Average Retirement Savings in the U.S.: $65,000

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a huge amount of economic uncertainty. Many people are unsure of their financial future — so much so that 40% of Americans are afraid they won’t be able to retire because of financial setbacks related to the pandemic.

Of course, saving for retirement is a very personal journey. The amount you need to save depends on your age, income, desired income in retirement, inflation, and more.

So what’s the average retirement savings in the United States? We dug into the most recent data to find out.

Key findings

  • In 2019, the average retirement account savings for American households was $65,000. 
  • The average American under 35 has $13,000 saved for retirement.
  • 62% of Americans aged 18 to 29 have some retirement savings, but only 28% percent feel on track for retirement.
  • 55% of non-retirees have a 401(k) or 403(b) while 25% have no retirement savings.
  • Americans with a high school degree have an average retirement savings account value of $20,000, while those with a college degree have an average account value of $119,000.
  • The average retirement savings of white Americans was roughly $45,000 more than that of Black and Hispanic Americans. 
  • Retirement savings for households in the bottom 25% of net worth grew by $2,710 from 1989 to 2019. Savings for the top 10% of net worth grew by over $600,000 during that same time period.
  • 51% of Americans retire at 61 or earlier, and 23% retire between 62 and 64, before Medicare coverage kicks in at 65. White Americans tend to retire later than Black or Hispanic Americans, despite having more savings. 

Average retirement savings of American households in 2019: $65,000

The median retirement savings for American households have grown every three years since 1989 with few exceptions.

The figures below are presented in 2019 dollars, meaning Americans are saving more for retirement than they did 30 years ago.

Year

Median retirement account savings (2019 dollars)

1989

 $21,878

1992

 $25,028

1995

 $28,378

1998

 $37,747

2001

 $42,460

2004

 $47,720

2007

 $55,548

2010

 $51,843

2013

 $64,792

2016

 $63,814

2019

 $65,000

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2020).

The mean retirement savings among Americans are significantly higher than the median savings, indicating some large outliers. We’ll see a bit later that high earners have over $600,000 more in retirement savings than lower earners, likely accounting for some of this discrepancy.

Year

Mean retirement account savings (2019 dollars)

1989

 $75,674

1992

 $79,516

1995

 $95,642

1998

 $119,972

2001

 $151,481

2004

 $166,874

2007

 $181,844

2010

 $201,314

2013

 $220,891

2016

 $243,266

2019

 $255,125

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2020).

Average retirement savings of Americans under 35: $13,000

Most retirement savings are accrued after the age of 35. Median retirement savings grow $30,000 or more every 10 years for Americans over 35 until they reach 75 years of age.

A few factors may be at play in this sharp increase: the power of compounding interest leading to snowballing returns in 401(k)s and similar retirement investing accounts, employer matching plans kicking in, higher incomes resulting in more savings, or a combination of all three.

Median retirement account value by age (2019 dollars)

Year

Less than 35

35–44

45–54

55–64

65–74

75 or older

1989

$7,960

$19,890

$33,810

$47,730

$29,830

$31,820

1992

$8,040

$16,270

$50,060

$53,630

$35,750

$50,060

1995

$10,020

$24,370

$46,740

$53,420

$48,410

$39,230

1998

$11,010

$31,460

$55,050

$73,920

$59,770

$47,180

2001

$10,110

$41,310

$69,320

$79,430

$86,650

$69,320

2004

$14,910

$37,960

$75,240

$112,520

$108,450

$40,670

2007

$11,850

$45,670

$77,770

$123,440

$95,050

$43,200

2010

$12,490

$36,530

$70,690

$117,820

$117,820

$63,630

2013

$13,180

$46,890

$95,540

$114,210

$163,630

$75,770

2016

$12,780

$39,350

$87,210

$127,630

$134,220

$127,630

2019

$13,000

$60,000

$100,000

$134,000

$164,000

$83,000

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2020).

