Americans may have guessed the amount they need to save for retirement — but they’ll probably never get there

Americans guessed they need about $1.7 million to retire, and they may not be far off, experts said.

Their figure may be realistic, but not their approach to accumulating that much, said Catherine Golladay, chief operating officer of Schwab Retirement Plan Services. The survey of 1,000 Americans between 25 and 70 years old found 51% of respondents, who are participating in a 401(k) plan, are contributing 10% or less of their salary, for an average annual contribution of about $8,800. Less than half have increased their contribution percentage in the last two years.

Here were some more findings:

• When asked how they chose the percentage they’d contribute, 55% said they found a number they were comfortable with; 36% said they contributed as much as the employer match; and 8% said they used the default amount they were automatically enrolled with.

• The top obstacles when trying to save for retirement for participants were: unexpected expenses like home repairs, paying off credit card debt, needing enough money for basic monthly bills and then student loans.

• Their main source of financial stress was saving enough for retirement, followed by paying off credit card debt and keeping up with monthly expenses. A quarter of participants said they have taken a loan from their 401(k), and more than half of that group said they had taken multiple loans.

Some participants said they save outside of a 401(k) plan, but do so in a savings account that would earn significantly less than an investment portfolio like their retirement account.

See: Want to make millennials mad? Talk about saving for retirement

The survey results hinted at two typical misconceptions in personal finance: The first, that not everyone needs financial advice, and the second, that Americans see themselves as “savers” more than “investors” when participating in a 401(k).

Almost all respondents said they would feel confident making the proper financial decisions if they had professional advice, but only 52% said their situation warranted financial advice, according to Schwab SCHW, -1.06% which offers financial advice. Another 52% said they’ve used online retirement calculators, which prompted 61% to take positive actions, like increasing their contributions or adjusting their spending. “They may think their situation is simple, but your wealth is your wealth,” Golladay said. “Put yourself in the best possible position and take advantage of the help out there.”

It could help Americans to think of themselves as investors, not just savers, she said. But people — especially younger ones — tend to find the act of investing intimidating, and don’t consider themselves investors even when they have an employer-sponsored retirement account. Shifting the mind-set from saving to investing can help make a person feel more in control, said Erin Lowry, author of “Broke Millennial Takes on Investing.”

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