There are several ways to tell the difference between millennials and Gen Z, but one of the biggest giveaways is how much money they've been able to set aside for retirement.
Wealth management platform Personal Capital analyzed the retirement savings of more than 2 million of its users to find the average balance for each generation. While Personal Capital doesn't define the generations, Pew Research Center specifies millennials as those born between 1981 and 1996, Gen X as those born from 1965 to 1980, and Baby Boomers as those born between 1946 and 1964. Gen Z include those born in 1997 or after.
The data focuses on the balances in traditional 401(k) and IRA accounts, excluding outliers like savings accounts and duplicate spousal accounts.
Unsurprisingly, the older you are, the more time you've had to save and to see your investments grow. While Personal Capital says its national average for retirement savings is about $407,500, younger generations are often still years away from hitting that number. Here's how much money Americans in every age group have earmarked for their financial future.
Average retirement balance: $35,197
Average retirement balance: $166,430
Average retirement balance: $568,750
Average retirement balance: $1,029,840
Those numbers correlate with recent data shared with CNBC's Make It by retirement-plan provider Fidelity, which looked at the average 401(k) balances for different age groups.
As of the fourth quarter of 2020, Fidelity found that people between ages 20 to 29 had an average of $15,000 saved in their 401(k)s. Adults ages 30 to 39 had about $50,800, those from age 40 to 49 had $120,800, and 50- to 59-year-olds had $203,600.
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But even if they can only save a little at a time, "young people need to understand that patience and discipline can help them get to a comfortable retirement," May Jiang, CPA, CFP, a tax and financial advisor at Offit Advisors, told Grow. "Time is on their side, and compounded growth over time is incredibly powerful."
The Covid crisis has taken a toll on Americans' finances. A year of market swings, income loss, and job cuts has forced many people to withdraw from their retirement stockpile to cover bills and other essentials. About a third, or 30%, of respondents in a recent MagnifyMoney survey said they had used their retirement accounts as an alternative cash source during the pandemic. Those who withdrew money took out an average of $6,757.
Fidelity reported that between March 2020 and January 2021, more than 1 million people took out savings from their 401(k) plans under the CARES Act, which allowed those financially affected by Covid to withdraw up to $100,000 without the typical early-withdrawal penalty.
But the reduced costs that came from staying home may have helped other workers save for the future. The personal savings rate, or percentage of disposable income Americans save, reached a striking 33% last April. While that fell to 13.6% in March 2021, per the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, it's still higher than it was pre-Covid.
The market has also performed well over the past year, buoying Americans' retirement balances. Fidelity says its average 401(k) balance soared to $121,500 in the last quarter of 2020, an 8% increase from the year before and a new high. Workers contributed an average 9.1% of their paycheck to a 401(k). Including the employer match, the savings rate was 13.5%.
Putting away money for retirement can be tough for young Americans, who are frequently juggling competing financial obligations. Even pinpointing the amount you need to save can feel overwhelming.
The process can be easier if you take it one step at a time. Aim to dedicate a portion of your pay each month to a retirement fund, and take advantage of whatever contributions your employer offers, says Erika Safran, a CFP and principal at Safran Wealth Advisors.
"Roth IRA and 401(k) accounts are the best vehicles for retirement if there is a 401(k) match," Safran says. "If there is a match, contribute at least the amount that is matched. This is equivalent to a 100% rate of return on your contribution."
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Regular contributions over the course of your career will unleash the power of compound interest. Experts recommend investing about 15% of your paycheck for retirement. Grow's retirement savings calculator can help give you a sense of what your goal should be.
"Start small," Safran says. "Begin saving a small amount monthly automatically from your checking to a savings [or] brokerage account. If, after a few months, you see the additional savings amount does not impact your lifestyle, increase the monthly amount. The key is for this to be systematic."
More from Grow:
- The top 5 states where residents have the most money saved for retirement
- Americans boosted their retirement savings during Covid: Here's how much money they put away
- The 4 U.S. states where $1 million in retirement savings would last you the longest