Illustration of the future

Money Culture

The Future of Retirement Is Now

Gray, small, and distinctly female.

This is what the director of MIT’s AgeLab, Joseph Coughlin, sees when he peers into the future of retirement.

“The context and definition of retirement is changing,” Coughlin said earlier this month at the Retirement Research Consortium meeting, where nearly two dozen researchers also presented their Consortium-funded work on a range of retirement topics. Their research summaries can be found at this link to the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog and is a consortium member.

Coughlin spooled out a list of stunning facts to impress on his audience the dramatic impact of rising longevity and graying populations in the developed world, and he urged them to think in fresh ways about retirement. In Japan, for example, adult diapers are outselling baby diapers. China already faces a looming worker shortage, and Germany’s population is in sharp decline. In 2047, there will be more Americans over age 60 than children under 15.

“The country will have the demographics of Florida,” Coughlin said. …Learn More

Research

Future Retirees Financially Fragile

Retirement contributionsThe scary thing about fully retiring is the obvious thing: the ability to earn stops cold.

Most retirees live on what they get from Social Security and what they can spend from their savings, if they have any.  So how many older Americans with fixed incomes can accurately be described as being in difficult straits financially?

Only about 10 percent of retired people today are being forced to cut back on food and medications to pay their other bills, concludes a summary of recent studies on retirement income by the Center for Retirement Research (CRR), which supports this blog.

Tomorrow’s retirees have a more troubling outlook, in part because they will be dramatically more reliant on 401(k)s.

The typical middle-income worker in Generation X, who ranges in age from 37 to 53, can expect his savings to supply 42 percent of his total income when he retires.  Savings are necessary for just 27 percent of the total income of current retirees born during the Great Depression and World War II, according to one of the studies summarized by CRR and conducted by the Urban Institute and U.S. Social Security Administration. …Learn More

older workers

Behavior

Future ‘Retirees’ Plan to Work

Most people used to sign up for Social Security when they were fairly young – around 62, which is the earliest age allowed. Not today: fewer than 40 percent are filing for benefits at that age.

text box calloutSo what else are we doing differently?  Well, working in retirement is high on the list.

About one in three Americans calling themselves retired in a new AARP survey have worked or now work in part-time, seasonal and sporadic jobs or sometimes full-time.

Keeping in mind that people don’t always do what they’d planned, boomers’ expectations for work exceed what current retirees are doing. Well over half of workers over 50 plan to find some kind of work after they retire.

The seeming oxymoron – working “retirees” – plays out in various ways.  State and local government workers retire as early as their 50s if they’ve worked enough years to max out their pensions. Some of these civil servants find other jobs while collecting a pension. Boomers who’ve left career jobs but lack a pension cut back to part-time work in their field or find a full- or part-time job in a new field.

Money is a major reason, with a notable exception. Some people work into their late 60s or 70s because they just enjoy it. They’re usually the most educated and frequently see their jobs as a labor of love that sustains their personal growth, professional identities, or relationships. …Learn More

CRR logo

Research

What’s New in Retirement Research

Millennials, longevity, Americans’ retirement outlook – these are among the topics economists tackle in five interesting research briefs.

Links to each brief below appear at the end of their titles. (Full disclosure: the researchers are at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which funds this blog.)

  • “Will Millennials Be Ready for Retirement?” – They are the most educated generation. Yet they lag previous generations of young adults in their retirement preparedness. Student loan debt is one big reason.
  • “National Retirement Risk Index Shows Modest Improvement in 2016 – Rising house prices boosted individuals’ wealth, modestly improving our retirement outlook. But, again, Millennials face significant headwinds.
  • “Is Working Longer a Good Prescription for All? – Most households’ retirement plans would benefit from working longer, saving more, and delaying Social Security. Low-income and less-educated workers with the most to gain financially, however have fewer job options for postponing retirement. …
  • Learn More

Behavior

Gen-X, Millennials: Now is the Time

figureGeneration X and millennials, there is time.

In contrast to baby boomers, who are now mostly too old to rack up appreciable increases in their 401(k)s – though they should try – younger Gen-X and millennials have time and compounding investment returns on their side.

This blog examines how they are faring – millennials, because saving and investing well now poises them for a secure retirement, and Gen-X because this “ignored” generation is sandwiched between the financial demands of parenting and parent care.  Their own assessments of their retirement preparedness appeared in a recent report by the nonprofit Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS).

Millennials

“Millennials have heard the word that they need to save for retirement,” TCRS declared in its report summarizing its 2016 online survey of more than 4,000 workers.

Millennials’ ages are up through 37 in this survey.  Nearly three out of four who have 401(k)s at work are already saving for retirement. They typically started saving at 22, indicating impressive foresight about retirement dates far in the future.  Gen-X, ranging in age from 38 through 51, didn’t get started in earnest until they were 28.

While it’s great that millennials are saving for retirement, women in particular are not saving enough, said Catherine Collinson, president of TCRS. Among workers who participate in their employer’s 401(k) or similar plan, the survey finds that the typical millennial woman contributes only 5 percent to her plan, compared with 10 percent for millennial men.

Millennials aren’t taking advantage of their uniquely long investment time horizon, the survey finds. Retirement experts encourage younger adults to more aggressively invest 401(k)s in the stock market to enjoy decades of the long-term growth and compounding investment returns and potentially ride out the market’s inevitable volatility. Theoretically, if the stock market’s history proves true, equity-investing millennials can build up substantial retirement accounts, accumulating employers’ contributions and their own contributions and investment earnings over time.

