Debt and medical crises can spoil retirement dreams

American consumers spend much of their lives working toward retirement, so many have probably thought about their ideal retirement and how to make it happen.

MagnifyMoney researchers set out to identify what a dream retirement looks like, but plenty of personal and societal factors could be impeding those dreams. Researchers found a large share of the 2,050 consumers who were surveyed expects to retire in debt. Plus, many folks are afraid that Social Security benefits will run out, or that they’ll face a medical crisis that upends their retirement plans.

Whether they’re focused on retiring as soon as possible, or at a more common age but on a beach, consumers have big retirement dreams. Some may have to plan more carefully to avoid a retirement nightmare.

MagnifyMoney, a source of financial information for consumers, commissioned Qualtrics to do the online survey in September 2021. Key findings include:

  • 46 percent of Americans think they’ll retire in debt. At the same time, 54 percent have no plans to work with a financial planner or retirement specialist on their retirement goals.
  • 7 percent of baby boomers (ages 56 to 75) say their dream retirement age is less than 55, but a larger share of retired boomers — 18 percent — say they are living their dream.
  • Nearly 30 percent of millennials and Gen Zers want to retire before they turn 50. Plus, more women want to retire before 50 than men (21 percent versus 15 percent, respectively).
  • 43 percent of Americans fear their retirement dreams could be derailed due to Social Security running out. In addition, 22 percent worry about losing their savings in a stock market crash.
  • Florida, California and Texas top Americans’ list of their dream retirement destinations.

Even the humblest of retirement dreams may require some cost-of-living adjustments, but how retirees financially support themselves can vary. It appears a large share of folks are depending on Social Security income to partially or totally fund their retired life.

There’s no single dollar amount that will allow every American to retire comfortably, but 55 percent of consumers would ideally just relax in retirement and probably not have to worry about affording bills or other necessities. Other popular dreams include traveling and spending time with family, which typically mean having a lot of free time. Still, only 31 percent of respondents say they want to stop working completely in retirement, so it’s possible folks will look to earn an active income at a smaller scale than during their primary working years.


Kamaron McNair, who wrote this article, is the editorial assistant at LendingTree, parent firm of MagnifyMoney.