February 2013

Icon: target your retirement

The IRA Tax Deduction Beckons

At tax time, many Americans think, often fleetingly, about spending less and socking away more for retirement.

Until April 15, the IRS permits people who do not have a pension plan at work to deduct up to $6,000 for money placed in an IRA; taxpayers who do have an employer pension can also receive the IRA deduction if their earnings fall under the IRS’ income limits.

The tough question that trips people up is: How much will I need?

The easy way to think about this is in terms of the income necessary to maintain your current standard of living after the paychecks stop coming in.  Click here for a tool that estimates both how much you’ll need and how much you’ll have if you continue on your current path.

The calculator, created by the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog, was designed for people over 50 and on the retirement runway. Younger people can also get a ballpark idea of how they’re doing using the calculator. Or click here for the percent of your wages to put into a tax-deferred retirement fund.

This is a beta website with a few kinks, and it works smoothly only on the Safari and Google Chrome browsers.  But the results are sound and backed by academic research.  Here’s how to read the results. …Learn More

Danger quicksand sign

Millennials in Debt: Is It a Big Deal?

Young adults, when asked if they have college loans, often just sigh or groan quietly.

But how much does this debt really matter to their lives? Conflicting trends make this difficult to answer. College graduates have ample time – decades of employment – to pay off their student loans, economists argue, and they’ll bring in more earnings to pay them back. A college education is worth $1 million in extra earnings over a lifetime.

Behind the student-loan sigh is anxiety that the post-Great Recession job market makes it tougher for many graduates to earn what they need to pay their loans back. Indeed, the rate of delinquencies has risen in tandem with increased borrowing. Payments on half of all student loan accounts are now being deferred, the consumer credit firm TransUnion reported last week, and these deferrals are the first step to still more delinquencies.

Some researchers are warning about the additional financial risks facing graduates with large loan balances. “That didn’t happen in previous generations,” said Ohio State University’s Lucia Dunn, whose study published last month in Economic Inquiry found that young adults are on a path to having far more credit card debt in middle age than did their baby boomer parents. Credit cards, student loans – debt of all kinds – she said, “is just an overwhelming burden for many young people.” …
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Puzzle pieces: auto enrollment

Corporate Match Falls in Auto Enrollment

Enrollment in 401(k)s is higher in companies that use auto-enrollment than in companies that don’t. But the innovation falls short of an ideal solution to the nation’s low retirement savings.

That’s because corporations using it contribute less of their workers’ earnings to the plan than do companies without it, according to a revised paper by Urban Institute researchers Barbara Butrica and Nadia Karamcheva.

“Firms are profit-maximizers, so we’d expect that, if there is some cost to providing these benefits, they may reduce their match rates to control their costs,” Butrica said.

The researchers found that employers that automatically enroll employees in their plans match their employee contributions up to 3.2 percent of earnings, which is lower than the 3.5 percent average match by employers in their study without auto enrollment. Their statistical analysis shows that it has a significant effect.

Americans are saving very little for their retirement, and news and reports often focus on what individual employees are or are not doing right. Why don’t they save enough? Do they properly invest their 401(k) savings?

This research adds a different perspective: the conflict corporations face between providing better benefits to employees – so they can recruit and retain talent – and maximizing profits to satisfy Wall Street or investors seeking higher profits.

Corporate motivations and decisions can “substantially affect future retirement security,” the authors wrote in an executive summary of their paper funded by the Retirement Research Consortium, which supports this blog. …Learn More

Boomers Still Cautious About Stocks

Mutual fund investors poured some $17 billion into domestic equity funds in January, reversing 2012’s trend, according to the Investment Company Institute (ICI), an industry trade group.

But it’s too early to declare that fund investors have fully recovered from the 2008 market collapse, even as the bullish S&P500 stock market index flirts with its 1,565 all-time high reached on October 9, 2007.

Fund investors surveyed by ICI still remain less willing than they were prior to the big bust to take what the survey questionnaire calls “above-average or substantial risks” in their investments.

This trend cuts across most age groups, from 40-somethings to retirees. The exception is the under-35 crowd: 26 percent identified themselves as being in these higher-risk categories, slightly more than the 24 percent who did back in 2007.

But boomers nearing retirement and current retirees burned in the 2008 market collapse keep paring back their risk profiles. Older investors are moving “from capital appreciation to capital preservation,” said Shelly Antoniewicz, an ICI senior economist. Even 35-49 year olds, who still have two to three decades of investing ahead of them, are not quite back to where they were earlier in the decade when they were more willing to take risks in the stock market.

“What we have seen historically is that there is a relationship between stock market performance and inflows into equity funds. When the stock market goes up, we tend to get larger inflows into equity funds,” she said. “What we’ve noticed in the past two to four years is this historical relationship has gotten weaker.” …Learn More

Tarantula crawling out of a box of chocolates

Women in Debt Less Likely to Marry

Women with large student loan balances are less likely to marry than their girlfriends who’ve graduated debt-free, new research shows.

Men, in contrast, are immune to this impact.  Their marriage prospects are the same regardless of how much they owe for their education, according to Fenaba Addo, who studied the effect of college and credit card debt in the “marriage market.”

As U.S. college debt outstanding has surpassed the $1 trillion mark, the fallout is widening.  Recent graduates complain that paying off their student loans affects their ability to take critical steps to improve their future finances, such as buying a house or saving for retirement.  But there are psychological effects too: young adults who carry a lot of debt, for example, are more stressed, even depressed.

It was only a matter of time before student loans started messing with their love lives.

Addo, now a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Population Health Sciences, became interested in the topic as she watched her girlfriends taking on “crazy amounts of debt” to finish college or complete graduate degrees… Learn More

A woman wearing a backpack sitting on a grassy hill.

Loan Delinquencies, Need for Help Grows

As delinquencies by college graduates have increased, so have their personal financial risks: 15.1 percent of loans originated in late 2010 are now delinquent, up from 12.4 percent of late-2005 loans, according to a January report by FICO, creator of the credit score. More students are also delaying their loan payments.

“This situation is simply unsustainable,” warned Andrew Jennings, head of FICO Labs.  “When wage growth is slow and jobs are not as plentiful as they once were, it is impossible for individuals to continue taking out ever-larger student loans without greatly increasing the risk of default.”

American Student Assistance (ASA) is a non-profit that helps college graduates with the complex task of managing their loans.  Debt prevention is the best course of action, and an increasingly urgent one for students.  For those who are already in debt, click here for how to call an ASA counselor. Click “Learn More” to read a May 2011 article about ASA. …Learn More

Why Minorities Need Social Security More

Source: Social Security Administration

The U.S. population is in the midst of a transition from predominantly white to one in which “minorities” will one day be the majority.

A Social Security Fact Sheet recently published by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington throws a fresh perspective on the program, which provides the financial bedrock for most retirees. It shows that the program is even more important to African-Americans and Latinos than it is for white Americans.

Seventy-three years after Ida May Fuller became the first person to receive a Social Security check, on Jan. 31, 1940, Social Security provides more than half of the retirement income received by about two out of three elderly white Americans. But many more – about three out of four – African-American and Latino retirees rely on Social Security for more than half their income.

 

The obvious reason is that minorities earn lower incomes on average while they are working, according to Kathy Ruffing, a senior fellow at the Center, and that has “hampered their ability to save for retirement.”

Congress intended Social Security to be a progressive program that benefits lower-income individuals more. The Social Security Administration’s (SSA) formula for calculating the monthly check is designed to replace a larger share of the employment income of, say, a maintenance worker who has retired than it does for a retired corporate executive. …Learn More

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