Retirement-focused families offer better opportunities to advisors

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The newest round of research from MetLife's Mature Market Institute may drive the point home: Retirement planning tends to take on more focus - and more action - when a family's involved, while single employees are placing less emphasis on the future.

The MetLife Study of Family Structure and Financial Well-Being makes the case that while the financial pressures facing American families are intense, particularly their concerns about a safe and secure retirement, they are at least taking action on the issue. More than 72 percent of the people surveyed have children.

The study also makes the case that group benefits coordinators and retirement advisors have a great opportunity to provide focused financial education to families, and that by getting them to feel more secure and confident, they'll be more willing to participate in retirement planning options and opportunities.

That economic confidence can also translate into increased productivity and less time off to deal with financial issues - as approximately 22 percent of respondents say they've had to do in recent years. 

More couples than non-couples have taken steps to reduce their debt, have had meetings with a financial advisor and are actively involved in investing for their retirement. Some 34 percent of couples are on track to achieving their retirement goals, versus non-couples (21 percent); 20 percent of singles say they have yet to start any retirement savings.

And the study shows that single women are particularly concerned about being able to save for their retirement, while married women or women with blended families are more confident about their savings abilities.

On the whole, only 20 percent of those contacted have sought out financial advice, however; couples are slightly more likely to have consulted with a financial planner.

U.S. Census Bureau stats from 2010 show that household demographics have significantly changed in the last decade among those aged 40-80, with married couples with no children now the largest group (28.2 percent), beating out married couples with children (20.2 percent) and single parents 9.6 percent.

Single women make up 14.8 percent of that population, and single men comprise 11.9 percent of the adult American households. There are more than 31 million single-person households, four times the number found in the 1960 census.

Families with (or without) children had an average household income of $67,000-$69,000 and about $224,000-$236,000 in household assets; singles with or without children made only $32,000 a year on average and had about $110,000 in household assets. 

The burdens of caring for children are also a two-way street, the study reveals: While half of respondents say they have, at times, provided their adult children with financial assistance, a quarter of parents also say they expect that their children will be there to help out after the parents hit retirement age.

And about half of the families profiled in the study have done research to figure out how much money they'll need at retirement to supplement their Social Security benefits and maintain their present standard of living - the average amount being $3,136 per month on top of the $1,235 in Social Security.

Approximately 40 percent say they have no idea where that money will come from, with about a third indicating they plan to rely on state or federal assistance, and others saying they will need help from their kids or other family members.

The study shows a vast increase in multi-generational households, where parents with young children have moved into their own parents' homes, where the grandparents stand as the head of the household.

Families contacted also indicated that economic volatility continues to make it a difficult climate for a secure and simple retirement, with increases in taxes a major concern (39 percent of respondents), changes in interest rates (30 percent), stock market declines (29 percent) and reductions in pension or annuities because to the financial insolvency of the employer or insurance company which issued the annuity (20 percent).

Families' biggest single retirement financial concerns were taking care of their living expenses (53 percent) and handling their own or their family's medical expenses (49 percent). A full 63 percent of singles, divorced, separated or widowed respondents without children say they fear the ability to take care of their living costs.

Single people were also much more concerned about depleting their savings in retirement (46 percent) than couples with children (35 percent).

And more families with children (42 percent) than those without (30 percent) tend to have life insurance products, which they say they will use as part of their retirement planning, in addition to IRAs, traditional pension benefits, 401(k)-style plans or full-blown stock or other market investments.

Asked how they plan to make the necessary steps to begin saving for retirement, a majority of families say they are trying to spend less, save more and pay off their debts; fewer say they've planned to postpone drawing their Social Security benefits, seek out guaranteed income solutions or work longer to be better prepared for retirement.

"It is important for brokers or insurers working with employers to help them understand the specific risks the various family types face in attaining financial security and planning," the study's authors note. 

"Employees value benefits including retirement benefits and voluntary benefits such as life and disability income insurance and many indicate they would be willing to pay the entire cost if multiple options were available. They would like benefits to accommodate the needs at various life stages and ages as well as in individual circumstances. They are also looking for financial education at all ages in the workplace."

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