Middle-Aged MTV Generation Faces Retirement Wake-Up Call

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By Hal M. Bundrick

NEW YORK -- They were "latch-key kids," then MTV teens and now mid-career workers with kids of their own. Gen X, the leading edge of which will turn 50 next year, with the youngest hitting 35, are facing the reality of their looming retirement prospects. And so far, there is much room for improvement.

Gen X was roiled by the Great Recession, losing nearly half of their wealth -- a full 45 percent. Now, a new study by Northwestern Mutual reveals that Gen X is compounding that major setback with the poorest financial habits of the four generations surveyed. Most respondents characterized themselves as spenders rather than savers, making them the generation most likely to have more debt than savings.

Almost 4 in 10 -- 37 percent -- admit they do not "at all feel financially secure," an outlook more pessimistic than any other generation, even the often money-challenged millennials.

And nearly one-quarter of Gen X is "not at all confident" that they will achieve their financial goals, with their top financial fear including a lack of retirement savings. Remember, this is the generation that may face the ramifications of a shaky Social Security system, the trust funds of which are forecast to be depleted by 2033, according to a recent study by researchers at Harvard and Dartmouth.

"It is not easy being X," said Rebekah Barsch, vice president of financial planning with Northwestern Mutual, in a statement. "Aside from weathering a number of economic cycles, this group is juggling home mortgages, educational debt and lifestyle needs."

Besides having kids of their own -- 44 percent have children under the age of 18 -- more than one-quarter have a parent or other relative living in the household as well. No wonder 36 percent of Gen-Xers have trouble paying their mortgage or rent. Nearly one-quarter (23 percent) have also quit putting money into a 401(k), IRA or other retirement account, according to the Insured Retirement Institute.

The result: Gen-Xers' median savings for retirement has fallen 15 percent in the last two years, from $70,400 in 2012 to $59,800 today. Of those who have managed to set aside money for retirement, 42 percent have less than $50,000 saved.

But facing a potential retirement shortfall, Gen-Xers have something their Boomer parents don't have much of: time to recover. As they cross the 50-year-old yard line, "catch-up" retirement plan contributions kick in, allowing an additional $1,000 to be put into IRAs -- and an extra $6,000 in 401(k)s.

Gen-Xers also have time to pay off their mortgages before retirement, helping reduce monthly budget demands for life after work.

And as their children grow older, expenses may decline, allowing even more financial resources to be allocated to retirement savings -- before their prime earnings years pass.

Facing 40 -- or pushing 50 -- may give the grunge generation something they need most: a wake-up call.
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