Money Culture

Women Lag in Retirement Readiness

When it comes to retirement, we women are in lousy shape.

We live longer, so will need more money when we retire. Yet we work less over our lifetimes and earn 80 percent of what men earn while we are working. As a result, we’ve saved less in our 401(k)s and IRAs.

Not surprisingly, the rising economic insecurity among all Americans ushered in by the Great Recession is more pronounced among women, according to reports Monday by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) in Washington:

  • 58 percent of women interviewed by IWPR were concerned they would not have enough to live on in retirement, compared with 43 percent of men;
  • 47 percent of women lacked confidence that their resources would last throughout their retirement, compared with 35 percent of men;
  • 51 percent of women worried they would not be able to afford retiree healthcare, compared with 44 percent of men.

Financial data support women’s concerns. In 2010, the average balance in defined-contribution plans managed by Vanguard Group, one of the nation’s largest mutual fund companies, was $58,833 for women and $95,675 for men. The median balance was $21,499 for women and $33,547 for men.

Women’s personal retirement savings are even lower, relative to men’s, when one considers that women live much longer. Among women born in 1935, 51 percent are expected to live until age 85 – just 36 percent of men will, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which hosts this blog. Fully 13 percent of women will make it all the way to 95 – only 6 percent of men will. …Learn More

Field Work

Medicare: the Future is Now

When health care is factored in, more than half of Americans haven’t saved enough money for retirement.

But that price tag could become more unattainable under President Obama’s proposal last week to cut $248 billion from Medicare by raising premiums, copayments, and other health costs. With Republicans also talking reform, the impact of Beltway belt-tightening is coming into sharper focus for more than 45 million Americans covered by the federal program.

It’s a good time to revisit 2010 research by Anthony Webb, an economist with the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which hosts this blog. Webb calculated how much a “typical” retired couple, both age 65, needs today to cover out-of-pocket expenses over their remaining lives. The numbers are shocking:

  • A couple needs $197,000 for future Medicare and other premiums, drugs, copayments, and home health costs;
  • There is a 5-percent risk they need more than $311,000;
  • Including nursing-home costs, the amount needed increases to $260,000;
  • There is a 5-percent risk that will exceed $517,000.

To arrive at the estimates, Webb simulated lifetime healthcare histories by drawing on a national survey of older Americans. The difficulty for individual retirees who might want to use these estimates, however, is that their actual spending will vary widely depending on how long they live and their health outcomes. That’s where the risk comes in.

In this video, Alicia Munnell, director of the Center, interviews Webb about his research. To read a research brief, click here.

Learn More

Cartoon of five orange heads with microchip like lines extending from their brains.

Research

High School Influences Life Knowledge

It’s been well-established that most people have low levels of financial literacy and struggle to manage and plan their personal finances. Now two Wisconsin researchers have taken the conversation to the next level by trying to explain why.

According to their study, featured in a webinar posted online today, the financial literacy of people entering retirement is significantly determined by high school IQ level or by whether the individual took high-level math classes in school.

University of Wisconsin professors Pamela Herd and Karen Holden arrived at this finding by analyzing 6,000 individuals from a unique longitudinal data set of people who graduated from Wisconsin high schools in 1957 – and were in their mid-60s at the time of the study. …Learn More

On the Web

Financial Videos’ Message: Please Deal

Reflecting a lofty ambition to educate Delaware residents about financial management, state government officials put together some terrific videos.

This is not high-level finance – the speakers tell stories about real people facing up to the dimensional challenges of money and retirement.  Viewers outside Delaware might find one of the 10 online Tedx talks valuable to them. Here are three:

Javier Torrijos, assistant director of construction, Delaware Department of Transportation:
His take on the immigrant experience in a nutshell: “The parents’ sacrifice equals the children’s future,” said Torrijos, who has two sons and whose own father left Columbia for a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, in 1964 so his children would have a shot at escaping poverty. Today’s immigrants are no different. But the pervasive ethos of family above all else, he argues, is responsible for some of the Latino immigrant community’s financial instability.

When required to make the impossible choice between going to college or straight to work to support family, family usually wins. “That mentality still exists” but needs to change if Latinos are to improve their lot, he said. …Learn More

Research

How Social Security Gets Fixed Matters

Line chart showing who's spending is reduced: workers or retirees? As more baby boomers retire, Social Security’s impending financial shortfall will become more pressing.

To restore solvency, Congress can either cut Social Security’s pension benefits or increase the payroll taxes deducted from workers’ pay.

Both policies would impact how much is available for households to spend. Researchers at the Center for Retirement Research find that the benefit reductions would have an appreciably larger annual impact on retirees than would the higher taxes on workers. But the taxes would be spread over a longer time period.

The new study looks at four specific policies, two that cut retirement benefits and two that raise taxes.  Each policy analyzed would equally benefit Social Security’s finances.

