NEW YORK (MainStreet ) -- The happiest retirees in America earned at least $100,032 in household income during their working years, according to a new report. That's compared to $73,167 for unhappy retirees.
"Unless you can reach this level of earnings, you will not get to some of the key financial points that retirees need to get to in order to have a secure retirement," said Wes Moss, author of the upcoming book, You Can Retire Sooner Than You Think (McGraw Hill Press, 2014).
The 2013 Moss National Money and Happiness Study found that unhappy retirees had homes valued at $273,000.
"Median home value for the happy group was $300,000. After $350,000, there is a marked plateau effect on home value and level of happiness," Moss told MainStreet.
The study further revealed that the happiest retirees don't have a mortgage, and if they do, their mortgage payoff is in sight.
On average, 36% of happy retirees will have their mortgage paid-off within 8 years compared to only 24% of unhappy retirees.
"In retirement, your income is static. Your income is fixed with payments from social security, pension and savings. When your mortgage is paid off, more of that fixed income goes to your core passions, whether its travel, golf or grandkids, for example," said Moss, who appeared in the second season of Donald Trump's reality show "The Apprentice."
To achieve retirement happiness, young workers are encouraged to save with purpose.
"Power savers put away 20% of their income into savings and pay about 30% in taxes, which leaves only half of an income to live on," Moss said. "You need all that savings over a 30 year period for a happy retirement."
According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute, only 13% of workers are very confident about having enough money for a comfortable retirement with 38% somewhat confident and 28% not at all confident.
"In order to get on better financial footing, young workers need to get rid of credit cards," said Bruce Helmer, co-founder of Minneapolis-based Wealth Enhancement Group and author of Real Wealth (Beavers Pond Press, 2013). "Americans have been better at paying off their credit cards but they still have what I describe as inefficient debt. Paying down this debt will receive a better return than any investment."
Inefficient debt is debt that outweighs an investment.
"Paying off a high interest rate credit card is more beneficial in the long run than keeping money in a low interest savings account," Helmer told MainStreet.
For middle aged workers, it's never too late to max out retirement plans, such as 401(k)s and Roth IRAs.
"But be tax smart," Helmer said. "Evaluate your investments to ensure you've got a mix of tax-differed, tax-advantaged and taxable investments. This can help to minimize your tax burden in retirement."
Another common denominator among happy retirees is education level. Two in five have graduate degrees compared to only 1 in 5 of unhappy retirees.
"There's higher earning associated with a higher level of education," Moss said. "To be a happy retiree, it's important to have a life full of purpose, hobbies and passion that you want to spend your money on and higher levels of education correlate to a greater set of interests in life."
--Written by Juliette Fairley for MainStreet