scorecardMany people's plan for retirement is deeply flawed
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Many people's plan for retirement is deeply flawed

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Flickr / Jacob Bøtter

You might not have as many years at the office as you think.

If you think you'll "just work longer" to save for retirement, there's a key flaw in your plan: It assumes you get to choose when you retire.

A Wells Fargo survey that polled over 1,000 working and retired Americans found working adults age 55-59 have saved a median of $150,000 for retirement ... but their goal is to save $500,000.

Nearly two-thirds say they "hope to earn more money in the future to save enough for retirement."

The numbers are even more pronounced for the group of respondents 60 and older, which has a median of $50,000 saved against a goal of $300,000 and about half of whom hope to earn more in the future.

Many respondents plan to work for more years to make up for the gap. A solid 40% of the 55-59 group plans to work until at least age 70, as well as 54% of the 60-plus group.

However, the survey found, their good intentions might not be realized.

Among the 400 retired Americans polled who are already retired, almost half left their jobs earlier than planned.

Only 7% bowed out of the workforce because they had "adequate savings." Another 37% retired early because of health issues, and 21% because of "an employer decision."

Based on their answers, the working Americans who plan to keep working until age 70, and perhaps even earn more than they do now, might be overly optimistic.

The Wells Fargo study goes on to reiterate the classic retirement advice of "the sooner you start, the better." It also points out that consistent savings are key: The median savings of consistent savers age 40 and older is $160,000. The median savings of inconsistent savers is $100,000 less.

More surprisingly, the people who are consistent savers throughout their careers aren't necessarily high-earning. The poll found that 31% of workers with a household income of less than $50,000 a year say they have consistently saved since they began working.

The takeaway? Start saving early, don't stop, and don't assume you'll get extra time to make up the difference between your savings and your goals.