Mean retirement account value by age (2019 dollars)

Year

Less than 35

35–44

45–54

55–64

65–74

75 or older

1989

 $18,220

 $59,170

 $103,910

 $123,930

 $97,910

 $65,570

1992

 $23,910

 $48,960

 $125,200

 $126,940

 $96,950

 $99,470

1995

 $31,480

 $59,550

 $145,870

 $156,660

 $139,980

 $99,130

1998

 $35,530

 $82,200

 $142,190

 $225,310

 $162,590

 $146,090

2001

 $27,250

 $93,700

 $183,640

 $286,570

 $252,760

 $183,210

2004

 $34,370

 $92,370

 $192,470

 $293,460

 $283,120

 $160,940

2007

 $30,830

 $98,900

 $189,640

 $333,850

 $329,570

 $130,370

2010

 $31,660

 $99,320

 $202,930

 $342,940

 $363,650

 $204,720

2013

 $31,730

$123,560

 $192,260

 $312,990

 $486,490

 $260,910

2016

 $34,540

$106,520

 $229,480

 $396,760

 $381,140

 $357,760

2019

 $30,170

$131,950

 $254,720

 $408,420

 $426,070

 $357,920

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2020).

We asked Geoff Sanzenbacher, Associate Professor of the Practice of Economics at Boston College, why younger Americans have so much less saved than is often recommended for their age group.

“First of all, many younger workers — probably a third-to-half — lack retirement savings vehicles at their jobs, a higher number than for older workers. Since most people don’t save outside these vehicles, this is a major reason younger workers don’t have much.”

“And,” Sanzenbacher continues, “because a lack of coverage when younger means less savings when older, the lack of universal coverage is a major reason all households have less than one expects. The other reasons are leakages out of accounts (especially when people leave jobs) and people investing in investment options with fees that are too high.

Andrew Biggs, Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, also points out that “[r]etirement savings goals are often set up by investment firms to serve their clients, who are higher-income and receive relatively less generous Social Security benefits. But applying those standards to low and middle-income households doesn’t make sense.”

62% of Americans aged 18–29 have retirement savings, but only 28% feel on track

Age

Has any retirement savings

Feels that retirement savings are on track

18-29

62%

28%

30-44

71%

34%

45-59

83%

40%

60+

87%

48%

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2021).

Despite being the youngest age group in the Federal Reserve’s dataset, 62% of Americans aged 18–29 had some retirement savings. Saving early is a surefire way to work toward a comfortable retirement. 

Despite that, only 28% of that age group felt as though their retirement savings were on track. This could reflect the relatively low amount of savings among Americans under 35 compared to older age groups. 

The older the age group, the more likely they are to have retirement savings and feel as though their savings are on track. 

Americans remained pessimistic about their preparedness for retirement. Just 40% of those aged 45–59 and only 48% of those 60 and over felt prepared.

Biggs points out, however, that modern retirees are better off than they’ve been in the past. “Federal Reserve data show that since 1989, retirement savings have increased in every age, income, educational and racial or ethnic group. Total retirement savings today are more than six times higher than during the 1970s, when traditional pension participation peaked.”

“Americans are also retiring later,” says Biggs, “which boosts their Social Security benefits. Census Bureau research shows that retirement incomes are at record highs and poverty in old age is at record lows.”

The Motley Fool recommends putting aside 15% of your annual income for retirement every year. That may sound like a lot at first, but it’s a goal to work toward. At a minimum, if you participate in a company-sponsored retirement plan, you should try to take full advantage of the company’s matching contributions. 

54% of non-retirees have a 401(k) or 403(b), 26% have no retirement savings

The fact that 26% of non-retirees don’t have any retirement savings at all is troublesome.

While Social Security is an important social program, it’s designed to replace only 40% of the average salary after retirement. Unfortunately, one in five married retired couples and 45% of single retirees depend on Social Security for more than 90% of their income in retirement.

To continue living a lifestyle consistent with the one they had before retirement, retirees need to rely on their own savings as well as Social Security. 

The most common form of retirement savings is the defined contribution pension, like 401(k)s and 403(b)s. Over half of Americans have an account like this. And a third have an individual retirement account (IRA), a similar type of savings.

Forms of retirement savings among non-retirees

Defined contribution pension (401(k), 403(b))

54%

Savings not in retirement accounts

48%

IRA

33%

Defined benefit pension

21%

Other retirement savings

12%

Business or real estate

9%

None

26%

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2021).

