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Hard Labor Spells Earlier Retirement

Men with the most physically demanding jobs retire earlier – by choice or due to exhaustion or chronic pain – increasing the financial pressures facing this segment of the workforce once they reach old age.

The retirement age for most Americans continues to float upward as people delay the date so they can sock more money away or boost the eventual size of their Social Security checks. But that’s often not a viable option for people with highly physical jobs, such as the 1,500 Alcoa plant workers in a new study.

The retirement pattern for Alcoa workers studied by the Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that men in manufacturing jobs face a unique set of retirement issues related to the physicality of their work. Most of the workers in Stanford’s 2001-2008 study were employed in aluminum smelters. The study found that men in these demanding jobs retired, on average, at age 60 and six months – a full year earlier than their male Alcoa coworkers with jobs such as floor inspector or shipping clerk.

“Those with heavier jobs retire earlier. Those with more sedentary jobs retire later,” Sepideh Modrek, a Stanford medical school lecturer, said at the recent Retirement Research Consortium conference, where she presented the results of her working paper. [The Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog, is a consortium member.] … Learn More

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Student Loan Prevention: Part 2

Last week, Squared Away published the first five of 10 strategies to help parents and their college-bound kids limit their borrowing through student loans.  As promised, readers can find the remaining five ideas below.

On a complexity scale, finding a college is comparable to buying a house, and some of these debt-cutting strategies are extremely difficult to put into practice.  In addition to the financial challenges involved, the emotional aspects of parent-child dynamics and the college application process are daunting.

But the soaring cost of an undergraduate education has made student debt prevention a top priority for most families.  Here’s more help from college financial advisers.

  • Get Practical

Deborah Fox of Fox College Funding LLC in San Diego said the days of majoring in English, philosophy or history are over – or should be.  Given the financial pressures of college, she said, students can’t afford to “just study what’s interesting to you.”  When weighing future earnings for graduates with such majors, the numbers just don’t add up, especially if the English degree is from a high-cost institution like Columbia University (high cost among private colleges) or the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (expensive for in-state students).

Fox asks her clients to identify skills the college-bound teenager is good at.  When entering college, they should already have a handful of potential occupations in mind.  Then they can focus on relevant internships, jobs, courses and life skills that will help them get a job when they graduate – and begin paying back their loans.  Freshmen should immediately begin testing their theories about the work they’ll want to do – “possibilities they could get excited about,” she said.  She tells clients’ kids to “start exploring them immediately, shadow [people in their field], take someone out for coffee.  Find out what is the day-to-day work like.” …Learn More

Student Loan Prevention: Part 1

It’s panic time! College-bound teenagers and their parents are excitedly touring colleges this summer, or they’re signing the dreaded Stafford loan documents to pay for college in the fall.

One thing is crystal clear in the emotional fog of this exhilarating rite of passage: parents and their teenagers both need to get serious about limiting their dependence on student loans. Squared Away asked several experts on financing a college education for their best tips on minimizing total borrowing for college.

Some of their debt-cutting strategies are difficult to swallow. But since 2005, student loans have shot up 55 percent, to $24,301 per student, for an undergraduate degree that has, as one financial adviser noted, become “ubiquitous.” Yet college places an unprecedented financial burden on parents also saving for retirement and on graduates when they get their first full-time jobs. Debt prevention also requires families to face head-on the emotional roadblocks to an affordable education.

Squared Away came up with 10 debt-prevention strategies. Here are the first five ideas, with five more scheduled for next Tuesday. Links to Web resources are also sprinkled throughout the article.

  • Aid Deadlines Are Crucial

Buy a calendar and red marker and closely track every single deadline for merit or need-based aid – they’re different for each college under consideration.

“If I could give you one piece of advice that would be it,” said Lyssa Thaden, a financial education manager for American Student Assistance, which educates and counsels student-loan borrowers.

