April 2017

Lesbian wedding

Gay Marriage: Income Gains Quantified

The U.S. Social Security Administration states on its website that it “is no longer prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages for the purpose of determining entitlement to or eligibility for benefits.”

Numerous disadvantages faced historically by the nation’s 800,000 same-sex partners are falling away in the wake of the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing marriage – access to Social Security’s benefits for a worker’s same-sex spouse or widow is just one. The financial gains from legalized marriage should also increase substantially over time, as more gays and lesbians are drawn out of cohabitation and into married relationships.

new study, by Urban Institute researchers Karen E. Smith, Stephen Rose, and Damir Cosic, estimates that by 2065 same-sex couples 62 and older with low or mid-range earnings will have about $4,000 in additional net cash income every year. This includes earnings, Social Security and pension benefits, and investment income minus taxes, Medicare premiums and other government levies.

The $4,000 estimate per couple is based on the institute’s population model that simulates multiple financial impacts on U.S. households to arrive at the overall effect. It also takes into account that same-sex married couples will be better able to pool their resources in the future, share employer health benefits, buy a house, and withstand a spouse’s layoff.

A key benefit for older same-sex married couples is access to Social Security spousal and survivor benefits, which were unavailable before the law change. Social Security is especially significant if the spouses have sharply different earnings levels – just as they are to married heterosexual couples in which one spouse, usually the wife, has lower earnings and is eligible for a higher benefit based on her husband’s work history instead of her own. …Learn More

Nurse with patient

Long-term Care Insurance Goes Uptown

Is long-term care insurance a luxury product?

Today, most policies covering home care and assisted living and nursing care facilities for the elderly are purchased by people with relatively high earnings, according to a new survey.

Bar chart showing people envisioning needing a nursing home in the futureLong-term care used to be insurance that the middle class would buy – either individually or through an employer, union, or affinity group – when it was more affordable. But the market, which has contracted dramatically, also seems to be shifting, according to retirement experts and new data from LifePlans, a long-term care research firm.

In LifePlans’ survey, 82 percent of the people who purchased long-term care policies in 2015 earned more than $50,000 per year. In comparison, only half of the general older population surveyed separately by LifePlans falls into this income bracket. An Urban Institute study supports this too, finding that the market is dominated by households with more than $500,000 in net wealth.

Eileen J. Tell, who consults on aging and long-term care issues, said the slant toward the higher end reflects the fact that the coverage being sold is more comprehensive – and more costly. Most policies purchased now cover all levels of care, from home care to assisted living and long-term care facilities. This reflects a desire for people to age in their homes, Tell said.  Back in 1995, just two out of three policies had this comprehensive coverage. Another feature that’s more common – and costs more – is inflation protection. …Learn More

Rewriting Retirement Header Illustration

A Californian’s ‘Retirement’ is Part-Time

Rob Peters during a trip East last summer.

Rob Peters during a trip East last summer.

Rob Peters’ approach to retiring wasn’t much different from hitting the road in 1975 to help drive a college friend from New York to California. He didn’t really know where he was going.

When he first laid eyes on California, he was captivated by its beauty, as well as the left-leaning politics absent in the conservative Long Island community he grew up in. But Peters, equipped only with an English degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo, bounced around for years among the various part-time and full-time counseling jobs available to him in his new paradise.

Not until age 38, after earning a master’s degree in counseling and 13 job interviews, did he land his dream job at Diablo Valley College, a community college serving mostly low-income and minority students. He stayed more than 26 years, as a student adviser, program facilitator, and instructor.

He took a blind leap into retirement, too. Again, finding his place was a process. Within four months of retiring, at the end of 2014, he contacted Diablo Valley College.  Yes, they would welcome him back as a counselor for four hours in the morning, two days per week in the spring and three days in the fall.

He returned in June 2015 and again enjoys “the acknowledgment that your work is valuable,” said Peters, 65, who lives with his wife, Suzanne James-Peters, in their home in Benicia with a view of the Carquinez Strait that lies east of San Francisco.

A new body of research indicates that continuing to work but gearing down to a lower-intensity job is often good for older Americans, because it reduces their stress, increases their job satisfaction, and is an encouragement to continue working and preparing financially for retirement.

It’s not all that surprising that Peters “un-retired,” considering how much and how long (10 years) he’d wrestled with the retirement decision.

