January 2019

A Taste of How the 1 Percent Lives

The dramatic increase in U.S. inequality is due almost entirely to the expanding fortunes of the
1 percent. They have tripled their share of the nation’s total wealth to 21 percent since the 1970s.

Such extreme concentrations of wealth are of growing concern to economists and even one Wall Street firm. They argue that it hurts the economy for everyone.

The public’s reaction couldn’t be more different. Their preferred solution to barely coping financially is to become rich themselves. Two out of three Americans told Gallup they aspire to being rich and say that the super-wealthy are good for the country. Democrats and Republicans are equally enamored of the rich.

Mansion in Naples, FLWhat it means to be in the top 1 percent is, for most of us, an abstraction since the wealthy largely keep to their own. But the crew of the Double Sunshine tour boat are happy to show tourists the lifestyles of Florida’s rich and famous during daily tours of the dolphins and multimillion-dollar mansions on Naples Bay.

During my Christmastime tour of the bay, the crew pointed out one property where the new owner had demolished a $49 million house to build a new one. “Tear-downs are on a tear,” says The Naples Daily News, which closely follows the real estate transactions of celebrities and chief executives.

In property after property, royal palms sway over lawns that tumble into the bay. Every house has a yacht or an empty boat slip with a full crew awaiting the owner’s return, said Greg Dyer, the tour boat company’s assistant operations director. One homeowner pays nearly $600,000 a year in property taxes. No wonder Naples has such great bike paths. …Learn More

exclamation point

Parent PLUS College Loans Can Spell Peril

QuoteA dramatic increase in 1993 in how much parents are permitted to borrow from the federal government for their children’s college is coming home to roost.

Since then, average debt through the parent PLUS loans has more than tripled, adjusted for inflation, according to a Brookings Institution report. About one in 10 parents owe more than $100,000. And as loan balances have ballooned, the rate of repayment has slowed.

Now that the college applications have been submitted, Allan Katz, a financial adviser in Staten Island, New York, has this advice for parents contemplating their next move:

PLUS loans should be avoided “at all cost,” he said. “A big part of my practice is avoiding PLUS loans.”

His dire warning stems from the 1993 change in the law, which made it easier for parents to get into trouble. The reform increased how much parents can borrow from $4,000 per year to whatever the teenager needs to cover his or her school expenses – regardless of the institution’s cost. Total borrowing per child used to be capped at $20,000 – there is no limit today. …Learn More

Young woman with piggy bank

Savings Tips Help Millennials Get Serious

This is young adults’ financial dilemma in a nutshell: you’re well aware you should be saving money, but you admit you’d rather spend it on the fun stuff.

Yes, paying the rent or student loans every month takes discipline. But it isn’t enough. Even more discipline must be summoned to save money, whether in an emergency fund or a retirement plan at work.

Tia Chambers' headshot

Tia Chambers

Tia Chambers, a financial coach in Indianapolis and certified financial education instructor (CFEI), has put some thought into how Millennials can overcome their high psychological hurdles to saving.

The 32-year-old lays out six doable steps on her website, Financially Fit & Fab, which she recently elaborated on during an interview.

Get in the right mindset. “It is the hardest part,” she said. “When I speak with clients, money is always personal, and it’s also emotional.” The best way to clear the emotional hurdles is to keep a specific, important goal in mind that continually motivates you, for example buying a house. Or create a detailed savings challenge, such as vowing to save $1 the first week, $2 the second week, $3 the third week, etc. This adds up to $1,378 at the end of the year, she said.

Cut expenses. Some cuts are no-brainers. Scrap cable for Hulu and Netflix subscriptions. Drop that gym membership you never use. The biggest challenge for young adults is saying no to friends who want to go out for dinner or drinks. Chambers suggests enlisting your friends to help – after all, they’re probably spending too much too. She and her friends have agreed to go out one weekend and save money the next weekend by hanging out at someone’s apartment. Another idea is happy hour once a week instead of twice. …Learn More

Mom and baby at a computer

A Social Security Reform for Mom

Created in the 1930s, Social Security’s spousal benefit – it’s half of a retired husband’s benefit – was the way to compensate housewives for the work of raising children.

The world has changed, but Social Security hasn’t been modified to reflect the rise of the full-time, working mother.

Today, married women frequently have earned enough to collect Social Security based on their own employment histories, rather than a spousal benefit. The problem comes when their earnings are reduced – and ultimately their Social Security benefits – because they disrupted their career paths and sacrificed pay raises to care for their children.

Single motherhood has also become very common, which means that a wide swath of women have no access to spousal and survivor benefits at all. Due to a higher divorce rate, one in four first marriages don’t last the full 10 years that Social Security requires to qualify for these benefits.

The erosion of spousal benefits points to a future in which “large numbers of women are going to move through retirement with more disadvantages” than previous generations, concludes a recent report by the Center for Retirement Research.

This problem could be addressed if Social Security gave credit to parents for caregiving. Caregiver credits are already pervasive in Europe, including Austria, Germany, Spain, Sweden, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, and they take various forms.

In this country, policy experts have proposed two different approaches to help parents with children under age six by increasing the earnings that dictate the size of their benefit checks. …Learn More

baby

From NYC to Boise, Babies are Pricey

If a new baby is in the works for the new year, prepare yourself now.

Despite the pure joy of having a child, the fact of the matter is that the basics – daycare plus a second bedroom, extra health insurance, food and personal items – are expensive even in Little Rock, Arkansas, which is at the bottom of Magnify Money’s new ranking of the cost of adding a family member in 100 U.S. major cities. Monthly expenses for an infant exceed $700 a month in Little Rock, or nearly $8,500 a year.

ranking list of most and least expensive cities

The big budget buster everywhere is day care, which is a financial shock for most new parents. The bills can easily reach or exceed $1,000 a month, and day care represents 70 percent to 80 percent of the money spent on a baby, whether the parents live in New York City, Birmingham, Alabama, or Boise, Idaho.

Magnify Money’s estimates do not even include the college savings parents should start socking away immediately. They do include the federal tax credits for children.

Click here to get a rough idea of what your new baby will cost where you live. …Learn More

washing away 2018 on beach

Here’s What Our Readers Liked in 2018

We’re kicking off 2019 with our periodic review of the most-read articles over the past year, based on the blog traffic tracked by Google Analytics.

Judging by the comments readers leave at the end of the blog posts, baby boomers are really diving into the nitty-gritty of preparing themselves mentally and financially for retirement. Financial advisers also frequently comment on Squared Away, and we hope some of our web traffic is because they’re sharing our blog with their clients.

Last year, Squared Away received recognition from other media. The Wall Street Journal recommended us to its readers for the blog’s “wonderful mix of topics.” The Los Angeles Times picked up our article, “Why Retirement Inequality is Rising.” MarketWatch published our posts about how pharmacists can help seniors reduce their prescription drug prices and about a Social Security reform to reduce elderly poverty.

The most popular blogs in 2018 fall into five categories:

The Big Picture

How Social Security Gets Fixed Matters

Future ‘Retirees’ Plan to Work

Just Half of Americans Enjoy Bull Market

Personality Influences Path to Retirement

How and When to Retire

Know About the 401(k) Surprise

How Retirees Can Negotiate Drug Prices

Work vs Save Options Quantified

What’s a Geriatric Care Manager Anyway?

Geriatric Help Eases Family Discord

Retirement Pitfalls

Retirees Get a 401(k) Withdrawal Headache

Social Security Mistakes Can Be CostlyLearn More