Photo of an elderly woman and a nurse

Long-Term Care: Winging It

Americans have a very good chance of entering a long-term care facility. New research at the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog, finds that 44 percent of older men and 58 percent of older women will likely enter such a facility for at least a short stay.

Only 29 percent of adults age 40 and over, however, are “extremely” or “very” confident they’ll have enough resources to pay for such care, or for other types of care they may need in old age, according to a survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, an independent survey organization based at the University of Chicago.

The AP-NORC poll also revealed that people are poorly informed about how much care will cost if they need it.

They tend to underestimate how much nursing homes cost (about $6,900 a month) and overestimate the cost of a part-time aide coming to their home to help with personal care such as cooking or bathing (about $1,150 a month); their estimates about the cost of assisted living facilities (about $3,400 a month) were either too high or too low.

An additional complication, according to Jennifer Benz, NORC’s senior research scientist, is that “people don’t understand how the financing of long-term care works in the U.S.” The distinct roles of Medicare and Medicaid, in particular, caused great confusion. …Learn More

Feature

More Plan Funerals Than Plan Elder Care

More adults are planning their funerals than are making arrangements for care in their final years of life.

That’s among the revealing findings about how Americans grapple with the inevitabilities of old age in an annual survey about U.S. attitudes toward long-term care. More than 1,400 adults were surveyed in March and April by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. (NORC is a social science research organization affiliated with the University of Chicago.)

“Experts believe that, like any other long-term financial planning, long-term care planning is the kind of thing you should get started with as soon as possible,” said Jennifer Benz, a senior research scientist for AP-NORC. But for many people, “it’s not even on their radar,” she said.

Nearly two out of three adults over age 40 said they have discussed funeral plans with family or others they trust, and more than half have also created a so-called advanced directive specifying how they would like their medical care to be handled if they become incapacitated.

While death and mortal illness are on people’s minds, there’s scant thinking about their long-term care arrangements. More than two-thirds reported they have done “little or no planning” for how they’ll be cared for in old age. …Learn More

Should a Will Even the Score?

Consider this difficult situation: An elderly woman lends her oldest son $20,000 to help pay for some expensive medical care for his teenage son – her grandson – who’s stricken with cancer.

When the woman writes her will, a different son who is also her executor – and happens to be an accountant – advises her to deduct the $20,000 loan, never repaid, from the oldest son’s modest inheritance.

This happened in my family, and I was of two minds at the time.  Technically, the money was a loan – not a gift – so not paying it back was unfair to the other siblings who didn’t receive $20,000. But it seemed uncompassionate to take the money out of a bequest, given the graveness of the teenager’s illness.

Financial planner Rick Kahler discusses a similar situation in this video and proposes something that may seem radical: evenly dividing up your estate isn’t necessarily fair.

The way Kahler explains his argument in the video, it makes sense – at least in the particular instance he’s discussing.  But does it depend on the situation? …Learn More

Job Quality Matters

The nation’s job market regained some of its momentum in March.  But it’s not just getting a job that’s key to gaining financial security – it’s about getting and keeping a quality job.
Quote about disability insurance

In a recent report, the Institute on Assets and Social Policy at Brandeis University used interviews with workers around the country to identify three aspects of a job – beyond the size of the paycheck – that help people save money and bolster their financial security.  [Excerpts from some of the interviews are shown.]

The report also gave some indications of how common it is for workers to go without them:

Quote about health insuranceBenefits – Employer health care, disability insurance, a 401(k) retirement plan with an employer savings match, tuition credits – these benefits help workers save more, shield them against risk, and protect their paychecks by subsidizing some living costs.  But the service sector, one of the largest segments of the U.S. labor force, is particularly poor in providing such benefits.

Flexibility – Without sick days and similar arrangements, workers risk losing their jobs due to an illness or unanticipated event. …Learn More

cognitive decline

Many with Dementia Manage Finances

When dementia enters an elderly couple’s home, it can bring financial mismanagement with it.

But since both spouses don’t usually become cognitively impaired at precisely the same time, couples have the option of turning over the household financial responsibilities to the person who’s not yet impaired.  The question is whether this transfer of control happens quickly enough.

Most couples are waiting until after cognition is very low to make this change, according to a new study.

Economists Joanne Hsu with the Federal Reserve Board and Robert Willis with the University of Michigan found that 80 percent of married older Americans who had been in charge of their household finances continued to manage them after a test revealed they were approaching or already experiencing dementia. …Learn More

Students Take Charge of College Loans

Tatiana Andrade (standing), an ambassador for American Student Assistance, hosts a Jeopardy match to educate classmates about their student debt.

College students usually plan on repaying their loans after graduation, when they’ve landed a full-time job.  Freshman Tatiana Andrade is making payments while she’s still in school.

Andrade is already $14,500 in debt.  She’s on track to owe some $60,000 when she completes her four-year degree at Stonehill College outside Boston, even though her parents are sharing the cost.  To chip away at her debt, she pays off between $100 and $150 per month from her earnings in a part-time job.

Andrade is among a slim but growing minority of students and recent graduates becoming proactive to get control of their student debt – before it controls them. She advises classmates to do the same as Stonehill College’s ambassador for the non-profit American Student Assistance (ASA), which has a program and website – SALT – aimed at educating and counseling students on strategies to minimize how much they borrow and to manage their loan payments.

Making loan payments today minimizes the total amount she’ll pay in the future for three reasons. Loans paid immediately carry a lower interest rate than loans that permit her to defer payment until after graduation.  She’s cutting down the total amount she’ll have to pay back after graduation.  She said she also avoided a loan-origination fee required on deferred loans equal to 4 percent of the loan.

“Every dollar counts,” she said. Waiting until graduation “is the worst thing you can do.” …Learn More

Image of falling money

Retirement Tax Credit for Low Earners

The IRS effectively gives money away to low-income Americans who save for retirement.

Workers meeting the agency’s income requirements can receive a Saver’s Tax Credit equal to as much as half of their total deposits into a 401(k) or IRA. The lower one’s income, the bigger the credit.

The program, which was made permanent in 2006, gives a nice boost to the nation’s lowest-paid workers, who are also most vulnerable in retirement. And not taking advantage of the credit, said Jim Blankenship, a financial planner in New Berlin, Illinois, “is a lot like giving up an employer match for a 401(k).”

Low-income workers do just that, a previous study found: 40 percent decline to participate when their employer offers a 401(k). But the Savers Tax Credit may provide another avenue to this under-covered population.

The annual income requirements for the credits, shown in the following table, apply to calendar year 2013 tax filings due April 15. …

*Note: Credits are equal to 10 percent, 20 percent, or 50 percent of total contribution.

Learn More

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