Couples rarely agree on financial planning


SAN FRANCISCO — Maybe they can agree that their savings have been mauled by the worst financial crisis in decades, but many married couples agree on little else when it comes to planning for retirement, according to a survey.

Only 38 percent of couples said they make decisions together about their retirement finances, and only 15 percent of couples are confident that either spouse is prepared to assume financial responsibility if one spouse dies, according to the survey of 502 married couples conducted online in April by Richard Day Research for Fidelity Investments.

Sixty percent of couples don’t agree on either the husband’s or wife’s retirement age, up from 56 percent in the same survey in 2007. Forty-four percent don’t agree whether they’ll continue working in retirement, up from 42 percent two years ago. And 42 percent disagree on whether they’ll be well-off in retirement or just getting by, up from 37 percent.

“Couples are not on the same page, and in some cases they are not even reading the same book,” said Kathleen Murphy, president of personal investing at Fidelity Investments, in a conference call with reporters.

At the very least, both need to agree on basic assumptions that impact financial planning — when they plan to retire, whether they will continue to work part time and what lifestyle they hope to maintain,” Murphy said.

Unlike many surveys of married people, this survey queried both people in a marriage, thus affording a look at how spouses’ beliefs differ. Participants were between about 45 and 72 years old (with an average age of 55 for husbands and 54 for wives), with household income of at least $75,000 or investable assets of $100,000 or more.

More couples found agreement when asked about worrisome retirement road blocks, with 57 percent of couples agreeing that unexpected health-care costs were a concern — a decrease from 70 percent who agreed on this in 2007 — and 41 percent agreeing that inflation is a worry, up from 28 percent in the survey two years ago.

Nineteen percent of couples both agreed that they worried that their Social Security benefits would be reduced, down from 23 percent who agreed that this was a worry in 2007.

Couples’ expected retirement age has increased by a year, on average, since the 2007 survey, with husbands expecting to retire at age 64, up from 63 two years ago, and wives expecting to retire at age 63, up from 62. Meanwhile, 40 percent of couples said one or both spouses will continue to work part-time in retirement.

And, for some couples, their risk tolerance has declined since the market turmoil, with 54 percent of wives and 41 percent of husbands saying they are less risk-tolerant now. Still, 42 percent of wives and 52 percent of husbands said they maintained the same level of risk tolerance.