Wyoming government has brought some 535 employees of the state’s executive, legislative and judicial branches into its retirement savings plan since July 2015 under a new policy of automatically enrolling each new hire.
They are free to withdraw from the plan at any time, but only 15 of the 535 have done so – “and not a complaint from anybody,” said Polly Scott, who manages the savings plan and heads employee retirement education.
This technique, borrowed from behavioral economics, addresses the inertia that prevents many people from ever signing up to save in their employer’s plan. So why wait for them to join? Instead, Wyoming uses inertia to benefit state workers: when people are automatically enrolled, research shows, they tend to stay put and save.
This is one piece of a larger effort to educate government workers about what’s required to properly prepare for retirement – and nudge them to do it. The 457 retirement savings plan is crucial. Wyoming’s retired state workers receive Social Security, but the inflation adjustment in their traditional defined benefit pension has virtually been eliminated for the near future. The 457 plan “is voluntary, but it’s not optional if you want a secure retirement,” Scott said.
The heart of the state’s education efforts is a website titled “Your Whole Story” that is on point and explains in clear language likely to benefit employees. Employees are encouraged to increase how much they’re already saving, resist the temptation to withdraw their savings prematurely, and prepare themselves for a long time in retirement in an era of increasing life expectancy.
This initiative is based on a campaign sponsored by the National Association of Government Defined Contribution Administrators (NAGDA) – Scott was NAGDA’s president last year – and designed by the National Association of Retirement Plan Participants. Other states use some version of “Your Whole Story,” including the Missouri State Employees’ Retirement System and Montana Public Employee Retirement Administration.
One problem Wyoming is tackling is young adults who hurt their retirement prospects by withdrawing money from their 457 plans when they leave their state jobs, which “means they’re spending it,” Scott said. Another issue is that more older workers are rolling 457 savings over to private IRAs, which can have higher fees. …Learn More
A decade ago, the nation’s Medicare enrollees had more than 1,800 different prescription drug plans to choose from. In the 2017 open enrollment that started on Oct. 15, that number dropped to just 746.
News of higher Part D drug plan premiums and out-of-pocket costs in 2017, estimated in a new report by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, will not be welcome by the nation’s older population. But Squared Away also wanted to know whether fewer plan options are good or bad for consumers.
“It’s good in the sense [federal] efforts are bearing fruit in giving people options that are more distinct from each other than in the past,” said Juliette Cubanski, Kaiser’s associate director of Medicare policy. At the same, she said, retirees “still have a lot of choice in this marketplace.”
The number of plans has shrunk steadily for a variety of reasons since the 2006 inception of the prescription component of Medicare, known as Part D. In the early years of the program, plans started disappearing amid consolidation among insurers and pharmacy benefits managers, she said. More recently, a few Part D plan providers have pulled out of the market.
But Cubanski said recent reductions in the number of plans were primarily by federal design. In 2011, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid (CMS) stepped in and began requiring insurers that offered more than one Part D plan in a region to make sure the differences among their plans were clear and distinct to Medicare beneficiaries. …Learn More
After his wife of 36 years died from cancer, Dick St. Lawrence experienced something new: loneliness.
“Worst feeling in the world,” St. Lawrence, 81, said about Linda St. Lawrence’s death in the winter of 2014.
Like many widows and widowers before him, he had to build a new life for himself, despite having the comfort of a large family of four living children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. His first small step was accepting an invitation to play poker at Shillman House, an independent housing community for seniors owned and operated by Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly. The man who called to invite St. Lawrence knew a woman who used to play Mahjongg with Linda.
Next thing he knew, he’d sold their family home in Framingham, Mass., around the corner from Shillman House, and settled into one of its 150 apartments. Now he plays two poker games a week, works out at his old gym, and socializes with Shillman’s residents every evening in the dining room. At night, his Cairn terrier, Rusty, keeps him company during Red Sox games on television.
“I want to visit as long as I can,” Dick St. Lawrence jokes about his plan to spend his final days there.
The vast majority of baby boomers in an AARP survey said they want to age in their homes “as long as possible.” But when the rubber meets the road – in old age – the elderly often learn that isolation is bad for their psyche and their health.
There are downsides even to living in a community for independent seniors, with the constant reminders of the vulnerabilities that come with aging. When a Shillman resident suddenly becomes ill and is driven away in an ambulance, dread quickly spreads among the residents that he or she might not be coming back.
Still, they say, the positives far outweigh the negatives. All in their 80s, the seniors interviewed have visibly slowed down but are still enjoying vigorous social lives. …Learn More
It was Gerry Smythe’s final confirmation he had never quite felt at home working in the Oklahoma airplane manufacturing plant. When well-meaning coworkers bought a cake to celebrate his and another person’s retirement, they got Smythe’s name wrong on the sign inviting everyone to the break room.
At age 63, he until recently was one of the nation’s 10 million older Americans working in physically demanding jobs in difficult conditions. He felt worn down by the factory noise, carbon dust, and standing all night on collapsed arches to assemble cabin floor beams for Boeing 777s. His requests for a transfer away from the hard floor never went anywhere, he said.