Average retirement savings of Americans with a college degree: $119,000

Educational attainment has a dramatic impact on retirement savings. 

The median retirement account value for someone with no high school diploma was $20,000, nearly $100,000 less than someone with a college degree. And Americans with a high school diploma had median retirement savings of $40,000, double those who had no high school diploma. 

The impact of educational attainment on retirement savings has become more pronounced over the past 30 years. 

In 1989, Americans with a college degree had saved about $4,000 more than those with no high school diploma, who had saved $19,890 on average. And Americans with a high school diploma had saved just $1,020 more than those without one. 

By 2019, the average retirement account value of Americans without a high school diploma hardly grew. Meanwhile, the average retirement savings of those with a high school diploma grew by about $24,000. 

The average savings of those with a college degree has grown by $85,010 since 1989, growing faster than those with no high school diploma and those with no college degree. 

Median retirement account value by level of education (2019 dollars)

Year

No high school diploma

High school diploma

Some college

College degree

1989

 $19,890

 $15,910

 $15,910

 $33,810

1992

 $12,510

 $17,880

 $21,450

 $41,120

1995

 $15,860

 $25,040

 $26,710

 $42,730

1998

 $18,870

 $26,420

 $31,460

 $64,170

2001

 $14,440

 $26,000

 $30,330

 $80,880

2004

 $16,810

 $27,110

 $32,540

 $97,610

2007

 $18,520

 $35,800

 $44,440

 $98,750

2010

 $19,210

 $29,460

 $35,350

 $106,040

2013

 $15,370

 $36,460

 $45,020

 $115,310

2016

 $38,290

 $38,290

 $36,160

 $124,440

2019

 $20,000

 $40,000

 $41,000

 $119,000

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2020).

Mean retirement account value by level of education (2019 dollars)

Year

No high school diploma

High school diploma

Some college

College degree

1989

 $56,170

 $43,600

 $52,820

 $116,980

1992

 $27,640

 $49,860

 $49,160

 $123,320

1995

 $35,950

 $61,420

 $74,970

 $149,280

1998

 $36,220

 $63,850

 $79,970

 $205,680

2001

 $52,640

 $71,690

 $97,130

 $250,210

2004

 $42,160

 $80,880

 $103,950

 $269,410

2007

 $65,010

 $82,660

 $115,790

 $300,430

2010

 $41,530

 $89,150

 $106,720

 $336,290

2013

 $43,270

 $95,570

 $131,100

 $342,030

2016

 $141,970

 $104,330

 $136,520

 $367,240

2019

 $67,710

 $119,840

 $136,480

 $381,190

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2020).

Average retirement savings by race: white Americans saved $45,000 more than Black Americans

It’s well documented that race can play a decisive factor in income and other measures of financial wellbeing. That’s true when it comes to retirement savings as well.

White Americans had a median average retirement account value of $80,000 — $45,000 more than Black Americans and $49,000 more than Hispanic Americans. 

Similar to the impact educational attainment has on retirement savings, the median value of retirement savings for white Americans has grown faster than Black and Hispanic Americans since 1989. 

Median retirement account value by race or ethnicity (2019 dollars)

Year

White, non-Hispanic

Black, non-Hispanic

Hispanic

Other

1989

 $23,870

 $11,930

 $8,550

 $12,390

1992

 $26,820

 $9,830

 $11,620

 $35,750

1995

 $30,210

 $13,350

 $20,030

 $26,710

1998

 $40,890

 $17,300

 $17,300

 $31,460

2001

 $50,840

 $12,280

 $14,440

 $38,990

2004

 $55,580

 $20,340

 $20,340

 $43,380

2007

 $65,420

 $32,090

 $20,980

 $39,010

2010

 $63,630

 $21,210

 $21,210

 $45,950

2013

 $83,460

 $20,870

 $17,680

 $47,770

2016

 $81,900

 $26,270

 $24,460

 $55,310

2019

 $80,000

 $35,000

 $31,000

 $47,000

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2020).

