Retirement Survey: Debt Down, Confidence Up

But most workers admit they’re behind schedule in planning and saving

Although confidence is still a long way from the historic highs seen during the 25-year history of the Retirement Confidence Survey, 22 percent of workers now say they are very confident about having enough money to live comfortably throughout their retirement years. That’s up from 18 percent last year and a record low of 13 percent back in 2013.

The 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey, released by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute and co-sponsored by the Principal Financial Group®, also found that respondents view debt as less of a problem than in years past. Among workers, those reporting debt as a major problem dropped from 20 percent last year to 13 percent this year, while those saying it was not a problem rose from 42 percent last year to 49 percent this year.

“Debt can be a huge distraction from savings goals, and many may view it as a reason to not save anything for retirement,” said Luke Vandermillen, vice president at The Principal®. “It’s encouraging to see debt becoming less problematic for some. For those who continue to struggle, it’s possible to simultaneously pay down debt while saving for retirement by creating a plan and sticking to it.”

Reports of increased confidence are almost exclusively from those who indicate they or their spouse has a retirement plan (defined-contribution, defined benefit or individual retirement account). Nearly half of workers without a retirement plan are not at all confident about their financial security in retirement, compared with only about one in 10 who have a retirement plan.

If automatically enrolled in an employer-sponsored retirement plan at a 6 percent salary deferral rate, three-quarters of respondents would continue that 6 percent contribution or raise it. Similarly, 46 percent would continue auto-escalation of their contribution (increasing 1 percent per year) until the contribution reached 10 percent of their salary or higher.

“Workers are recognizing the value of automatic features in their employer-sponsored retirement plans in helping them reach their savings goals,” Vandermillen said. “Our analysis over the years has found that saving 10 percent of your salary, plus any employer match, over the course of a working career is the key to achieving a more secure retirement1. These simple, yet critical, plan features can make a huge difference.”

Despite improvements in confidence levels and issues with debt, many of the warning signs about lack of preparation have not changed. Nearly two-thirds of workers say they are behind schedule in planning and saving for retirement. And only one third spend more than eight hours a year—or about one working day—on planning for retirement.

Other key findings include:

  • 21 percent of workers estimate they will need $1 million or more to live comfortably in retirement, an increase from 15 percent back in 2005.
  • 69 percent of workers think it is possible for them to save an additional $25 a week for retirement.
    • Nearly half of workers could save an extra $25 a week by cutting back on eating out or getting takeout food.
    • 24 percent would not have to give up anything to save an extra $25 a week.
  • Half of workers have long-term disability insurance, either on their own or through their employer.
    • A third of workers believe a six-month disability would have no effect on their retirement or preparation for retirement.

Full survey results are available at For more research, analysis and insights from The Principal®, visit The Principal Knowledge Center and connect with us on Twitter.

News Release Contact


Hillary Gebert

About the Retirement Confidence Survey

The Retirement Confidence Survey by the nonpartisan Employee Benefit Research Institute and Greenwald & Associates is a comprehensive study of the attitudes and behaviors of American workers and retirees toward all aspects of saving, retirement planning and long-term financial security. The survey contains a core set of questions asked annually, providing trend data on how views toward a variety of money-management issues have changed over time. This is the 25th annual Retirement Confidence Survey, the longest-running survey of its kind on Americans’ attitudes about and preparation for retirement. The Principal Financial Group is among nearly two dozen organizations that provided funding for the survey.

About the Principal Financial Group

The Principal Financial Group® (The Principal ®)2 is a global investment management leader offering retirement services, insurance solutions and asset management. The Principal offers businesses, individuals and institutional clients a wide range of financial products and services, including retirement, asset management and insurance through its diverse family of financial services companies. Founded in 1879 and a member of the FORTUNE 500®, the Principal Financial Group has $519.3 billion in assets under management3 and serves some 19.7 million customers worldwide from offices in Asia, Australia, Europe, Latin America and the United States. Principal Financial Group, Inc. is traded on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol PFG. For more information, visit

1 Based on analysis conducted by the Principal Financial Group®, August 2013. The estimate assumes a 40-year span of accumulating savings and the following facts: retirement at age 65; a combined individual and plan sponsor contribution of 12 percent; social security providing 40 percent replacement of income; 7 percent annual rate of return; 2.5 percent annual inflation; and 3.5 percent annual wage growth over 40 years in the workforce. This estimate is based on a goal of replacing about 85 percent of salary. The assumed rate of return for the analysis is hypothetical and does not guarantee any future returns nor represent the return of any particular investment. Contributions do not take into account the impact of taxes on pre-tax distributions. Individual results will vary. Participants should regularly review their savings progress and post-retirement needs.

2 "The Principal Financial Group" and "The Principal" are registered service marks of Principal Financial Services, Inc., a member of the Principal Financial Group.

3 As of Dec. 31, 2014.