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Your Aging Parents or Clients: 7 Tips

When Bob Mauterstock asked how many financial advisers in the room had elderly clients showing signs of diminished mental capacity, a few hundred raised their hands.

Next, he asked, how many have a protocol for these clients? Fewer than 10 put up hands.

With the U.S. population over age 85 growing at a rapid clip, advisers increasingly are facing this issue, he explained last week at the Financial Planning Association meetings in Boston. A 2009 Fidelity survey backs him up: 84 percent of advisers said they had clients touched by Alzheimer’s disease.

Mauterstock, the author of “Passing the Torch, Critical Conversations With Your Adult Children,” shared seven tips to help advisers, clients, and their families. While many of his suggestions apply to wealthier people receiving comprehensive financial services, they’re also useful to people dealing with a parent experiencing cognitive decline.

Recognize the symptoms. “Diminished mental capacity is a slow, gradual thing,” he explained. Don’t wait until the signs become crystal clear before taking action. He used the example of his own client – a Harvard-educated anesthesiologist – who started calling repeatedly and asking to speak with his accountant. Mauterstock’s staff gave him the accountant’s phone number – only to get the same call over and over again. Better to recognize the signs early, contact the client’s family, and devise a plan.

Do the Homework. Advisers should have a complete checklist of things to discuss with clients before they experience cognitive issues, from a durable power of attorney to the handling of trusts held in their name. He also recommended documenting client meetings once cognitive decline sets in. Having another adviser in these meetings is in the client’s interest – as well as the adviser’s – and helps ensure that good decisions are being made. An advocate for the client should also sit in, to help with decisions as they become increasingly difficult to work through.

Hold Family Meetings. The most important thing an adviser can do when cognitive decline starts setting in is to ask the client to call a family meeting. …Learn More

The Common Struggles of Working People

Brandi and Frank, the hypothetical couple in the above video, are drawn from extensive nationwide interviews with real Americans who work extremely hard, live modestly, and carry their financial anxiety through the day.

Ten of these families were also featured in written profiles by the U.S. Financial Diaries project. Like millions of working Americans, these families are buffeted by economic forces ranging from stagnating paychecks to a scarcity of employer benefits in low-wage jobs. The project identified common traits running through their financial lives.

They are continually trying to improve their lot, with education or by taking on extra jobs and by saving. Retirement saving, however, is a luxury – their saving is done to pay the unanticipated emergency or surprise expenses that inevitably crop up, according to the Diaries, a joint project of New York University’s Financial Access Initiative and the Center for Financial Services Innovation.

Saving for the short-term is also necessary because their sources of income can be erratic, requiring tricky rearrangements of their household resources. When they incur on-the-job expenses, employers’ reimbursements are often slow to arrive. Their monthly expenses often exceed monthly income, which can lead to late payments of utility bills or delays in medical treatment.

The following are short descriptions of some of the families profiled in the Diaries’ worthwhile project …Learn More

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Don’t Worry About Money. Just Be Happy

The adage that money won’t buy happiness has been proved wrong – at least up to a point. One famous study found that one’s well-being increases as income rises, though the benefits subside around $75,000 per year.

But what about the reverse? Do people who are happy earn more money? Yes, say two British economists.

Their study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences concluded this after following American teenagers for a more than decade through the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. In 1994 and 1996, this survey asked high school students to react to statements like “You were happy” and “You felt hopeful about the future.” In a 2008 follow-up survey, when most of them were around age 30, they were asked how much money they were making.

People who reported having a happy adolescence earned about $3,400 more than the average gross income of all the survey respondents; the average was $34,642. However, the opposite effect was more consequential: young adults who had a “profoundly unhappy adolescence” were earning 30 percent less – equivalent to a $10,000 hit to their earning power. …Learn More

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Changes to Reverse Mortgages Continue

The federal government continues to work out the kinks in its reverse mortgage program. The latest change allows a non-borrower to remain in her home after her spouse, who signed the reverse mortgage, has died.

The federal government established its reverse mortgage program in the 1990s to provide an alternative source of income for retirees over age 62. These Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (or HECMs) are secured by the equity in borrowers’ houses, and the loans are repaid only when they move or die. The loans are federally insured to ensure that borrowers get all the funds they’re promised, even if the lender fails, and that lenders are repaid, even if the value of the property securing the loan declines.

