Inside the Minds of Older Workers

A decade of research into the impact of cognitive aging shows that workers throughout their 50s and 60s are generally just as productive as the younger people working alongside them.

A new summary of this research, by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, explains how older people are able to adapt to the gradual loss of brain mass in the parts of the brain associated with memory and an ability to think on one’s feet – their “fluid intelligence.”

Brain scans

The highly skilled pharmacy profession is a good example of how workers in their 50s or 60s adjust to this changing dynamic.  These pharmacists have an advantage over their younger coworkers in what psychologists call “crystallized intelligence,” which is the deep reserve of information stored up over decades of working in their profession.  They can no longer process drug interactions and other new information as rapidly as they once did.  But they can tap into their reserves to solve the myriad issues that crop up in their work.  This crystallized intelligence – for pharmacists and many other types of skilled jobs – is effectively making up for their loss of fluid intelligence.

Interestingly, older workers who execute routine tasks usually aren’t at risk of aging out of their jobs for cognitive reasons either.  That’s because even though their fluid intelligence is in decline, they have more than enough of it in reserve to complete their relatively simple tasks.

While the majority of older workers do not lose their productivity due to cognitive aging, two groups are vulnerable.   One group is those for whom the work demands on their fluid intelligence are extremely high.  A 2009 study of air traffic controllers highlighted this challenge – and demonstrates the logic behind a Federal Aviation Authority requirement that controllers retire at age 56. …Learn More

Life preserver

Student Loan Repayment: 12 Rules

It’s easy to drown in the financial details of student loan repayment.  Here’s a life preserver.

The rules of thumb listed below were culled from interviews with two experts on student loans. Betsy Mayotte is director of consumer outreach for American Student Assistance, a non-profit that educates people about their loans. Craig Lemoine is program director for the American College of Financial Services, which trains financial planners.

1. If you earn enough to make your payments, start paying.

The reason: Student loans in most cases must be repaid in full.  The sooner you start making your full monthly payments, the sooner your loans will be paid off and the less in total you will have to shell out.  A decision about how much extra to pay on student loans should be weighed in the context of other financial goals, including paying off high interest credit cards and putting enough money in a 401(k) to ensure you receive your employer’s match.

2. Open your student loan mail.   

The reason: Owing tens of thousands of dollars is serious business. Ignoring a letter from the company that holds your loan won’t make the problem go away – in fact, it could worsen things.

3. Call your loan servicing company.  But do not call without doing some homework first.  

The reason: If you’re struggling to pay your loans, the companies that handle your student loans can be very helpful.  They are experts not only on your particular loan account but also on the federal government’s rules for loan repayment. Nevertheless, student loan servicers are not perfect.  Representatives might not know much more than is on the U.S. Department of Education’s website, Lemoine said.  And sometimes their advice can conflict with information from another representative in an earlier phone call. To make sure you’re getting the best advice, it’s important to read the information on the federal website, know your potential options, and compile a list of detailed questions pertinent to your unique situation. “Going in blind can cost you money,” he said.

4. The best option for lower-income former students with high debt levels is an income-based repayment plan. …Learn More

Feature

Retirees’ Tax Puzzle: Pay Now or Later?

The majority of retirees pay no federal taxes. But taxes should be a concern for retirees who have retirement savings. That’s because the money they take out of their retirement accounts for living expenses will be treated as federal taxable income. It’s difficult enough to figure out how much money to withdraw – and when. Taxes are a separate but related issue.  

In this blog, we interviewed Michael Kitces, a well-known financial adviser and partner with a Maryland financial firm, who writes the “Nerd’s Eye View” blog. He discusses the basics of navigating the tax code. The challenge facing retirees is to make tax decisions today that will minimize taxes now and in the future.

Question: Do you find that new retirees are surprised by their retirement tax situation?  

Kitces: It’s usually not even on their radar screen. Pre-tax and post-tax income, different tax buckets – I don’t think most people even think about it once they’re in retirement. That’s why we’re still seeing people who are “surprised” when they turn 70½ and the required minimum distributions (RMDs) begin, and their tax bill gets a whole lot higher. They say, “Why didn’t we plan for this?” We say, “We’ve been recommending you plan for this for years!” …Learn More

Rewriting Retirement Header Illustration

Caring for Her Elderly Parents 24/7

Vivian Gibson

Taking care of her elderly parents is Vivian Gibson’s full-time job.

