October 27, 2015
Health Insurance Costs Squeeze 401ks?
U.S. workers’ wages, adjusted for inflation, are stagnating, but their share of health care costs keeps going up.
“Something has got to give, right? That something could very well be the 401(k) or 403(b) plan,” said Mark Zoril, a personal financial planner and benefits adviser to small companies.
Six in 10 workers agreed: the rising cost of their health insurance “directly affects” how much they set aside in their retirement savings plan at work, according to a new survey gauging the “financial stress” of more than 2,000 full-time employees with health coverage. The random survey was conducted by LIMRA, a financial services research organization.
Despite a slowdown in medical inflation, employees are paying a growing share of the tab for their health care. Average total premiums for family coverage under U.S. employer health plans rose 61 percent between 2005 and 2015, for example, but the employee’s share of the premium increased 83 percent to $4,995, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual report. Two out of three individual workers today pay deductibles of at least $1,000, up from 16 percent a decade ago.
Anita Potter, LIMRA’s senior vice president of research, said workplace benefits face increasing competition for workers’ limited resources. …Learn More
October 22, 2015
Polishing the EITC on its 40th Birthday
The Earned Income Tax Credit is a critical lifeline that lifts some 9 million low-income Americans out of poverty – half of them children.
But the federal tax refund program isn’t perfect. The large refunds come just once a year, in the spring tax filing season. A cash crunch is a year-round problem for working families with low or erratic incomes who can’t always pay their bills.
A new study by the Center for Economic Progress identified additional financial benefits from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) when participants in a Chicago pilot project received smaller, regular EITC payments throughout the year.
For example, workers who received the quarterly payments – in May, August, October, and December – were much less likely to have high-rate payday loans than people whose EITCs came all at once, helping program participants to avoid expensive late fees on payday loans. There was also evidence that workers in the EITC pilot accumulated less total debt, though the sample size was small.
The participants surveyed overwhelmingly said they preferred the periodic payments, and they reported lower stress levels than the control group. Shirley Floyd explained why in a previous blog post:
When Floyd receives a one-time tax refund in February, “the entire thing is gone” by March. But each payment she received in the pilot program, she said, allowed her “to do what you need to do.”
The program was run by the Center for Economic Progress, which provides financial services to low-income families. David Marzahl, president, was disappointed that about one-third dropped out of the research pilot, leaving only 217 participants who saw it through to the end. Nevertheless, he feels the pilot confirmed the concept’s potential to help low-income working persons with children and would like to see it expanded into a nationwide program, administered by the IRS. …Learn More
October 20, 2015
Straightest Course to Riches – Parents
Some Boston University students cruise city streets in their BMWs or Lamborghinis. Three of Donald Trump’s five children have joined the family business so far. And the financial media are full of useful advice for parents who might want to buy a house for their adult offspring.
Nature versus nurture? Not surprisingly, nurture won out when researchers applied this question to who has more influence on the wealth of young adult Swedes who were adopted as children – their biological parents (nature) or their adoptive parents (nurture).
Wealth “is not due to the fact that children from wealthier families are innately more talented,” the international team of researchers concludes. “Instead, it appears that even in a relatively egalitarian society like Sweden, wealth begets wealth.”
While this might seem obvious, there had been surprisingly little research on the topic, which is gaining prominence here as U.S. wealth inequality widens. The study used an unusual Swedish data source that allowed the researchers to compare the wealth of adopted children with the wealth of both their adoptive and biological parents. The adoptees’ average age was 44. …Learn More
October 15, 2015
High-deductible Health Plans on the Rise
Health insurance is really starting to hurt.
Premium increases and deductible creep, documented in the Kaiser Family Foundation’s comprehensive annual survey of employer health benefits, are eye-popping figures. Although there has been a slowdown in medical inflation and health care spending overall, the growing prominence of high-deductible plans is evidence that more of these costs are shifting to employees.
- One in four workers today is enrolled in a health insurance plan with a high deductible – up from 4 percent a decade ago – exposing them to larger out-of-pocket expenses than traditional health plans if they become ill. [Kaiser’s definition of high-deductible plans is that they are accompanied by a tax-preferred savings plan to help workers pay their medical bills.]
- These deductibles average around $2,000 for single coverage, but they exceed $3,000 for about 20 percent of single workers. Deductibles average $4,350 for a family plan, but nearly 20 percent face deductibles exceeding $6,000.
- Average annual premiums for single workers in these plans range from $773 to $1,021, while family plan premiums are $3,660 to $4,407.