Mean retirement account value by race or ethnicity (2019 dollars)

Year

White, non-Hispanic

Black, non-Hispanic

Hispanic

Other

1989

 $79,740

 $37,030

 $49,040

 $62,470

1992

 $85,400

 $35,080

 $27,860

 $86,900

1995

 $103,060

 $37,260

 $64,330

 $87,260

1998

 $127,270

 $50,580

 $71,730

 $143,660

2001

 $169,290

 $46,570

 $58,620

 $142,750

2004

 $185,390

 $80,970

 $53,610

 $117,610

2007

 $207,430

 $84,340

 $80,220

 $101,950

2010

 $228,080

 $62,240

 $77,030

 $173,270

2013

 $259,840

 $61,830

 $43,510

 $144,960

2016

 $277,510

 $79,480

$102,350

 $221,820

2019

 $294,190

 $109,140

$107,010

 $194,370

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2020).

What causes this huge gap in retirement savings?

“Unfortunately,” says Professor Sanzenbacher, “I think the main driver of this inequality is the income gap — when a Black household only makes 55 cents on the dollar compared to the typical white household, it is exponentially harder to make ends meet and thus to save.”

“In turn, the income gap is driven by outright labor market discrimination, but also by gaps in education that are likely fueled by systemic issues like housing segregation.”

White Americans are also more likely to have retirement savings than Black and Hispanic Americans and were likewise more likely to feel as though their retirement savings are on track. 

Asian Americans were the most likely to have retirement savings and feel as though their savings are on track. 

Race/ethnicity

Has any retirement savings

Feels that retirement savings are on track

White

80%

42%

Black

63%

23%

Hispanic

58%

22%

Asian

85%

47%

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2021).

Average retirement savings for Americans with a top-ten percentile net worth have grown fastest over the last 30 years

It’s no surprise that higher net worth individuals have more retirement savings. What is notable is that the growth in retirement savings for the highest net worth individuals has significantly outpaced growth among lower net worth individuals over the last 30 years. 

Retirement savings among individuals with a top 10% net worth has grown by over 600% since 1989.

Meanwhile, individuals that fall into the bottom 25% in terms of net worth have seen just a 136% increase in their net worth, showing that growing income inequality has long-term effects even after Americans are done working. 

That gap is even more striking when you consider that the individuals in the bottom 25% of net worth had a median retirement account value of $1,990 in 1989, while those in the top 10% of net worth had a median retirement account value of $95,470. 

For the bottom 25%, a 136% change resulted in an increase of just $2,710 in retirement savings. For the top 10%, median retirement savings grew by over $600,000.

Median retirement account value by percentile of net worth (2019 dollars)

Date

Less than 25

25–49.9

50–74.9

75–89.9

90–100

1989

 $1,990

 $7,360

 $19,890

 $49,720

 $95,470

1992

 $1,790

 $7,510

 $23,780

 $52,380

 $134,080

1995

 $2,000

 $12,020

 $27,380

 $58,430

 $166,930

1998

 $3,300

 $12,740

 $44,040

 $94,370

 $201,320

2001

 $2,890

 $10,830

 $43,330

 $115,540

 $288,850

2004

 $4,070

 $15,860

 $46,090

 $131,500

 $363,320

2007

 $3,700

 $18,520

 $61,720

 $148,130

 $391,060

2010

 $5,890

 $14,140

 $48,310

 $156,710

 $486,620

2013

 $5,270

 $13,180

 $57,100

 $181,200

 $494,180

2016

 $4,570

 $15,950

 $55,310

 $210,590

 $671,110

2019

 $4,700

 $19,000

 $58,600

 $192,000

 $700,000

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2020).

Mean retirement account value by percentile of net worth (2019 dollars)

Date

Less than 25

25–49.9

50–74.9

75–89.9

90–100

1989

 $4,620

 $11,440

 $34,900

 $77,710

 $225,860

1992

 $3,850

 $11,840

 $34,560

 $76,110

 $261,470

1995

 $6,120

$17,590

 $37,810

 $96,940

 $331,990

1998

 $6,850

$19,710

 $57,450

 $123,820

 $418,380

2001

 $5,410

$20,220

 $62,280

 $164,180

 $548,380

2004

 $7,080

$23,080

 $65,460

 $182,740

 $590,950

2007

 $8,920

$26,400

 $79,810

 $195,970

 $675,150

2010

 $13,580

$21,540

 $66,510

 $196,060

 $756,020

2013

 $11,540

$20,310

 $75,590

 $212,050

 $793,380

2016

 $11,500

$23,180

 $77,400

 $245,300

 $928,740

2019

 $11,290

$27,530

 $78,670

 $243,530

 $946,340

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2020).

