counting change

Reducing Poverty for Our Oldest Retirees

With more Americans today living into their 80s and beyond, the elderly are becoming more vulnerable to slipping into poverty.

To reduce the poverty risk facing the oldest retirees, some policy experts have proposed increasing Social Security benefits for everyone at age 85. Under one common proposal analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research in a new report, the current benefit at this age would increase by
5 percent.

The poverty rate for people over 85 is 12 percent, compared with 8 percent for new retirees. But more elderly people may actually be living on the edge, because the income levels that define poverty for them are so low: less than $11,757 for a single person and less than $14,817 for couples.

age and poverty chartOne reason the oldest retirees are especially vulnerable is that their medical expenses are rising as their health is deteriorating, yet they’re too old to defray the expense by working. This is occurring at the same time that the value of their employer pensions – if they have one – has been severely eroded by inflation after many years of retirement.

Further, elderly women are more likely to be poor than men, because wives usually outlive their husbands, which triggers a big drop in income that is generally not fully offset by a drop in their expenses.

Limiting the 5 percent benefit increase to the oldest retirees would ease poverty while containing the cost. …Learn More

Caregiver Guides Detail Financial Duties

The federal government has released online brochures to give people who are thrust into a caregiving role a better idea of what they’re getting into.

“It’s a big shock at first and a big adjustment,” an Episcopal priest says in the video above. He became his mother’s caregiver after she developed dementia.

But people who anticipate they will one day be a caregiver can soften the blow by studying up on their future responsibilities with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new guides to caring for a loved one.

The brochures are free and cover four financial responsibilities: guardian, trustee, power of attorney, and fiduciary for a Social Security or Veterans Affairs beneficiary.

They can be downloaded in English or in Spanish at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website, or the agency will mail them.

CFPB has also posted brochures detailing the caregiver regulations and laws specific to six states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Oregon, and Virginia. The state guides each cover the same four topics: guardian, trustee, power of attorney, and fiduciary for a Social Security or Veteran Affairs beneficiary.

Non-profit organizations in Michigan and Texas have also published their own brochures on caregiver issues in their states – links to these brochures are also on CFPB’s website. …Learn More

Open enrollment ad

ACA Premiums Drop in Many States

Premiums for the benchmark silver health insurance plans under the Affordable Care Act will go down 1 percent to 2 percent, on average, in 2019.

This sounds like good news to people scurrying to enroll by the Dec. 15 deadline. But a more accurate characterization is that this slight decline is a break from what had generally been a relentless pace of premium hikes in 2016 through 2018.

Cynthia Cox, director of health reform and private insurance for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, said insurance companies in many states had previously “raised premiums more than they had to” amid the uncertainty in the program’s early years. These hikes boosted their profits, but they’ve “put the brakes on premium increases,” which they are required to justify to state regulators.

On close inspection, however, the picture is far more complex. Each state regulates its insurers, and individual state markets have gone in many different directions in the five years since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) went into effect, a Kaiser study shows. The unique developments in each state market reflect a combination of state and federal regulatory changes, insurers’ constant repricing to market conditions, and insurers’ entrances into, and exits from, the state insurance exchanges.

Here are a few examples, based on insurance companies’ rate filings with state regulators:

  • Tennessee residents will see the biggest decline in 2019 premiums, a drop of 26 percent for the benchmark silver plan, which is the second lowest-cost silver plan. Tennessee insurers initially had set some of the lowest premiums in the country. In a 2018 adjustment, Cox said they overcorrected them to the point that the policies became “particularly overpriced.” Next year, insurers will drop the premiums as they continue their efforts to find the proper pricing for the state’s insurance market.   Somewhat similar stories have played out in New MexicoNew Hampshire, and Pennsylvania.
  • North Dakota premiums are going in the opposite situation. Two years ago, Cox said, insurers there were “losing money quickly,” so they raised their 2018 rates by 8 percent. This increase apparently wasn’t enough, and the benchmark silver premium will rise by another 21 percent next year.
  • Alaska’s premiums got so high that the state stepped in. In 2017, the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services granted Alaska’s request for a waiver that allowed it to reinsure its health insurance companies to reduce their risk in hopes they would drop their prices. The reform worked. Between 2017 and 2019, Alaska’s benchmark premium has fallen 25 percent.
  • New Jersey’s benchmark price will drop nearly 15 percent as a result of a new state law. Last summer, the state instituted a mandate requiring uninsured residents to purchase coverage to replace the federal mandate, which was eliminated. …

