Photo of doctor with patient

Research

Future Retirees Don’t Grasp Health Costs

More than half of baby boomers and Generation Xers do not realize how much they are likely to pay out of their own pockets for medical bills after they retire.

Many “were seriously underestimating the amount of savings they would need to accumulate in order to cover health in retirement,” according to what may be the first comprehensive survey and analysis of what Americans expect to pay – and how far off their estimates are.

The good news is that Medicare pays roughly 60 percent of retirees’ total costs. The bad news is that they have to somehow cover the other 40 percent, which is particularly expensive for those who live longer (read women).

If this new study carries one big message, it is that boomers need to learn more about what will certainly be one of their biggest retirement expenses. For example, by 2020, the range of out-of-pocket spending is expected to vary from $2,453 per year for a typical person with low health care needs to $7,272 for the typical high spender. Boomers also may not be aware that the bite that Medicare premiums take out of their monthly Social Security checks will increase sharply by 2020.

The new analysis of the disparity between future retirees’ expectations and what they’re facing was conducted by law professors Allison Hoffman at the UCLA School of Law and Howell Jackson at the Harvard Law School. …Learn More

Money Culture

Dicey Retirement: The Long Ride Down

No one really needs confirmation of how tough the Great Recession was. But the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College has quantified the decline – and it’s brutal.

Investment losses and falling home prices placed 53 percent of U.S. households in danger of a decline in their standard of living after they quit working and retire, reports the Center, which funds this blog. That’s up sharply from 45 percent in 2004, prior to the financial boom, which created a strong – albeit fleeting – increase in Americans’ wealth.

The longer-term erosion in Americans’ retirement prospects is even more troubling and reflects deeper issues. The Great Recession just hammered the point home.

In 1989, just under one-third of Americans faced such dicey retirement prospects. The steady erosion since then coincides with the near-extinction of traditional employer pensions that guaranteed retirees a fixed level of income. It turns out that the DIY system that replaced them, a system reliant on Americans’ ability to save in their 401(k)s, is not working.

Older baby boomer households with 401(k)s have just $120,000 saved for retirement, according to the Center. That’s not even enough to pay estimated medical costs not covered by Medicare. Retirement savings for all older boomer households is a paltry $42,000 – that means a lot of people have no savings…Learn More

Annual Health Expenses in Retirement: blog writer's Kim Blanton's estimated average annual expenses in five year increments - Graph

On the Web

Calculate Your Retirement Health Costs

Mid- and late-career professionals staring into their futures, eyes glazed, often don’t have a clue how much their health care will cost them during retirement.

Few pre-retirees know how many holes exist in Medicare coverage. One MetLife survey this year found that 42 percent of pre-retirees age 56 to 65 believe, incorrectly, that their health coverage, Medicare or disability insurance will pay for their long-term care. Such knowledge gaps make it virtually impossible for most people to take a stab at tallying their total costs, out of pocket, for Medicare, Medigap, and private premiums and copayments over years of retirement.

Retiree healthcare is “the elephant on the table,” said Dan McGrath, vice president of HealthView Services outside Boston. The omission amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars per retiree.

Calculators that estimate retiree health expenses are scarce, according to a 2008 AARP brief. But HealthView’s calculator, recently upgraded, estimates total out-of-pocket health expenses, which are tailored to an individual’s specific medical traits – diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure etc. – and health habits – smoking, exercise etc.

Squared Away readers can obtain a free trial by emailing McGrath at dmcgrath@hvsfinancial.com. …Learn More

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

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Field Work

Boomers are Longing to Retire Overseas

Australia, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Spain, Portugal, Scotland, Ecuador, Belize, Nicaragua – our readers living all over the world, or planning to, shared their experiences in comments posted to a February blog, “The Ultimate Travel: Retiring Abroad.”

The article profiled a Houston couple on the verge of retiring who are systematically exploring cities that interest them in Panama and Costa Rica. Few blogs have elicited so many comments – no doubt because thoughts of retiring overseas are more fun than worrying about whether the 401(k) account has enough money in it.

The success of retiree Dennis Desmond and his wife’s relocation to Australia makes it hard to resist temptation. “The weather here is incredible, the people are fantastically friendly, and the scenery is wonderful,” Desmond said in his comment.

But the picture isn’t all roses. William Pederson wrote in his comment that he knows five couples who’ve moved overseas and returned stateside. “You get what you pay for,” he said.

Here’s more of the fun stuff, and a few downsides, from our readers: …Learn More

stock market chart

Field Work

Stock Market Jitters, Millennials? Relax

Back in December, the Vanguard Group predicted a stock market that would “remain placidly subdued” in 2018.   What a difference two months has made.

A Morgan Stanley analyst, echoing many on Wall Street, has now declared, “The long-anticipated return of [stock market] volatility has arrived.”  The Standard & Poor’s index of 500 stocks slid 10 percent in a few days in late January and early February, bounced back, and then dropped again last week: the S&P declined another 2 percent, and the Dow index was down even more, by 3 percent.

No one can predict the future, of course – not Vanguard or Morgan Stanley.  “Time will tell,” the analyst said.  But while baby boomers have been thrown around by the stock market and witnessed a recovery in their portfolios, young adults might not be so chill.

Here are some earnest words of comfort, Millennials: you are truly the lucky ones. …Learn More

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