TIAA survey reveals saving for retirement is the No. 1 contributor to feeling financially resilient for working individuals, but 60% of people are falling behind goals

October 14, 2020 – The global COVID-19 pandemic not only presents a tremendous threat to people's health and lives, but is also challenging the financial security of families across the nation.

According to new research released today by TIAA, a leading financial services provider, nearly 60 percent of adults say they have experienced some kind of financial stress amid the pandemic.  And while many Americans are still prioritizing saving for retirement, the majority report they are falling behind, with many citing the pandemic as the reason.

In its annual Financial Resiliency survey, TIAA polled Americans ages 25 to 70 with an annual household income of at least $40,000.

Focusing on the long term, despite economic instability

Even amid today's challenging economic environment, saving for retirement is still the top priority for most people and also the No. 1 contributor to feeling financially resilient. Among working respondents, 91 percent say that saving for retirement is a current financial goal, with 64 percent identifying it as a major goal. No goal ranks higher among this demographic group.

"Despite the financial struggles brought about by the COVID-19 crisis, Americans understand that having the foundation of a secure financial plan can bring stability and peace of mind – even in the most turbulent of times," said Doug Chittenden, Head of Client Relationships at TIAA. "A financial crisis like the one brought on by COVID-19 often leads to a moment of inflection and serves as an opportunity for people to consider their current financial status and future goals to make adjustments, as necessary."

Yet 60 percent of respondents report they are falling behind on retirement savings. Of those who do not feel on track with this goal, 30 percent say their progress has been directly affected by the pandemic. This may help to explain why Americans rank "how much is needed to save for retirement" as their No. 1 financial concern (34 percent), followed closely by "today's cost of living" and the "cost of health care and health insurance."

Rethinking what's important

The survey showed that the pandemic has changed nearly 80 percent of Americans' views about what is financially important.

Equal proportions say the pandemic has shifted their focus to a more short- or long-term perspective. As a result of the pandemic, nearly two-thirds of respondents (66 percent) say they want to save more, 65 percent say they place more importance on emergency funds and 59 percent place more importance on having a source of guaranteed lifetime income1 once they have retired.

"This research shows that 56 percent of adults only consider the next 12 months when financial planning and this can hamper long-terms goals like retirement," said Snezana Zlatar, Head of Financial Wellness Advice and Innovation at TIAA. "While it may seem far-off and overwhelming, taking small actions toward your long-term goals when possible can pay off. Setting aside even a modest amount of money each month toward your retirement is one of the best things you can do today for your financial future."

Securing long-term financial resiliency

The TIAA Financial Resiliency Survey showed a renewed focus on the components of a financial plan that can help secure long-term financial security. According to the survey, the majority of Americans define financial resiliency by succeeding on the following four goals:

  • Increasing retirement savings: Saving for retirement is a top contributor to financial resilience, yet many report feeling off-track. Despite their uncertainty, retirement remains a top financial priority for many as they balance short- and long-term financial pressures.
  • Having a source of guaranteed lifetime income in retirement: Individuals identified guaranteed lifetime income in retirement as the second-greatest contributor to financial resiliency. The majority (9-in-10) agree that once they reach retirement, it will be important to have a source of income that will not run out as they age. Of those who have guaranteed lifetime income, 7-in-10 say that knowing income will be there for them in retirement has made them feel more financially resilient throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who have a source of guaranteed lifetime income are also more likely to feel positive about their finances looking forward over the next year: 64 percent mention an emotion like optimistic, calm or content when looking ahead vs. just 51 percent of those who do not have a source of lifetime income.
  • Building an emergency savings fund: Prior to the pandemic, 69 percent of respondents reported having emergency savings, with 47 percent believing those funds would cover 6+ months of expenses. Despite ongoing financial hardships, 77 percent of individuals now report having emergency savings.
  • Paying down debt: Debt is common for many individuals today. More than 80 percent of respondents say they have some form of debt, with credit card debt as the most common (52 percent). But, nearly one quarter of Americans say they have four or more different types of debt and among those, a quarter reported taking on new debt amid the pandemic. This number increases to 4-in-10 for those under 40 years old. The impact of debt on long-term savings is immense; while 55 percent of Americans who report having "easily manageable" debt say they are on track to save for retirement, the same is true for only 24 percent of those whose debt is "just manageable" and only 6 percent of those with "unmanageable" debt.

Interestingly, the emphasis people give each of these components shifts over the course of one's life. Younger individuals value all four of these goals similarly, with debt repayment narrowly atop the list. The importance of an emergency fund grows from there, peaking between ages 40-49. And, as people shift into their 50s and 60s, financial resiliency becomes much more synonymous with retirement security.

While the pandemic has increased financial stressors for many Americans, it has also presented an opportunity to prioritize and strive to meet long-term goals, such as increased retirement savings and emergency funds.  Even in times of economic uncertainty, making small adjustments toward saving for retirement or building an emergency fund can provide feelings of stability and financial resilience, and can help Americans achieve their long-term financial goals.

Study Methodology

The TIAA Financial Resiliency Survey presents data from an online survey of 3,040 Americans between the ages of 25 to 70 with household annual income of at least $40,000. The survey was conducted by Greenwald Research on behalf of TIAA. The survey was fielded from July 16 to July 29, 2020. The results are weighted by gender, age, household income, education and race/ethnicity to reflect the distribution of Americans in these age and income ranges.

About TIAA

With an award-winning2 track record for consistent investment performance, TIAA ( is the leading provider of financial services in the academic, research, medical, cultural and government fields. TIAA has $1.1 trillion in assets under management (as of 6/30/20203) and offers a wide range of financial solutions, including investing, banking, advice and education, and retirement services.

Press contact

Lauren Post
media@tiaa.orgOpens Email

1 Any guarantees are backed by the claims-paying ability of the issuing company.

2 The Refinitiv Lipper Fund Awards are based on the Lipper Leader for Consistent Return rating, which is a risk-adjusted performance measure calculated over 36, 60 and 120 months. Lipper Leaders fund ratings do not constitute and are not intended to constitute investment advice or an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy any security of any entity in any jurisdiction. For more information, see  Lipper Fund Awards from Refinitiv, ©2020 Refinitiv. All rights reserved. Used under license.  The Award is based on a review of risk-adjusted performance of 39 companies for 2016, 36 for 2017, 35 for 2018 & 2019, and 30 for 2020. The award pertains only to the TIAA-CREF mutual funds in the mixed-asset category. Without such waivers ratings could be lower. Past performance does not guarantee future results. For current performance, rankings and prospectuses, please visit

3 Based on $1.1 trillion of assets under management across Nuveen affiliates and TIAA investment management teams as of 6/30/20.

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