Big Chill -- 'Late Boomers' Seen as Least Prepared for Retirement

Nanci Pipo, a partner at investment advisory Southtowns Financial, finds herself answering a lot of questions about retirement planning these days. There's one group of people in particular who seem to be most in need of counsel from this small, Orchard Park, N.Y.-based firm just south of Buffalo.

"Folks who have just turned 50, or about to turn 50, they are the ones who are really starting to feel stressed out," Pipo said. "They are looking at their 401(k) nest eggs and other retirement savings accounts and realizing that it's simply not enough."

Pipo is referring to a sub-segment of the American population sometimes called the "Late Boomers."

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They are, in some ways, a generation betwixt and between, too young to attend Woodstock, too old to be slackers. However, these late boomers, born in the late 1950s and early 1960s, may have the worst possible timing when it comes to retirement planning.

Clock Ticking

According to a recent study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, 48 percent of late boomers are at risk of being unprepared for retirement, or, put another way, of being unable to maintain their current standard of living after they stop working. That compares to 41 percent of "Early Boomers," the first wave of the boomers born in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

Members of the so-called Generation X, who were born between the mid-1960s and early 1970s, are seen as being even less prepared for retirement than late boomers. Some 56 percent of Gen-X members are thought to be insufficiently prepared for retirement, according to the study. However, this segment of the workforce has more time to catch up to the late boomers, according to the study's coauthor, CRR director Alicia Munnell.

"Late boomers did not benefit as much from the main bull market (1982-2000) as did the early boomers," Munnell explained. "But they got hit just as hard in the recent financial crisis."

Moreover, she said, late boomers are running out of time.

After the 2008 financial crash unfurled, a significant amount of attention was paid to the plight of just-retired or soon-to-retire baby boomers in general. But the extra-precarious plight of late boomers, relative to early boomer counterparts, was, in Munnell's view, underappreciated.

Lower Annuity Rates

"As jarring as the financial collapse may have been for the early boomers, the market has actually treated them well over their lifetime," she said.

The late boomers are the most vulnerable, Munnell said, because "they would need substantial returns in the future to end up with the same ratio of assets to income at age 60 currently enjoyed by early boomers."

Stock declines, lower annuity rates, housing price declines and longer life expectancies all factor into late boomer retirement shortfalls.

So what's a panic-stricken late boomer to do?

The most important thing to remember is that there are levers still yet to be pulled, said John Sweeney, executive vice president, planning and advisory services at Boston-based mutual fund giant Fidelity Investments.

"As workers get older there are catch-up provisions that allow you to put more money away tax free," Sweeney said. "And of course social security is also going to play a role. But contributing the maximum to retirement accounts is most crucial."

David Wray, president of the Chicago-based Profit Sharing/401k Council of America, reminds people that it's never too late to start taking advantage of 401(k) plans.

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