AARP ElderWatch Colorado is a program with the Colorado attorney general's office whose shared mission is to fight financial exploitation of older Coloradans and their families through outreach, data collection, information, and assistance programs. This survey was commissioned to take a fresh look at the financial situation of Coloradans ages 50+, including recent experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the experiences and behaviors over the course of their lives that have helped to influence their financial situation today.
In particular, this survey addresses the age at which Coloradans 50+ started learning about personal finances, the biggest influences on their approach to finances, how comfortable they are with their financial decisions, perceptions of their debt and savings, access to workplace retirement savings plans, experiences with fraud, and the degree to which they feel prepared for the unexpected.
Influences on Personal Finances
Coloradans ages 50+ identify a variety of influences on their approach to personal finances, with spouses and parents topping the list.
- Three in 10 say that their spouse/partner has been the biggest influence on their approach to finances, while two in ten name their parents.
- Two-thirds (66%) began learning important lessons about money and personal finances before they turned 20.
The majority feel good about the financial decisions that they have made over their lives, particularly decisions about home ownership. However, they express less favorable reviews of their decisions about saving and investing.
- More than eight in ten (86%) feel that their decisions related to home ownership have been either all good (50%) or mostly good (36%).
- However, just two in three (67%) say that their decisions related to saving for retirement have been either all good (24%) or mostly good (43%).
Roughly one in four (26%) have lost money at some point due to fraud or a scam.
Past 12 Months
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, most Coloradans ages 50+ describe their overall financial situation as better (35%) or the same (53%) as this time last year. However, roughly one in ten (12%) describe their overall financial situation as worse than this time last year. Those with lower incomes and those ages 50–59 are especially likely to say that their overall situation is worse.
The majority of Coloradans ages 50+ have made online purchases or digital payments in the past 12 months, and many are doing so more now than they were this time last year.
- More than seven in ten (72%) have purchased merchandise online in the past 12 months. Of those who have made online purchases, more than one in three (36%) say that they are doing so more now than they were this time last year.
- Nearly two in five (38%) have used peer-to-peer payment platforms such as Venmo or PayPal in the past 12 months. Of those who have used these platforms, more than one in four (27%) are using them more now than at this time last year.
Fewer than half (48%) of Coloradans age 50+ have checked their free annual credit report in the past 12 months.
Preparing for Retirement
Roughly six in 10 (58%) Coloradans ages 50-plus believe that they are extremely or very likely to be able to cover their needs in retirement. However, just 44% of those with incomes under $50,000 feel this way.
Although most (86%) Coloradans ages 50+ have saved for retirement, many wish they had started saving earlier than they actually did. Of those who have saved for retirement, one in four (24%) actually started saving before age 25, but over half (55%) wish they had.
Coloradans ages 50–59, men, and those whose household income is $50,000 or more began saving for retirement earlier than their counterparts. Among those who have saved for retirement:
- Twenty-eight percent of men started saving before the age of 25, while just 20% of women did.
- Nearly three in ten (29%) Coloradans ages 50–59 started saving before the age of 25, compared to just 17% of those ages 70+.
- Three in ten (30%) Coloradans with household incomes of $100,000 or more started saving before the age of 25, compared to just 15% of those with incomes of less than $50,000.
Workplace retirement savings plans are the predominant vehicle that Coloradans ages 50+ have used to save for retirement.
- Three in four (74%) have contributed to a workplace retirement savings plan, while just over half (55%) have contributed to a retirement savings account outside of work.
- Roughly one in four (23%) employed Coloradans with incomes under $75,000 say their current employer does not offer a way to save for retirement, compared to just 9% of those with incomes of $75,000 or more.
More than two in five (43%) retired Coloradans retired earlier than planned, but just as many (44%) retired about when planned. Reasons for retiring earlier than planned vary, with health problems/disability (49%) and being able to afford it (47%) topping the list.
Preparing for the Unexpected
Most Coloradans ages 50+ (85%) have money set aside for emergencies, and 75% are confident in their ability to cover an unexpected expense of $2,000 without dipping into retirement savings. However, emergency savings is less common among those with incomes under $50,000 (74%) than those with incomes of $100,000+ (93%).
In fact, just over half (55%) of those with incomes under $50,000 are extremely or very confident that they could cover an unexpected expense of $2,000 without dipping into retirement savings, compared to 93% of those with incomes of $100,000+.
Three-fourths (74%) of Coloradans ages 50+ have discussed their finances with a loved one in the past year. However, just half (52%) of those who are not married have done so.
Only half of Coloradans ages 50+ (49%) have all of their important financial and health documents stored safely where a loved one can access them in an emergency.
Just six in 10 have prepared a last will and testament (62%), a living will (61%), or appointed a financial power of attorney to make financial decisions on their behalf if they are unable to (59%).
The AARP telephone survey was conducted among 817 adults ages 50-plus in Colorado who have primary or shared responsibility for household financial decisions. Fifty-one percent of the respondents were reached on a mobile phone. The survey was administered by Alan Newman Research between March 26, 2021 and April 6, 2021.
Brown, Kathi S. Finances and Coloradans. Washington, DC: AARP Research, August 2021. https://doi.org/10.26419/res.00462.001
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Financial Experiences During the Pandemic
Many working adults now say that their financial situation is worse today than it was a year ago.