- Everyone’s deductibles are rising much faster than premiums. For example, the share of the annual premium paid by all single workers with health coverage has increased 19 percent since 2010, to $1,071. But their deductibles have risen 67 percent, to $1,077.
- Retiree health care trends, in contrast, might be stabilizing. Since 2009, the share of larger companies offering the coverage to retirees has bounced around between 23 percent and 28 percent.
Employers are also paying more for annual premiums, according to Kaiser – about $1,000 more per single worker than they paid in 2010 and about $2,800 more for a family plan.
But it’s clear from the data that this shared burden falls heavily on employees.
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October 13, 2015
Free Help Navigating the Medicare Maze
HICAP, SHIP, SHINE – whatever your state calls the program, the mission is an urgent one.
With some 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, these programs help new enrollees grapple with their Medicare options and make decisions, especially during open enrollment, which begins on Thursday and ends Dec. 7.
Medicare is “confusing” to boomers, because they “have more than one option, and most of us, when we were working, had only the PPO or the HMO” to choose between, said Christina Dimas-Kahn, program manager and a telephone counselor in San Mateo County, California’s Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP).
The top requests for assistance coming into her office are from new enrollees to Medicare, followed by the elderly who can’t afford their medications, messy billing problems between Medicare and health providers, and questions about long-term care and how to pay for it, she said.
The primary goal is “education and empowering you to enroll yourself,” said Joshua Hodges, who oversees the programs for the U.S. Administration for Community Living (ACL), which funds them. Their “beneficiary focus” has become even more crucial, he said, since the advent of Advantage managed-care plans, which complicate the choices faced by Medicare beneficiaries.
Click here for a state-by-state directory of State Health Insurance Assistance Programs (or SHIPs) – their official name. SHIPs are also available to residents of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Washington DC. …Learn More
October 8, 2015
Blacks Invest Less Often
If two people – one black, one white – have good jobs with comparable incomes, the black person would still be less likely to have a taxable investment account, such as a mutual fund, a new study finds.
Numerous reports have shown that black Americans have fewer retirement and other savings accounts, and less money in those accounts than white Americans. But the problem with many of these comparisons is that they lump people together, regardless of how much they earn.
A new study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation looks at one type of account – taxable investment accounts – and controls for income as well as two other characteristics that influence wealth: education and age. The study, using data from a 2012 survey of more than 25,000 U.S. households, found that when everything else is equal, black American households were still 7 percentage points less likely to have taxable investment accounts than white households; and Hispanic households were 4 percentage points less likely to have such taxable accounts than white households.
FINRA also identifies other characteristics typical of the one-third of households with a taxable account. …Learn More
October 6, 2015
Your Aging Parents or Clients: 7 Tips
When Bob Mauterstock asked how many financial advisers in the room had elderly clients showing signs of diminished mental capacity, a few hundred raised their hands.
Next, he asked, how many have a protocol for these clients? Fewer than 10 put up hands.
With the U.S. population over age 85 growing at a rapid clip, advisers increasingly are facing this issue, he explained last week at the Financial Planning Association meetings in Boston. A 2009 Fidelity survey backs him up: 84 percent of advisers said they had clients touched by Alzheimer’s disease.
Mauterstock, the author of “Passing the Torch, Critical Conversations With Your Adult Children,” shared seven tips to help advisers, clients, and their families. While many of his suggestions apply to wealthier people receiving comprehensive financial services, they’re also useful to people dealing with a parent experiencing cognitive decline.
Recognize the symptoms. “Diminished mental capacity is a slow, gradual thing,” he explained. Don’t wait until the signs become crystal clear before taking action. He used the example of his own client – a Harvard-educated anesthesiologist – who started calling repeatedly and asking to speak with his accountant. Mauterstock’s staff gave him the accountant’s phone number – only to get the same call over and over again. Better to recognize the signs early, contact the client’s family, and devise a plan.
Do the Homework. Advisers should have a complete checklist of things to discuss with clients before they experience cognitive issues, from a durable power of attorney to the handling of trusts held in their name. He also recommended documenting client meetings once cognitive decline sets in. Having another adviser in these meetings is in the client’s interest – as well as the adviser’s – and helps ensure that good decisions are being made. An advocate for the client should also sit in, to help with decisions as they become increasingly difficult to work through.
Hold Family Meetings. The most important thing an adviser can do when cognitive decline starts setting in is to ask the client to call a family meeting. …Learn More