April 2018

money tree

Can Caregivers Help Seniors with Money?

When once-simple financial tasks become difficult or confusing, it can be the canary in the coal mine signaling that an elderly person is developing dementia.

Financial problems will soon follow once people with cognitive impairment start miscalculating and missing payments, forgetting and misplacing accounts, or falling victim to fraud.

But some good news has come out of a new study of Medicare recipients: the vast majority of the 5.5 million people over 65 with established dementia – usually, though not, always Alzheimer’s disease – are receiving help from family and other caregivers with balancing their checkbooks, depositing and withdrawing money, and conducting transactions.

Even better, they are actually benefitting from it. The seniors who receive assistance are more likely to be able to pay for their essential expenses like rent, food, prescriptions and utilities, according to researchers at the Center for Retirement Research, which also sponsors this blog.

There was bad news in the report too: a nontrivial share of the older Americans with established dementia – that is, dementia for at least three years – aren’t getting any help. This problem is expected to grow in future generations. One major reason is longer and longer life spans, which exponentially increase the risk of dementia. Nearly one in three people over 85 are in some stage of dementia. Compounding this is the fact that today’s older workers have fewer children and have divorced more, which shrank the pool of who would be willing to pitch in and help them.

Having a caregiver helping with money management wouldn’t necessarily make an elderly person better off financially. Suppose a daughter is unfamiliar with her mother’s finances or a husband isn’t good at managing his own money. In extreme cases, caregivers sometimes steal from the trusting seniors in their care. Even so, it turns out that it’s better to receive help than not. …Learn More

ATM machine

Retirees Get a 401k Withdrawal Headache

Different people, different strategies.

Myra Hindus and Jewell Jackson

Myra Hindus of Boston, semi-retired at 68, had her financial adviser estimate the 401(k) withdrawals necessary to support her $4,500 monthly budget, which the adviser also prescribed. But Hindus isn’t fully at ease about her finances, despite the professional advice, a paid-off mortgage, and a good bit more savings than most people have.

“It’s a bunch of guesswork,” said the former diversity administrator and consultant to major universities who hedges her bets by teaching college social work courses.

What overwhelms her are the many unknowns that will determine whether her money lasts as long as she does. What if her adviser is wrong? Or what if she lives well into her 90s – like her mother did? She’s also uncertain of the impact of her younger partner’s coming retirement, which isn’t sorted out yet.

“No one knows when you’re going to die so you can’t base it on that. We’re all in the stock market, and we don’t know what will happen to that,” she said.

Brian Jarvis and Connie O’Brien of Beavercreek, Ohio, also have advantages most baby boomers don’t: small pensions from their former employer, Northrop Grumman, and a mortgage paid off with their private-sector salaries. But they got lucky too. The odds that their withdrawal strategy would succeed improved a few months after they retired, in 2010, when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.  The couple, who are too young for Medicare, no longer had to buy expensive private health insurance – access to the government health exchange drastically reduced the expense. …Learn More

bank cartoon

Credit Unions a Popular Antidote to Fraud

The 1980s featured bankrupt Texas savings and loans. Then, in the mid-2000s, Countrywide failed to clearly disclose to customers the spike in their subprime mortgage payments in year 3. In 2016, 5 million customers learned about their fabricated Wells Fargo accounts. And last year, Equifax breached 140 million customers’ privacy.

No wonder people are flocking to the friendly credit union in their church, labor union or workplace.

The widespread fraud reports making headlines with regularity have fed a perception that “fraud happens in the banking world and a lot of it goes unpunished,” said Mike Schenk, senior economist for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA).

“It’s not just Countrywide as an abstract concept. It’s that Countrywide put people into these toxic mortgages to make a buck.”  The 2008 stock market and housing crashes, fueled partly by the collapse of several subprime lenders, hammered this point home.

credit union table

CUNA has a bold marketing message: credit unions care more about their customers than impersonal banking behemoths. Schenk said he has the evidence to prove credit unions are benefiting from Wall Street’s financial shenanigans: membership increased an “astonishing” 4 percent in 2017, as the U.S. population grew less than 1 percent.

Of course, most banks aren’t bad guys, and they provide services that small credit unions can’t.  Banks frequently upgrade their technology – Bank of America’s ATMs are cutting edge. Large banks also have much larger networks of ATMs and branches, and they can service the large corporate accounts credit unions aren’t equipped to do.

So, what do credit unions do better?  Here are their three big advantages: …Learn More

calendar

Timing of Social Security Checks is Key

It’s a simple concept. Deposit retirees’ Social Security checks right before their big-ticket bills come, especially rent.

