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 released this month. • 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. Among other findings:
• 60 percent of couples don't agree on the age at which either the husband or wife will retire, up from 56 percent in the same survey in 2007.
• 44 percent don't agree whether they'll continue working in retirement, up from 42 percent two years ago.
• 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.
"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 the marriage, thus affording a look at how spouses' beliefs differ. Participants were between 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 roadblocks, 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.
Financial crisis hits home
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.
Another source of disagreement for couples: their sources of retirement income.
For instance, 44 percent of couples disagreed on whether or not they would sell real estate; 42 percent disagreed on whether brokerage or mutual fund accounts would be a source of income; 39 percent disagreed on whether they would rely on an annuity; 30 percent disagreed on whether they had a company pension; and 26 percent disagreed on whether they have an IRA.
But they may not even be aware of each other's disagreements: 44 percent of couples agree that they never argue about money, and an additional 32 percent said they argue about money occasionally. Just 1 percent said they argue frequently. Still, 22 percent disagree on how often they argue about money.
Advice for newlyweds
When asked about the best financial management advice they'd give to newlyweds, 57 percent of the couples agreed it would be "make all financial decisions together."
The survey findings, however, show that "many are not heeding their own advice," Murphy said.
Thirty-four percent said the best advice would be to "make a budget and stick to it," according to the survey, which allowed multiple responses to this question.
Twenty-nine percent agreed the best advice is to "have an emergency fund to cover at least six months of expenses"; 16 percent agreed that newlyweds should "not hide expenditures from each other"; and 14 percent said "disclose your income, debts and assets to each other before getting married."