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Get a Truly Free Credit Report

These federal government resources should be helpful to Squared Away readers ranging in age from 20 to 70:

Free credit report: Young adults in particular may not be aware they’re entitled to a free credit report from one of the major credit rating agencies. To ensure the report truly is free, click and follow the links to an outside source recommended by the Federal Trade Commission. To file a paper request or ask for a report by telephone, try the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website.

New U.S. Social Security Administration blog: The agency started a new blog last month to provide important benefit information under various programs. Here’s a sample of three useful articles on the blog:

Student Debt Burdens Non-Grads More

Cover of bookThe share of college students who must borrow to pay for their education has surged over the past decade. Average borrowing per student is also much higher than it was in 2004, though there’s evidence it might now be in decline.

Only now is serious research trickling in about the personal financial fallout from the nation’s $1 trillion-plus in student debt outstanding. But one new study reaches an interesting conclusion about the burden of student debt: it “is much greater among non-completers than among those who obtain a college degree.” One reason is that they can’t expect to earn the higher income that a degree confers on a graduate.

The study – part of an edited volume published by the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, “Student Loans and the Dynamics of Debt” – gauged the debt’s impact on various measures of personal financial stability, including the likelihoods of filing for bankruptcy protection and buying a house.

The researchers first analyzed a broad sample of U.S. households over age 29, controlling for income and other demographic characteristics. They found some negative impact as student debt levels rise, but this effect was “not particularly strong.”

However, there was a large impact on the financial stability of a subgroup of borrowers who had not completed their degrees. The personal finances of these “non-completers,” as the study called them, are “particularly susceptible to being burdened by student debt.”…Learn More

Workers See Regular, Roth 401ks as Same

Due to differing tax treatments, each $1,000 placed into a traditional, tax-deductible 401(k) costs less today than $1,000 placed into a Roth 401(k), but that Roth will provide more money in retirement.

New research indicates that workers don’t recognize this difference between the two types of employer-sponsored retirement accounts when deciding how much to save.

A $1,000 contribution to a traditional 401(k) costs the worker less than $1,000 in take-home pay, because the income tax hit on the $1,000 will be delayed until the money is withdrawn from the account. But a $1,000 contribution to a Roth 401(k) costs exactly $1,000 in take-home pay, because the worker has to pay income taxes on it up front. The Roth funds, including the investment returns, will not be taxed when they’re withdrawn.

A Roth 401(k) might be thought of as shifting additional money into the future, allowing people to spend and consume more in retirement. (This assumes the same tax rate over a worker’s lifetime.)

The upshot: to get a set amount of after-tax money for retirement, workers could contribute less to a Roth than to a traditional 401(k). But that’s not what they do. …Learn More

Lazy teenager

Teenagers Today Work Less

Chart: A Decade of Erosion in Teens' Labor Force ParticipationTeen unemployment has shot up in recent years, and their participation in the U.S. labor force has dropped to historic lows.

These data were highlighted in a series of recent reports by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston expressing concern that this trend may have long-term consequences for today’s teens, including lower lifetime wages resulting from their early absence from the labor market.

“This is a long-term trend that was going on prior to the Great Recession,” the author of the reports, Alicia Sasser Modestino, a former Federal Reserve researcher now at Northeastern University, said in a recent interview.

Last year, nearly 54 percent of teens in the 16-19 age range who were trying to get their first job – their official entry into the U.S. labor market – were unemployed, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. …Learn More

Annuities: Useful but Little Understood

What makes a man tick

The general public is very cool on annuities. But many economists like the idea of retirees using some portion of their savings to buy them.

Annuities, with their fixed monthly payments, may be the best way to ensure retirees’ savings last just as long as they do. Otherwise, they may either spend it too fast and deplete their savings prematurely or spend too conservatively, depriving themselves of necessities in their old age.

New research suggests that one reason retirees don’t buy annuities is because they have great difficulty figuring out what they’re worth. When they try to figure this out, they bump up against their own cognitive limitations – limitations that only worsen with age.

In the study, 2,210 adults over age 18 were asked to estimate the value of a monthly annuity familiar to most workers: Social Security benefits. First, the research subjects were asked if they would pay $20,000 to “buy” a $100 increase in their monthly Social Security benefits. If the person said no, the survey repeated the question with a lower amount, eventually zeroing in on what this additional $100 benefit was worth to them. Next, the research subjects were asked to reduce – or “sell” – their monthly benefits by $100 in return for a specific dollar amount paid to them upfront.

In theory, the buy and sell prices they finally arrived at should be equal. But there was an enormous gap between the two. The median price research subjects were willing to pay was $3,000, and the median price at which they would sell was $13,750. There was also a wide range of sales prices among the individual participants: some would accept $1,500 or less, while others wanted $200,000 or more. …Learn More

Video: College Borrower’s Remorse

Parents should watch this video with their college-bound children.

The young adults featured in “Voices of Debt” have one thing in common: a lack of understanding of the financial implications of debt at the time they were taking out their student loans.  So it’s critical that parents start this conversation early with their children.

The compelling video, produced by Manhattan ad agency The Field, speaks for itself.  Similar videos can be found here.Learn More

Students Borrowed Less in 2013-14

student loansHere’s actually some good news about student debt: borrowing by undergraduates is now declining.

Annual borrowing by all full-time undergraduates peaked at $6,122 per student in the 2009-10 academic year and fell to $5,490 by 2013-14, according to the Urban Institute’s new report, “Student Debt: Who Borrows Most? What Lies Ahead?”

For its shock value, the media toss around the $1.2 trillion figure – the total of all U.S. student loans outstanding. The institute provides a more refined look at student debt by diving into U.S. Department of Education data to learn who tends to borrow the most and why.

The findings are summarized here: …Learn More

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