October 2018

Boston or Florida?

Retire in Boston or in Naples, Florida?

My husband is newly retired, and we’ve spent hours talking about where we might want to live after I retire in a few years. Our imagined scenarios are always changing.

But I’m clear on one thing: I do not want to buy a house in Naples, Florida, where a couple we know did recently. No offense to Naples, which has lots to recommend it – no shoveling! But the typical resident is 65 years old. In fact, Naples is older than the state of Florida, where retirement communities are so pervasive that they distinguish between the “young-old” (ages 60-75) and the “old-old” (over 75).

Boston, where my husband and I live now, couldn’t be more different. It is swarming with college students and young people, including his two sons and daughter-in-law. Boston’s young people work in rapidly changing industries like high-tech or environmental engineering, and I like it that way. Boston’s median age is 32 – half of Naples.

As I get closer to retiring and am faced with change, I think to myself, “Who wants to live in the midst of a bunch of old people like me?”

But that’s precisely what many retirees do. There are many examples of cities that have moved dramatically in the direction of one or the other extremes – Boston or Naples; Madison, Wisconsin, or Scottsdale, Arizona. The Wall Street Journal reported that new retirement communities are popping up in places that weren’t traditional resting places for snowbirds: retired baby boomers’ net migration to the Appalachian region where Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee converge has quadrupled since 2011.

This age segregation is a relatively new area of interest to demographers. Almost 60 percent of the neighborhoods and other subdivisions within U.S. counties have moderate or high levels of segregation, which is similar in degree to the level of segregation between the U.S. Hispanic and white populations, Richelle Winkler found in a 2013 study of federal Census data.

Age segregation also occurs in rural areas, as younger people leave for jobs and older people move in. In some rural parts of the Great Plains, Winkler writes, there are two times more seniors than young adults. …Learn More

Gears

Longevity Affects Social Security Benefit

It’s long been known that people with high earnings tend to live longer than low earners. But this gap in life expectancy has widened into a gulf.

For example, high-earning men born back in 1912 lived about eight months longer than their counterparts in the bottom half of the income range. This longevity gap increased to five years for men who were born in 1941 and are now in their late 70s. The disparity for women is similar, but not as extreme.

This growing longevity gap has important implications for Social Security. The program’s intent is to be progressive – more generous to lower-income retirees.  But the unequal life spans have significantly reduced that progressivity, concludes Matt Rutledge in a new synopsis of research in this area for the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog.

The reason low-income workers are losing ground is that they don’t live as long, so they don’t collect Social Security for as many years as high-income workers do.

A study by the National Academy of Sciences, one of several demonstrating the decline in the program’s progressivity, found that the value of lifetime Social Security benefits, adjusted for inflation, increased nearly 30 percent for the highest-income retirees born in 1960, compared with the top earners born 30 years earlier. But benefits either fell or stagnated over that time for retirees on the lowest two tiers of the income scale – the people who rely far more on Social Security. …Learn More

Video: How to Talk about College Costs

As the outlines of the student loan crisis were coming into focus, this blog featured a video of new college graduates dazed and bewildered by the size of their monthly loan payments and the intrusion on their lifestyles.

Beth Kobliner, a personal finance speaker and journalist, has a surefire antidote: talk to your teenager early and often so they know what they’ll be getting into if they borrow money for college.

She explains how to do this successfully in a new series of helpful, breezy videos.

She recommends that parents make the early conversations light and easygoing. Have the modest goal of encouraging your freshman in high school to start thinking about college broadly. Ask about his or her aspirations, interests, and the choice of Ivy League or state university.

Your teenager should know, Kobliner says, that they will “make about the same salary either way – turns out it’s more about the kid than the name of the college.”

As high school graduation gets closer, talk in more depth about paying for college. “The most important question often gets overlooked at first: Can we afford it?” she said. I would add that the question often comes too late – after the college applicant has already received their acceptance letters and expectations are set.

In addition to the how-to videos, another set of videos feature four conversations about college between real parents and their children. In one of them (above), a mother doesn’t tell her child not to go into debt for college. But she does explain the bad choices she herself made and that she regrets she is still paying off her student loans.

