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TORONTO (Reuters) - The reality of retirement in Canada is a lot closer to what people had imagined than it is in the United States, a survey released on Wednesday says.
In Canada, nearly 70 percent of retirees say their post-working life is exactly, or mostly, what they thought it would be, the survey by TD Bank Financial Group, North America's No. 6 bank by number of branches, found.
In the United States, that number falls to under 50 percent.
The timing of the survey of 1,002 retired Canadians and 1,009 retired Americans, done by Angus Reid Public Opinion between January 12 to 18, likely had a lot to do with the results, said Frank McKenna, deputy chairman at TD and former Canadian ambassador to the United States.
"The U.S. has been going through a much greater period of anxiety than in Canada, between the overall depth of the recession, the level of unemployment, and particularly the stress on the housing market," he said. "Canada has experienced all of those impacts, but to a much lesser extent."
The survey found that one in four American retirees were worried they might run out of money, double the response in Canada. Of American respondents, 28 percent said they may have to find another job to supplement their retirement income, compared with 10 percent of Canadians.
Thirty-eight percent of Americans thought they definitely did not save enough money for retirement, versus 21 percent of Canadians. And 21 percent of Americans were worried they did not start saving early enough, compared with 10 percent of Canadians.
Respondents on both sides of the border -- 32 percent in America and 28 percent in Canada -- said one of their biggest mistakes in planning for retirement was that they didn't start saving until they were over 40 years old.
On the flip side, they listed the smartest things they did as working for a company with a matching retirement savings plan or pension plan, and living within their means.
"It's all about living within your means," said Patricia Lovett-Reid, senior vice president at TD. "It's not about keeping up with the Joneses, because they are broke."
She said the biggest challenge when planning for retirement is keeping or getting debt levels under control. The other key is to make a back-up plan, and that means saving early and saving often.
"What if the markets are volatile right when you're entering retirement? What if you lose your job when you least expect it? There are a whole host of variables that can be the 'what if' in your life," Lovett-Reid said.
"So, while you may not be able to say precisely what will happen, building in contingency plans goes a long way."
Another finding of the survey was that Canadians are more focused on their financial health, while Americans are more concerned about taking care of their physical health.
The top advice from Canadian retirees was to max out on contributions to tax-deferred Registered Retirement Savings Plans, followed by talking to their spouses about retirement dreams, with taking care of their health coming in at the bottom of the list.
The top advice from American retirees was to first take better care of one's health, second, talk to their spouses before retiring to ensure they have the same vision, followed by maxing out on their 401Ks.
"Canada does have a public health care system and a lot of automatic social stabilizers that come out during times of stress, so people tend to be less worried about those programs because they know they'll be there," McKenna said.
"But at the same time that Canada was experiencing that stability, the United States was going through a rancorous, and volatile, and to some, even threatening debate about the future of health care, so it wouldn't be unnatural that some of the anxieties spread into health care at the retiree level," he said.
Reporting by John McCrank; editing by Peter Galloway