A new study by EBRI, the highly regarded Employee Benefits Research Institute, shows that younger workers, when asked which benefits they value most, ranked life insurance and paid time off as high as, if not higher than, retirement plans.
What a huge and short-sighted mistake. Life insurance will benefit someone else when you die -- decades from now, according to actuarial statistics. But retirement benefits will help you while you're alive in your older years, a very likely outcome. Those who live for today will face a bleak tomorrow. Whatever has caused this attitude, someone needs to explain to millennials just how destructive it is.
The good news is that Fidelity has stepped up to the challenge, in a simple and accessible fashion. The company has created a new personal retirement score calculator on its website (communications.fidelity.com/pi/2015/retirement/). Answer six simple questions about your current lifestyle and savings habits. Then click and you'll get your current score -- a graphic dashboard that lets you know where you stand in terms of reaching needed retirement income.
If your personal score is in the red zone ("needs attention"), you can see how making certain adjustments to your retirement plan can move the needle. You'll see how bumping up your monthly contribution, investing differently or adjusting your expected retirement lifestyle can move you into the green zone ("on track"). The good thing about Fidelity's graphic calculator for millennials is that they have time on their side. Smaller changes in savings behavior will be magnified over time, making it easier to reach retirement goals.
The calculator is deceptively simple -- and both hopeful and frightening at the same time! Fidelity is not unique in trying to move millennials into saving more and investing more wisely. Every robo adviser and mutual fund company has some version of this tool on its website. You can't say the financial services industry isn't trying hard -- for its own business reasons and because it's the right thing to do -- to get Americans to pay attention to their finances. And it's working, a little.
Along with its announcement of this new personal retirement score, Fidelity released a survey of Americans' retirement readiness. It says that the number of people who are on track to live comfortably in retirement jumped seven percentage points since 2013, from 38 to 45 percent. While this is comforting, it still means that more than half of Americans won't be able to cover basic living expenses in their old age.
This is the political season. You're bound to hear promises from both parties that the government will be able to do things to make your older years more financially comfortable. Take all that with a grain of salt. In the end, the only thing government can do directly is to "print" more money -- or take money away from those who have worked and saved for their own retirement. Those aren't solutions; they simply lower everyone's standard of living.
Millennials need to get a little perspective. Every generation has faced its challenges -- wars, global unrest, economic cycle extremes. Ask your elders. We lived through those tough times and are glad we took advantage of every employee benefit plan and retirement investment opportunity. And we're hoping our heirs won't get to cash in on our life insurance anytime soon!
Tomorrow will come, for the vast majority of the millennial generation. When it does, you'll be glad you saved and invested for your future. That's The Savage Truth.
Terry Savage is a registered investment adviser and the author of four best-selling books, including "The Savage Truth on Money." Terry responds to questions on her blog at TerrySavage.com.