data network concept

Financial Data Brokers Have You Pegged

In the world of Big Data, do you fall into the industry’s Extra Needy category, or are you viewed as American Royalty? Perhaps Ethnic Second City Struggler or Small Town Shallow Pockets is a more apt description of you? Or how about Eager Senior Buyer or Tough Start: Young Single Parent?

While the media are focused on Facebook’s privacy breaches, a growing multibillion-dollar industry of data brokers is mining personal information online in order to sell our data dossiers to financial and other companies – sometimes to the detriment of our personal finances.

Big Data collection also can be innocuous, when it is used for marketing. In this form, it’s just the high-tech version of snail mail solicitations for credit cards, retail catalogs, or the services of a neighborhood real estate agent.

But Pam Dixon, the executive director of the World Privacy Forum, said evidence is growing that some consumers are being exploited by the unfettered sharing of personal data. Further, individuals generally do not have a legal right to see their dossiers, which are proprietary – “and we don’t know what they’re being used for,” she said.

In one egregious case, brokers sold data on an elderly veteran, who was then victimized by a scam that stripped him of his life savings. Some brokers compile lists of people living in trailer parks to sell to companies making “predatory offers to those in financial trouble,” Dixon testified before the Senate. …Learn More

401k Savers Make Little Progress

Despite the mounting pressures on Americans of all ages to save for retirement, our saving habits haven’t changed in 10 years.

The combined employer and employee contributions to 401(k)s consistently hover around 10 percent of workers’ pay, according to “How America Saves 2018,” an annual report by Vanguard, which administers thousands of employer 401(k)s and other defined contribution plans.

Retirement account balances aren’t going up either. The typical participant’s 401(k) balance is no larger than it was in 2007, even though accounts grew 7 percent last year, to $26,000, thanks to a strong stock market. The balances, when adjusted for inflation, are slightly smaller.

The growing adoption of 401(k) plans that automatically enroll their workers is having both negative and positive influences on the account balances.  Employers tend to set employees’ contributions in these plans at a low 3 percent of their pay.  This has had a depressing effect on balances, but it has been offset somewhat in recent years by a modification to auto-enrollment plans: more employers are automatically increasing their workers’ contribution rates periodically.

Baby boomers with a few short years left to save are particularly under pressure to increase their savings. The typical boomer has accumulated only $71,000 in his current employer’s retirement account, according to Vanguard. Total account balances are generally larger, however – though still often inadequate – because many baby boomers have rolled over savings from past employer 401(k)s into their personal IRA accounts.

Overall, the situation for all workers hasn’t really changed and neither has Vanguard’s message to future retirees.

“Going forward, we need to reach for higher contribution rates for more individuals,” Jean Young, senior research analyst says in the company’s video above. …Learn More

Boomer Bulge Still Impacts Labor Force

A theme runs through the infographic below: aging baby boomers are still a force of nature.

Created by Georgetown University’s Center for Retirement Initiatives, the infographic uses demographic data to show that boomers remain important to the labor market even as they grow older.

More than 9 million people over 65 work – a steep 65 percent increase in just a decade.

Two things primarily explain this increase. One reason is hardly surprising: the post-World War II baby boom that created the largest generation in history also created the largest living adult population (though Millennials will soon catch up).

On top of this, baby boomers are working longer for myriad reasons – among them, better health, inadequate retirement savings, and more education – which drives up their participation in the labor force.

To see boomers’ other impacts on work, click here for the entire infographic.

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Readers Like a Travel Twist on Finances

Two of our readers’ favorite articles so far this year connected difficult bread and butter issues – personal finance and retirement – with a far more pleasant topic: travel.

The most popular blog profiled a Houston couple scouting locations for a dream retirement home in South America, which has a lower cost of living.  Another well-read blog was about Liz Patterson, a young carpenter in Colorado who built a $7,000 tiny house on a flat-bed trailer to radically reduce her expenses – so she could travel more.

The downsizing efforts of 27-year-old Patterson inspired several older readers to post comments to the blog about their own downsizing. “From children’s cribs and toys in the attic, to collectible things from my parents’ 70-year marriage!” Elaine wrote. “Purging has been heart wrenching and frustrating and long overdue!”

The following articles attracted the most interest from our readers in the first six months of 2018. Topics ranged from 401(k)s, income taxes, and Americans’ uneven participation in the stock market to geriatric care managers. Each headline includes a link to the blog. …Learn More

First-Generation ‘Imposter Syndrome’

Education is the fastest ticket to a higher income, more opportunities, and a better quality of life. But four-year college is often a tough road for the pioneering first in their families to attend.

They have at least two big disadvantages – apart from the well-known financial one.  Unlike the teenagers of the highly educated professionals who usually take for granted that their children will go to college, first-generation students might not have the benefit of high expectations at home. College is outside their comfort zone, which creates psychological barriers to attending and succeeding.

A second disadvantage is that they aren’t always going to learn, through a sort of parental osmosis, to cope with higher education’s mores and attitudes or be as resilient to its challenges.

UCLA student Violet Salazar says in this video that she used to feel she didn’t fully belong, “because I am first generation or because I am Latina, and also coming from a low socioeconomic background.” She went on to organize an entire dormitory floor specifically for first-generation students to make them feel more at home. …Learn More

SNL’s Kate McKinnon and Kids on Money

Kate McKinnon has made a name as a comedienne with her wild and weird humor on “Saturday Night Live.” But she plays straight man to the kids she interviews about money.

This video, produced by the best-selling personal finance author, Beth Kobliner, is an effort to have some fun while improving financial literacy – an effort that seems aimed more at adults than children.

Justine, Ricky, and Jillian are the sugar that makes Kobliner’s sober advice about saving, jobs, debt, and credit cards more palatable – and this strategy just might be effective.

Watch for yourself.

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Squared Away at Year 7

Seven years ago this month, this personal finance and retirement blog debuted. How things have changed.

For one thing, back in 2011, a lot more people were reading blogs and newspapers on their clunky desktop computers. In recognition of the now-ubiquitous smart phone – more accurately, a computer that happens to have a phone – we just redesigned how Squared Away looks on phones to enlarge the type and make the articles easier to read.  Our older readers will appreciate this update.

Year 7 is also an opportunity to restate the blog’s mission, which, frankly, was not fully refined in the early years.  In some ways, our mission has not changed: we continue to emphasize retirement security and personal finance, with a bent toward the evidence-based research that provides a clearer understanding of the financial, economic, and behavioral issues that are critical to a high quality of life.

We regularly report on research by scholars around the country, including studies produced by members of the U.S. Social Security Administration’s Retirement Research Consortium: the NBER Retirement Research Center in Cambridge, Mass., the University of Michigan Retirement Research Center, and the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which also is the blog’s home.

But it’s natural for a new publication to find its sweet spot over time, and Squared Away is no different. One theme that has emerged very clearly is that the threads of retirement saving are shot through the fabric of our financial lives.

The predicament of Millennials is an obvious example. Immediately after beginning their careers, 20- and 30-somethings – so much more than their parents and grandparents – are under the gun to save for retirements that no longer are likely to include a pension. …Learn More

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