November 2012

xmas colored shirts

13% Haven’t Paid Off Christmas 2011

Consumer Reports says 13 percent of Americans are still paying off credit cards that they ran up to buy 2011’s holiday gifts.

That may be one reason more Americans plan to budget this holiday season – 52 percent – compared with last year’s 41 percent, according to Consumer Reports’ national survey. Among those who bought their 2011 gifts with credit cards, 58 percent paid them off by the end of January and another 13 percent in February – hats off to them. But the rest waited. Some are still waiting.

I can relate.

In the interest of encouraging Squared Away readers to reveal their financial failings in the comments area below, here’s one of mine: a credit card balance averaging $2,500 for more than 20 years. It’s embarrassing, and yes, this personal finance blogger knows why it’s important to pay off a credit card charging nearly 15 percent interest – what a waste of a few thousand dollars I could’ve put in my 401(k), for instance…Learn More

Overconfidence Linked to Senior Fraud

The seniors who are most confident of their knowledge about money and investments are also the most likely to fall victim to fraud.

That conclusion, by Chicago researchers at DePaul University and the Rush University Medical Center, is among the first to explain the underlying reason for an alarming trend being detected by law enforcement and financial experts: a rise in fraud committed against an enormous and rapidly aging baby boom generation.

Fraud against the elderly can arise from “that combination of not knowing but thinking you know,” Keith Gamble, an assistant finance professor in DePaul’s Driehaus College of Business, said in an interview in which he explained his new study. “That’s what we call overconfidence,” which he and his co-authors determined was “a risk factor for being victimized by fraud.”

The U.S. incidence of fraud has exploded in recent years. Complaints of financial fraud compiled by the Federal Trade Commission surged more than 60 percent in just three years, to 1.5 million last year.

There is growing concern nationwide that boomers, due to what can be a dangerous combination of cognitive decline and having some money socked away for retirement, are extremely vulnerable to con men peddling financial products that make big promises and deliver nothing – or, worse, rob retirees of money they need to live comfortably or even survive.

Declining cognition is associated with lower financial literacy – that’s nothing new. The concern is that seniors do not recognize the problem, Gamble said. “They are actually more confident in their financial decision-making capabilities. The problem is they don’t have the decision-making ability they once had.”

The Chicago researchers focused on seniors who have not acquired actual dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Rather, they examined whether fraud could be linked to the cognitive decline that is a natural part of aging. …Learn More

Financial Education Strategies Need Work

Brigitte Madrian

In a September paper distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Professor Brigitte Madrian and her co-authors reviewed the current state of U.S. financial education. In an interview, Madrian, a professor in Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, provided some fresh insights into education, regulation, and the role of the financial industry.

Q: Besides low financial literacy, why do people make bad financial decisions?

A: Procrastination. Inattention – one reason people accrue credit card late fees is that they forget to pay their bills on time. Advertising – people are swayed by the marketing of financial services and products. Not all products pushed by financial advisers or financial-services companies are appropriate for everyone, and sometimes people are swayed into purchasing products that may be right for someone else but aren’t right for them.

Q: Does financial education even work?

A: I believe the jury is out. We do not have a lot of compelling evidence on the impact of financial literacy programs. There have been lots of studies on programs, but many of them are of dubious scientific validity. Of the ones that are more credible in terms of methodology, some find very little impact on financial education and a handful find financially positive effects. …

Learn More

Psychology Matters

Rick Kahler believes that financial planners who do not factor in the psychological aspects of their clients’ money problems are “missing the elephant in the room.”

Kahler, a founding board member for the Financial Therapy Association, usually meets with each new client in the presence of a therapist. And for the minority of his clients who are “stuck” and can’t get past their money issues, which are often rooted in childhood, he asks that they submit to psychological coaching.

In his 2008 book, “Facilitating Financial Health,” Kahler identified several common money disorders. The South Dakota planner recently shared his ever-evolving list, which Squared Away used as the basis for the above slide show.

Click here to watch an interview in which Kahler talks about our “number one stressor.”Learn More

Image: womens pay gap

Women Don’t Ask

Why do men earn more than women? Attitude!

