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Social Security Delay: the Value to You

What matters most in retirement is how much money comes in the door every single month. That’s why this blog – and its sponsor, the Center for Retirement Research – hammers away at the wisdom of delaying when you sign up for Social Security in order to increase the size of your monthly checks.

So here’s a very quick project for the long Thanksgiving weekend: insert your birthday and earnings into this new online tool to get an anonymous, back-of-the-envelope estimate of how much a delay is worth to you.

The age you claim your benefits is crucial, because two out of three households rely on Social Security benefits for more than half of their retirement income. Yet the majority of people still sign up before they’re eligible for their full benefit, which is age 66 for most baby boomers. Monthly benefits are increased for every year of delay, up to age 70.

The cool part of the tool, released last week by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and the Social Security Administration, is the sliding feature. It shows how much monthly benefits rise if you change your claiming age from 62 to 66 to 70. Click here to try the tool. …Learn More

The Common Struggles of Working People

Brandi and Frank, the hypothetical couple in the above video, are drawn from extensive nationwide interviews with real Americans who work extremely hard, live modestly, and carry their financial anxiety through the day.

Ten of these families were also featured in written profiles by the U.S. Financial Diaries project. Like millions of working Americans, these families are buffeted by economic forces ranging from stagnating paychecks to a scarcity of employer benefits in low-wage jobs. The project identified common traits running through their financial lives.

They are continually trying to improve their lot, with education or by taking on extra jobs and by saving. Retirement saving, however, is a luxury – their saving is done to pay the unanticipated emergency or surprise expenses that inevitably crop up, according to the Diaries, a joint project of New York University’s Financial Access Initiative and the Center for Financial Services Innovation.

Saving for the short-term is also necessary because their sources of income can be erratic, requiring tricky rearrangements of their household resources. When they incur on-the-job expenses, employers’ reimbursements are often slow to arrive. Their monthly expenses often exceed monthly income, which can lead to late payments of utility bills or delays in medical treatment.

The following are short descriptions of some of the families profiled in the Diaries’ worthwhile project …Learn More


New Online Financial Resources

Squared Away periodically alerts readers to information online that might be useful to them.  These three crossed the transom in August:

  • Natural disasters quickly turn into financial disasters. On Hurricane Katrina’s 10th anniversary, the National Endowment for Financial Education and other organizations have released a guide, Disasters and Financial Planning.  The guide includes tips on how to insure properly against hurricanes, floods, or forest fires and how to hire contractors to make repairs after disaster hits.
  • The U.S. Social Security Administration posts a raft of brochures online to explain everything from how to get your newborn’s Social Security number or replace your old one (citizen or non-citizen, international students) to disability information for veterans. There’s also information on federal benefits many people may be unaware of. For example, low-income Medicare enrollees can apply for extra help – up to $4,000 per year – to pay for their prescription drugs. Many of the brochures come in multiple languages, including Somali and Vietnamese.  Click here to see the full list of publications on
  • The Center for Financial Services Innovation’s Consumer Financial Health Study sorts Americans into four financial states: “unengaged,” “tenuous;” “at risk,” and “striving.”  They’re characterized by typical behavioral characteristics of how they handle – or fail to manage – their finances. For example, the unengaged typically “do not know how much their monthly debt payments are.” …

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This Retiree Is a Lucky Dog

It would be even tougher for Sher Polvinale to get by solely on her late husband’s Social Security check of $1,700 per month if he had not bought a life insurance policy that has paid off their house.

Despite her meager financial circumstances, Polvinale’s retirement is rich in rewards.

This 69-year-old former payroll administrator for a construction company said she brings in $200,000 in annual donations for her non-profit, which cares for old, unwanted dogs that need expensive medical care and attention. One can’t help thinking, while watching the National Geographic video below about the retired dog sanctuary in her home, that many elderly people would be lucky to have such a place to live out their final years.

For financial or lifestyle reasons, not everyone settles into a full-blown retirement. Some people refuse to retire altogether, while others try out retirement only to resume working, perhaps in a part-time position. Polvinale’s is one of the myriad stories of how individuals adapt and recreate their lives as they ease into old age and detach from the hard-charging work world.

“I’m kind of an odd person,” said Polvinale, explaining what motivated her to establish the non-profit in 2006. She recalls telling her husband, Joe, who would die in 2008, “I can’t agonize over whether people are going to love their dog until the end of its life. I want to keep them until they die. That’s selfish but I want to know that they’re safe and loved for the rest of their lives.” …Learn More

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Home Health Agencies Get Ratings

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services just introduced a five-star rating system for home health agencies on its website.

The ratings, based on patient surveys, were rolled out on the heels of recent upgrades to the government’s nursing home ratings, which had been criticized for giving high ratings to some facilities with problems.

Consumers can search, by area code, for home health agencies, or they can look up specific agencies that they’ve heard about or seen in the neighborhood.  (Some agencies listed on the website are unrated.)

Separately, Kaiser Health News also culled the government ratings to compile its own list of the lowest- and highest-ranked agencies for many states.   But according to, most agencies “fall ‘in the middle’ with 3 or 3½ stars.” …Learn More

Jared Diamond: Elderly Have “Low Status”

Celebrated scholar Jared Diamond doesn’t mince words in exploring “the low status of the elderly in the United States” in the above Ted video.

An obvious example is beer, which older people are known to buy and consume. Yet, Diamond asks, “When’s the last time you saw a beer ad that depicts smiling people 85 years old? Never.”

Diamond, who is himself closing in on 80, has developed many specialties – traditional societies, geography, evolutionary biology, and physiology (to name a few) – which give him license to paint with a broad brush, as he did in his Pulitzer Prize-winning, “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies.”

His sobering lecture on the elderly ends on a positive note as he describes their gifts – wisdom, knowledge of history, and skills refined over decades – and how society might better use them.

But the neglect, isolation, and abandonment of the elderly, or worse, he explains, are not new. They were present in some early traditional societies that could not care for them or would not spare the resources to do so. The isolation of older Americans today, Diamond believes, is a direct consequence of the changes that have come to define modern societies: the elderly’s complete separation from the labor force in retirement, the geographic dispersion of families and friends, and technology.

Even Diamond admits to feelings of uselessness. He’s a whiz on the slide rule, the precursor to a calculator, but sometimes calls his son for assistance using his 41-button television remote. …Learn More

Avoid Medicare Enrollment Mistakes

Mistakes made during initial Medicare enrollment can be costly.

Someone with on-the-job health care coverage who enrolls at age 65 may be paying Medicare premiums unnecessarily. Even worse, retirees who sign up too late incur a penalty for life.

“If you’re actively working, that’s the only reason you can enroll late in Medicare” without paying the penalty, Medicare trainer Andy Tartella says in the above video, “The ABCD’s of Medicare,” produced by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Medicare has been around for exactly 50 years. But enrolling in the program is a new experience for every single American who turns 65.   To navigate Medicare enrollment and the alphabet soup of Medicare programs, the following are other video tutorials produced by the federal government and other reliable sources – links are embedded at the end of the title: …Learn More