Joe Bantz, CFP®, AIF®

Financial planning brings with it a wide range of concerns,but according to a recent study, saving for retirement remains chief among them.

Gallup’s most recent Economy and Personal Finance poll, released April 22, revealed that 59 percent of Americans were either “very worried” or “moderately worried” about not being able to comfortably retire. That majority affirmed retirement savings’ place atop the list of financial worries, of which there were eight other options posed for respondents. The notion isn’t particularly new, however, given that every year since 2001, more than half of poll participants have said they were at least somewhat worried about retirement.


Compared with the darkest days of the recession, stress about retirement is not as widespread, but that concern still overrides any others weighing on the minds of most Americans. In 2010, for example, retirement planning was a major issue for 66 percent of Americans, while in 2007 – just before the housing market and stock market crises – only 56 percent of respondents expressed the same sentiment.

Evolving health care concerns and persistent debt dilemmas 
Paying for unexpected medical costs, meanwhile, seems to have become less of a concern. Where 62 percent of respondents were moderately to very worried about health care-related bills in 2012, that figure is down to 53 percent. Whether that’s related to the recent enactment of the Affordable Care Act is uncertain, since all concerns were generally heightened during the worst years of the recession, but more Americans at least have access to coverage in 2014 and may not fear unforeseen medical issues in the same way. Similarly, maintaining a certain standard of living is becoming less of a concern, with 48 percent of respondents expressing moderate to very serious concern about that aspect of their financial plans, compared with 55 percent in 2011. Those two issues, along with retirement planning, were the most frequently cited by poll participants referencing their heaviest concerns.

The poll also noted that four in 10 American adults remain burdened by whether or not they’ll be able to pay off their debts – an issue that was included as an option for the first time in 2014. This concern was most prevalent among younger respondents, with 47 percent of 18 to 29 year-olds and 45 percent of 30 to 49 year-olds listing it as an aspect of their finances that has them moderately to very worried. In contrast, only 20 percent of seniors expressed such concerns with paying off outstanding debts, further illustrating the divide between the generations. Younger Americans are still consumed with debt, most notably from student loans, and it is affecting everything from their ability to save and be approved for future loans to their financial outlook, as expressed in polls like Gallup’s.

Not being able to pay medical costs, however, ranked as the most oft-referenced major concern for the 18-to-29 year-old demographic, along with not being able to maintain a standard of living. Each category garnered a 52 percent “moderate” to “very” concerned response rate from the youngest poll group. Gallup noted that the uninsured rate is highest among this population, so their fears of incurring unforeseen medical costs are both different – since their options for treatment are more limited – and understandably heightened.

Older Americans were concerned with not being able to manage medical expenses, too, albeit for entirely different reasons. Few members of this group of respondents are uninsured, but their concerns often have to do with uncertainty about what medical conditions may await and whether their coverage plans can stand up to those costs. And while seniors are generally less concerned about any of the financial planning pitfalls that stress the other age groups, medical costs ranked highest among their real worries, at 43 percent, just above maintaining a comfortable standard of living.



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