May 2014

Feature

More Plan Funerals Than Plan Elder Care

More adults are planning their funerals than are making arrangements for care in their final years of life.

That’s among the revealing findings about how Americans grapple with the inevitabilities of old age in an annual survey about U.S. attitudes toward long-term care. More than 1,400 adults were surveyed in March and April by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (NORC is a social science research organization affiliated with the University of Chicago.)

“Experts believe that, like any other long-term financial planning, long-term care planning is the kind of thing you should get started with as soon as possible,” said Jennifer Benz, a senior research scientist for AP-NORC. But for many people, “it’s not even on their radar,” she said.

Nearly two out of three adults over age 40 said they have discussed funeral plans with family or others they trust, and more than half have also created a so-called advanced directive specifying how they would like their medical care to be handled if they become incapacitated.

While death and mortal illness are on people’s minds, there’s scant thinking about their long-term care arrangements. More than two-thirds reported they have done “little or no planning” for how they’ll be cared for in old age. …Learn More

Photo of first-generation student

Attending College if Your Parents Didn’t

Education has historically been the most powerful way for children of the U.S. working class to brighten their futures. But as the cost of college rises, they must climb taller and taller mountains to attend.

The ideal for college – an ideal still pursued by students whose parents can afford it – is to attend full-time and focus on one thing: their studies. But five untraditional students who were profiled in a new documentary say they must juggle their multiple pressing priorities:

  • Work, sometimes full-time, to support themselves or help support parents or siblings.
  • Maintain a high grade point average after poor high school preparation.
  • Inadequate financial aid packages and parents who are unable to help.
  • Parents who may not understand the college financial aid process.
  • Complexities of transferring credits from a community college to a four-year institution.

Like many untraditional students, Sharon Flores is the first generation in her family to attend college. This top high school student and daughter of a single mother explains her struggle to attend King’s College in Pennsylvania in the documentary, “Redefining Access for the 21st Century Student,” which was produced by the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington. …Learn More

1 in 3 Late in Paying Student Debt

About one in three Americans trying to pay down their student loans is 90 days or more late on their payments, according to a new report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

This is up sharply from a decade ago, when one in five people in repayment was that far behind.

The Federal Reserve estimates that 31% was the “effective” delinquency rate in 2012; it applies only to people who have actively been in repayment. The bank said this rate is a more accurate measure of the problem than the widely reported rate for 90-day delinquencies – 17 percent – which includes all borrowers, including current students and those who’ve been granted some type of loan payment deferral.

The report, “Measuring Student Debt and Its Performance,” provides more evidence that college debt is a major financial burden for a growing numbers of Americans. Between 2004 and 2012, the number of people borrowing for college has nearly doubled to about 39 million, and the total debt outstanding has nearly tripled to $1 trillion and now exceeds the nation’s credit card debt.

Delinquencies, by any measure, are higher for student debt than for any other type of U.S. consumer debt, including credit cards. The pace of delinquencies is also accelerating, according to the Federal Reserve.

Other trends highlighted in its report include: …Learn More

Medicare Advantage Enrollment Doubles

Enrollment in the Medicare Advantage plans that private insurers offer as an alternative to traditional Medicare coverage has more than doubled over the past decade, the Kaiser Foundation reports.

The share of the Medicare population enrolled in these private plans is 30 percent, up from 13 percent in 2005, the non-profit foundation said.

The reason for this dramatic growth: Medicare Advantage became a better deal for older Americans in the wake of a 2003 increase in federal subsidies to insurance companies offering the plans.

The federal government subsidizes insurers through its reimbursements for the care they cover for older Americans enrolled in Medicare Advantage. Those payments were increased in 2003. Insurers responded by reducing beneficiaries’ copayments and cost-sharing in the plans and by providing medical services not always available to people who enroll directly in Medicare and purchase Medigap policies, said Gretchen Jacobson, an associate director of Kaiser’s Medicare policy program.

The extra services include gym memberships, eye glasses, dental care, and preventive medical care. To rein in their overall medical costs, Medicare Advantage plans restrict the hospitals and doctors that patients can use. …Learn More

coffee shop

Low Income: Why Only 12% Save to Retire

A new study estimating that just 12 percent of low-income older Americans save in a 401(k) or similar employer retirement plan also suggests that many more would save – if only they could.

The researchers – April Yanyuan Wu, Matt Rutledge, and Jacob Penglase of the Center for Retirement Research – focused on individuals between ages 50 and 58 with household incomes below three times the poverty line. That was less than $36,357 in 2010 for a one-person household, for example, and less than $46,800 for two people. The period studied spans 1992 through 2010.

Retirement saving primarily takes place in workplace plans. But to participate in a plan, workers must clear four hurdles. First, they need a job. Next, their employer must offer a retirement savings plan. If there is a plan, they must be eligible to participate. And if eligible, they must sign up and contribute.

A failure to sign up can’t be blamed for the dismal savings rate of this low-income group. Instead, the problem is that many never get the chance. …Learn More

Man sitting in a store thinking

Spending Cut When Job Threats Rise

A new study provides important insights into American workers’ household budgets.

The study found that when workers sensed a growing likelihood they might lose their jobs, they quickly pared their spending on a large and diverse basket of discretionary consumer goods. These included both standard purchases and big-ticket items, from gardening supplies and vacations to cars and dishwashers.

The analysis was based on a survey of some 2,500 workers who were asked about their spending patterns and also asked to estimate their own chances of becoming unemployed over the coming year. The survey was conducted between 2009 and 2013, when the U.S. jobless rate at one point approached 10 percent. …Learn More

Where We Live: the Mom Magnet

Despite the growing tendency of Americans to migrate around the country for a job or retirement, half of all adults still live less than 25 miles from their mothers.

Such details about basic family living patterns were described in this video featuring Janice Compton, an economist with the University of Manitoba, who conducts research on the relationship between geographic proximity to older parents and who cares for them.

The vast majority of hands-on caregivers are family members. And elderly women, who tend to live longer than men, are more often the ones who receive care from their children.

To determine who’s most likely to stay near mom – and be in a position to assume care-giving duties – Compton and Robert Pollak at Washington University analyzed data from the U.S. Census and the National Survey of Families and Households for adults over age 25. Here’s what they found: …Learn More

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