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Don't Believe Everything You Read!

The old adage “Don’t believe everything you read” applies to retirement-related articles as well. In just the last few months, I witnessed the following:

  • Several articles claiming an explosion in seniors filing for bankruptcy. However, as some observers pointed out, the underlying study cherry-picked a year to dramatically over-state the trend, while the actual percentage of seniors filing for bankruptcy is very small.
  • Articles touting an extremely high median savings level among millennials, but conveniently leaving out the fact that the underlying survey excluded millennials with zero savings which, of course, grossly distorts any median figures.
  • A particularly good article on millennial attitudes versus reality regarding stock investing (when asked, many stated that they were stock-averse, but most actually invested in equities) was turned by other media outlets into a “millennials are risk-averse” piece which, in examining their actual investments, was not the case.

Why does this happen? Well, there are several reasons, but the most likely causes are:

  • Many original articles get “repackaged” by other media outlets, where authors other than the original add their own commentary to the piece. While this is often done accurately, sometimes the original meaning of the source article is distorted.
  • Survey data that may be inaccurate or misleading is relied upon without digging deeper into the numbers.
  • People who write about retirement are as human as anyone else and simply make mistakes sometimes — I know I certainly have!

So, before you act upon something you read, it is best to take the following steps:

  • If something is being written about another article, read the original article.
  • If survey data is being cited, examine the underlying data source. Look for “red flags” such as a survey entity with a vested interest in a particular outcome, sample size (I generally question anything under 1,000 people, unless the demographic itself is quite small), and/or cherry-picking dates or other figures.
  • If something sounds like an outlier, look for other articles written about the same subject to determine why the outlier is present. Sometimes the outlier is a valid assessment, but often this is not the case.

Do you have an example of something you read about retirement that, after some digging, you concluded was inaccurate? Share it with me on Twitter or at

Note: This feature is to provide general information only, does not constitute legal advice, and cannot be used or substituted for legal or tax advice.

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