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Merrill Edge and Merrill Edge Report

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Merrill Edge Report

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Key Findings From the Spring 2015 Merrill Edge Report
On June 9, 2015, Bank of America released the Merrill Edge Report, a biannual study that offers an in-depth perspective at the financial concerns, priorities and behaviors of mass-affluent consumers, defined as people with $50,000-$250,000 in total household investable assets. Findings include:

Generational Retirement Divide: Youngest Generations Most Likely to Predict a Stressful Retirement

Two out of three non-retired mass-affluent Americans (66 percent) expect to be stressed about money in retirement based on how they are currently saving.

The Merrill Edge Report shows that those with the most time to prepare for retirement are more likely to anticipate a financially rocky retirement. Gen Xers (74 percent) and millennials (67 percent) are the most likely to anticipate financial stress in retirement based on how they’re saving now, while 59 percent of current retirees say they are not stressed about finances because of how they saved for this life milestone. Only 57 percent of non-retired respondents think they will have enough money throughout retirement based on how they’re saving today; whereas, 73 percent of retirees who have saved believe they will have enough money to last through retirement based on how they saved for it.

There is more consensus among survey respondents of all generations around financial stress points.  Most respondents – 65 percent – believe that unexpected healthcare costs would put a stress on their finances, followed by lack of Social Security funds (38 percent) and having to take a loan from a 401(k) account (25 percent).

Ideal Retirement: All Ages Agree on the Same End Goal, but Strategies Vary Across Generations

Ninety percent of retired and non-retired Americans agree that in their ideal retirement, they would be financially stable (specifically having disposable income, not worrying about money, and affording healthcare costs) followed by being stress-free (70 percent). While respondents appear to have the same ideals, they are applying different strategies for achieving their retirement goals. 

The most popular actions among non-retired survey respondents for achieving a stress-free retirement are funding retirement accounts (57 percent) and paying off debt (54 percent). Many of those who have yet to retire are also turning to websites or apps to help them manage their money (15 percent) in order to live a stress-free retirement, while only three percent of retirees looked to websites or apps to manage their finances with this goal in mind. Yet more retirees than non-retirees have addressed the goal of a stress-free retirement by investing in a non-retirement account (42 percent vs. 24 percent) or working with a financial advisor (38 percent vs. 24 percent) before reaching retirement.

Support in Retirement: Generations Differ in Plans for Financial Help in Golden Years

Anticipated means of financial support in retirement varies by generation. Of those who are not yet retired, nearly half (49 percent) said they plan to work in retirement to help support their financial well-being, and 28 percent plan to rely on help from the government for the same reason. In comparison, only 20 percent of retired respondents plan to rely on work for financial help in their golden years, while 41 percent say they currently rely on financial help from the government for their retirement. At the same time, more than four in 10 (43 percent) millennials said they are counting on financial assistance from loved ones in retirement, which is significantly greater than the 9 percent of all other respondents combined, and may signal a larger trend in retirement planning in years to come.

Financial Reality: With Strong Savings Behaviors, Older Generations Show Feelings of Embarrassment and Jealousy Fade With Age

While the overwhelming majority (85 percent) of non-retired Americans are investing for retirement, nearly one-third (29 percent) of all respondents would still be embarrassed if their close friends or family knew some of the most intimate details of their finances, specifically their retirement savings, checking account balance, credit score, total wedding cost or monthly discretionary spending.

However, financial embarrassment appears to fade with age. Half (50 percent) of millennials said they would be embarrassed if their close friends and family knew these particular details of their finances, in comparison to 39 percent of Gen Xers and only 21 percent of baby boomers. Along similar lines, 43 percent of millennials and 48 percent of Gen Xers feel they lag behind most people their age in terms of their finances (specifically financial stability, saving for the future and income), in comparison to only 34 percent of baby boomers.

Motivational Emotions: Strong Feelings of Fear and Stress Today Lead to Positive Financial Actions for Tomorrow

Nearly one-third (32 percent) of non-retirees report that they have been motivated by financial stress, financial embarrassment or the feeling that they fall short of their peers to make positive financial decisions. And while motives vary across generations, more millennials than those in any other generation have been influenced to make a positive financial decision based on their parents’ financial successes or failures (40 percent vs. 12 percent) and by the influence of social media (22 percent vs. 3 percent).

In 2014, the Merrill Edge Report found that Americans had more unfavorable feelings than they do today about the state of their long-term finances, including fear of running out of money in retirement and regrets about not saving more. Based on the results of the 2015 survey, however, it appears that some of those negative feelings might be turning into positive actions.  According to the latest results, respondents are just as likely to prioritize saving more for the future (61 percent) as living comfortably today (61 percent).  In the 2014 survey, 63 percent of respondents said living comfortably today was a priority, and 48 percent said saving for future was a priority, creating a disparity of 13 percent. Respondents’ investment confidence also appears to be positive: 69 percent of those participating in the 2015 survey say they trust their own judgment in managing retirement savings.

Merrill Edge Report Methodology
Braun Research, Inc. conducted a nationally-representative telephone survey on behalf of Merrill Edge. The survey was conducted from March 12, 2015, through March 24, 2015, and consisted of 1,000 mass affluent respondents throughout the U.S., defined as individuals with investable assets (value of all cash, savings, mutual funds, CDs, IRAs, stock, bonds and all other types of investments excluding primary home and other real estate investments). Respondents in the study were defined as aged 18 to 34 (Millennials) with investable assets between $50,000 to $250,000 or those aged 18 to 34 who have investable assets of between $20,000 and under $50,000 with an annual income of at least $50,000; or aged 35-plus with investable assets between $50,000 to $250,000. We conducted an oversampling of 300 mass affluents in the following markets: San Francisco, California; Los Angeles, California; Orange County, California; Dallas, Texas; the State of New Jersey; South Florida; Chicago, Illinois; and Phoenix, Arizona.  The markets of Chicago and Phoenix were newly-surveyed this wave. The margin of error is +/- 3.0 percent for the national sample; about +/- 5.7 percent for the oversample markets, all reported at a 95 percent confidence level.

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Executive Biographies

  • Dean Athanasia, president of Preferred and Small Business Banking, Bank of America
  • Aron Levine, managing director and head of Preferred Banking and Investments, Bank of America
  • John Thiel, head of U.S. Wealth Management and the Private Banking and Investment Group, Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management


For More Information

For more information about Merrill Edge and the Merrill Edge Report, please contact Kristen Georgian, Bank of America, 1.617.434.0234.