The U.S. Social Security Administration’s current schedule for depositing pension checks in bank accounts is based on each retiree’s birth date– it can be the second, third, or fourth Wednesday of each month.

The problem is that cash-strapped, low-income seniors receiving the earlier checks, on the second or third Wednesdays, can fall into a common behavioral trap: they spend the money soon after it comes in and then can’t cover the rent, mortgages or credit cards due at the beginning of the following month.

According to a clever new study, people who get these early monthly checks are at greater risk of resorting to desperate measures like payday loans than are seniors receiving them on the fourth Wednesday.

Such measures of financial distress are occurring “even though the pay schedule is known in advance,” write researchers Brian Baugh and Jialan Wang.

The advantage of Social Security deposits made on the fourth Wednesday is that retirees can get the big expenses out of the way first, forcing them to make do for the rest of the month with the money they have left. Indeed, people with fourth-Wednesday deposits had fewer bounced checks, account overdrafts, and payday loans, the researchers found. …Learn More

Arcane but Shrewd Retirement Solution?

Hyacinthe Rigaud’s portrait of King Louis XIV, courtesy of the Getty Open Content Program

Tontines might be a nifty idea for retirement income. Too bad they haven’t been legal here for a century.

Tontine is a fancy word for betting on how long you’ll live – in a good way. Here’s the concept in a nutshell: many people pool their money in return for guaranteed regular payouts for life, similar to an annuity.

The people who live to, say 90, will receive ever-increasing financial payoffs, because the number of participants in the pool will invariably shrink over time.  The catch is that the investors who die young won’t receive as much income as the men and women who live the longest – but they won’t need the money either.

A new study by the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) takes a close look at an idea that is tossed around among finance experts: modifying tontines to use them as a source of retirement income.

Some criticize them as a dubious investment, but they’ve stood the test of time. King Louis XIV of France was the first monarch to raise public funds using tontines, a 1650s creation of Italian financier Lorenzo Tonti. More than a century later, they caused financial hardship among middle-class investors, laying some of the groundwork for the French Revolution.

Tontines made it into American popular culture in the M*A*S*H* television show. Because Col. Potter was the last man standing among his World War I Army buddies, he got the only remaining bottle of brandy from a cache they’d found and drank while camped out in a French chateau. Tontines popped up again in an episode of The Simpsons: grandpa Abe Simpson and Mr. Burns fight over some valuable German paintings in a tontine their Army unit had created back in World War II.

Credit for the idea of a retirement tontine goes to a paper by two professors at York University in Toronto, Moshe A. Milevsky and Thomas S. Salisbury. In his new report, CRR researcher Gal Wettstein agrees that tontines might be a useful way to get regular retirement income – with modifications. …Learn More

Video: Kids Say the Darndest Things

The children in this video have a delightful take on our cultural attitudes and mores about money – what it is, what it can do, and whether to share it.

The interviewer borrowed the format Art Linkletter used when asking kids questions on his Emmy Award-winning television show, “Art Linkletter’s House Party,” which aired between 1952 and 1969 – as boomers and their parents will remember.

The new video about kids and money is posted on the American Financial Services Association Education Foundation’s website.  The foundation’s mission is to educate people about responsible money management, starting with young children and teenagers.

The adorable factor makes this 6-minute video fly by.Learn More

aging parent

An Ever-Expanding Sandwich Generation

Two new “sandwich generations” are getting into the thick of things: Generation X and Millennials.

Baby boomers first latched onto this label as they juggled caring for their parents and children simultaneously.  With lifespans continuing to increase, the squeeze from parental caregiving is tightening among Gen-X and Millennials.

As baby boomers and their parents get older, all three generations are feeling the financial strain of this familial obligation, which people take on either because “it is what family has always done” or “there was no other option,” according to caregivers’ responses to Northwestern Mutual’s new annual survey of adults between the ages of 18 and 64.

A separate 2017 report, by the Center for Retirement Research, estimated that one in five people will, at some point in their lives, care for their elderly or ailing parents. They spend an average 77 hours per month assisting elderly parents with everything from simple activities like getting out of bed and taking medications to frequently driving them to doctors’ offices.

The largest group in Northwestern’s survey are adult children caring for parents. The other caregivers identified in the survey care for adults under 65 or children who are either ill or have special needs or disabilities – there were no questions in the survey about routine childrearing.

The major findings indicate that parental care has significant financial and lifestyle implications, which disproportionately affect women: …Learn More

12