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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

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IRAs Fall Short of Original Goal

Nearly 8 trillion dollars sits in Individual Retirement Accounts, or IRAs. This is nearly half of all the value held in the U.S. retirement system, which also includes employer pension funds and 401(k)s.

A big reason IRAs were created in 1974 under the Employer Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) was to give individuals not covered by retirement plans at work an opportunity to save in their own tax-deferred accounts.

So, are IRAs helping these workers?

IRAs “have drifted very far from their original intent” of helping those who need them most, researchers for the Center for Retirement Research conclude in a new study.

Who is eligible to receive tax benefits for saving in an IRA has morphed over the years since ERISA’s passage, but the original description is still relevant to millions of Americans: about half of U.S. private-sector workers today do not have a tax-exempt retirement plan at work. Low-income workers are even less likely to have one.

To determine who benefits from IRAs today, the researchers first tracked down the source of the trillions of dollars held in IRAs. Only 13 percent of the money that flowed into IRAs in 2014 was from people putting new savings into these accounts. The rest was from rollovers of funds accumulated in employer 401(k)s, which usually occur when a worker retires or changes job. (ERISA did delineate rollovers as a second purpose of IRAs.) …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

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Mutual Fund Fees: Here’s What Matters

Investors will probably see good news in Morningstar Inc.’s annual report showing that the fees charged by actively managed mutual funds continue to come down.

The truth is that focusing on fees alone misses the point. What matters is a fund’s after-fee return. There are always fund managers who excel at picking stocks and can deliver strong after-fee returns to investors year after year, justifying the high fees required to pay them. The early years of Fidelity’s Magellan fund is the classic example.

The trick is finding that clever manager, which requires a combination of luck and the skill and inclination to compare numerous investment options. One thing making this task a little easier is the mutual fund industry practice of reporting returns, net of fees. But the research shows that stock funds that consistently outperform their benchmarks are few and far between – and finding them would be particularly challenging for 401(k) investors who already struggle with basic decisions.

Morningstar’s fee report indicates investors might be getting the message.  In 2015 and 2016, they pulled a total of $627 billion out of the group of actively managed funds charging the highest fees. During the same two years, they funneled $429 billion of new money into lower-fee index funds.

Yes, active funds’ average fee (called the expense ratio, in a prospectus) declined last year to 0.75 percent – or three-quarters of 1 percent – from 0.78 percent in 2015. This continued a downward trend: fees averaged 1 percent in the early 2000s.

But compare this with 0.17 percent for index funds. In contrast to actively managed funds, passive index funds aren’t set up to beat a market benchmark: their goal is to simply mimic the performance of a specific market index, whether it’s the Standard & Poor’s 500 or a Bloomberg Barclay’s bond index. …Learn More

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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

Boomer Men’s Lifetime Earnings Lower

The first study known to look at changes over several decades in lifetime earnings for the nation’s workers shows a dramatic trend: women are up and men are down.

The oldest people studied, mostly men, began working in the 1950s, when the post-war U.S. economy was going full throttle, and they started retiring in the 1980s when the industrial economy was only in the early stages of a protracted decline. The youngest workers studied are “middle” baby boomers, who came of age during the twin 1980s recessions in heavy industry and experienced the rise of the service economy and two high-tech booms and busts.

Over this time period, men’s earnings went through two distinct phases.  In the first phase – which spanned the working lives of men born in 1932 through 1941 – the typical man’s lifetime earnings, adjusted for inflation, saw a 12 percent increase, the researchers found.

In the second phase, men’s lifetime earnings turned negative. Boomers born in 1958 have earned 10 percent less in total than men born in 1942. The decline is primarily due to men being paid less after accounting for inflation, and not from reductions in how many hours or how many years they worked, the analysis found.

In contrast, lifetime earnings for women born over the same 27-year period enjoyed “steady” and “broad-based” gains of 20 percent and 30 percent over the two sub-periods. …Learn More

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Autopay Ends Credit Card Late Fees

Credit card companies usually set small-dollar minimum payments, so there’s really no excuse for incurring fees for late card payments.

Yet many consumers fail to pay on time. In a new study, British researchers found a no-brainer solution that is highly effective: setting up automatic payments of our credit cards.

The researchers started out with a different premise: that customers might learn, over time, to prevent maddening late fees after having to pay them numerous times. The researchers roundly rejected this after following nearly 250,000 U.K. credit card holders over two years.  When it comes to late fees, we do not learn from our mistakes.

What they noticed, however, was a clear distinction between card holders who incur late fees regularly and those who don’t or who stopped incurring the fees.   Setting up autopay “all but eliminates the likelihood of future [late] fees,” while the probability remains “persistently high” (about one in five) among people who did not, they said.

Further, a seemingly obvious explanation for chronic late fees didn’t hold water: that people don’t have the cash to make their minimum payments.  Payers of late fees “do not appear to be liquidity constrained,” the study found. Apparently, most people simply forget to pay those pesky credit card bills. …Learn More

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