Half of older Americans have nothing in retirement savings

The bad news is that almost half of Americans approaching retirement have nothing saved in a 401(k) or other individual account. The good news is that the new estimate, from the U.S. Government Accountability Office, is slightly better than a few years earlier.

Of those 55 and older, 48% had nothing put away in a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan or an individual retirement account, according to a GAO estimate for 2016 that was released Tuesday. That’s an improvement from the 52% without retirement money in 2013.

Two in five of such households did have access to a traditional pension, also known as a defined benefit plan. However, 29% of older Americans had neither a pension nor any assets in a 401(k) or IRA account.

An elderly couple walk arm-in-arm past an outdoor cafe terrace in Edinburgh, U.K., on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. The latest opinion polls show supporters of Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond's campaign for independence lagging behind those in favor of the status quo by more than 20 percentage points ahead of the Sept.18, 2014, referendum. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg
An elderly couple walk arm-in-arm past an outdoor cafe terrace in Edinburgh, U.K., on Wednesday, July 31, 2013. The latest opinion polls show supporters of Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond's campaign for independence lagging behind those in favor of the status quo by more than 20 percentage points ahead of the Sept.18, 2014, referendum. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg

The estimate from the GAO, the investigative arm of Congress, is a brief update to a more comprehensive 2015 report on retirement savings in the U.S. Both are based on the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances.

The previous report found the median household of those age 65 to 74 had about $148,000 saved, the equivalent of an inflation-protected annuity of $649 a month.

“Social Security provides most of the income for about half of households age 65 and older,” the GAO said.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute estimated earlier this month that 41% of U.S. households headed by someone age 35 to 64 are likely to run out of money in retirement. That’s down 1.7 percentage points since 2014.

EBRI found these Americans face a combined retirement deficit of $3.83 trillion.