There is a huge gap between what 50-somethings have saved for retirement and what 60-somethings have saved for retirement, according to the latest Wells Fargo retirement study.

Working Americans between the ages of 55 and 59 have saved three times as much as their 60-plus counterparts, in large part because they started saving for retirement, on average, six years earlier.

“That’s only six years, but six years makes a big difference,” says Joe Ready, executive vice president and head of Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust. The survey of 1,200 people over the age of 40, which was conducted by Harris Poll, also found that the majority of older Americans who hadn’t saved enough for retirement planned on working until at least age 70.

Also see:Use of dollar-for-dollar 401(k) matching grows.”

“We interviewed the retirees in this survey and half of them said they retired earlier than the age they had planned, which gets to the strategy of ‘I’ll just work longer,’” Ready says. “This data suggests they had an age in mind but they retired earlier.”

Six out of 10 employees retired early because of uncontrollable events, with 37% retiring early because of health issues and 21% saying they retired earlier than planned because of involuntary actions that occurred because of their employer. Only 7% retired because they had enough money.

One-third of working Americans age 55-59 said they plan to save for retirement later in life, when they are earning more money, to make up for not saving enough now, compared to 21% of those who are over age 60 who have the same strategy.

Ready says that isn’t a good idea because these people miss out on the power of compounding.

“You have to save your way to retirement. You can’t invest your way,” he says.

Also see:Competing financial priorities challenge millennials’ retirement savings.”

Having access to a 401(k) plan makes the biggest difference in how much a person has saved for retirement. Consistent savers who had access to a workplace retirement plan, ended up with about $200,000 in median savings compared to  consistent savers who didn’t have access to a 401(k) or other workplace plan, who only saved about $50,000.

Wells Fargo found that seven in 10 individuals surveyed had access to a workplace plan, which is higher than the 50% access number that is often talked about by politicians, says Ready. He believes that by extending retirement benefits to part-time and seasonal workers, that number could be 80%, while acknowledging many small businesses do not offer retirement plans because of the  administrative burden. He advocates for multiemployer plans, where small businesses, in the same or different industries, band together to relieve the administrative burden and costs that make hosting a 401(k) plan so difficult for small companies.

“Anything we can do to advocate broader access to a 401(k) plan [the better],” Ready says. “In all the studies we looked at, the main message [for employees] is save, and increase your saving rate and do it early. You have got to save your way there and the sooner [you start] the better.”

Paula Aven Gladych is a freelance writer based in Denver.

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