The Average American Has This Much Retirement Income. How Do You Compare?

Most retirees count on Social Security for a majority of their income, but there are other ways to pad your lifestyle after 65.

By Jeremy Bowman

If you’re stressed out about retirement, you’re not alone. Many Americans are. Major life-changing events and money are two of the leading stressors we face, according to survey data, and retirement involves both of them.

For many Americans, stepping away from a career and committing to a fixed source of income can be a difficult transition, but how much money should you expect to live on in retirement?

According to 2012 AARP analysis of data from the Census Bureau, the average retirement income for Americans 65 and over was $31,742 — 84% of those received Social Security, with 43.3 million of them getting an average retirement benefit of $1,298.98 a month. Social Security provides more than a third of income for many retirees, and retirees in the lowest income quintile count on Social Security for more than 80% of their income.



While Social Security is the principal source of income for many retirees, it’s not the only one. Nearly 30% of retirees count on savings either from their own accounts like 401(k)s or through pensions from their employers. Retirement savings tend to skew toward higher-income retirees as more than half of the wealthiest retirees said they had savings that provided them with a median income of $30,000.

Finally, many Americans are forced to continue working past 65 in order to maintain their desired lifestyle. About 22% continue to work into the traditional retirement years with many taking part-time jobs. Working during retirement is becoming more common with the percentage of retiree income earned by working doubling from 15% in 1990 to 30% in 2012.

What you can do to beat the average
If you haven’t already retired, it’s never too late to start a savings account or add to it. But with interest rates remaining low, you’re better off looking to the stock market for meaningful returns. A good place start may be dividend stocks on the Dow Jones Industrial Average, blue-chip companies with familiar names like McDonald’s and Verizon. Investing in a real estate investment trust, or REIT, is also a good way to maximize your dividend income as REITs are required to pay out a minimum 90% of earnings in dividends.

A dividend reinvestment plan (or DRIP), which automatically puts dividends back into the stocks they came from can help boost your returns while you’re still working. For more passive investing, consider buying shares in an S&P 500 index fund, which will keep you diversified and removed from the need to follow individual stocks. And finally, a retirement account like a 401(k) or an IRA can help maximize tax benefits.

As a current retiree looking to maximize your income stream from your savings, you may want to consider selling covered calls on your stocks, in addition to collecting dividends. This strategy can provide additional income on a monthly or even weekly basis, but you are at risk of being forced to sell your stock if the price goes up significantly.

If you’re retired and counting mainly on Social Security checks for your income, you may want to focus on minimizing your expenses. Senior discounts are often available but unadvertised. Many supermarkets offer discounts of 5%-10% on certain days of the week, and programs at major pharmacies allow seniors to save up to 50% on prescription drugs.  Many restaurants and clothing chains offer discounts of 10% or more, and most public transportation systems offer reduced fares for seniors as well.

Finally, if you need to boost your income but getting a part-time job is beyond your abilities, consider renting out some of your assets. The so-called sharing economy has made it possible to rent out a spare room in your home through sites like Airbnb. If you don’t have a spare room, consider renting the entire place out when you travel away for a weekend or a vacation. You can even rent out your car by the day on sites like Turo, where vehicles generally rent for $30 a day and up.

The best way to improve your retirement income and standard of living is likely a combination of the above options. Those still planning their retirement may also want to carefully consider retirement location as moving can reduce expenses and help save on taxes. Whatever you decide, planning ahead is always a smart move, and it’s never too late to start saving.

The $15,834 Social Security bonus you could be missing
If you’re like most Americans, you’re a few years (or more) behind on your retirement savings. But a handful of little-known “Social Security secrets” could help ensure a boost in your retirement income. For example: one easy trick could pay you as much as $15,834 more… each year! Once you learn how to maximize your Social Security benefits, we think you could retire confidently with the peace of mind we’re all after.  Simply click here to discover how to learn more about these strategies. 

Jeremy Bowman has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Verizon Communications. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Drew Limsky

Drew Limsky



Drew Limsky joined Lifestyle Media Group in August 2020 as Editor-in-Chief of South Florida Business & Wealth. His first issue of SFBW, October 2020, heralded a reimagined structure, with new content categories and a slew of fresh visual themes. “As sort of a cross between Forbes and Robb Report, with a dash of GQ and Vogue,” Limsky says, “SFBW reflects South Florida’s increasingly sophisticated and dynamic business and cultural landscape.”

Limsky, an avid traveler, swimmer and film buff who holds a law degree and Ph.D. from New York University, likes to say, “I’m a doctor, but I can’t operate—except on your brand.” He wrote his dissertation on the nonfiction work of Joan Didion. Prior to that, Limsky received his B.A. in English, summa cum laude, from Emory University and earned his M.A. in literature at American University in connection with a Masters Scholar Award fellowship.

Limsky came to SFBW at the apex of a storied career in journalism and publishing that includes six previous lead editorial roles, including for some of the world’s best-known brands. He served as global editor-in-chief of Lexus magazine, founding editor-in-chief of custom lifestyle magazines for Cadillac and Holland America Line, and was the founding editor-in-chief of Modern Luxury Interiors South Florida. He also was the executive editor for B2B magazines for Acura and Honda Financial Services, and he served as travel editor for Conde Nast. Magazines under Limsky’s editorship have garnered more than 75 industry awards.

He has also written for many of the country’s top newspapers and magazines, including The New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Miami Herald, Boston Globe, USA Today, Worth, Robb Report, Afar, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, Men’s Journal, Ritz-Carlton, Elite Traveler, Florida Design, Metropolis and Architectural Digest Mexico. His other clients have included Four Seasons, Acqualina Resort & Residences, Yahoo!, American Airlines, Wynn, Douglas Elliman and Corcoran. As an adjunct assistant professor, Limsky has taught journalism, film and creative writing at the City University of New York, Pace University, American University and other colleges.