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Almost half of Americans die with virtually no savings

August 24, 2012

| Money Rates Columnist

If a newly release report is any indication, most children shouldn't expect a big inheritance from their parents. A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research finds that 46 percent of Americans die with less than $10,000 in financial assets.

The study, which tracked senior citizens from 1993-2008, grouped seniors by their marital status to examine the differences between these categories:

  • Always single
  • Married at the start of retirement, but single by death
  • Married until death

Married seniors fare the best

Single seniors were most likely to have low incomes and limited assets. The study found 52 percent of individuals in this category lived on less than $20,000 annually and died with less than $10,000 in financial assets.

Seniors who were married at the time of retirement but outlived their spouse fared better with only 36 percent falling below those income and asset levels. Individuals who were still married at death seemed to be the most financially secure with only 26 percent living below those levels.

In addition, single individuals had significantly lower annual wealth than those who were married. According to the research, unmarried seniors had a median annual wealth of $165,000. That figure included both current and future Social Security income as well as pensions, home equity and financial assets such as CDs, money market accounts and savings accounts.

Individuals who were married at death again fared better, with a median annual wealth of $600,000.

More money correlated with a longer life

The study also discovered that those who had greater wealth in 1993 tended to live longer lives. This finding held true across a variety of assets. Those whose homes were worth more, who had larger retirement incomes and who had more money in their savings accounts consistently outlived those with less income and assets.

The reason for the correlation between health and wealth is not completely understood, but the study authors say their findings underscore patterns previously detected in other research.

Author James Poterba of MIT says the issue of wealth and senior citizens merits further research and discussion. He believes additional studies may help identify mechanisms to help seniors who find themselves struggling financially late in life.

In the meantime, working adults may be well-advised to revisit their savings rates and determine whether additional money could be placed in money market accounts, IRAs or retirement funds to help them better prepare for their golden years.

Your responses to ‘Almost half of Americans die with virtually no savings’

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28 August 2012 at 12:30 pm

Looks like the health industry is doing a good job in those last days of taking as much from the people with ill health as the folks can shell out.They are not leaving anything on the table.


28 August 2012 at 9:27 am

I am a senior on very limited income(598.00 a month)Plus 200.00 a month food benefits. Talk about beng miserable! I live with my son,daughter-in-law and a young grandchild. I so want to live on my own but with my small income nothing is available to me in my area,I have tried and tried again! I'm between a rock and a hard place for sure,what a sad existance.

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