Learn More

house roof

Home Equity Offers Big Boost to Retirees

Retirees’ primary sources of income are the usual suspects: Social Security and employer retirement plans. They rarely use a third option: the equity locked up in their homes.

The Urban Institute recently quantified how much this untapped equity could be worth to seniors in the United States and 10 European countries if it were converted to income – and the amounts are significant.

The typical retired U.S. household has the potential to increase its retirement income by 35 percent, researchers Stipica Mudrazija and Barbara Butrica estimate. In Europe, using home equity would add anywhere from 19 percent in Sweden to 100 percent in Spain.
home equity in various countriesLearn More

Boomers Find Reasons to Retire Later

It is one of “the most significant labor market trends” in the United States, says Wellesley College researcher Courtney Coile.

Bar graph showing the average retirement ages for men and womenShe’s referring to big increases since the 1980s and 1990s in the share of older Americans in the labor force, including one in three men in their late 60s.

As for women, the baby boomers were really the first generation to thoroughly embrace full-time employment. Older women’s participation in the labor force hasn’t quite caught up with their male coworkers, but they’ve made impressive strides since the 1980s and have rapidly closed the retirement-age gap.

Given the implications of this trend for retirement security – the longer people work, the better off they’ll be – Coile and many other researchers have investigated what’s driving it. They agree on several things that are changing the retirement calculation.

College. College graduation rates have increased dramatically over the past few decades, and people who’ve spent at least some time in college tend to remain in their jobs longer. This trend has played a big role in the increase in baby boomers’ participation in the labor force, Coile said.

Social Security. Three major reforms to the program have boosted U.S. retirement ages. A 1983 reform is slowly increasing the age at which workers are eligible to receive their full benefits, from 65 for past generations to 67 for workers who were born after 1959. This amounts to a significant benefit cut at any given age that a retiree claims his benefits. Various studies show that this has created an incentive to delay signing up for Social Security in order to increase the size of the monthly benefit checks.

The 1983 legislation also played a role in pulling up the average retirement age by providing larger monthly benefit increases for people who delay Social Security beyond their full retirement age. In 2000, a third reform ended the temporary withholding of some benefits that had been in place for people in their late 60s who worked while simultaneously collecting Social Security.

Employer retirement plans. Two employer benefits that encourage people to retire at relatively young ages have largely gone by the wayside in the private sector. …Learn More

Senior Housing Shortage is Getting Worse

Nearly 10 million seniors are having difficulty paying for housing – and the problem is growing.

Housing experts typically recommend that people keep their housing costs below a third of their income. But one in three Americans over age 65 are spending more than that on their rent or  mortgage payment, utilities, property insurance, maintenance, and other housing costs, according to a new study, “Housing America’s Older Adults,” by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies.

costburdensover65If the senior housing problem hasn’t reached crisis proportions yet, Jennifer Molinsky, who wrote the center’s report, predicted that it will if nothing is done to increase the supply of housing structures that are both affordable and age-friendly to meet the needs of aging baby boomers. The number of households over 80 will more than double over the next 20 years, the housing center estimates.

“Unless we create more options for people at the middle- and lower-income levels, we are going to be seeing that people have fewer choices and that they’re forced into options they don’t want,” she said. …Learn More

Pumpkins

Holiday is Time to Recognize Our Readers

It’s the time of year to appreciate our readers. Thank you for supporting our blog on Twitter and Facebook too.

Squared Away, a retirement and personal finance blog, is sponsored by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.  To stay current on our latest blog posts, sign up for our free, weekly email alert with links to that week’s two blog posts.

Have a lovely holiday. …Learn More