Many teenagers don’t want to talk about anything with their parents – period – but the videos provide tips for overcoming teen resistance and starting the critical conversation about the cost of college. …Learn More

medication bottles

How Retirees Can Negotiate Drug Prices

A Squared Away reader wrote recently that he and his wife saved $2,400 a year by paying cash for their medications.   

When a pharmacy sells a prescription drug to a customer, the health insurer reimburses the pharmacy at a negotiated rate that covers its cost for the drug, its dispensing fees, and any additional markup. It’s often the case that a patient’s copayment exceeds the pharmacy’s reimbursement, resulting in an overcharge in the copayment. More than one in four copayments were overcharges in a March analysis in the Journal of the American Medical Association of some 4,000 outpatient drugs and
9 million insurance claims by people of all ages.

We asked Mohamed A. Jalloh in Napa, California, to guide consumers on how to reduce their costs. He is a pharmacist, assistant professor at the Touro University California College of Pharmacy, and a spokesman for the American Pharmacists Association. 

Question: How can retirees access their option to pay a cash price for a prescription if it is lower than their Part D or Medicare Advantage plan copayment?

Jalloh: The big picture is that elderly patients should work with a pharmacist to see if they can get a better deal. If you process a prescription through your insurance – whether under an employer’s health insurance or Medicare drug coverage – the price may be higher than paying straight cash for the medication. Anyone can do this. But I imagine it helps seniors the most because they’re the ones taking the most medications.

The key is to ask the pharmacist to go over your medications with you. Do a medication check-up once a year. That’s the best time to see if a pharmacist can get a better deal for you.

Q. Is it common practice to negotiate a cash price?

Jalloh: I think that people do not know about this option and would really appreciate learning about it. It’s also important to remember that, in most cases, people are still going to get a better deal with insurance by paying, say, a $5 or $10 drug copay. …Learn More

line of shoes

Millennials Give Saving a Low Priority

Bar graph showing millennial savingRetirement clearly is not a priority for far too many young working adults.

Large minorities of the 22- to 37-year-olds who responded to a recent LendEdu survey said their retirement saving every month amounts to less than they spend on various categories of consumer goods. Nearly half of them report they spend more on dining out than on retirement saving. Almost one in three spend more on alcohol or new clothes, and one in four spend more on streaming services such as Netflix and Spotify. What that indicates is that a lot of them aren’t saving very much.

It might seem unfair that saving for retirement is such an urgent matter for someone not yet out of their 30s. After all, they aren’t earning very much yet, are managing household expenses for the first time, and might have a big student loan payment.

But the reality today is that Millennials were not lucky like some of their parents born into a world where they had a decent shot at a job with a pension. And a Social Security check alone is definitely not enough for a retiree to live on.

More and more employers are countering a reluctance to save by automatically signing workers up for the company retirement plan – nearly 50 percent of employers are doing this, compared with just 20 percent a decade ago, according to Vanguard’s client data. The idea behind automatic enrollment is that, just as inertia prevents people from signing up for a 401(k), inertia will keep them in the plan if the employer puts them there.

The strategy seems to be working: 92 percent of workers in their mid-20s to mid-30s whose employers have auto-enrollment are contributing part of their paychecks to their 401(k) plans, according to Vanguard. Contrast that to just 52 percent of workers in this age group whose employer plans are voluntary.

There’s nothing better than to be young and carefree, but the young adults who aren’t saving are already putting their well-being in old age at risk. …Learn More

The Marshmallow Test for Retirement

Walter Mischel, who used marshmallows to test children’s ability to delay gratification, died recently, but his lesson never grows old.

For those who aren’t familiar with his famous test, a young girl or boy sits at a table with a single marshmallow on a plate. The tester tells the child that he or she can eat the marshmallow right away, but waiting to eat it until the tester comes back into the room will bring a big payoff: a second sweet, puffy morsel.

Watching the children in this video squirm as they wrestle with their decisions brings to mind the adult equivalent. A desire for immediate self-gratification can come at the detriment of any number of personal financial decisions.

