March 24, 2016
Americans Are on a Credit Card Binge
Rising levels of credit card debt are a good thing and a bad thing.
And they are definitely rising: during the final three months of 2015, Americans added $52.4 billion to what they owe on their credit cards, according to a new CardHub report based on Federal Reserve Board data.
For context, that is nearly as much as was added to cards in all of 2014.
Spending rises when consumers have jobs or get better jobs and when the economy is growing, as it is now, said Lowell Ricketts, an analyst with the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. With incomes increasing, he said, “they’re in a stronger position to make those investments like purchasing a new home or renovating their existing homes.” The surge in credit card debt indicates that people are using plastic to pay for things like the furniture for the new house.
The bad part is what happens to over-leveraged spenders when the economy suddenly turns down, which is what WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez is concerned about. “We are starting to get into scary territory here,” she said. The fourth-quarter binge “was much larger than usual.”
During all of 2015, credit card balances, net of payments, increased by nearly $71 billion, substantially higher than the $57.4 billion increase in 2014. Last year’s fourth-quarter binge was only part of the story, Gonzalez said. …Learn More
March 22, 2016
Rise in Fraud Reports is Unrelenting
A nearly three-fold increase over the past decade in the number of fraud and related complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission has pushed the total to 1.7 million filings in 2015, according to the government’s consumer 2015 data book released this month.
As Squared Away reported recently, older Americans are often the most vulnerable, as their cognitive abilities decline or they become more socially isolated. Not surprisingly, the FTC said Florida had the highest rate of reported fraud per resident last year (followed by Georgia, Michigan, Texas, and Nevada).
One reason for the increase in complaints is that people are increasingly aware of fraud and more likely to report it. Another is that fraud-reporting agencies such as law enforcement and consumer groups are increasingly aware they can file complaints with the FTC. But 1.7 million allegations of fraud, identity thefts, and other scams is, by any yardstick, a lot of complaints.
The typical loss was $400 for an individual fraud complaint. There is evidence that more people are getting savvy: a smaller share of the people who filed 2015 complaints said they turned over any money to their scammers than in previous years. … Learn More
March 17, 2016
How Federal Taxation Drops for Retirees
Taxes are not as inevitable as most people assume. As the chart shows, the share of Americans paying federal income taxes falls precipitously after age 60.
Young adults often have little or no tax liability, because they’re either in school or aren’t yet earning very much. Older people revert to a similar picture, after having paid taxes all their lives.
The peak occurs around age 50, when nearly 80 percent of households pay federal income taxes. That share plummets to half at age 65 and to just over a third at 70, according to The Hamilton Project at The Brookings Institution, which produced the chart. [The chart is based on 2007 data; there may be some changes in current data, though not in the age patterns.]
This is important information for most baby boomers, because their tax picture will change dramatically in retirement. Taxes paid, as well as the share of people paying taxes, decline because retirees’ incomes generally fall below what they earned while they were working.
Further, U.S. tax policy provides additional deductions and credits for people over age 65. While some people pay taxes on their Social Security benefits, this usually happens, according to the Social Security Administration, “only if you have other substantial income (such as wages, self-employment, interest, dividends and other taxable income that must be reported on your tax return) in addition to your benefits.”
As the chart makes crystal clear, tax considerations are a crucial part of retirement planning. Learn More
March 15, 2016
Private Student Loans: Borrower Beware
Privately financed college loans were less than 10 percent of the $1.3 trillion in unpaid student debt last year, according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bulk of student loans are funded by the federal government. But the minority who borrow from private financial institutions often learn painful lessons after graduation: it is much more difficult to negotiate affordable repayment plans with private lenders. Private loans are unlike federal student loans, which have standardized repayment options and procedures.
This blog is intended to help parents and future college students avoid getting into difficult situations in the first place with private loans. Squared Away interviewed two student loan experts at Clearpoint Credit Counseling, an Atlanta non-profit: Terrence Banks, a counselor who works directly with borrowers, and Thomas Bright, a blogger.
Question: Graduates trying to renegotiate their private loans conveyed some harrowing stories in Clearpoint’s 2013 blog post. Have things improved since then?
Terrence: The complaints are still valid and still rampant. But some – not all – private lenders have stepped up to the plate to make private loans a bit more financially feasible.
Q. What would you advise parents and matriculating students do when making their first borrowing decisions?
Terrence: Exhausting the federal loan option is paramount before you go to the private loans. If you find yourself in trouble where you can’t make a payment, you have more options under the federal than the private loans. Also try to find out the potential income for your future profession before going down this road and borrowing at all. And then look for grants – there’s a slew of grants that are untapped each year because people don’t take the time to access them because student loans are so readily available.
Q. How do borrowers get themselves into the situations like this one, described on your blog? “I am able to consolidate my federal loans (big help on the monthly payments) but not my private loans.” Borrowers also talk about inflexible private lenders and being harassed with phone calls from these lenders. … Learn More
March 10, 2016
A Familiar Dilemma: to Work or Retire
This profile is the first in an occasional series about individual baby boomers who either have retired or are facing the retirement decision.
Jane Kisielius is at that age – 63 – when she is being pushed and pulled between the work world and the retirement lifestyle that her husband already inhabits.
She retired once – temporarily – in August 2014 from a stressful job as head of the nursing team for the public schools in Quincy, a suburb southeast of Boston. But with her administrative and nursing skills in such demand, she was quickly sucked back into the labor market, this time as a part-time coordinator of a wellness program for Quincy residents. She was asked to help run the new, grant-funded education program after bumping into the commissioner of the Quincy Health Department.
“The job fell in my lap,” she said. “It was kind of hard to pass it up.”
So here Jane sits, wrestling with when she’ll really retire, as she drinks her morning coffee at the kitchen table in her orderly home, a stone’s throw from the historic home of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. …Learn More
March 8, 2016
Study: College Debt Hurts Retirement
College graduates learn very quickly that paying hundreds of dollars toward student loans each month makes it difficult to afford things like a nice apartment or a car.
But they might not appreciate the long-term consequences of their record levels of borrowing: college debt is an added threat to their retirement security, according to a new study by the Center for Retirement Research.
The researchers gauged the debt’s impact by looking down the road to retirement and projecting what would happen if working people of all ages had started out with the same profile as young adults: 55 percent of today’s 20-something households have student debt, and they owe $31,000, on average.
College debt has a bearing on retirement security through two avenues. First, money going into loan payments is not available for a retirement savings plan. Second, lenders place limits on how much total debt a homebuyer can have, forcing many borrowers to delay home purchases; and getting a home loan would be very hard for the 17 percent of student loan borrowers delinquent on their debt.
Based on these assumptions and using 2013 data, the Center’s National Retirement Risk Index shows that those at risk of a lower standard of living when they retire would increase sharply to about 56 percent of working U.S. households – compared with 52 percent at risk when the student loan projection isn’t figured into the NRRI calculation.
This “represents a substantial increase in the already alarming rate of households at risk,” said the Center, which supports this blog. …Learn More
March 3, 2016
Rising Rents Slam the Middle Class
First it was the Irish, then Portuguese, then Brazilians – for more than 150 years, Somerville, Massachusetts, absorbed wave after wave of immigrants. Today, hipster professionals are pouring into this city next door to Boston.
Somerville rents have shot up as much as 50 percent in 15 years, and a two-bedroom apartment for under $2,000 in a shabby chic neighborhood is a rare find.
A similar trend is playing out all over the country – from Boston and Miami to Los Angeles and Seattle – and it’s squeezing working- and middle-class families the most, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies at Harvard University. …Learn More