Last week on Squared Away, Francine Blau, a Cornell University labor economist, discussed the economic and other external reasons behind why women earn less than men. But there’s another way to look at it: women’s behavior differs from men’s – and that plays a role in how much they’re paid.

A woman earns 77 cents for every dollar that a man earns. This disparity undermines women’s well-being, reducing their standard of living and affecting everyone’s retirement – including their husband’s.

The following is an excerpt from a June 2003 article I wrote as a Boston Globe a reporter about an experiment by researcher Lisa Barron, a professor of organizational behavior at the Graduate School of Management at the University of California, Irvine. It involved 38 future MBAs – 21 men and 17 women – who participated in mock job interviews with a fictitious employer.

In the mock interviews, the students were offered $61,000 for a new position. Here’s what I wrote about the differences in men’s and women’s approaches to their pay negotiations:

Men, responding to the salary offer, asked for $68,556, on average, while women requested $67,000 for the same job.

More revealing were differences in fundamental beliefs men and women expressed about themselves when Barron questioned them: 70 percent of the men’s remarks indicated they felt entitled to earn more than others, while 71 percent of women’s remarks showed they felt they should earn the same as everyone else. Also, 85 percent of men’s remarks asserted they knew their worth, while 83 percent of women’s remarks indicated they were unsure.Learn More

Women’s Pay Gap Explained

Lower pay for women came up – where else! – in the foreign policy debate between President Obama and Governor Romney. It affects women’s living standards, single mothers’ ability to care for their children, and everyone’s retirement – husbands and wives.

To understand why women earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, Squared Away interviewed Francine Blau of Cornell University, one of the nation’s top authorities on the matter. A new collection of her academic work, Gender, Inequality, and Wages,” was published in September.

Q: How has the pay gap changed over the years?

Blau: For a very long time, the gender-pay ratio, which is women’s pay divided by men’s pay, was around 60 percent – in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Around the 1980s, female wages started to rise relative to male wages. In 1990, the ratio was 72 percent – that was quite a change, from 60 to 72 in 10 years. We continued to progress but it is less dramatic. In 2000, it was 73 percent. Now it’s 77 percent – that’s the figure that came up in the debate.

Q: Why do women earn less?

Blau: There are two broad sets of factors: the first is human capital and the factors that contribute to productivity and the second is discrimination in the labor market. Women have traditionally been less well qualified than men. The biggest reason here is the experience gap between men and women. Traditionally, women moved in and out of the labor force, and that lowered their wages relative to men.

But when we do elaborate studies – my recent study with Lawrence Kahn in 2006, for example – we find that when we take all those productivity factors into account we can’t fully explain the pay gap. The unexplained portion is fairly substantial and is possibly due to discrimination, though it could be various types of unmeasured factors. So in the 1998 data used in our 2006 article, women were making 20 percent less than men per hour. When we take human capital into account, that figure falls to 19 percent. When we add controls for occupation and industry – men and women tend to be in different occupations and industries – we can get a pay gap of 9 percent. This unexplained gap of 9 percent is potentially due to discrimination in the workplace. …Learn More

Dicey Retirement: The Long Ride Down

No one really needs confirmation of how tough the Great Recession was. But the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has quantified the decline – and it’s brutal.

Investment losses and falling home prices placed 53 percent of U.S. households in danger of a decline in their standard of living after they quit working and retire, reports the Center, which funds this blog. That’s up sharply from 45 percent in 2004, prior to the financial boom, which created a strong – albeit fleeting – increase in Americans’ wealth.

The longer-term erosion in Americans’ retirement prospects is even more troubling and reflects deeper issues. The Great Recession just hammered the point home.

In 1989, just under one-third of Americans faced such dicey retirement prospects. The steady erosion since then coincides with the near-extinction of traditional employer pensions that guaranteed retirees a fixed level of income. It turns out that the DIY system that replaced them, a system reliant on Americans’ ability to save in their 401(k)s, is not working.

Older baby boomer households with 401(k)s have just $120,000 saved for retirement, according to the Center. That’s not even enough to pay estimated medical costs not covered by Medicare. Retirement savings for all older boomer households is a paltry $42,000 – that means a lot of people have no savings…Learn More

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