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Key Findings from the Merrill Edge Report

On May 27, 2014, Bank of America released the Merrill Edge Report, a semi-annual study that offers an in-depth look 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:

Retirement readiness

Money and security
More than half (55 percent) of the mass affluent fear going broke during retirement – far more common than other stress-inducing situations and pressures, such as losing their job (37 percent), public speaking (27 percent), weight gain (25 percent), visiting a dentist (16 percent) or flying in an airplane (12 percent).

The Merrill Edge Report shows that more women than men (59 percent versus 51 percent) are frightened about the possibility of not having enough money throughout retirement, and the fear of an uncertain retirement is also most common among 61 percent of Gen Xers (ages 35 to 50) and 61 percent of boomers (ages 51-64). Only 41 percent of millennials (ages18 to 34) feel this way.

Even if they were faced with a hypothetical million-dollar windfall, fewer than one in five (19 percent) would make it a priority to set aside this “found money” for their retirement years.

More boomers (22 percent) than Gen Xers (16 percent) and millennials (6 percent) would first consider allocating a million-dollar lottery prize to their retirement funds.

Additionally, the most common factors competing with respondents’ regular retirement savings are unexpected costs (33 percent) and paying off big debts (31 percent). Paying off large debts (such as student loans) has competed with the retirement savings of more millennials (38 percent) than any other generation.

Estimating when and how much
On average, retired respondents stopped working at 68, however, those who have not retired plan to retire at 65. Single mass affluent on average plan to retire or have retired at 62.

More than two in five (41 percent) mass affluent who have not yet retired imagine that they’ll need an annual income somewhere in the $50,000-$99,999 range when they retire.

About a quarter of millennials (24 percent) and Gen Xers (25 percent) believe they’ll need at least $150,000 annually when they retire—far more than boomers, with just 11 percent believing they’ll need that much income in retirement.

Kicking off retirement savings
Most (90 percent) mass affluent have retirement savings and began saving at 33-years-old, but millennials are planning for the future at a much younger age, with more than half (54 percent) starting between the ages of 18 - 24. Eighty percent of millennials currently have retirement savings.

The most common trigger for those with retirement savings to begin investing for retirement was an account/401(k) being offered at work (48 percent). Far fewer were spurred to invest due to major life events like getting married (18 percent) or having their first child (12 percent).

For the millennial generation, many work-related milestones make all the difference in their retirement planning:

  • More millennials (36 percent) and Gen Xers (32 percent) than boomers (15 percent) and seniors (12 percent) were motivated to save for retirement when they started their first jobs.
  • Almost three in 10 (28 percent) millennials first started saving for retirement after a raise or promotion at work, versus 10 percent of older generations.

Financial trade-offs

Sticking to things they love
Despite their fears about future finances, many mass affluent won’t consider cutting back on indulgences today to save for retirement – from entertainment (33 percent) to eating out (30 percent) and vacations (28 percent).

Women are more reluctant than men to curb their spending on dining out (33 percent versus 26 percent), clothing (32 percent versus 23 percent) or even technology (32 percent versus 23 percent) to save more for retirement. More millennials than any other generation would not want to reduce what they spend on coffee (26 percent) or technology (34 percent) to save for retirement.

Mixed priorities
To cover child-related costs, parents have cut back on the money they spend on themselves (68 percent), dining out (45 percent), and vacations (45 percent), and more than a third (35 percent) have also withdrawn from existing savings to pay expenses for their kids.

More mothers than fathers have proactively opened college savings accounts (34 percent versus 21 percent) or curbed spending on themselves (71 percent versus 65 percent) to provide for their children, while more fathers than mothers have delayed their own retirements (16 percent versus 9 percent), or withdrawn from savings accounts (38 percent versus 33 percent).

With so many factors influencing daily financial priorities, the first move many would make if they won a million dollars would be to pay off big debts (34 percent) or save and invest it (32 percent); very few (4 percent) would spend it on something extravagant. More Gen Xers (44 percent) than any other generation would first pay off large debts if they won a million dollars.

Short-sighted savings
In terms of daily financial management, having enough money to live comfortably “in the here and now” (63 percent) is a more popular priority than getting the most out of their investments (49 percent) or saving more for the future (48 percent). More Gen Xers (52 percent) than any other generation say that providing for others is a current priority for them. More millennials than any other generation are prioritizing their funds for a nice car (25 percent) or a dream vacation (23 percent).

Financially unprepared for parenthood?
Among married mass affluent without children, more than four in 10 (41 percent) believe that it costs $500,000 or more to raise a child today. Only 21 percent of their counterparts who already have children estimate such a high cost.

Money management complex
Almost nine in 10 (89 percent) mass affluent set a household budget, but almost two-thirds (66 percent) of them are unable to consistently stay within their budget parameters.

For 43 percent of mass affluent, choosing among different investment products such as stocks, bonds and ETFs is the most complicated part of investing.  Others say the most difficult part of investing is handling changes in the stock market (33 percent) or understanding how 401(k)s or IRAs work (9 percent).

Finances and relationships

Gender differences in the dating game
Priorities vary widely between men and women, especially when it comes to the effects of finances on relationships. Although financial stability is not considered the top quality for mass affluent when choosing a mate, it carries some influence among women. In fact, women are more than twice as likely as men to be attracted to someone with a stable job (51 percent vs. 24 percent) and almost twice as likely to be attracted to someone who has financial stability (64 percent vs. 33 percent).

Overall, the mass affluent are most likely to be drawn to an appealing sense of humor (74 percent) or someone with whom they have chemistry with (66 percent), while many are attracted to those with financial stability (49 percent) or money saved (20 percent).

Millennials (37 percent) more than any other generation are likely to be attracted to someone who has some money saved, while more Gen Xers (59 percent) than members of other generations are drawn to someone with financial stability.

The status of a romantic relationship can also fuel financial concerns and be a trigger to save for retirement:

  • Almost seven in 10 (68 percent) mass affluent who are divorced are afraid about not having enough money during retirement, versus 53 percent of those who are single, married or widowed.
  • Almost one in four (22 percent) married mass affluent would make retirement savings their first priority in the event that they won a million dollars, versus 13 percent of single, divorced or widowed individuals.
  • Getting married spurred more men than women (21 percent versus 15 percent) to start saving for retirement.


Merrill Edge Report Methodology
Braun Research, Inc. (an independent market research company) and Kelton (an independent global insights firm), conducted a nationally-representative telephone survey on behalf of Merrill Edge. The survey was conducted from April 8, 2014, through April 22, 2014, 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. An oversampling of 300 mass affluent were surveyed in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, CA, Dallas, New Jersey and South Florida. The margin of error is +/- 3.1 percent for the national sample and about +/- 5.7 percent for the oversample markets, with both 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


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