59% of all retirees use a pension or retirement plan as a source of income

Investment accounts can be a powerful tool in planning for retirement, especially if consumers start investing early and make use of employer matches, if available.

59% of retirees use some sort of pension plan (which, in this dataset, includes defined benefit pensions, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, and similar accounts) for income after retirement.

It was not surprising that 79% of retirees used Social Security as a source of income, and 93% of those over 65 did so. It’s important to remember that social security is meant to replace 40% of your income in retirement, which is why preparing for retirement through saving and investing is so important. 

Sources of income in the past 12 months among retirees 

Source

Retirees age 65 or older

All retirees

Social Security

93%

79%

Pension*

68%

59%

Interest, dividends, or rents

50%

46%

Wages, salaries, or self-employment

25%

32%

Cash transfers other than Social Security

7%

12%

*The type of pension was not defined in this survey and could include plans that offer fixed monthly payments or defined contribution plans, such as a 401(k).

Interestingly, Biggs points out that Social Security’s progressive benefits largely offsets inequality in personal retirement savings.

“Social Security pays highly progressive benefits, replacing about 80% of pre-retirement earnings for the poorest fifth of the population but only 30% for the richest fifth (source: Congressional Budget Office).”

“Middle- and high-earning households need to save more for retirement than low earners and this generates inequality in personal retirement savings,” says Biggs.

“But when Social Security and personal savings are combined, low, middle and high-income Americans have roughly similar abilities to maintain their pre-retirement standard of living once they retire. Retirement income replacement rates are not dramatically different between low and high income Americans, even if one group relies primarily on Social Security and the other on personal savings.”

51% of Americans retire at 61 or younger

Data shows that, in 2019, 51% of Americans retired at 61 or earlier, and 23% retired between 62 and 64, before Medicare coverage kicks in at 65. 

And, despite white Americans having higher retirement savings on average, they tend to retire later than Black and Hispanic Americans. 

Group

Retired at 61 or earlier

Retired at 62–64

Retired at 65+

All

51%

23%

24%

White

48%

24%

27%

Black

56%

23%

17%

Hispanic

65%

19%

15%

Data source: Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System (2021). 

Make a plan and stay the course

Attaining a comfortable retirement is generally a matter of planning ahead — deciding how much to save and invest in a retirement account each month — and then sticking to that plan. 

The data reveals that the majority of American households follow that path and have a retirement investment account available to them once they’ve hung up the boots and retired. 

But there’s room for improvement. A quarter of non-retirees have no retirement savings. Thankfully, it’s never too late to start saving for retirement, and there are ways to catch up if you feel like you’ve fallen behind.

Professor Sanzenbacher suggests three ways to get on track with your retirement savings:

  1. Make sure you get every single cent out of your employer match.
  2. Invest in low-cost Index funds and contribute consistently without withdrawals no matter what the stock market does.
  3. Don’t wait for life “milestones” like paying off student loans (unless you have private loans with really high interest rates), getting married, or having kids to start saving for retirement.  Start as soon as humanly possible.

Biggs also recommends using money from some savings accounts that have been boosted during the COVID-19 pandemic — such as those that now contain money from stimulus checks — to move toward retirement savings goals.

“[T]here are a variety of ways that people can dedicate those newfound funds to retirement,” Biggs explains, “such as investing them in an IRA, setting them aside in a non-tax-preferred investment account or, perhaps easiest, use them to pay down debt.”

Preparing for retirement is full of questions that don’t have simple answers. The Motley Fool has resources to help you take your first steps toward a comfortable retirement, but it’s always a good idea to consult a financial advisor to get personalized advice that fits your financial situation and goals. 

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