August 2013

Graphic: Split in half pink house

Financially Mismatched Couples at Risk

Financial planners say it happens all the time: couples who don’t see eye to eye on money matters often break up or divorce.

One reason they run into trouble is that a financial mismatch makes it more difficult for them to achieve important goals, said financial adviser Bonnie Sewell of Leesburg, Virginia.

“They’re working against the tide. People who pick like-minded partners get there faster,” said Sewell, who’s written a book about money and divorce.

Her contention is backed up by the preliminary results of a study of more than 30,000 married and cohabiting couples between 1999 and 2012 by Federal Reserve Board researchers Jane Dokko and Geng Li. Their study compared the partners’ individual credit scores to gauge their financial compatibility and found that the larger the disparity between the two of them, the higher the incidence of break-ups.

The authors said credit scores are a proxy for financial behavior and also can measure trustworthiness. The link between poor financial matches and household dissolution, they wrote in their paper, was “quite strong.”

To prevent unhappy endings, Sewell, the financial planner, has three suggestions for new couples: …Learn More

Graphic: Houses

Reverse Mortgage Article Hits Nerve

Readers reacting to a recent blog post about reverse mortgages fiercely debated the financial product’s pros and cons, which they felt were missing from the article.

The July 25 article noted that fewer than 55,000 older Americans in 2012 used the federally insured loans. The advantage of a reverse mortgage is that Americans age 62 or older can borrow against some of the equity in their homes to generate much-needed income or create a financial cushion. The principal and interest are repaid when the retiree or his children sell the house.

Even though reverse mortgages are rare, the topic hit a nerve with readers, including lawyers, brokers, and people with elderly parents.

A mortgage broker named D. Gardner, for example, said that he’s often seen people use reverse mortgages to maintain a lifestyle they can’t afford, eliminating a financial option they may need later in life.

For some borrowers, he said, a reverse mortgage “was a means to paper over problems.” …Learn More

More Carrying Debt into Retirement

No matter how you measure it, older Americans are falling deeper in debt.

The number of people in their 60s who have debt has grown from just under half of that age group in 1998 to nearly two out of three in 2010. And their debt, as a share of their assets, has surged during that time from 10 percent to 18 percent.

Debt is becoming increasingly common among older people, regardless of their level of income, according to Urban Institute researchers, who presented their findings at the August meeting of the Retirement Research Consortium. (The Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which sponsors this blog, is a Consortium member.)

Among individuals with incomes that place them in the top third of incomes, the share of older people in debt increased from 57 percent to 70 percent between 1998 and 2010 – a 13 percentage point rise. But that share rose by 17 percentage points for middle-income and by 14 percentage points for low-income people. In all three income groups, the amounts owed also rose. …Learn More

What’s Your ‘Money Script’?

Our subconscious often stands in the way of our conscious efforts to save for college, prepare for the future, or spend what we’ve saved once we retire.

Some psychologists and financial planners believe these roadblocks are rooted in an individual’s “money script” – the story about money that we’ve told ourselves repeatedly since childhood. They’re typically passed down from our parents, extended family, or culture, and they are extremely difficult to change.

Writing in the Journal of Financial Planning, two experts in financial psychology, Bradley Klontz and Sonya Britt, presented their research associating three specific money scripts to poor financial behavior. Their study was based on a survey of 422 individuals who were largely middle-aged, white, and highly educated.

Click on a money script in one of the boxes below to read their descriptions of each one, excerpted from the November JFP article, to see if any apply and to learn how they affect the way we relate to money.

The researchers found that one person can hold multiple scripts, and these scripts can even contradict each other. …Learn More

Students Tell Their Tales of Debt

Kathleen BuckinghamPreston DavisMichael McCormakKelly Mcgowa

Click on each of the four photographs above to hear from the students, Kathleen Buckingham, Preston Davis, Michael McCormack, and Kelly McGowan.

Nastasia Peteuil, who paid very little for her college education in France, was shocked by how much students in this country are borrowing and by the crushing financial pressures this creates.

While taking graduate journalism courses at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst last spring, she persuaded four classmates to narrate their personal stories, which she documented on film in four short profiles.

What makes Peteuil’s profiles so powerful is that they convey, in real time, how these young adults begin to realize what their debt will mean to their lives and career choices.

Squared Away has written about the financial consequences of college loans after graduation – on buying one’s first house, on retirement, and even on graduates’ love lives.

But, as Peteuil has dramatized, the consequences begin prior to graduation day.Learn More

End-of-Life Medical Costs Vary Widely

Medical expenses increase unpredictably with age, so the crystal ball gets very hazy when trying to foretell how much you’ll need in retirement.

A new study helps clear things up: a single older American spends about $39,000 on average for medical care in the final five years of life, or about $7,800 a year. For couples in which one spouse has died, $51,000 was spent during that spouse’s final years, or about $10,000 annually.

These out-of-pocket expenses, which were reported by surviving spouses and family members, are for health care not covered by Medicare: insurance premiums, hospital and physician copayments and deductibles, and expenses for medications, nursing homes, and in-home care.

The data also show that the financial burden on older people varies greatly, not just depending on marital status but also income. High earners spend more than $100,000 in their last five years, reflecting the large amounts paid out by those who need – and can afford – long-term care.

The authors conclude that end-of-life medical expenses subject a significant minority of older Americans to “considerable financial risk.” Their evidence: for 43 percent of the people they studied, the medical bills accumulated during their last years exceeded the value of their financial assets, excluding home equity. …Learn More

Graphic: Insurance

Poor Insurance Advice in India

Prior research has established that agents tend to sell the financial product that will pay them the highest commission. A new study on India’s life insurance market advances the ball by focusing on the quality of one high-commission product agents recommend and concludes that it’s wrong for the client.

The researchers sent trained auditors into the field posing as customers seeking insurance and then analyzed the advice they received. The auditors’ meetings with agents revolved around life insurance, specifically two types of policies: term and whole life.

In a term policy, the individual pays a premium to ensure a set dollar amount goes to a surviving wife or children if the customer dies. Like term policies, whole life policies also cover the risk of death, but insurers charge a higher premium to provide an additional service: the extra premium is invested on behalf of the client, who accumulates a cash balance that he can later redeem.

The researchers said term insurance is much more valuable, if customers in India take what they save on its lower premium and invest in the government’s savings certificates, earning a higher return than they would get from the insurance company.

Yet the researchers found that just 5 percent of the customer-auditors were advised to only buy term policies when that’s what best suited their needs. …Learn More

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