The last two weeks in October weren’t so unusual.  She tended to her 86-year-old father for several days in the hospital – another episode in his unending battle with ankle sores stemming from service in the Korean War. Gibson also helped her mother, age 81, get through a medical procedure and chauffeured both parents to more than a dozen doctor’s appointments and to their dentist. Her mother has been dealing with a pulled tooth, along with abnormal cells in her bladder and an abnormal EKG.

In addition to their medical needs, Gibson helps them with everything else, from cleaning and dressing her father’s wound daily to buying their groceries and cleaning up the yard.  Her parents live in Bartow in central Florida, about 20 minutes from Gibson’s home in the country, and she’s always on call in case her father falls again.

Yet she remains surprisingly upbeat, unfazed by a non-existent social life and a caregiving burden made heavier by the fact she is an only child. “There is never any respite,” she said. “I have to work my doctor’s appointments in around theirs. My mother keeps telling me, ‘Don’t get sick. You can’t get sick!’ ”

To help her parents, Gibson retired from a local hospital just shy of her 59th birthday.  She’s now 61 and premature retirement has strained, though not broken her financially.  She drained most of her $17,000 emergency fund to meet regular expenses and reluctantly dipped into her IRAs and past employers’ retirement savings plans. Her combined balance is down to $300,000 – or about $12,000 lighter than when she retired, despite a rising stock market. Her lifeline has been a $24,000 pension from her work in state government.

“I wanted to travel,” she said – Australia, New Zealand, Canada – “but I don’t have the money – or the time – for that.” …Learn More

turkey illustration

Happy Thanksgiving!

The staff at Squared Away  hope our readers enjoy their time with family and friends during the holiday weekend.
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Video: Overtime Rule to Benefit 4 Million

Just hours after the following blog went live on Tuesday, major media reported that a Texas judge blocked implementation of the new overtime regulation in response to challenges by a group that included 21 states and businesses. The future of this regulation is now in question.

On Dec. 1, an additional 4.2 million U.S. workers will potentially be eligible for overtime pay when the annual earnings cap doubles to $47,476 under the new federal overtime rule.

Retail workers bracing for the holiday onslaught will be among those receiving overtime if they work more than 40 hours per week but earn less than $47,476.   The previous cap, $23,660, was set in 2004.

Under the new rule, employers must pay overtime to any eligible full-time or part-time worker, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), which produced the above video explaining who will benefit from its recent rule change.

This will mean bigger paychecks for low-wage workers but permanent raises for others earning slightly more. That’s because one option for employers seeking to avoid overtime pay is to increase annual pay for, say, middle managers to just over the $47,476, exempting them from the rule.

Inevitably, some employers will try to ignore the rule. It’s important that workers know their rights under the law – so watch the video and read this.  The overtime rule is enforced by the DOL’s wage and hour division offices in 50 states. …Learn More

Money vortex

Early Social Security Filers Afraid to Lose

Retirement experts and financial advisers maintain there is a right way and a wrong way to approach Social Security.

For most people, the right way is to view waiting until your late 60s to sign up for benefits as the route to boosting your retirement income and protecting against out-living your savings.  People who delay will have a larger Social Security check to pay the bills that come due every single month for as long as they live.

The wrong way is to make a decision based on fear – the fear of losing money if you don’t sign up soon after turning 62, the earliest age allowed under the program.  While you might feel that delaying means losing out, delay can, in fact, protect you and your spouse from a more consequential loss in the future: inadequate monthly income when you are very old.

A study on this issue used a new technique to identify which individuals possess this fear of loss.  In six different online surveys, the researchers asked some 7,000 working-age adults to choose between numerous pairs of gambles showing the probabilities of scoring a financial gain (45 percent), losing money (45 percent), or breaking even (10 percent).  In each pair, one gamble had a smaller potential dollar loss than a second gamble in which they could lose more money – but also win more.

Loss aversion was prevalent. They found that about 70 percent of adults showed some degree of loss aversion, meaning that they preferred the gamble that risked a smaller dollar loss.

Next, the researchers analyzed whether the people who were most loss averse also plan to claim their Social Security benefits at younger ages.  In all six surveys, the most loss-averse workers were significantly more likely to claim their benefits earlier.

The researchers hope their new technique and findings improve the ability to identify who is loss averse, so that experts can design better ways to help people make smart decisions about their Social Security, the bedrock of most Americans’ retirement security. Learn More

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