4 moves to make you confident of your retirement

iStockphoto mammamaart

(MoneyWatch) The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) recently released its 2012 Retirement Confidence Survey, and the results are quite depressing.

-- Just 14 percent of survey respondents are very confident they'll have enough money to live comfortably in retirement. These results are the same as what was reported in 2009 and 2011.

-- Almost half of all survey respondents -- 42 percent -- cite job uncertainty as the most pressing financial issue facing most Americans. Only about one-fourth, or 28 percent, are very confident they'll have paid employment as long as they need it.

-- Many workers report they have virtually no savings; 60 percent say that the total value of their household savings is less than $25,000, excluding the value of their home and any pension benefits they expect to receive.

-- Almost two-thirds of respondents (62 percent) consider their current level of debt to be a problem.

-- Only 16 percent of those surveyed are very confident that their investments will grow in value.

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Is there any good news about retirement out there? Being an optimist, my natural inclination is to dig deeper into the report to find some helpful insights, and I was successful in finding suggestions that can help increase your retirement confidence. These four suggestions might be difficult to implement, but nevertheless, they point to the tough steps people need to take to boost their retirement confidence.

1. Pay down your debt.

The percentage of employed people who reported that their level of debt is not a problem and that they have confidence in their ability to retire is more than five times higher than the percentage of workers who report that debt is a problem. Paying down your debt now -- before you retire and most likely will have less money coming in -- is one of the smartest steps you can take to create a stress-free retirement.

2. Calculate how much money you need to save to enjoy the retirement you want.

Only 42 percent of all workers report that they've tried to calculate how much money they need to save in order to retire comfortably. An equal number of employed people report that they've simply guessed at how much money they'll need to accumulate; in many cases, these people have guessed much too low. The people who report that they've made a mathematical calculation have more realistic savings goals and have a higher confidence in their ability to retire.

Don't have time to calculate how much money you need to save for retirement? One survey shows that Americans watch TV 28 hours per week on average. If you're one of these average Americans, I'd like to suggest that you eliminate one or two of your least favorite TV shows and use the available time to plan for your retirement.

3. Start saving more for retirement.

Survey respondents who report that they are saving money for retirement have far higher levels of retirement savings than workers who don't save for retirement. Well, duh! So join the savers and start accumulating the money you're going to need when you're retired.

4. Take care of your health.

Workers who report they're in good health have higher savings levels than workers reporting poor health. This makes sense: If you're in poor health, you're less likely to earn a good living and will be spending more money on medical bills, which mean you have less to put aside for the future.

Do these four suggestions I've made sound familiar to you? I know that a natural reaction is to think that these steps might be difficult to adopt, but they're really well within anybody's ability, provided you can find the necessary motivation. I know many people who are paying attention to their spending, saving more, eating better and exercising more, and their retirement will be the better for it.

It's in your power to boost your retirement confidence. What are you waiting for?

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto contributor mammamaart.
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    Steve Vernon helped large employers design and manage their retirement programs for more than 35 years as a consulting actuary. Now he's a research scholar for the Stanford Center on Longevity, where he helps collect, direct and disseminate research that will improve the financial security of seniors. He's also president of Rest-of-Life Communications, delivers retirement planning workshops and authored Money for Life: Turn Your IRA and 401(k) Into a Lifetime Retirement Paycheck and Recession-Proof Your Retirement Years.