401(k) plans are paying off

People with access to 401(k) plans for at least 30 years are on track for a reasonably comfortable retirement.

That’s the upshot of a new study measuring how Americans will fare in retirement.

The combination of Social Security benefits and 401(k) savings will provide most people with at least 60 percent of their inflation-adjusted pre-retirement annual income, according to the analysis by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute.

More than 4 in 5 American workers — 83 percent to 86 percent — are likely to generate 60 percent or more of their pre-retirement income, the study calculates.

Between 73 percent and 76 percent of people will achieve 70 percent of pre-retirement income, according to the analysis.

Though opinions vary, a general rule of thumb is that workers need about 70 percent of pre-retirement income to live fairly comfortably in retirement.

The EBRI study covers people who are eligible for 401(k)s, not simply those who actually participate. But about 73 percent of workers with access to 401(k) plans take part in them, according to EBRI.

The ability to generate 60 percent to 70 percent of pre-retirement income is encouraging, considering the often bleak retirement statistics in many other analyses.

“I would think that’s a very different message — a more optimistic message – than has been conveyed” in other studies, said Jack VanDerhei, EBRI research director.

But there are several big caveats.

The study assumes that current Social Security benefits are not cut, an uncertain prospect given the political controversy over the program in Washington. Also, people who don’t join their 401(k)s won’t fare as well.

More than that, many Americans simply don’t have access to 401(k) plans. Only 59 percent of workers 16 and older are eligible to join a plan, according to EBRI.

Many other studies have painted a decidedly less rosy assessment of Americans’ retirement prospects.

A poll released Monday found that nearly half of baby boomers who are in the workforce today say they don’t expect to retire until they’re 66 or older, and 1 in 10 think they’ll never stop working.

Financial concerns are the biggest factor driving boomers’ diminished retirement plans, but their “notoriously hard-charging work ethic and drive to get ahead” also factor in, according to the Gallup poll.

The average retirement age has risen from 57 to 61 in the past two decades, according to Gallup. The youngest boomers turn 50 this year.

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