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Saving for retirement is the top financial priority for just 17% of adults, survey shows

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Saving for retirement appears to be taking a backseat to other financial considerations for many Americans right now.

Just 17% have made saving for their post-working years their top financial priority for 2022, according to First National Bank of Omaha‘s latest financial wellness survey. This is despite 59% of respondents worrying that they won’t be able to retire by age 65.

Additionally, 46% of those surveyed said they have less than $15,000 saved for retirement. 

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The survey was conducted in February among more than 1,000 U.S. adults and was weighted to reflect the population.

So what are people more focused on when it comes to their finances this year? About 40% said increasing non-retirement savings is their main goal, and another 30% identified paying off debt.

“While it’s a key element of your financial well-being, prioritizing retirement savings depends on where you are in the cycle of thinking about retirement, what you have in savings and your personal situation regarding employment, amount of debt, etcetera,” said Sean Baker, executive vice president of the individual customer segment for First National Bank of Omaha.

Retirement security is a pressing issue for many workers, as research persistently shows that many people have saved little for their golden years. With fewer traditional pensions offered by companies, retirees generally must rely on Social Security and their own savings to fund a retirement that could stretch for two or three decades.

Roughly a quarter of U.S. adults have no retirement savings at all, according to a report from PwC. Among retirement savers, the median 401(k) account balance for those ages 55 to 64 — i.e., individuals who generally are nearing retiree status — is $84,714, according to Vanguard’s latest How American Saves report.

Generally, it’s recommended that you have 10 times your annual salary saved if you want to retire at age 67, according to Fidelity Investments.

While balancing retirement savings with other financial priorities can be tricky, it’s worth trying to save what you can, said Kathryn Hauer, a certified financial planner with Wilson David Investment Advisors in Aiken, South Carolina.

“A way to manage the demands is to commit to depositing an amount, no matter how small, in a 401(k) or [individual retirement account],” Hauer said.

If you can’t do that, “start small with irregular deposits of whatever random amount you can spare,” she said. “Every little bit helps.”

For 401(k) plans, the 2022 contribution limit is $20,500, with the 50-and-over crowd allowed an extra $6,500 as a “catchup” contribution (for a total of $27,000). For IRAs, whether Roth or traditional, the limit for eligible people this year is $6,000, and the catchup amount if you’re at least age 50 is $1,000 ($7,000 in total).

The survey from First National Bank of Omaha also showed that 30% of respondents think their overall financial wellbeing is better than it was pre-pandemic, and 44% said it is about the same. Roughly one-third (34%) say they believe their credit history gets in the way of financial wellness.

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