“It wasn’t really the job – I kinda liked the job,” said Smythe, who retired on May 27. “I didn’t want to stick in that environment in which I was dealing with air pollution and chemicals and decided I’d had enough.”
Now retired, Smythe savors his freedom. He’s playing more golf, has maintained his obsession with the Sunday crossword puzzle, and might volunteer at an animal shelter. But he also admits to something others have learned upon retiring: it’s a lot to get used to.
“You’re transitioning to a new phase of your life, and you’re not sure where to go. It is sorta scary,” he said in a telephone interview on a sizzling summer day at his home in Tulsa.
Everything is up in the air. He likes Tulsa but might move back to Tennessee – he once worked at the Memphis airport – or to Houston, where his mother’s family hails from. Or maybe he’ll find another job. The aviation industry is booming, so a few recruiters have called him. …Learn More
A survey throws a new spotlight on the employer-employee disconnect over 401(k)s that has also been well-documented in research studies.
The survey of 1,000 employees reveals that workers lack confidence in their ability to navigate basic aspects of their retirement plans, while the 200 employers also surveyed have a more optimistic view of how workers are doing.
Consider the most basic question of how much to put away for retirement. Two-thirds of employers believe their workers know how much to save, while only one-third of employees feel they know, according to BlackRock. And while nearly two-thirds of employers believe the majority of workers save enough, a minority of workers does.
Most employers also believe their workers understand their investment options. Yet less than half of the workers say they do – and only 30 percent feel like they’ve made the right investment choices, according to the BlackRock survey. (Full disclosure: BlackRock is a corporate partner of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which supports this blog).
Squared Away has written numerous blogs over the years about what academic research and other data reveal about the employer-employee relationship. Summaries of past articles continue on the next page, with links to the specific blogs mentioned: …Learn More
Two out of three working Americans grade their retirement readiness at no better than a “C.”
So how about using the Social Security Statement that lands in their mailboxes, grabbing their attention, to spur them to action?
The statement is already valued by millions of Americans. A survey funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) found that people who received statements were “dramatically” more knowledgeable about their basic pension benefits than people who had already retired when SSA started mailing them out in the mid-1990s.
Social Security is the nation’s most important source of retirement income, and the information in the statements is essential to most workers’ retirement planning. Mailed out before every fifth birthday – 25, 30, 35, etc. – and annually at age 60, the statement provides estimates of each worker’s future benefits at three different claiming ages: 62, when they have access to their smallest monthly benefit; the “full retirement age”; and 70, when workers receive their highest monthly benefit. It clearly lays out how much workers can increase their monthly retirement income by delaying when they start collecting their benefits. …Learn More
The wealth of good financial information available from government, university, and non-profit organizations is an antidote to the television and Internet advertisements selling financial products. Squared Away regularly compiles these resources for our readers’ benefit. This newest installment starts with some that are available in Spanish for the nation’s growing Hispanic population:
The FINRA Investor Education Foundation translated its short video about why people make bad financial decisions into Spanish. “Pensando Dinero: la psicología detrás de nuestras mejores y peores decisiones financieras” – or “Thinking Money” – explores how emotions get in the way of common sense when making decisions about money. Several other FINRA resources also in Spanish include a glossary of online financial publications and a video about financial fraud. (“Pensando Dinero” is based on a documentary produced for public television; a free DVD of the English-language documentary is also available.)
“Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman was an international bestseller about behavioral economics. To explore another insider’s take on this field, read what one of the field’s founders says about it. Richard Thaler’s latest book, “Misbehaving,” will be published in paperback in May. A New York Times review called it “a sly and somewhat subversive history of his profession.”
In just two years, the housing boom taking place in many parts of the country has added $1 trillion to the value of home equity held by people ages 62 and older, reports the National Reverse Mortgage Lenders Association. For retirees wondering whether it’s appropriate to turn some of their equity into income, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which supports this blog, has produced a booklet on ways retirees can use their home equity, including through reverse mortgages. The online version is free, and a paper version costs a whopping $2.75.
Sitting at her computer in the oversized studio apartment she shares with her boyfriend in Portland, Oregon, Melanie Lockert received confirmation on Dec. 10 that her ordeal was over: $81,000 in college and graduate school loans were finally paid off.
She had two reactions. The first was an existential panic. “Who am I without debt?” the 31-year-old asked herself. Then a grin spread across her face. “I started dancing and screaming in my apartment. It was such an amazing moment, and I felt incredibly happy to be done with this,” she said.
Recent college graduates might despair that their day of liberation is far away or might never come. But Lockert’s single-minded focus on demolishing her debt, particularly by accelerating her payments recently, provides a roadmap – and some hard lessons – for those facing a seemingly endless string of monthly payments.
Lockert’s path followed a zigzag pattern, which she documented in a Dear Debt blog that she started writing in 2013. Being debt-free was not her first priority when she packed up her undergraduate loans and moved from California to New York in 2010 to attend graduate school – a decision that would more than triple her total student debt. Paying off her loans required a lot of patience and sacrifice, some risk-taking, and brutal self-honesty. She concluded that she couldn’t accomplish her financial goal if she pursued a career in the field she had studied in college. … Learn More