In the middle of ever-circling evaluations of Americans' preparedness for retirement, a theme that's slipped below the surface is the still very valid role that Social Security can play: It hasn't gone away yet, experts note, and maximizing on its benefits can be an extremely valuable part of a larger retirement plan.
Such was part of the discussion Monday morning as National Retirement Planning Week began with a state of the industry overview from industry leaders, ranging from the EBRI and the GAO to major companies such as Lincoln Financial, BlackRock and Allianz.
All parties involved agree that Americans at every level certainly need all the resources possible to help energize, focus and effectively plan for what is now, statistically, promising to be a very long retirement.
The IRI, one of the week-long campaign's major supporters, released data Monday suggesting that only 36 percent of Baby Boomers feel they'll have enough assets to live comfortably throughout their entire retirement, pushing almost a quarter to say they've put off retirement until at least age 70.
Lara Hinz, director of programs for the Women's Institute for a Secure Retirement, told reporters that the retirement challenges are even more palpable for women, who traditionally earn less income, play larger caregiver roles and have much longer life expectancies than men.
"Women face a very different retirement prospect and are the ones who can least afford making lifelong retirement planning mistakes," she said. "To that end, Social Security is a huge part of many women's security, and it's even the basic information that really matters."
Katie Libbe, vice president of consumer marketing and solutions with Allianz Life, said that while employers are making better efforts to communicate the importance of getting their workers involved in retirement planning, those discussions should also include Social Security as a fundmental.
"At the end of the day, all of these other options, including Social Security, are integrated, and are good ways to start to broaden what's in their 401(k)s," she said. "We also need to switch our focus from the accumulation phase of retirement savings to that transition phase into decumulation, the time to reposition retirees' assets. I see a need for a lot more education, for both consumers and advisors."
Rob Kron, director and head of investment and retirement education with BlackRock, said he agrees that Social Security remains a somewhat neglected planning tool, but can still be very valuable for those now approaching retirement age.
"I'm still amazed that a lot of people don't necessarily know about using their Social Security benefits, but it's something that so many of us bought into years ago when we first started working, and we live in total ignorance - you never get a manual to tell you what to do," Kron said. "Plan sponsors should also expand the breadth of their options to take advantage of those benefits."
Kron's firm has created its own five-step action plan for Boomers, which includes paying attention to the vastly longer lifespans anticipated for current and future retirees, with a subsequent focus on the best strategies to elect to collect SS benefits.
The week continues with the following free events:
Tuesday, April 10: Webinar for advisors featuring Chad Terry, director of investment and retirement education for BlackRock, speaking on Social Security's role in retirement strategies. 1:30 p.m. EDT; click here to get more information on participating.
Wednesday, April 11: Two meetings in Washington D.C.: The American Savings Education Council, discussing new retirement trends, research and planning tools, at 9 a.m. EDT at the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (registration required); and a financial literacy seminar hosted by the George Washington University School of Business and the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, held at 2 p.m. EDT on the GWU campus (more details here).