Yes, the technological demands of working full time became harder to keep up with, the demands of being an older parent with teenage twins (a girl and a boy) consumed him, and coworkers his age were peeling off.  However, he was constantly torn about letting go of a job just when he felt that, as an older counselor, he had even more to give students. As a decision loomed, he attended yet another retirement seminar.  “I began to anticipate that leaving [academia] would take some adjustment.”

He retired reluctantly and weeded out his file cabinet full of work materials even more reluctantly. …Learn More

The Picture of Investment Diversity

Most people see multicolored chaos in the chart below, which is a visual representation of the returns each year to various types of investments.

Morningstar Inc.’s director of quantitative research, Timothy Strauts, sees something else: the need for a diverse portfolio.
Callan table excerpt

Strauts, like most investment professionals, knows the Callan Periodic Table of Investment Returns. It has been around for 20 years and was just updated with 2016’s returns. Here’s how to read it. A colored square is assigned to each type of stock- and bond-market index. For example, the Bloomberg Barclay’s Aggregate (Agg) bond index is bright green, and the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index is khaki green – the boxes also give each index’s return for each year. …Learn More

hispanic workers

Hispanic Retirees: Low Saving, Long Life

Just one in three native-born and immigrant Hispanics working in this country has a retirement plan through their employers. If they do have one, three out of four save money in their plans, which is somewhat less than their coworkers.

One reason for the first abysmal statistic is that many Hispanics and Latinos, recent immigrants in particular, hold down part-time restaurant or hotel jobs at very low wages. But even among Hispanics working full-time, access to an employer savings plan is still much lower (44 percent) than it is for their white and black counterparts (more than 60 percent).

Low rates of saving are compounded by the fact that elderly Hispanics and Latinos will need more money over their longer-than-average retirements.  A 65-year-old Hispanic man can expect to live 16 months longer than a white, non-Hispanic man in this country, and Hispanic women live 11 months longer. [One theory is that less healthy immigrants are more likely to return to their home countries, so the U.S. immigrant population that remains is healthier.]

“Longevity is a big issue, but there is little awareness of this” in the Hispanic population, said retirement consultant Manuel Carvallo, a Chilean immigrant to the United States. …Learn More

Blood for Student Loans

Graduation cap

Illustration by: Kjell Reigstad

 

Interest in the student loan problem from the media and politicians seems to be ebbing.

The issue does not go away for Joshua Roiland. Every day, money worries grind him down – him and millions of other young adults working through the emotional fallout and shattered relationships caused by debt.

Roiland owes $200,000-plus and earns only $52,000 as a newly minted University of Maine journalism professor. He begins his article on Longreads by describing a 340-mile round-trip drive to a clinic in Lewiston, Maine, that pays him $50 for a pint of his youthful blood. …Learn More

Retirees Don’t Touch Home Equity

FigureRemarkably, middle-class Americans have at least as much money tied up in their homes as they have in all their retirement plans, bank accounts, and other financial assets combined.

A hefty share of older U.S. homeowners are even better off: 41 percent between ages 65-74, and 63 percent over 74, have paid off their mortgages and own their homes free and clear.

But only one in five retirees would be willing to use their home equity to generate income in a new survey by the National Council on Aging (NCOA). This reluctance seems to be on a collision course with financial reality for working baby boomers, when so many are at risk that they won’t be able to maintain their living standards when they retire.

Retirees can get at their home equity to improve their finances a couple of ways.  One is to sell, say, the three-bedroom family home on Long Island for a pretty penny and buy a condo on Long Island or a cheaper house in Florida.  Yet only a tiny sliver of older Americans actually downsize to reduce their living expenses, according to a new report by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, “Is Home Equity an Underutilized Retirement Asset?”

Another avenue is available to people over 62 who don’t want to move: a reverse mortgage. While these loans against home equity are not for everybody, they’re one option if retirees want to pay off the original mortgage or withdraw funds when they’re needed. But only about 58,000 homeowners took out federally insured Home Equity Conversation Mortgage (HECMs) in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The NCOA’s survey, which was funded by Reverse Mortgage Funding, a lender, uncovered one reason for the lack of interest: retirees are not clear about how reverse mortgages work and how they differ from a standard home equity line of credit. …Learn More

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