Workers who have been thinking about retiring at the traditional age of 65 may have to rethink their plans, as they may deal with an unexpected start to their golden years or work longer, according a survey by Allianz Life.

More than half of Americans are being forced to leave the workforce earlier than expected because of reasons outside of their control, with 34% of survey respondents saying  they had to leave the workforce because of unanticipated job loss and 25% cutting off their careers because of health issues, Allianz said. That unfortunate development is only likely to accelerate this year as almost 17 million Americans have lost their jobs in the last three weeks.

The survey was conducted in January, before the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. economy, but the survey's authors noted that the crisis illustrates how unexpected events can force people to leave the workforce before or after they planned.

“As recent events have proven, when it comes to planning for the future, life often provides challenges that can derail our expectations,” Kelly LaVigne, vice president of Consumer Insights at Allianz Life, said in a prepared statement. “Those who anticipate and plan for life’s unexpected events are more likely to develop a retirement plan that provides the flexibility to change course without too much disruption to long-term financial security.”

The 2020 Retirement Risk Readiness Study focused on three categories of Americans: pre-retirees (those 10 years or more from retirement); near-retirees (those within 10 years of retirement); and those who are already retired. It found that in addition to differences in when and why Americans say they will retire, there is a significant disparity between retirees and non-retirees when it comes to expectations compared with the reality of what those retirement years might look like--and how they will be financed. 

Nearly two-thirds (65%) of non-retirees said it is likely they will work at least part-time in retirement, but the reality is only 7% of retirees are working at least part time, the study showed.

People are less enthusiastic about the idea of extending their employment the closer they get to retirement, according to the survey. Only 23% of retirees said they would prefer to work longer when asked if they would rather retire at age 55 and have their basic expenses covered in retirement or work until age 75 and live more extravagantly in retirement. That compared to 33% of near-retirees and 48% of pre-retirees.

Both pre- and near-retirees believe the lack of clarity about when retirement may start and how time will be spent could have a significant affect on retirement income, and whether their money will last through retirement.

Meanwhile, 55% of non-retirees said they are worried they won’t have enough saved for retirement and 60% said one of their biggest worries is running out of money before they die.

The study found that these worries don’t translate into action, as 42% of those within 10 years of retirement said they are unable to put away any money for retirement, compared with 34% of pre-retirees. Further, 32% of near-retirees say they are too far behind on retirement goals to be able to catch up in time versus 30% of pre-retirees.

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