Tiny House Fixes Millennial’s Money Woes

Sky-high city rent, college loan payments, and the low-paying days of an early career are a bad combination for today’s Millennial.

Liz Patterson

Liz Patterson has solved all that.  The carpenter built herself a 96-square-foot house on top of a flatbed truck for less than $7,000 in Manitou Springs, Colorado, a hip neighborhood near Colorado Springs.

The house “represents my monetary freedom – it’s the whole reason I did it,” the 27-year-old said.

Tiny houses, which average 500 square feet, are only about 1 percent of U.S. home sales. But builders say that sales continue to grow as Generation-X buys them as Airbnb rental properties, and baby boomers park their “granny pods” in an adult child’s backyard.

Patterson’s house before

Tiny houses actually make the most sense for 20-somethings in rebellion, given their financial constraints and a distaste for all the junk their parents accumulated over a lifetime, said Shawna Lytle, a spokeswoman for Tumbleweed Tiny Homes Company in Colorado Springs, which built its first tiny house in 1999. The national tiny house price is $23,000.

Five years earlier, the tiny house movement had started in Tokyo. Recently, a handful of U.S. communities, including Spur, Texas, and Berkeley, California, have modified their zoning rules or building codes to accommodate them. The laws are a patchwork: houses on wheels must sometimes be classified as RVs, and some cities set size minimums for houses with foundations. …Learn More

Social Security Mistakes Can be Costly

Karen Dobson

Kay Dobson is 68, and it’s time to retire from her job as the jack of all trades at the Augusta Circle Elementary School in Greenville, South Carolina.

But she isn’t quite as ready for her June retirement as she could’ve been. She recently learned that an admitted unfamiliarity with Social Security’s arcane rules cost her about $31,000 for two years of foregone spousal benefits based on her husband’s earnings.

“I had not the vaguest idea that I would be eligible for that,” she said.

Dobson is hardly the first person to make a painful mistake like this. People have all kinds of misconceptions about Social Security, or they lack a basic understanding of how it works – that the government calculates benefits using their 35 highest years of earnings, that the size of the monthly checks depends on the age the benefits start, and that working women, like Dobson, are often entitled to a spousal benefit based on their husband’s work record and earnings.

Two years ago, Dobson could have applied for this benefit, because she’d reached her full retirement age – 66.  But since she didn’t know this at the time, Social Security recently sent her a check for $7,800 for only six months retroactively – typically the maximum period for retroactive spousal benefits.

Her $1,300 monthly checks are starting to come in now too.  When she turns 70, she’ll start collecting a larger benefit based on her own earnings from a long-time career in the school system.

This particular strategy – file for spousal benefits and delay your own – is now available only to people who turned 62 prior to Jan 2, 2016.  The unintended loophole was eliminated, because it subverted the original intent of the spousal benefit, which was designed with an eye to retired households with a low-earning or non-working spouse. (The spousal benefit, in and of itself, remains intact and can be a big help to older households in which a working wife earned less than her husband. If that’s the case, her Social Security benefit would be increased until it is equal to half of his full retirement benefit if she claims at or above her own full retirement age.)

The central point here is that ignorance of program rules can mean substantial losses for retirees.  For low- or middle-income retirees, the consequences can be especially dire since they’re already scraping by. …
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detective

‘Do I Have a Pension?’ Sleuths Can Find it

Diane Taylor

Betty Taylor is 74 and retired from a job she held for more than a decade filling Spiegel catalog orders and packing them up for shipping – she left in 1984. Diane Taylor, 70, was a packer and then a keypunch operator there between 1982 and 1995.

But the sisters, who live together in their late mother’s house on Chicago’s Southwest Side, couldn’t track down anyone who could confirm that their low-paying jobs entitled them to Spiegel pensions.

This is more common than one might think.

When a single employer or union has continued to maintain its pension plan over several decades, retiring workers know where to go to sign up for their benefits. But the sisters’ pensions got lost amid the confusion and paperwork shuffle around a series of mergers, bankruptcies, and name changes at Spiegel.

Betty Taylor

The confusion dates back to 1988, when the catalog company, which was founded by Joseph Spiegel after the Civil War, purchased Eddie Bauer. By 2003, Spiegel, loaded down with debt, was filing for bankruptcy protection and was subsequently acquired by the investors in Spiegel’s sole remaining asset, Eddie Bauer. The investors later transferred Spiegel’s pensions to Eddie Bauer’s corporate entity. In 2009, Eddie Bauer also went into bankruptcy, sending the pension funds to their final resting place: the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), which insures the pensions of failing companies.

Diane felt that a pension, if it existed, could really help out with her precarious finances. And she was pretty certain she remembered a pension from her years at Spiegel. So she started calling around.

“I got the runaround for four years,” she said. “I was persistent, and I was going to keep on until I had one foot in the grave,” Diane said. …Learn More

Dealing with Alzheimer’s in the Family

Caregiver in a nursing home can be grueling work, but my aunt loved it. In one of life’s cruel ironies, she died soon after retiring to take care of her husband, who is developing dementia.

The great responsibility for his care fell suddenly on his children and grandchildren, and they’re struggling with it.

