04/10/2012 12:40 pm ET Updated Jun 10, 2012

Retirements Survey Finds Many Tripping Over Financial Hurdles

The 2012 EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey is out, and the results reflect the importance of continuing to strive for new goals as you move through life.

The EBRI is the Employee Benefit Research Institute, and their long-standing annual survey of the confidence that American workers have in their financial prospects for retirement is a good benchmark for both economic conditions and the state of U.S. retirement savings.

As you might imagine, retirement confidence has taken a beating in recent years. One of the root causes suggested by the survey results is that the difficulty of meeting short-term goals might be so great that people never get around to focusing on long-term goals. A look at some of the issues covered by the EBRI survey provides some insight into the sequence of financial hurdles people face.

Progressing through financial goals

There are many subjects covered by the EBRI survey, but one way to think about the results is to view topics in the order people naturally face them as they move through life:

  1. Meeting day-to-day needs. The first order of business is getting a job; this may be fundamental to meeting your financial goals, but it is by no means easy. 42 percent of survey respondents cited job insecurity as the most pressing financial issue facing Americans today. Of course, until you can move beyond worrying about day-to-day needs, you have little hope of preparing for long-term ones.
  2. Getting out of debt. People often borrow money to get by, so then the challenge becomes getting out of debt. 62 percent of survey respondents cited debt as being a problem to some extent, with 20 percent calling it a major problem. Debt can be a huge barrier to retirement saving: While 67 percent of workers with no debt problem said they were either very or somewhat confident in their retirement finances, only 22 percent of those with a major debt problem expressed the same levels of confidence.
  3. Saving for retirement. With employment and debt being such hurdles, it's no surprise that many Americans haven't adequately addressed retirement saving. Only 52 percent of worker respondents were very or somewhat confident in having enough money to last through retirement. In 2007, this figure was 70 percent.
  4. Sustaining wealth in retirement. The challenge doesn't end with retirement. Between stock market setbacks and falling rates on savings accounts, making money last through retirement has become tougher than people expected. The percentage of retirees who are very or somewhat confident in having enough money to live comfortably through retirement is now 63 percent, down from 79 percent in 2007.

The difficulty of meeting each of these goals, as reflected by the low level of confidence people currently have in each case, reinforces the importance of working toward these goals throughout your adult life. A sequence of goals will help you keep moving forward, and what the survey suggests is that if you aren't moving forward, you will quickly find yourself moving backward.

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"Retirements survey finds many tripping over financial hurdles"