Text that says "Rip-off"

Rise in Fraud Reports is Unrelenting

A nearly three-fold increase over the past decade in the number of fraud and related complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission has pushed the total to 1.7 million filings in 2015, according to the government’s consumer 2015 data book released this month.

As Squared Away reported recently, older Americans are often the most vulnerable, as their cognitive abilities decline or they become more socially isolated. Not surprisingly, the FTC said Florida had the highest rate of reported fraud per resident last year (followed by Georgia, Michigan, Texas, and Nevada).

One reason for the increase in complaints is that people are increasingly aware of fraud and more likely to report it. Another is that fraud-reporting agencies such as law enforcement and consumer groups are increasingly aware they can file complaints with the FTC. But 1.7 million allegations of fraud, identity thefts, and other scams is, by any yardstick, a lot of complaints.

The typical loss was $400 for an individual fraud complaint. There is evidence that more people are getting savvy: a smaller share of the people who filed 2015 complaints said they turned over any money to their scammers than in previous years. … Learn More

Illustration: Quiz!

Can You Pass this Retirement Quiz?

Most people in a recent retirement survey fielded by the American College of Financial Services were confident that they had saved enough money to live in comfort in retirement.

But how do they know if they’re on-track? Four out of five also flunked the survey’s retirement planning quiz, answering less than 60 percent of its 38 financial questions correctly.

What’s striking about the poor results is that the quiz takers were a select and relatively well-off group: 60- to 75-year-olds with at least $100,000 in financial assets, excluding their home equity. A majority of them also have a financial adviser. One would think that people with both investment and retirement experience would do better. This also raises the question of what the quiz results say about the financial outlook for retirees with fewer advantages.

Think you can do better? With the American College’s permission, Squared Away selected five of its questions for a short quiz for our readers. Some of the answers incorporate the American College’s expertise with that of the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog.

Button linking to quizLearn More

No-Free-Lunch Seminars for Seniors

Economists like to joke about free lunches. The subtext is that there’s a cost to everything.

A free lunch is also literally how high-pressure financial companies sometimes lure older Americans into a room to hear their investment pitches. The FINRA Investor Education Foundation says some 6 million older Americans have attended seminars in return for a free lunch. Every year, my mother’s retirement community outside of Orlando hosts a handful of these seminars, which are presented by financial firms, insurance companies, and even funeral homes.

FINRA warns that they can pressure seniors into making “unsuitable, even fraudulent investments.” The above FINRA video explains what’s behind the free-lunch presentations and proposes some questions that people can ask to determine the legitimacy of what’s being sold.

But it’s probably better to do what my mom does: find something fun to do instead.Learn More

Personal Finance Info – now in Spanish

The wealth of good financial information available from government, university, and non-profit organizations is an antidote to the television and Internet advertisements selling financial products. Squared Away regularly compiles these resources for our readers’ benefit. This newest installment starts with some that are available in Spanish for the nation’s growing Hispanic population:

  • The FINRA Investor Education Foundation translated its short video about why people make bad financial decisions into Spanish. “Pensando Dinero: la psicología detrás de nuestras mejores y peores decisiones financieras” – or “Thinking Money” – explores how emotions get in the way of common sense when making decisions about money. Several other FINRA resources also in Spanish include a glossary of online financial publications and a video about financial fraud. (“Pensando Dinero” is based on a documentary produced for public television; a free DVD of the English-language documentary is also available.)
  • “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman was an international bestseller about behavioral economics. To explore another insider’s take on this field, read what one of the field’s founders says about it. Richard Thaler’s latest book, “Misbehaving,” will be published in paperback in May. A New York Times review called it “a sly and somewhat subversive history of his profession.”
  • In just two years, the housing boom taking place in many parts of the country has added
    $1 trillion to the value of home equity held by people ages 62 and older, reports the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association. For retirees wondering whether it’s appropriate to turn some of their equity into income, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which supports this blog, has produced a booklet on ways retirees can use their home equity, including through reverse mortgages. The online version is free, and a paper version costs a whopping $2.75.

Learn More

Year-end Thank You to Our Readers

Holiday thank you

To stay current on Squared Away blog posts in 2016, we invite you to join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.

Readers can also follow the blog on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC or on Facebook.Learn More

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Readers’ Picks in 2015

Squared Away readers should know this ritual by now. We consult Google Analytics to determine the articles with the most reader traffic over the past year.

This blog covers everything from student loans to helping low-income people improve their lot. But this year’s Top 10 was dominated by one topic: retirement.

Readers’ favorites are listed in order of their popularity, with links to each individual blog:

  • Navigating Retirement Taxes
  • Medicare Primer: Advantage or Medigap?
  • Why I Dropped My Financial Adviser
  • The Future of Retirement is Now
  • Annuities: Useful but Little Understood
  • Winging it in Retirement?
  • Fewer Need Long-Term Care
  • Misconceptions about Social Security
  • Late Career Job Changes Reduce Stress
  • Mortgage Payoff: Freedom versus the Math

To stay current on our Squared Away blog in 2016, we invite you to join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.      Learn More

Image from online tool

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

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