But many millennials came of age during the 2008 financial crisis and still seem to be “in a state of shock with their concerns about the stock market,” Collinson said.  One in five millennials say they are investing conservatively in bonds, money market funds, and cash.

Generation-X

Baby boomers will be the last generation with substantial access to traditional pensions. Gen-X is the first generation to heavily rely on defined-contribution accounts. …Learn More

Illustration of an online tool

On the Web

Retirement Calculators: 3 Good Options

The Internet offers many free calculators to baby boomers wanting to get a better handle on whether their retirement finances are on track.

The operative words here are “on track,” because each calculator has strengths and weaknesses.  Calculators aren’t capable of providing a bullet-proof analysis of the complex factors and future unknowns that will determine whether someone has done the planning and saving required to ensure a financially secure retirement.

With that caveat, Squared Away found three calculators, listed below, that do a good job. They met our criteria of being reliable, free, and easy to use.  Many other calculators were quickly eliminated, because they were indecipherable or created issues on the first try.

Most important, each calculator selected covered the assumptions crucial to an accurate analysis. All ask such obvious questions as how much an older worker and spouse (or single person) have saved, their portfolio’s returns, and estimates of their Social Security and pension income.  The first calculator below asks how much money the user wants to leave to his children, and all three include the user’s home equity, a major resource that most retirees are loath to tap but are under increasing financial pressure to consider. Also, the first two ask more detailed questions – and are more time-consuming – than the third, which is the best option if you want just a rough estimate of where you stand.

Finally, this blog’s writer tested each calculator and compared the results with her personal adviser’s customized analysis. Each time, the outcomes were in the same ballpark as the adviser’s.  A fourth good option is to use the calculator provided by the financial company managing your employer’s 401(k) – most of the major providers offer them. …Learn More

Field Work

Pre-Retirement Financial Review is a Must

My husband has taught high school biology for 30 years in Boston and works hard for his students. But he’s nearly 64 and it’s time to think about retiring.

Can we afford it? When we retire, will we eventually run through our savings? Is retirement scary – or what?

Questions like these are also probably haunting millions of baby boomers in the middle of the night. One out of three boomers in a recent Transamerica survey said they are not confident they will have enough income to retire “comfortably” and another third concede that they are only “somewhat confident.”

To find the answer for ourselves, my husband and I hired a financial adviser. It was the best thing we could’ve done. The point of this blog is to encourage other boomers to take stock of their imminent retirement, whether it’s around the corner or still a decade away.

We’d been kicking around retirement scenarios inside our marriage bubble. My husband has not fixed a retirement date in his head but is talking about the next one to three years. To be conservative, we posed this simple question to our adviser: can Garret retire in 2018?

Garret Virchick and Kim Blanton

Her answer was in the half-inch packet, which she delivered to our front door. We sat around our dining room table as she walked us through her quantitative analysis of our financial profile.

Many financial advisers like to talk about how they’ll manage a baby boomer client’s investments. In truth, simple index funds do the trick for us. Our adviser, Wendy Weiss of Weiss Financial Advisors in Cambridge, Mass., used to be an investment adviser for large financial firms, but spent very little time on our investments. The most important thing for baby boomers who, like us, are not wealthy is knowing how much income will come in the door every single month to pay the bills in retirement.

“It’s more important for my clients to find out how to use that 401(k) in retirement than it is for me to try to manage the investments for you,” she said. …Learn More

Dark tunnel

Behavior

In the Dark about Retirement?

There’s new evidence to remind us that nothing much changes: we are still baffled by our DIY retirement system.

And no wonder!

First, saving must start at a young age, when retirement is an abstraction. Saving is further stymied by two big questions: how much to save and how to invest it?  It’s also smart to anticipate how one’s compensation arc might affect Social Security – taking into account, for example, that women withdraw temporarily from the labor force to have children and that earnings can decline when workers hit their 50s.  As we fly past middle age and retirement appears on the horizon, it’s a little late to figure this retirement thing out.  And there’s no plan for long-term care when we’re very old.

The evidence: Start with Merrill Lynch’s new survey in which 81 percent of Americans do not know how much money they’ll need in retirement.  This makes it very difficult to know how much to deduct from one’s paycheck for retirement savings. Employers, frankly, could do more to help us figure this out. (Some answers appear at the end of this blog.)

Being in the dark now about how much to save is a cousin of being afraid of running out of money later, in retirement. More than 70 percent of accountants say this fear of running out is their clients’ top concern – followed by whether they can maintain their current lifestyle and afford medical care in retirement – according to the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Our inclination to avoid difficult issues does not go away with age.  Yes, we’ve gotten wiser, but advanced old age means death, and who wants to think about that?

The upshot: seven in 10 adults have not planned for their own long-term care needs in the future, Northwestern Mutual reports.  Even among a smaller group who anticipate having to take care of an elderly parent, one in three of them “have taken no steps to plan” for their own care.

“You would think that would prompt them to action,” said Kamilah Williams-Kemp, Northwestern’s vice president of long-term care. And while the constant barrage of news and statistics is making Americans more aware of their rising longevity, Williams-Kemp said, caregivers are often more interested in talking about their emotional and physical challenges and the rewards of caregiving than about its substantial financial toll.

There is a “disconnect between general awareness and prompting people to take action,” she said.

The potential for dementia or diminished capacity late in life isn’t on our radar either, the survey of CPAs found: the vast majority of people either choose to ignore the issue, wait and react to it, or are confused.

Squared Away exists in part to educate people about retirement essentials, based on facts and high-quality research. The following blogs might help you:

How Much for the 401(k)? Depends. …Learn More

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