December 2012

Money Still Can’t Bring Happiness

The vast majority of us wouldn’t dream of trading time with our children for a 50 percent pay hike.

Then why, when asked to give up evenings off from work – presumably family time – for the big pay raise, would more than half of us go for it?

In short, how can the same people – more than 2,000 adults surveyed in August by New York Life – so flatly contradict themselves?

“We’re not even conscious of how our behavior conflicts with our values,” said Christine Carter, director of the parenting program at University of California’s Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, which studies happiness, compassion and social bonding.

This lack of awareness is especially true when money is involved. The human brain lights up like a Christmas tree when money is offered as the reward in neurological experiments, as the prospect of the reward releases dopamine that sets off a burst of pleasure.

But Carter, an expert in happiness, said the research also shows that, over the long-term, “our social connections” – not money – will bring us true happiness.

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Music as Money Metaphor

To get a grip on retirement worries, overwhelming student loans, or squeaking by, it always helps to get more money or make a plan.

But finding a way to think about how to manage your money is also useful. It’s like making music, says Timothy Maurer, a Baltimore financial planner. At first, you have to master the “boring stuff, but eventually real songs start being produced.”

p.s. Maurer said that his brother Jon Maurer, who is “a far more accomplished musician than I,” is the pianist in this video.

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Various herbs

Financial Planners Diversify: Four Types

Brokers, registered investment advisers, fee-only, commission-based, dual license – the labels for financial planners can be intimidating.

In a consumer-friendly article, the Retirement Income Journal (RIA) in November identified four adviser types, based on what they do for their clients.

Most advisers still fall into the traditional Technician category. But the rise of other types – Strategist, Behaviorist, and Life Coach – partly reflects a profession rocked by the 2008 financial crisis. The number of advisers nationwide fell 3 percent last year, according to Cerulli Associates in Boston.

“[T]he combined impact of the financial crisis, boomer retirement, the advent of behavioral economics and fee compression is forcing more advisers to evolve,” RIA explained.

The following is an adaptation of RIA’s article, which was based on a presentation to the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of business by fee-only advisers Paula Hogan in Milwaukee and Rick Miller in Boston.

The new year is around the corner, and perhaps you’ll want to hire a planner. But which of the following four types suits you? …Learn More

Black Families Struggle to Build Wealth

It is extremely difficult for black Americans to accumulate wealth they can pass on to their children.

Getting to the heart of this concern is new research by the Urban Institute. The Washington think tank found that while blacks excel at converting the gifts and inheritances they receive into even more wealth, the size and frequency of these bequests are much smaller than for whites, perpetuating a wealth gap that has existed since emancipation.

“In the news, you hear about the racial income gap, but the racial wealth gap is so much larger, and it’s not improving,” said Signe-Mary McKernan, a senior fellow at the Urban Institute and co-author of the new study. Smaller inheritances and gifts in African-American families “are hindering their opportunity and wealth accumulation,” she said, about her findings.

Median wealth for black families is $18,181 – white family wealth is $122,927, and Hispanic wealth is $33,619.

But the real question is, why is white wealth seven times larger than black wealth? The researchers found that blacks are five times less likely to receive family bequests than are whites, and their inheritances are $5,013 smaller.

McKernan’s research employed standard statistical methods by holding factors such as income and education constant in order to highlight the racial aspect of differences in wealth.

But Lester Spence, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University who sometimes conducts statistical analysis in his research, said such analysis fails to fully capture the significant impact of factors such as the social and cultural barriers facing black Americans. …Learn More

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Readers’ Picks for 2012

Squared Away readers’ favorite articles during the year reflect America’s biggest financial challenges: paying for college and retirement.

The following are the Top 10, according to an online analysis of blog articles with the most unique visits by readers. A link to each article is embedded in the last word of each headline:

It Pays More Than Ever to Delay
The Long-Term Care Insurance Gamble
Boomer Moms, Here’s a Radical Idea
For Many Elderly, Little Left at Life’s End
Why Baby Boomers Can’t RetireLearn More

Photo: elderly home

Long-Term Care Policies Unpacked

The typical, elderly couple spends about $260,000 on health care and long-term care services during retirement – for the unlucky ones, the amount can be double. No wonder sales of long-term care policies this year will increase nearly 10 percent, according to the American Association for Long Term Care Insurance. At the same time, major insurers are pulling out of the market in droves, and premiums are surging due to higher demand by aging baby boomers, record-low interest rates, and rising medical costs.

To help navigate this increasingly treacherous market, Squared Away interviewed Larry Minnix Jr., chief executive of LeadingAge, a non-profit consumer organization in Washington.

Q: Is there anyone for whom long-term care insurance does not make sense?

A: Not many. I’ve seen too much of the consequences for too many age groups and too many families – long-term care just needs to be insured for. A majority of the American public is going to face the need for some kind of long-term care in their family. The only people it doesn’t make sense for are poor people – they have Medicaid coverage, mostly for nursing homes. And for people who are independently wealthy, if they face a problem of disabling conditions they can pay for it themselves. You find out at age 75 you have Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, but it’s too late to insure for it. Think about it like fire insurance. I don’t want my house to burn down, and very few houses do. But if mine burns down, I do have insurance.

Q: The Wall Street Journal reported that GenWorth Financial next year will charge 40 percent more to women who buy individual policies. Why?

A: Among the major carriers, private long-term care insurers have either limited what they’re doing or backed out of the market entirely. You’d have to get GenWorth’s actuarial people [to explain], but let me venture a guess. I’ve had private long-term care insurance for 12 to 15 years, but my wife couldn’t get it. She’s got some kind of flaw in the gene pool, and she was denied coverage. She may be the bigger risk, because I’m more likely to stroke out and die, but she’s more likely to live with two to three conditions for a long period of time.

Q: Your wife wasn’t healthy enough to get coverage?
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