Americans more confident about retirement, but not necessarily financially prepared

With the economy on the rebound and the stock market on a roll, many Americans are feeling better about their financial future.

A new study by Ameriprise Financial found that significantly more people believe they’re on track for retirement now than last year. Two in five people surveyed (42 percent) expressed confidence that they are financially prepared as compared with only 37 percent last year.

The survey of 10,000 adults (ages 40 to 75) in 30 major metropolitan areas found that: 

  • 19 percent said they feel very prepared financially for retirement or the remainder of their retirement
  • 28 percent feel very confident they will reach their retirement goals or the remainder of their retirement will work out as planned

“Feeling confident about retirement is essential, but perhaps not as important as taking steps to financially prepare for that retirement,” said Suzanna de Baca, vice president of wealth strategies at Ameriprise Financial.

And some of the numbers from the New Retirement Mindscapereport don’t seem to justify the current optimism. In fact, de Baca warns that this confidence may be unwarranted “and cause a dangerous feeling of complacency.”

The survey found that fewer people are taking the steps necessary to save for this milestone in their lives as compared to last year.

  • While 72 percent said they had done something to prepare for retirement that number is slightly smaller than in 2011 and 2010 when the economic recovery was still shaky.  
  • Only half (49 percent) said their retirement balances have recovered from the market downturn in 2008-2009.
  • Only one in four (23 percent) has calculated how much they will need to save for retirement. That’s significantly higher than past years, but still dismally low.

“If three-quarters of the people feel they’re on track, but only a quarter of them have done any math, then that causes me some concern,” said Andrea Singleton, a certified financial planner with Ameriprise in Seattle.

“How do they come to that conclusion? They can’t all be planning to win the lottery. They can’t all be inheriting large sums of money from mom and dad,” Singleton said.

On the bright side, more than half (51 percent) contributed to a 401(k) or other retirement plan – a significant jump from last year’s 47 percent.

Healthcare weighs heavy on people’s minds

As people look toward the future, they worry about healthcare costs. Nearly half of those surveyed (45 percent) believe medical bills will be one of their most challenging issues after they leave the workforce.

They expressed a great deal of concern about the Affordable Care Act. More than half (51 percent) said they worry they’ll pay more for healthcare because of the law. Keep in mind, this survey was taken in June.

How much would they need to save to pay for medical costs not covered by Medicare? The median estimate was about $100,000. That’s close to what people actually spend, on average, during their retirement years – $135,500 according to 2012 data from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. But Ameriprise noted, is significantly less than the $227,000 experts predict will be needed for retirees in 2020.

And yet, few people are taking steps to deal with these rising costs. Ten percent said they expect family and friends to care for them if their health begins to fail.

A city by city breakdown

Ameriprise combined the results of the study – people’s confidence and financial readiness in the 30 metro areas surveyed. San Francisco, Detroit and Hartford-New Haven took the top three spots because a higher percentage of residents there have taken specific steps – written a financial plan and contributed to a personal retirement account – than others in the country.

In the bottom three locatoins, Nashville, Los Angeles and Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne, people are saving about as much as the national average, but their confidence level is lower. Ameriprise said that might be a function of housing prices that hadn’t rebounded as much as in the rest of the country.

Here are the City Pulseindex rankings for 2013. The 2012 rank appears in parenthesis.

1. San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose (4)

2. Detroit (17)

3. Hartford-New Haven (1)   

4. Minneapolis-St. Paul (3)

5. Seattle-Tacoma (13)

6. San Diego (2)

7. Sacramento-Stockton-Modesto (18)

8. Baltimore (25)

9. St. Louis (15)

10. Phoenix (11)

11. Denver (8)

12. Washington D.C. (30)

13. Dallas-Fort Worth (14)

14. Boston (12)

15. Indianapolis (28)

16. Atlanta (10)

17. Tampa-St. Pete (23)

18. Charlotte (29)

19. Portland, Ore. (19)

20. Miami-Fort Lauderdale (20)

21. Chicago (27)

22. Pittsburgh (9)

23. Raleigh-Durham (6)

24. Philadelphia (5)

25. New York (26)

26. Cleveland-Akron (24)

27. Houston (16)

28. Nashville (7)

29. Los Angeles (21)

30. Orlando-Daytona Beach-Melbourne (22)

Don’t let fear paralyze you

Everybody has anxiety about money. That stress can lead to inaction which can only make things worse. See if you can find someone who will help you take control of your finances. It might feel uncomfortable at first, but in the long-run it can reduce stress and get you moving toward your goal.

Herb Weisbaum is The ConsumerMan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitteror visit The ConsumerMan website.