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Poll: Fed's Low Interest Rates Breed Anxiety Over Retirement

By Kristina Peterson The Federal Reserve's easy-money policy is breeding anxiety among investors looking at their retirement accounts, according to a new Wells Fargo/Gallup poll released Friday. Nearly two out three U.S. investors think policymakers should "take into account the harm low interest rates do to older Americans" when making decisions, according to the survey conducted May 4-12 of 1,018 U.S. adults with at least $10,000 in assets to invest. Overall, around two-thirds of the investors polled thought the benefits of the Fed's easy-money policy outweighed the costs. But many also felt nervous about the ripple effects of low rates, which have shrunk returns for senior citizens and others relying on interest earned from their savings to support them in retirement. The central bank has kept short-term interest rates near zero since late 2008 in an effort to make borrowing cheaper to spur spending and investment. Fed officials have said they plan to keep interest rates low through at least late 2014 and are considering whether to take further action at their next policy meeting on June 19-20. Even as the stock market has clamored for more support from the central bank, investors said those low interest rates carry side effects that are making them nervous. Among those polled, 42% said the ultra-easy monetary policy is making them fear they might "outlive" their retirement savings, 35% said it has prompted them to give less to charity than they might otherwise and 38% are living less comfortably during retirement than they might otherwise--or expect to when they leave the workforce. Fed officials have acknowledged the concern, but argued that cheaper borrowing costs should boost spending and investment, eventually leading to higher returns in the stock market and other assets that will help all investors. Some policymakers have noted that households have the vast majority of their wealth locked up in other assets, such as real estate and stocks. Anxiety over Fed policy is higher among those who have already left the workforce. Among retirees, 43% thought the costs of low interest rates outweigh any benefits, while 47% felt the opposite. Among those who hadn't yet retired, 73% thought low rates had, overall, benefited consumers and businesses more than it had harmed them. Still, even among those who hadn't yet retired, 33% expected low-interest rates would cause them to delay retirement and 31% were braced to have to save up more before stopping work. The survey had a margin of error of three percentage points for questions aimed at all investors. Write to Kristina Peterson at kristina.peterson@dowjones.com.

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