Retirees Don’t Touch Home Equity

FigureRemarkably, middle-class Americans have at least as much money tied up in their homes as they have in all their retirement plans, bank accounts, and other financial assets combined.

A hefty share of older U.S. homeowners are even better off: 41 percent between ages 65-74, and 63 percent over 74, have paid off their mortgages and own their homes free and clear.

But only one in five retirees would be willing to use their home equity to generate income in a new survey by the National Council on Aging (NCOA). This reluctance seems to be on a collision course with financial reality for working baby boomers, when so many are at risk that they won’t be able to maintain their living standards when they retire.

Retirees can get at their home equity to improve their finances a couple of ways.  One is to sell, say, the three-bedroom family home on Long Island for a pretty penny and buy a condo on Long Island or a cheaper house in Florida.  Yet only a tiny sliver of older Americans actually downsize to reduce their living expenses, according to a new report by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, “Is Home Equity an Underutilized Retirement Asset?”

Another avenue is available to people over 62 who don’t want to move: a reverse mortgage. While these loans against home equity are not for everybody, they’re one option if retirees want to pay off the original mortgage or withdraw funds when they’re needed. But only about 58,000 homeowners took out federally insured Home Equity Conversation Mortgage (HECMs) in 2015, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The NCOA’s survey, which was funded by Reverse Mortgage Funding, a lender, uncovered one reason for the lack of interest: retirees are not clear about how reverse mortgages work and how they differ from a standard home equity line of credit. …Learn More

Why Parents’ Home is the Millennial Crib

Older children living at home cartoonA couple years ago, Daniel Cooper noticed something at the commuter rail station near his home in suburban Boston.   A lot of parents were dropping off their adult children every morning to catch the train into the city.

This fit with something he’d been thinking about as a Federal Reserve senior economist and policy adviser interested in macroeconomic issues like the housing market.  Are millennials living with their parents longer than previous generations?  And, if so, why?

His suspicion was confirmed in recent research with his colleague at the Boston Federal Reserve, María Luengo-Prado. They found that, on average, 16 percent of baby boomers born in the late 1950s and early 1960s lived with their parents when they were between 23 and 33 years old. That jumps to 23 percent of the millennial generation born in the 1980s.  These young adults are also more likely to return home after living independently for a spell.

The economists landed on two primary explanations for the big shift. One is that young adults today earn less relative to rents in their area. Second, higher state unemployment rates impact millennials more. In short, young adults often live with their parents for the simple reason they can’t afford to live on their own. …Learn More

Birds on a wire

Older Workers’ Job Changes a Step Down

When older workers change occupations, many of them move into a lower-status version of the work they’ve done for years, according to a new study by University of Michigan researchers who tracked the workers’ movements among some 200 different occupations.

Aging computer scientists were likely to become programmers or computer support staff.  And veteran high school teachers started tutoring, financial managers transitioned to bookkeepers, and office supervisors became secretaries.

Late-career transitions need to be put into some context: a majority of Americans who were still working in their 60s were in the same occupations they held at age 55, the study found.  And these occupations ran the gamut from clergy to life scientists to cooks.

Interestingly, while teachers, thanks to their defined benefit pensions, often retire relatively young, primary and high school teachers were also at the top of the list of older workers who have remained in one occupation into their 60s, along with radiology technicians and bus drivers.

But about 40 percent of Americans who were still working when they turned 62 had moved to a new occupation sometime after age 55, according to the researchers, who tracked individual workers’ employment changes using the federal government’s coding system. …Learn More

Kids playing

Black America’s New Retirement Issue

Black American homeowners chartThe retirement issues facing black Americans can’t necessarily be lumped together for many reasons – there are high- and low-income blacks, and there are recent immigrants as well as longstanding families.  A similar problem arises when treating the U.S. Hispanic-American population or the Asian-American population as a homogenous group.

