Inflation and market volatility are impacting workers’ ability to save for retirement to a greater extent than last year, according to a new survey from Charles Schwab. The annual nationwide survey of 401(k) plan participants finds that 62% of workers see inflation as an obstacle to saving for a comfortable retirement, up from 45% last year, and 42% say stock market volatility is an obstacle, up from 33% last year. Nearly eight in ten (78%) say these conditions are impacting their spending and saving habits, and 36% plan to delay retirement as a result.
“When inflation persists for an extended period of time, workers are inevitably going to feel a deeper impact on their wallets,” said Brian Bender, Head of Schwab Workplace Financial Services. “While many workers are trying to cut back on spending, some costs are unavoidable and certain areas of their finances have taken a hit. Despite these challenges, retirement saving continues to be a priority for workers, who have maintained their 401(k) savings rates and largely stayed on top of their 401(k) investments over the past year.”
Workers now believe they’ll need to save an average of $1.8 million for retirement, compared to $1.7 million last year. While this amount hasn’t shifted drastically, only 37% of workers think it’s very likely they’ll achieve this target, down by 10% from last year. Confidence may have taken a hit, but savers are still hopeful: nearly half still feel somewhat likely to reach their goals and only 14% feel they are not at all likely to reach their goals.
401(k): a must-have benefit
The 401(k) is becoming a non-negotiable for job seekers. When considering a new employer, 88% of workers say it is a must-have benefit and three in four would refuse a new job if it did not offer a 401(k) plan. “Placing such a high priority on their 401(k) is not surprising since it is their primary retirement resource, with workers counting on it to deliver 40% of their retirement income,” said Marci Stewart, Director, Communication Consulting and Participant Education for Schwab Workplace Financial Services. “That’s double what workers expect from the next closest source, which is Social Security at 20% of retirement income.”
Compared to last year, more workers are also saving for retirement in a savings accounts (68% vs 61%), investing in an IRA (47% vs 33%) and investing through a brokerage account (38% vs 29%) as they look to augment their primary retirement fund with other methods of saving and investing.
Financial advice: new technologies emerge but workers still prefer the human touch
Half of workers would feel comfortable asking artificial intelligence tools like ChatGPT for help with financial planning, but for now, actual adoption is very low (4%). Workers are still most likely to follow advice from a human professional (95%) over computer-generated advice (74%).
As in past years, the survey continues to underscore that advice plays a pivotal role in workers’ confidence. Just 27% of workers feel “very confident” making 401(k) investment decisions on their own, while that level of confidence nearly doubles to 49% when investment decisions are made with professional help. Most workers (73%) say they would like personalized advice on their 401(k) plan and 39% say they are already receiving such advice through their plan at work.
Specifically, workers would like help calculating how much to save for retirement (41%), how to invest their 401(k) (40%), determining when they can afford to retire (38%), and creating a retirement income stream (36%).
The SECURE 2.0 effect
In addition to the desire for basic retirement planning guidance, workers also want help understanding how new regulatory and legislative changes like the SECURE 2.0 Act affect their retirement plan. The new law expands retirement plan coverage for more workers and makes other changes to the retirement system to help workers prepare for retirement.
Just over half (56%) of workers have heard of SECURE 2.0. Among the provisions in the act, workers are most aware of the increased age for required minimum distributions and the increased 401(k) catch-up contribution limits starting in 2025 for those aged 60 to 63.
“It’s encouraging to see that many workers are in-tune with the evolving rules and regulations surrounding their retirement plans,” said Stewart. “By understanding what matters to employees, employers can drive engagement as they fine tune their benefit offerings to optimize recruitment and retention.”