Like the marshmallow test, consuming now means having less money in the bank later.  The test also applies to deciding when to retire. Retiring becomes extremely tempting for baby boomers who want to escape from work after decades in the labor force.  But those who wait patiently for a few more years will have a sweeter retirement: a much larger Social Security check and more 401(k) savings distributed over fewer total years in retirement.

Children, when faced with the marshmallow test, struggle mightily to exercise self-control. They pick up the marshmallow to examine it, play with it, nibble it, and move it out of reach – but impulse gets the better of them, and they pop it into their mouths.

The lesson here is the same for children and adults: resist temptation and be rewarded. …Learn More

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Switching Medigap Plans is Tricky

Thomas Uttormark

When Thomas Uttormark turned 65 in 2010, he researched his Medigap options on the Medicare.gov website and chose a plan with a premium of around $100 a month.

As his premium inched up over the next two years, he decided to apply to another insurance company to see if he could reduce the cost of his policy. Since the federal government dictates the coverage amounts under each of the 10 Medigap plans, he reasoned, his existing insurer’s Plan N provided exactly the same coverage as any other insurer’s Plan N – and the new plan might be cheaper.

“I thought it was no big deal to switch,” said the 73-year-old Uttormark.

However, switching did prove to be a big deal. His application was denied. He suspects it was due to his pre-existing conditions, which included a routine gallbladder surgery before he retired, and his cholesterol, blood pressure and acid reflux conditions, which are fully controlled with medications. The insurer didn’t give him a reason for the denial.

Uttormark ran headlong into a maze of federal regulations that determine whether, when, and how a retiree can transfer from one insurer’s Medigap plan to another insurer’s Medigap. One in four people enrolled in traditional Medicare have Medigap supplemental insurance – about 10 million retirees – and are affected by these restrictive regulations.

They are “particularly confusing,” said Casey Schwarz, the senior counsel for education and federal policy for the Medicare Rights Center in New York and Washington.

She said that people who’ve just signed up for Medicare Parts A and B routinely call her organization because they are having trouble sorting out their options and what they will be permitted to do in the future if they choose either Medigap, which is supplemental coverage for traditional Medicare, or Medicare Advantage private insurance after initially signing up for Medicare Parts A and B.

A handful of states have looser regulations than the federal rules – California, Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, and Oregon – and allow retirees to move more freely among various Medigap plans, though the states also have their own restrictions.

Schwarz explained that the insurance company denied coverage to Uttormark because he did not qualify for what the federal government calls “guaranteed issue.”

Under guaranteed issue, there is only one time when every Medicare beneficiaries is assured access to a Medigap policy: when they first sign up for Medicare Part B. At this time, insurers can neither deny coverage based on a pre-existing condition nor charge a higher premium if an applicant has a specific health condition.

Another guaranteed issue period applies to limited numbers of retirees. It gives retirees the right to buy a Medigap policy – even people with pre-existing conditions – if they lose their previous coverage through no fault of their own. Perhaps their current Medigap or Medicare Advantage insurer went bankrupt or left the state, or their employer ended its Medicare supplement for retirees. When this occurs, however, the retiree must select a new policy within 63 days of losing their old coverage.

Uttormark didn’t qualify for guaranteed issue because he was choosing to drop his Medigap policy for a less expensive one. Insurers can rightly “refuse to sell him a policy, can charge him more for pre-existing conditions, or refuse to cover his pre-existing conditions,” Schwarz said.

The federal rules also provide an opportunity to switch plans if retirees selected Medicare Advantage as their first form of insurance when they enrolled in Medicare. In this case, they are permitted to move into any Medigap policy sold in their area but they, too, have a restriction: they must do so within the first year of their initial Medicare enrollment.

“Medicare beneficiaries who miss these windows of opportunity may unwittingly forgo the chance to purchase a Medigap policy later in life,” the Kaiser Family Foundation said in a recent policy brief detailing the federal and state regulations.

The Medicare.gov website describes the circumstances in which beneficiaries qualify for federal guaranteed issue. …Learn More

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