Having acknowledged this, however, some recent studies have highlighted the financial challenges particular to each group.  For Hispanic-Americans, a major issue is that they live a long time but have low participation in employer retirement plans. For Asian-Americans, extremely high wealth inequality in their working population spills over into retirement inequality.

This blog looks at the recent erosion in homeownership among black Americans since 2000, which threatens to further undermine their retirement security – Generation X is most at risk.

Black workers’ relatively low incomes are probably the first challenge of saving for retirement. In 2015, the typical black family earned $36,898, substantially less than the $63,000 earned by white families, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.  Not surprisingly, their participation in employer retirement plans was also lower in a 2009 study, even though white and black Americans have roughly similar access to 401(k) plans through their employers. More than 77 percent of whites with this option save in a 401(k), and only 70 percent of blacks do.

Homeownership is also crucial to building wealth for retirement: the largest asset most older Americans possess is their house. This asset can translate into additional disposable income if the mortgage is paid off.  Retirees can also downsize to a smaller home or take out a reverse mortgage loan that doesn’t have to be repaid until the homeowner moves out or dies.

The problem for black Americans is that homeownership is going in the wrong direction. …
Learn More

Sticky note

The Benefits of Late-career Job Changes

Finding a new job in one’s 50s is not that easy to pull off, and it’s risky if the new employer doesn’t work out.  But there’s a silver lining for people who can make the change to a job they feel is better: they work longer than those who don’t make a move.

A new study by the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog, finds the probability that older workers remain in the labor force until they’re 65 increases considerably – by 9 percentage points – if they voluntarily made a job change sometime during their 50s.

This lends credence to other research showing that when older workers voluntarily find a new employer, they often experience more job satisfaction and less on-the-job stress, which makes it easier to resist retiring.

The benefits from changing jobs are both psychic and practical. …Learn More

Students Get Curious About Retiring

“I thought I was going to live forever.”

“I would’ve probably put more money away for later years.”

“I was a stay-at-home mom for 17 years, and I didn’t realize that during those years I wasn’t working I wasn’t accruing Social Security.”

Millennials asked what it’s like to be retired, and seniors answered in this video produced by The New York Times.

The video’s point, it seems, is that it’s not natural for 20-somethings to think about old age at all. “Retirement wasn’t in my vocabulary,” as one senior recalled about being young.

That’s why young adults, as soon as they enter the work world, should force themselves to make friends with a concept far in their futures – and then act on it. And here’s why: saving is more important than it has ever been, because they will carry much more of the burden of financing their retirement than their parents and grandparents ever did.

Even young adults who are paying off student loans should, at minimum, contribute enough to their savings plan at work to qualify for their employer’s matching contribution. Those who don’t plan ahead face a reliance on Social Security’s eroding benefits when they’re in old age, benefits that are the absolute bedrock of our retirement system but not enough for most retirees to continue the standard of living they had while they were working.

If you need convincing, listen to these retirees talk about how difficult it is to live solely on Social Security in the video below produced by Squared Away in 2012: …Learn More

illustration of guy parachuting

A Modest Victory in Financial Education

With so many Americans in the dark about how to prepare for retirement, educating them about why it’s critical to save seems an obvious way to tackle this problem. But very few solid studies prove that financial education actually works.

This field research should be counted as a positive result for a modest, low-cost financial education program.

Carly Urban at Montana State found that tellers and other low-level employees working at 45 randomly selected credit unions around the country clearly made progress after spending just 10 hours in an online financial education program. The information-based program required the workers to do some reading and walked them through specific examples and scenarios they might face.

Their improvements weren’t limited to increasing their knowledge of finances and retirement saving either. They also saved more, Urban said while presenting her findings at a webinar sponsored by the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin.

In the fall of 2009, the credit union employees completed the online education on the basics of everything from financial planning and investment risk to saving for college and working with a financial adviser. They were allowed to choose how much time to spend on each of 10 modules, and their employers let them take the courses at work – rather than use up valuable free time. …Learn More