusions.

More than half (51%) of those surveyed noted that retirement expenses are higher than they’d anticipated. Despite these expenses, 58% of retirees continue to save and invest.

Here are the top ways that U.S. elders make bank every month.

Financial support from family and friends

A senior woman and her adult child
Monkey Business Images /

Retirees who cited this source of retirement income: 19%

It isn’t clear whether these retirees are receiving help right now or whether they simply foresee having to ask someday.

Here’s a troubling statistic from the EBRI study, though: Among of the respondents still working, a startling 42% expect financial support from family and friends to be a source of income in retirement.

VA disability benefits

Senior veteran
DexonDee /

Retirees who cited this source of retirement income: 21%

This question was only asked of workers and retirees who have served in the military. More than 2 in 5 veteran workers expect to rely on Department of Veterans Affairs disability benefits, although only 1 in 5 retired veterans do.

Work for pay

Senior worker in front of forklift
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Retirees who cited this source of retirement income: 25%

This figure is similar to a 2022 U.S. Census Bureau analysis that noted 20.4% of people over age 65 were still working for pay.

The Retirement Confidence Survey notes that a whopping 73% of current workers plan to do some kind of work in retirement. However, many retirees leave the workforce earlier than expected for issues outside their control, such as a layoff or health problems. That’s why current employees shouldn’t count on working in retirement.

Product that guarantees monthly income for life

Seniors happily planning budget and spending money
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Retirees who cited this source of retirement income: 28%

This share of retirees has gone down a bit since EBRI’s 2022 survey, when 34% of those interviewed had a source of guaranteed monthly income.

Products like annuities that provide such income can be fairly safe investments for retirees; however, they do have their drawbacks. Learn more in “9 Safe and Smart Investments for Retirees.”

A Roth individual retirement account

Roth IRA
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Retirees who cited this source of retirement income: 29%

Not everyone qualifies for Roth accounts, as we explain in “The Ultimate Guide to Roth Retirement Accounts: Why You Need One Now.” However, it may be possible to convert a regular IRA into a Roth IRA.

The tax advantage of Roth IRAs comes on the back end — qualified distributions aren’t taxed, at a time when tax rates could presumably be higher.

Home equity, real estate or property for rental income

Happy senior couple retirees homeowners
Syda Productions /

Retirees who cited this source of retirement income: 30%

In recent years, platforms like Arrived have made real estate investment more accessible, and it may become part of more folks’ retirement strategies.

Some people, of course, do buy and rent out property for income, or rely on the equity in their own homes.

Workplace retirement savings plan

saving money
Dean Drobot /

Retirees who cited this source of retirement income: 48%

Defined contribution retirement plans, such as 401(k) accounts, have become a standard benefit in many workplaces. While 84% of workers surveyed say they expect these plans to be a source of income in retirement, the experience for retirees has been different.

Individual retirement account

Happy retiree holding his savings /

Retirees who cited this source of retirement income: 51%

More than half of retirees surveyed have traditional IRAs as part of their retirement finances. Unlike their Roth IRA cousins, distributions from traditional IRAs are taxed.

Defined benefit (traditional) pension

Older couple working on a budget
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Retirees who cited this source of retirement income: 59%

According to an EBRI fact sheet, 34 million people in the U.S. have defined benefit or traditional pensions. While cushy pensions are often associated with government jobs, 13.1 million of those who have defined benefit plans work in the private sector.

Traditional pensions were once much more common. Not so much anymore: As of 2023, only 24% of civilian workers had access to a traditional pension plan, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Personal retirement savings/investments

A senior woman in glasses smiles while he rests her hands on a piggy bank and lies on a bed
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Retirees who cited this source of retirement income: 68%

Social Security alone is not enough, and even if you have a workplace retirement plan or an IRA, you should also have liquid cash savings in retirement. Some people opt for brokerage accounts in addition to their workplace retirement plans.

According to a Federal Reserve Survey of Consumer Finances, the average retirement savings for the 60-something crowd ranges from $206,800 to $221,450.

Social Security

Social Security payments
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Retirees who cited this source of retirement income: 91%

According to the Social Security Administration, the average monthly payment to retirees as of 2024 was $1,907. For a couple, both of whom are receiving benefits, the average monthly amount was $3,033.

Again, generally, that’s not enough to live on comfortably; then again, it wasn’t intended to be. When the system was created in the 1930s, Social Security benefits were considered part of “the three-legged stool” of retirement, with the other two legs being private pensions and savings/investments.

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