A June 2015 regulation effectively allows lenders to permit a surviving, non-borrowing spouse to remain in the home, postponing loan repayment until she moves or dies. To qualify, the original reverse mortgage must have been approved by the Federal Housing Administration prior to August 4, 2014, and the property tax and insurance payments must be up to date and other conditions met.

The spousal provision adds to earlier changes, detailed in a 2014 report by the Center for Retirement Research, aimed at improving the HECM program’s fiscal viability while protecting borrowers and lenders. These regulations were a response to riskier homeowners who had tapped their home equity to cope with the Great Recession. The regulations reduced the amount of equity that borrowers could extract upfront and also introduced financial assessments of homeowners to ensure they’re able to pay their taxes and insurance. …Learn More

Prime-Age Job Market Still Weak

Job Market chart

The job market appears in fine form. August’s unemployment rate, at 5.1 percent, is now at half of its Great Recession levels.

But while the media latch on to the unemployment rate in the federal government’s monthly jobs reports, economists like Gary Burtless of the Brookings Institution are interested in a different number that’s also part of the monthly update: labor force participation among people in their prime working years, ages 25 through 54.

They are the heart of the labor market, and the trend in their participation rate paints a bleaker picture of the job market, Burtless noted in a recent report. In August, the rate was just 80.7 percent – and still below the 83 percent level prior to the 2008-2009 recession.

Labor force participation is the percentage of Americans working or looking for work. It’s critical to how the job market’s faring, because when it declines it means that even people in their prime working years are giving up on finding a job, indicating underlying weakness in the job market.

On a brighter note, the percentage of prime-age workers who have jobs is rising, though this also remains below pre-recession levels.

Burtless concludes, “The labor market is healing, but the sustained drop in participation is an indicator that the job market is still some way from robust good health.”Learn More

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401(k) Catch-up: Help for the Few

Longer lives, eroding Social Security benefits, and rising health care costs – these are just some of the reasons older workers need to save more in their 401(k)s.

To encourage them, Congress in 2001 approved a “catch-up contribution” for workers over age 50.  The size of this additional tax-deductible contribution started at $1,000 in 2002 and jumped to $4,000 by 2005 and $5,000 in 2006.  (After 2006, it continued to increase, though only at the rate of inflation, and is currently $6,000.)

But the catch-up contribution has not turned into a broad-based solution to Americans’ retirement woes that some proponents had claimed at its passage.  According to researchers at the Center for Retirement Research (which supports this blog), it helps only a select group of older workers: those who were already contributing at or near the tax-deductible maximum allowed on their regular 401(k) contributions. It’s a group with higher-than-average incomes and wealth than the typical older worker. …Learn More

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Home Buying Not Tied to Student Debt

A popular assertion these days is that young adults paying off student loans can’t afford to buy a house. This might be the financial equivalent of Chicken Little.

Contrary to concerns that the sky is falling – or, rather, the first-time homebuyer market is falling due to student debt – a new study finds very little evidence to support this view.

The researchers tracked the home-buying behavior of more than 5,000 college-going young adults for a full decade through the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth. They confined the analysis to people who attended college – graduates and non-graduates alike – in contrast to previous research that compared the behavior of all young adults and found that borrowing got in the way of homeownership.

The new study actually found they were slightly more likely than non-borrowers to purchase a house. But this could be due to the fact that the borrowers tended to be the type of people who persist and complete their degrees, attend more expensive schools, and possess other socioeconomic advantages. This comparison of borrowers and non-borrowers still didn’t settle the question of whether the probability of owning a home actually decreases as the level of student debt rises.

When the researchers further narrowed the analysis only to individuals who held student loans, they found no relationship between the amount of money borrowed and the probability of homeownership. “If you have $30,000 in debt you’re no less likely to buy a home than if you have $3,000 in debt,” said one of researchers, Jason Houle, an assistant professor of sociology at Dartmouth College.

The findings, Houle said, “cast doubt on this idea that student loan debt is dragging down the housing market.” …Learn More