Schwab Survey: Millennials Face Unique Set of Obstacles When Saving for Retirement

Occasional Indulgences & Student Loan Debt Keeping Young People from Saving More

SAN FRANCISCO--()--A new survey finds that Millennials, more than any other group, may not be saving enough for retirement because they are unwilling to sacrifice things that add to their current quality of life – and because many are also burdened by student loan debt.

The nationwide survey of 1,000 401(k) plan participants, commissioned by Schwab Retirement Plan Services, Inc. identifies key differences in both attitudes and behaviors of Millennials (those under age 35), Generation Xers (those between 35 and 49 years old) and Baby Boomers (those between 50 and 70 years old) when it comes to saving for retirement.


The survey found that Millennials face several obstacles to meeting their retirement savings goals, which disproportionately affect this group more than any other. Moreover, although this younger generation believes they would benefit from help, they are using professional investment advice far less than their older counterparts. Specifically:

  • 44 percent are not saving more because they want to treat themselves to things like occasional dinners out and vacations, more than Gen Xers (34%) and Boomers (29%).
  • More than a third (37%) can’t set aside more money for retirement because they are still paying off student loans.
  • About half of Millennials (49%) feel that they don’t know what their best investment options are, and only a third (34%) are extremely or very confident in their ability to make the best 401(k) investment decisions on their own.
  • While three-quarters (76%) claim they would like help managing their 401(k), only 22 percent are likely to seek out professional investment guidance, and just 7 percent are currently receiving it.

“Managing a 401(k) can often be intimidating for young people who have little to no investing experience,” said Catherine Golladay, vice president of participant services and administration at Schwab Retirement Plan Services. “Our survey found that six in ten Millennials wished there was an easier way to choose the right investments for their 401(k). Getting professional investment advice early on can go a long way toward easing some of this anxiety, boosting confidence and getting people started on the right foot.”

Generation X

Survey respondents representing Generation X, while more established in their careers but not yet approaching retirement, have their own set of unique conditions affecting their ability to save. In particular:

  • Like Millennials, Gen Xers’ greatest obstacle to saving more for retirement is an unwillingness to sacrifice their current quality of life (34%). A close second, though, is wanting to save for their children’s education (32%).
  • Only 58 percent know how much they need to have saved for a comfortable retirement and only 53 percent believe they are saving enough to retire when they want to.
  • Gen X is the group most likely to have taken a loan from their 401(k): 31 percent have done so, compared to just 13 percent of Millennials and 29 percent of Baby Boomers.

“Borrowing from a 401(k) is like stealing from your future self,” notes Golladay. “A 401(k) loan can severely derail your savings plan and comes with steep tax penalties if you leave your job and can’t repay the loan, so it should be viewed as a last resort for everyone, regardless of age.”

Baby Boomers

The group nearest to retirement, Baby Boomers, are not as adequately prepared as they should be. They also tend to be more concerned with the health aspects of retirement than the financial pressures. In particular:

  • Only 63 percent believe they are saving enough to retire when they want to. Similarly, only 65 percent think they’ll be retired comfortably in 15 years, while another 22 percent say they’ll be retired, but not comfortably.
  • Even with retirement looming, a third (33%) don’t know how much they should have saved for a comfortable retirement.
  • More Baby Boomers are currently getting 401(k) investment advice than any other generation: 20 percent, compared to 7 percent of Millennials and 10 percent of Gen Xers.
  • On the whole, this group is more concerned about being healthy enough to enjoy retirement (61%) than having enough money to enjoy it (39%).

“As the survey results show, at every stage of life, people have competing priorities that may interfere with their ability to retire comfortably at the end of a long career,” concluded Golladay. “While balancing financial responsibilities can be a tall order, saving in a 401(k) should remain at the top of the priority list.”


Questions to 401(k) Participants


(Under 35)


Gen Xers



Do you agree that you...


Would like personalized 401(k) investment advice?

76 % 64 % 62 %

Think you’re saving enough to retire when you want to?

56 % 53 % 63 %

Don’t know what your best investment options are?

    49 %   39 %   35 %
What keeps you from saving more for retirement?

Not willing to sacrifice things that add to quality of life

44 % 34 % 29 %

Need money to pay basic monthly bills

30 % 28 % 20 %

Want to save for a child’s education

27 % 32 % 10 %

Still paying off student loans

    37 %   14 %   6 %
Have you ever taken out a loan from your 401(k)?    









What will be happening in 15 years?

You will be comfortably retired

4 % 22 % 65 %

You will be retired, but not comfortably

    2 %   9 %   22 %
Are you very or extremely confident in your ability to make the right 401(k) investment decisions on your own?    









Are you very likely to seek out professional help to make the best 401(k) investment choices?    









Are you currently getting professional 401(k) investment advice?    









Do you know how much you’ll need to have saved for a comfortable retirement?    









What concerns you more?

Having enough money to enjoy retirement?

59 % 52 % 39 %

Being healthy enough to enjoy retirement?

    41 %   48 %   61 %

About the Survey

This online survey of U.S. 401(k) participants was conducted by Koski Research for Schwab Retirement Plan Services. The survey is based on 1,000 interviews and has a three percent margin of error at the 95 percent confidence level. Survey respondents worked for companies with at least 25 employees, were current contributors to their 401(k) plans and were 25-70 years old. Survey respondents were not asked to indicate whether they had 401(k) accounts with Schwab Retirement Plan Services. All data is self-reported by study participants and is not verified or validated. Respondents participated in the study between May 26 and June 3, 2015. Additional findings can be found on our research page.

About Charles Schwab

At Charles Schwab we believe in the power of investing to help individuals create a better tomorrow. We have a history of challenging the status quo in our industry, innovating in ways that benefit investors and the advisors and employers who serve them, and championing our clients’ goals with passion and integrity.

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Through its operating subsidiaries, The Charles Schwab Corporation (NYSE: SCHW) provides a full range of securities brokerage, banking, money management and financial advisory services to individual investors and independent investment advisors. Its broker-dealer subsidiary, Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (member SIPC,, and affiliates offer a complete range of investment services and products including an extensive selection of mutual funds; financial planning and investment advice; retirement plan and equity compensation plan services; compliance and trade monitoring solutions; referrals to independent fee-based investment advisors; and custodial, operational and trading support for independent, fee-based investment advisors through Schwab Advisor Services. Its banking subsidiary, Charles Schwab Bank (member FDIC and an Equal Housing Lender), provides banking and lending services and products. More information is available at and

Schwab Retirement Plan Services, Inc., Schwab Retirement Plan Services Company, and Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. are separate but affiliated companies and subsidiaries of The Charles Schwab Corporation. Brokerage products and services are offered by Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. (Member SIPC). Schwab Retirement Plan Services, Inc. and Schwab Retirement Plan Services Company (collectively, Schwab Retirement Plan Services) provide recordkeeping and related services with respect to retirement plans.

©2015 Schwab Retirement Plan Services, Inc. All rights reserved.



Charles Schwab
Mike Peterson, 330-908-4334
Intermarket Communications
Neil Shapiro, 212-754-5423

Release Summary

A new survey finds that Millennials, more than any other group, may not be saving enough for retirement because they are unwilling to sacrifice things that add to their current quality of life.


Charles Schwab
Mike Peterson, 330-908-4334
Intermarket Communications
Neil Shapiro, 212-754-5423