Despite retirement issues, seniors unwilling to explore home equity

Two-fifths of retirees have no retirement savings, yet seniors remain apprehensive about reverse mortgages: Experts

Members of the baby boomer generation remain woefully unprepared for retirement, and retirement experts are sounding the alarm, according to a new piece published by The Hill.

While white-collar workers have easier access to retirement benefits and savings plans, a sizable group of Americans who work for smaller companies with fewer retirement savings options are often too focused on their current financial needs to put energy into retirement planning, according to the article.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data for 2020, fewer than half of working-age Americans maintain any retirement savings. This rate marginally increases with age, and for baby boomers, it peaks at 58%.

This presents a more serious potential problem when coupled with the issues faced by the Social Security system.

The perception of many Americans is that they can rely on Social Security benefit payments to cover their expenses in later life, but current benefit payments only cover about half of the average monthly expenses incurred by Americans on average (an $1,800 benefit versus approximately $4,000 in monthly expenses).

Retirement savings have also largely diminished over the past year, according to data from Fidelity Investments. The average retirement account in the U.S. lost 20% of its value during that time, falling from $135,600 to $104,000.

“There were a lot of downsides in the last year,” Courtney Alev, consumer financial advocate at Credit Karma, told The Hill. “It really shows why it’s really important for everyone, no matter how old you are, to have a diversified portfolio.”

This has led to Americans trying to make ends meet in a number of ways, including putting off retirement well into the seventh decade of life. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the share of people older than 75 in the workforce is slated to reach 11% by 2026, up from 5% in 1996.

The reverse mortgage industry has long tried to position itself as a solution to help make ends meet, especially in recent years, as the level of senior-held home equity reached well over $12 trillion according to recent data.

Senior consumers, however, remain reticent.

“Home equity makes up most of the typical retired homeowner’s net worth,” the article states. “But many seniors balk at the reverse mortgage, a loan against home equity that yields tax-free income. The loan ends when the borrower dies, moves out or sells the property.”

While there are mixed feelings regarding the product category, industry players are making headway by positioning themselves as a viable option for retirees, according to Craig Copeland, director of wealth benefits research at the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI).

“[T]here are good, reputable companies that can provide you a respectable amount of income,” Copeland told The Hill.

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