Gauging their separate effects required using a model to predict workers’ behavior. This was necessary because some workers might feel they should retire earlier if more taxes are being taken out of their paychecks. On the other hand, if their future pension benefits will be trimmed, they might decide to work a few more years to increase the size of their monthly checks.

One option for reducing Social Security payouts would be to delay the full retirement age (FRA) at which retirees are eligible to collect their “full” benefits. A second option is trimming Social Security’s annual cost-of-living (COLA) increases.

A two-year increase in the FRA, to 69, would reduce annual consumption in retirement by 5.6 percent for low-income, 4 percent for middle-income, and 2.2 percent for high-income retirees. …Learn More

Rocks that say 401s vs Roth

Field Work

The 411 on Roth vs Regular 401ks

Traditional 401(k) or Roth 401(k)?

Workers usually don’t know the difference. Yet employers increasingly are asking them to choose. Nearly two-thirds of private-sector employers with Vanguard plans today offer both a traditional and a Roth 401(k) in their employee benefits. Just four years ago, fewer than half did.

For tips on navigating the traditional-vs-Roth decision, we interviewed two members of the American Institute of CPAs: Monica Sonnier is an investment adviser in the Salt Lake City, Utah, area; and Sean Stein Smith is an assistant professor in the economics and business department at Lehman College in New York.

The difference in the two types of plans is the timing of federal income taxes:

  • In a traditional 401(k), a worker who contributes to his or her account will see taxable income reduced by the dollar amount of the contribution. For example, contributing 6 percent of a $30,000 annual salary ($1,800 per year) means the worker pays federal income taxes on just $28,200. The taxes will be paid decades later, when the IRS will require the retiree to pay income taxes on the amounts withdrawn from the traditional 401(k).
  • In a Roth, a worker pays income taxes on his or her full $30,000 salary, as usual. The 6 percent is an after-tax contribution that does not reduce the tax bill. The benefit will come decades later, because a Roth does not require the retiree to pay income taxes when the savings – including the Roth account’s investment earnings – are withdrawn.

If a retiree is taxed at the same rate as he was taxed as a worker, there is no difference in the after-tax retirement income the two 401(k) plans provide. However, traditional 401(k)s have generally been viewed as more advantageous, because people typically have lower incomes – and lower tax rates – in retirement than when they were working.

But things might also be changing. Over the long-term, increasing federal deficits due to increased spending pressures from popular programs to support aging baby boomers are expected to push up individual income tax rates. When that occurs, many retirees might be better off with a Roth so they won’t be taxed when they withdraw their savings.

Of course, each individual’s or couple’s tax situation is unique. Given all these caveats, here are the accountants’ rules of thumb for deciding between a traditional and Roth 401(k): …Learn More

Money Culture

Not All Good Jobs Require 4-Year College

The number of quality jobs held by workers with a two-year associate’s degree rocketed from 3.8 million in 1991 to 7 million in 2015.  Total employment over that time didn’t come close to that rate of growth.

“There are still good jobs out there for workers who don’t have a four-year degree,” explains the above video by Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce. These jobs, which require a bit more education and training than high school, typically pay $55,000 per year.

The video and accompanying report, released in late July, introduce a three-year project to document and analyze employment opportunities for people who do not want, or haven’t been able to obtain, a college degree. This blog will watch for the center’s future reports on this important topic. …Learn More

Young and old women hugging

Behavior

Outsized Caregiving Duties for the Few

The value of the informal care provided to the nation’s elderly, often by adult children, exceeds $500 billion a year – more than double the price tag for the formal care of nursing homes and home health aides.

Only 6 percent of Americans are, at any given time, regularly helping parents who have deteriorating health or disabilities to perform their routine daily activities (and 17 percent will provide this care sometime during their lifetime). But a sliver of the population shoulders an inordinate amount of responsibility.

A study by Gal Wettstein and Alice Zulkarnain of the Center for Retirement Research finds that the
6 percent of adults providing parental care devote an average 77 hours to their duties each month, or roughly the equivalent of a full-time job for two weeks.

And the burden grows as adult offspring get older.  They found that 12 percent of 70-year-olds are caring for parents and spend, on average, 95 hours per month doing so, even though they’ve reached an age when they might be developing health issues of their own.  This remarkable situation is no doubt a result of both rising life expectancies for the elderly parents and improving health among their offspring, who are also aging but are nevertheless still able to provide care.

The study was based on data from a survey of older Americans that used the standard definition of care, which includes helping seniors with activities of daily living (known as ADLs), such as bathing, eating, and walking across a room, and includes instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs), such as taking medications, cooking, and managing finances.

For the half of seniors over 85 who require this assistance, informal family care is their first choice. Not surprisingly, nearly two-thirds of this care is done by spouses and daughters, especially unmarried daughters. But there are costs, in terms of money and work, as well as time.  Caregivers report that they spend more than one-third of their budgets on parental care. …Learn More

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