I texted this video to a couple of my uncle’s daughters because it provides invaluable information and insight into the myriad causes of Alzheimer’s and the unique way its symptoms manifest in each individual. It also explains why diagnosis by a physician is critical – turns out, some people appear to have dementia, but the cause of their cognitive decline isn’t Alzheimer’s and may be reversible.

The speaker, Tammy Pozerycki, owns Pleasantries, which operates adult day care centers in the greater Boston area. In 1906, Dr. Alois Alzheimer, a brain researcher, first identified and described the disease. “It’s 2018, and we have no cure,” said Pozyercki. This places the burden on caregivers to manage the disease.

Full disclosure: her presentation was sponsored by Boston College’s human resources department for the benefit of employees. This blog is based at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.Learn More

money tree

Can Caregivers Help Seniors with Money?

When once-simple financial tasks become difficult or confusing, it can be the canary in the coal mine signaling that an elderly person is developing dementia.

Financial problems will soon follow once people with cognitive impairment start miscalculating and missing payments, forgetting and misplacing accounts, or falling victim to fraud.

But some good news has come out of a new study of Medicare recipients: the vast majority of the 5.5 million people over 65 with established dementia – usually, though not, always Alzheimer’s disease – are receiving help from family and other caregivers with balancing their checkbooks, depositing and withdrawing money, and conducting transactions.

Even better, they are actually benefitting from it. The seniors who receive assistance are more likely to be able to pay for their essential expenses like rent, food, prescriptions and utilities, according to researchers at the Center for Retirement Research, which also sponsors this blog.

There was bad news in the report too: a nontrivial share of the older Americans with established dementia – that is, dementia for at least three years – aren’t getting any help. This problem is expected to grow in future generations. One major reason is longer and longer life spans, which exponentially increase the risk of dementia. Nearly one in three people over 85 are in some stage of dementia. Compounding this is the fact that today’s older workers have fewer children and have divorced more, which shrank the pool of who would be willing to pitch in and help them.

Having a caregiver helping with money management wouldn’t necessarily make an elderly person better off financially. Suppose a daughter is unfamiliar with her mother’s finances or a husband isn’t good at managing his own money. In extreme cases, caregivers sometimes steal from the trusting seniors in their care. Even so, it turns out that it’s better to receive help than not. …Learn More

ATM machine

Retirees Get a 401k Withdrawal Headache

Different people, different strategies.

Myra Hindus and Jewell Jackson

Myra Hindus of Boston, semi-retired at 68, had her financial adviser estimate the 401(k) withdrawals necessary to support her $4,500 monthly budget, which the adviser also prescribed. But Hindus isn’t fully at ease about her finances, despite the professional advice, a paid-off mortgage, and a good bit more savings than most people have.

“It’s a bunch of guesswork,” said the former diversity administrator and consultant to major universities who hedges her bets by teaching college social work courses.

What overwhelms her are the many unknowns that will determine whether her money lasts as long as she does. What if her adviser is wrong? Or what if she lives well into her 90s – like her mother did? She’s also uncertain of the impact of her younger partner’s coming retirement, which isn’t sorted out yet.

“No one knows when you’re going to die so you can’t base it on that. We’re all in the stock market, and we don’t know what will happen to that,” she said.

Brian Jarvis and Connie O’Brien of Beavercreek, Ohio, also have advantages most baby boomers don’t: small pensions from their former employer, Northrop Grumman, and a mortgage paid off with their private-sector salaries. But they got lucky too. The odds that their withdrawal strategy would succeed improved a few months after they retired, in 2010, when President Obama signed the Affordable Care Act.  The couple, who are too young for Medicare, no longer had to buy expensive private health insurance – access to the government health exchange drastically reduced the expense. …Learn More

bank cartoon

Credit Unions a Popular Antidote to Fraud

The 1980s featured bankrupt Texas savings and loans. Then, in the mid-2000s, Countrywide failed to clearly disclose to customers the spike in their subprime mortgage payments in year 3. In 2016, 5 million customers learned about their fabricated Wells Fargo accounts. And last year, Equifax breached 140 million customers’ privacy.

No wonder people are flocking to the friendly credit union in their church, labor union or workplace.

The widespread fraud reports making headlines with regularity have fed a perception that “fraud happens in the banking world and a lot of it goes unpunished,” said Mike Schenk, senior economist for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA).

“It’s not just Countrywide as an abstract concept. It’s that Countrywide put people into these toxic mortgages to make a buck.”  The 2008 stock market and housing crashes, fueled partly by the collapse of several subprime lenders, hammered this point home.

credit union table

CUNA has a bold marketing message: credit unions care more about their customers than impersonal banking behemoths. Schenk said he has the evidence to prove credit unions are benefiting from Wall Street’s financial shenanigans: membership increased an “astonishing” 4 percent in 2017, as the U.S. population grew less than 1 percent.

Of course, most banks aren’t bad guys, and they provide services that small credit unions can’t.  Banks frequently upgrade their technology – Bank of America’s ATMs are cutting edge. Large banks also have much larger networks of ATMs and branches, and they can service the large corporate accounts credit unions aren’t equipped to do.

So, what do credit unions do better?  Here are their three big advantages: …Learn More

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