Illustration of an online tool

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

Fourth of July

Celebrate the 4th!

Many of you are enjoying a long weekend or taking the entire week off. Enjoy your vacations and drive safely.

As the summer kicks into high gear, we’ll continue blogging twice a week about retirement and related personal financial issues.Learn More

Photo of thumbs up

Top 10 Blogs Explore Weighty Issues

Millennials’ reliance on their parents, retirement finances, and long-term care – Squared Away readers had some serious topics on their minds during the first half of the year.

Here are the 10 most popular blogs, ranked by the number of page views each received between January and June:

  • Retiree Benefits: Tale of 2 Cities (and States)
  • Get Dental Work Before You Retire
  • Long-Term Care Insurance Goes Uptown
  • Long-Term Care on a Boxed Wine Budget
  • The Benefits of Late-Career Job Changes
  • Retirees Don’t Touch Home Equity
  • People Lack Emergency Funds, Tap 401(k)s
  • Managing Money with Cognitive Decline
  • Why Parents’ Home is the Millennial Crib
  • Our Stubborn State of Financial Illiteracy …

Learn More

Is There a Student Loan Gender Gap?

Now comes the toughest part of borrowing money for college: paying it back.

There is much for this year’s crop of graduates to learn.  For example, the federal government gives you a reprieve after graduation, usually six months, before requiring you to start repaying your debts. But did you know that interest builds up during this “grace period”?  Starting payments right away reduces how much you’ll have to pay back.

Making repayment mistakes or not having a plan can also be very costly.  Click here for some tips to avoid these mistakes.

Here’s another issue: women borrow slightly more money for undergraduate degrees than do men but earn less after college and seem to have more difficulty paying back their loans.

In 2012, women borrowed $21,000 for an undergraduate degree, on average, compared with about $19,500 for men, according to a new study by the American Association of University Women (AAUW).

Men are able to pay their debt back faster too. During the first four years after graduation, men pay off 38 percent of their outstanding college debt. Women pay about 31 percent. Women graduates with student debt are also more likely to report more difficulty making their rent payments, AAWU’s survey found.

Many questions remain unanswered. What explains the differences? Also, the study doesn’t control for how much young adult men and women earn in their jobs. Nor does it sort out the implication of different payoffs for the different types of degrees that men and women choose.  Careers in software engineering or nursing are more likely to justify hefty loans than degrees in film or women’s studies with uncertain career paths.

This study raises interesting issues, which future research will hopefully address.

In the meantime, women, it’s something to think about. Learn More

Yellowstone

At 62, You’re a ‘Senior’ at National Parks

Wolf pups are born in late spring and early summer in Denali National Park in Alaska.

Wolf pups are born in late spring and early summer in Denali National Park in Alaska.

No better time than retirement to take in our national parks at the leisurely pace they deserve.

At age 62, Americans can purchase a $10 park pass that is a life-time ticket to the magnificence of Glacier National Park, bison calves grazing with their mothers at Yellowstone, or peregrine falcons nesting at Acadia. But get the pass soon, though, because AARP reports the price will increase to $80.

Many people don’t learn the pass exists until they visit a national park where a ranger might or might not offer one.  The passes, which are issued by the National Park Service, include free access to the holder, a spouse and others riding in their car. The pass sometimes includes discounts of 50 percent at camping facilities.

It’s possible to purchase the life passes online for $20. The Park Service advises travelers planning a trip to contact a park in advance to make sure the $10 passes are available for purchase at that specific location.

While it’s generally not wise to claim your Social Security at 62, it’d be silly not to take advantage of this federal benefit.Learn More

Crumbling wall

College Calculator Bridges Class Divide

A degree from a premier college can vault a teenager from a low-income family to the height of economic success as an adult.

College listTo date, 15 colleges have signed on to work with Levine, who initially created the calculator for applicants to Wellesley College, where he is an economics professor.

But disadvantaged students face a multitude of barriers to attending the nation’s top colleges, from getting the grades required to withstand stiff competition for acceptance to the absence of a degreed family member who can steer a child, niece or grandson through the process.

Phillip Levine is breaking down one barrier: the well-founded fear among low-income and even middle-class families that an elite liberal arts college is out of the question.

Levine designed a calculator to estimate how much an individual applicant will actually pay, after plugging in his or her family’s unique financial data, such as income, house value, mortgage amount, etc. – and the calculator is way easier than filling out a FAFSA form. Argh.

What’s new about Levine’s cost estimates is that they come from crunching family financial stats into a program that contains an individual college’s unique information about its financial aid and work-study programs, as well as how much current students pay based on their parents’ financial information [these data are supplied anonymously to Levine]. …Learn More

Get Paid What You’re Worth

 

“No one will ever pay you what you’re worth,” Casey Brown says in the Ted video above.

An employee’s value is also highest when unemployment is as low as it is now – 4.4 percent in April – and employers are scrambling to fill jobs.

Why would an employer pay more than it has to? With unions all but extinct, the burden falls on individuals to ensure they’re paid fairly or well.  Low unemployment provides workers with more leverage to get what we deserve. Unfortunately, many of us are not good at negotiating how much we earn.  Or we avoid it entirely, because we’re uncomfortable with talking money – especially women.

Women “say things like, ‘I don’t like to sing my own praises,’ ” Brown notes.

One time-honored way to test the waters is to get an offer for a job you might like that pays more than your current position. If your current employer values you, they’ll increase your pay to keep you. It can be a risky strategy.  In our free-wheeling labor “market,” however, it’s also the best way to learn what you’re worth, because there is only general information about compensation for different types of jobs.

In fact, management researcher David Burkus argues that the U.S. compensation system is built around secrecy.  “Keeping salaries secret leads to information asymmetry … [and] an employer can use that secrecy to save a lot of money,” he says in another Ted video. Translation: a lack of information makes it easier to under-pay you.

Unions know this. Historically, unions posted compensation in the different job tiers in each industry so workers would know what they were entitled to.

In place of unions, Elaine Varelas, recruiter for Keystone Partners in Boston, suggested other places to get this critical information: glassdoor.com, job recruiters, LinkedIn contacts, and even human resources executives at friends’ firms who might provide you with salary ranges.

“People owe it to themselves to do their homework and stop hiding under the discomfort,” Varelas says.

So get out there and learn something that will definitely be interesting – and possibly lucrative! Learn More

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