Opinion

No plan whatsoever: The sorry state of financial preparedness

As you try to improve the financial fortunes and retirement prospects for clients, consider this: Research suggests that a healthy chunk of Americans have absolutely no clue when it comes to their financial well-being.

We get an almost daily deluge of studies related to American financial literacy, confidence in the economy and confidence in retirement planning, but a piece from Northwestern Mutual seriously lowers the bar.

The new Planning and Progress Study illustrates what we probably know (or experience in our own lives), that being that 45 percent of Americans have no financial plans at all.

Of that number, 38 percent of the thousand or so folks surveyed admitted that their approach to personal financial planning is "informal," and 7 percent said they really had no goals or plans whatsoever.

They've also been scared off by their stock market and risk-related losses over the past few years and are now sticking to safer but lower returns (40 percent) - only 25 percent say they'd opt for higher-risk options to try to garner higher returns.

own financial security

 

The good news is that the majority of people surveyed by Northwestern understand that they really do need to come up with a plan of some kind or another, and they're also open to taking some steps to try to control their own personal spending and savings to do ... again, anything.

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That includes taking efforts to pay down their debt (62 percent) or develop a budget (61 percent); 58 percent said they would also try to save a portion of their paycheck on a regular basis or build up an emergency fund.

When it comes to a savings style, more than a third say they're fans of the slow-and-steady, low-risk approach. A fifth have realized that middle ground is hard to meet - "I'd like to be more cautious but I have a lot of catching up to do."

Analyzing the results, Northwestern Mutual's executive VP Greg Oberland noted that good intentions are great but that American workers need to actually do something to get their own respective houses in order.

"Developing a plan to reach your goals is just as important as having a goal in the first place, whether it pertains to your health, your career or your financial security," he said.

The message being telegraphed to financial advisors here is one of opportunity - and even to plan sponsors and employers to do what they can to turn those well-intentioned but vague desires into more active participation in existing retiremetn plans.

Education is important - there's a million other surveys out there indicating people have even less faith in their ability to financially survive into a lenghty retirement - but getting partiicipants started early, doing anything, is a key to their survival. 

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