Thaden listed four common mistakes that cost parents dearly, requiring them to borrow more: …Learn More

Newlyweds

Couples’ Rifts Increase With Age

Newlyweds beware: The longer you are married, the more you will argue about money.

U.S. married couples argue an average of three times per month about their joint finances. But once couples hit their mid-40s, these spats increase to four times per month, according to a telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,005 adults by the American Institute of CPAs.

“The stakes are higher” for older couples with more money in savings, said Kelley Long, a member of the Institute’s financial literacy commission. She said middle-aged couples also argue fiercely about steep financial obligations, such as how to pay for the children’s college.

What does all this emotional “baggage” have to do with newlywed bliss? …
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Cold Cash: Cash in a freezer

Americans Put Cold Cash on Ice

More than one in four Americans revealed that they put their “mad money” in the freezer.

The freezer strategy was more popular than socks and mattresses, according to a Marist College survey last month of more than 1,000 people.

More people with college degrees chose the freezer than did non-college graduates. But the second most popular hiding place – socks at 19 percent – was particularly popular in the Northeast where people own a lot of socks. Third was the proverbial mattress, and more men than women went this route. Wisely, 17 percent knew of “no good place” in the house to hide their mad money.

Several years ago, I put my credit card in a plastic deli container, filled it with water, and froze it. Just once, I was thinking, it’d be nice to get an American Express bill that didn’t break the $500 barrier. (My barrier is higher now.)

I didn’t admit this to anyone at the time, but maybe it’s alright to talk about our quirky financial habits. Apparently, many of us have them.

Unfortunately, Marist did not ask how much this mad money amounts to. Presumably we’re not talking about thousands. Are we? Squared Away readers, where do you put your mad money, if you have any?Learn More

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Marriage Negotiation: Of Chimp and Man

We human beings are close evolutionary cousins of the apes, closest of all to the chimpanzee and the bonobo. But economist Paul Seabright explains in his new book, “The War of the Sexes,” that male-female relationships differ from ape relationships. Squared Away asked Seabright to explain how evolution shapes financial negotiations between marriage or other partners. It all comes down to competition and cooperation, he says.

Q: Human behavior is determined by evolution?
Seabright: Yes. When Charles Darwin wrote “Origin of Species,” he was very, very cautious about saying too much about human behavior, because it was such a big thing to get people to swallow [that] we’d descended from animals. To talk about how human behavior was physically shaped, he didn’t do that until he wrote “The Descent of Man.” My book takes up the question of how much relations between men and women in modern society are shaped by our great ape inheritance.

Q: What is our evolutionary connection to the chimpanzee?

Seabright: The chimpanzee and the bonobo are like our two cousins. We share grandparents with them, a species that no longer exists, and all of us share great grandparents with gorillas. But we [humans] did this funny thing, which is we went into having kids who took much longer to raise. That’s relevant to financial behavior, because we have to look out for the future including the future of our kids, and there’s something especially human about that. Other species look after their kids, of course, but it’s a much bigger deal for us. …
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Fewer Claiming Social Security Right at 62

New research shows that the share of Americans who sign up to receive their Social Security pensions at age 62 has declined sharply over the past decade.

This trend is expected to continue despite a temporary spike in applications by 62-year-olds during the Great Recession, said Richard Johnson, a senior fellow who conducted this research at the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank. This is a major shift in retirement behavior, and it reflects sweeping cultural changes that range from more flexible employment options for older workers to the baby boomer health and fitness craze.

“Over the past 10 years, we saw the share of people claiming at 62 fall about 10 percent for men and 8 percent for women,” he said. “That’s a pretty big decline in 10 years’ time.”

Sixty-two year olds still constitute the largest single group of new applicants every year, regardless of age. That’s why the significant decline in their application rate is notable. Those who sign up for their Social Security checks when they first become eligible – within days or weeks of their 62nd birthday – are known as “early claimers.” People with physically demanding jobs are more likely to do so, because of health problems or unpleasant and exhausting work. …Learn More

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