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SURVEY FINDS GAP BETWEEN EXPECTATION AND REALITY ON RETIREMENT SAVINGS

A huge gap exists between what people envision their retirement to be and what it actually will take to give them the lifestyle they want, according to the 2005 Retirement Confidence Survey.

Almost four in 10 workers who haven't saved for retirement are nonetheless confident they will have enough money to live comfortably in their retirement years, according to the survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Mathew Greenwald & Associates.

Some placed their confidence in Social Security or said their expenses are low enough that they don't need much money for retirement.

"They have their heads under a rock," said Lynn Lawrance, a certified financial planner at Financial Network Investment Corp. in Dallas. "If you would take away people's credit cards, tell them this is the last paycheck, an awful lot of them would be in serious trouble very quickly if they only had to live on their assets and their Social Security."

Those who conducted the survey said that at a time when the future of Social Security is a top domestic priority for President Bush, there's no excuse for workers not going full bore in saving for their retirement.

Three in 10 workers surveyed in the 2005 Retirement Confidence Survey say they haven't saved money for retirement, and more than half of all workers say the total value of their savings and investments -- excluding the value of their home -- is less than $25,000.

"Today, people view as essential expenses things that my parents' generation viewed as truly frivolous," said Dallas Salisbury, chief executive of the Employee Benefit Research Institute in Washington, which studies employee benefits issues. "There's a fundamental set of changes that have to take place in attitude."

The first is to stop viewing Social Security as a major source of retirement income, say retirement experts.

"We do not know how the Social Security debate will turn out, and Congress is still debating pension reform, but all of the discussions revolve around the same questions: How can we get people to save more money and plan for retirement?" Salisbury said.

But just as important -- if not more -- is what responsibility individuals are taking to provide for their retirement, and the retirement survey shows not enough.

It's true that 82 percent of eligible workers participate in a retirement savings plan offered by their employer. That leaves 18 percent who don't participate.

Even among workers who are very confident of their retirement prospects, there's plenty of room for improvement:

Twenty percent of very confident workers are not saving for retirement, according to the survey.

Thirty-eight percent have less than $50,000 in savings.

Fifty-two percent don't have an Individual Retirement Account opened with money saved outside of an employer's retirement plan.

Thirty-seven percent haven't done a retirement-needs calculation.

Debt is a major obstacle to saving for retirement. Two in 10 workers surveyed described their current level of debt as a major problem, while four in 10 say it's a minor problem.

"They need to look long and hard at their debt and do something about it," said Sherry Rhoades, a certified financial planner at Rhoades Financial Planning in Fort Worth, Texas. "Don't wait until you're retired and you don't want to work or can't work anymore."

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