Happy Holidays text

Enjoy!

Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC.  To stay current on our Squared Away blog in 2017, we also invite you to join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here.       Learn More

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Financial Misinformation Shared Online

My mother sent an anxious email that included the above picture, which one of her elderly friends had emailed to her as a warning about coming tax increases.

“Have you seen this?” my mother asked in her email.

I’m glad she inquired, because it took 15 seconds to learn on factcheck.org that this misleading information has made the rounds on the Internet for three years in a row, updated to the new year – 2017 this time.

There are nuggets of truth in the misinformation above. The Medicare tax already increased as part of the Affordable Care Act. However, it applies only to employed couples earning more than $250,000 and employed individuals earning more than $200,000. The retirees living in my mother’s very modest senior community – and most working Americans – are not affected. Yet “shocking” information like this rears its head over and over again on Facebook, Twitter and other social media.

At a time that misinformation is deliberately being fabricated, and one such lie coursing through the Internet even spurred gun violence at a Washington, D.C., family pizza joint, it’s time to bring attention to false financial information that, unwittingly, people may be sharing online. …Learn More

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Bypassing College for a Professional Job

Apprenticeship programs in the United States are largely found in just a few unionized skilled trades: construction worker, plumber, electrician.

But a recent panel made up of British and American employers and other experts made the case that U.S. employers in myriad professional fields – health care, social care, information technology, law, medical exercise therapy, lab technician, teaching assistantship, nursing, and finance – would benefit from thinking more creatively about providing apprenticeship training.

Apprenticeship programs are much more common among U.K. and other European employers. Microsoft Corp. is a big exception here: its U.S. program, modeled on what the company does in Europe, will graduate 1,000 apprentices next year, said Bill Kamela, Microsoft’s policy counsel for U.S. government affairs. Apprentices “have incredible intangible skills, and they’re incredible learners,” he said.

These programs seem more relevant than ever in the wake of U.S. and European elections shaped in part by blue-collar voters dissatisfied with their economic circumstances, said Tom Bewick, founder of New Work Training Ltd. in London, which arranges employer apprenticeships. Bewick moderated the November panel for the Urban Institute in Washington.

“Our working and middle classes are in revolt against stagnating wages, a lack of affordable housing and distant institutional structures that come across as elitist,” he said. Apprenticeships aren’t a “silver bullet, but they are surely one of the practical responses to this set of challenges.” …
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Retirement Isn’t Always Fair

Chart of SESMore than half of older Americans with the lowest socioeconomic status can expect to face an income gap if they retire when they’re planning to.

That finding is from a study by the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog. The researchers quantified and compared the gaps in the retirement preparedness of more than 3,000 older U.S. households, grouped by four levels of educational attainment.

First, the researchers estimated the target income that each working household will need in retirement to maintain its current standard of living.  That target income will be less than its current income from working, because retirees no longer need to save money, and they pay less in taxes.  Then, the researchers projected the income each household will actually have – at each different retirement age – from their Social Security, employer retirement plans, regular savings, and home equity.

When a household’s projected income reaches the target, that’s the age at which they can expect to retire comfortably. But people don’t necessarily make decisions that are in their best financial interest. …
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Inside the Minds of Older Workers

A decade of research into the impact of cognitive aging shows that workers throughout their 50s and 60s are generally just as productive as the younger people working alongside them.

A new summary of this research, by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, explains how older people are able to adapt to the gradual loss of brain mass in the parts of the brain associated with memory and an ability to think on one’s feet – their “fluid intelligence.”

Brain scans

The highly skilled pharmacy profession is a good example of how workers in their 50s or 60s adjust to this changing dynamic.  These pharmacists have an advantage over their younger coworkers in what psychologists call “crystallized intelligence,” which is the deep reserve of information stored up over decades of working in their profession.  They can no longer process drug interactions and other new information as rapidly as they once did.  But they can tap into their reserves to solve the myriad issues that crop up in their work.  This crystallized intelligence – for pharmacists and many other types of skilled jobs – is effectively making up for their loss of fluid intelligence.

Interestingly, older workers who execute routine tasks usually aren’t at risk of aging out of their jobs for cognitive reasons either.  That’s because even though their fluid intelligence is in decline, they have more than enough of it in reserve to complete their relatively simple tasks.

While the majority of older workers do not lose their productivity due to cognitive aging, two groups are vulnerable.   One group is those for whom the work demands on their fluid intelligence are extremely high.  A 2009 study of air traffic controllers highlighted this challenge – and demonstrates the logic behind a Federal Aviation Authority requirement that controllers retire at age 56. …Learn More

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Student Loan Repayment: 12 Rules

It’s easy to drown in the financial details of student loan repayment.  Here’s a life preserver.

The rules of thumb listed below were culled from interviews with two experts on student loans. Betsy Mayotte is director of consumer outreach for American Student Assistance, a non-profit that educates people about their loans. Craig Lemoine is program director for the American College of Financial Services, which trains financial planners.

1. If you earn enough to make your payments, start paying.

The reason: Student loans in most cases must be repaid in full.  The sooner you start making your full monthly payments, the sooner your loans will be paid off and the less in total you will have to shell out.  A decision about how much extra to pay on student loans should be weighed in the context of other financial goals, including paying off high interest credit cards and putting enough money in a 401(k) to ensure you receive your employer’s match.

2. Open your student loan mail.   

The reason: Owing tens of thousands of dollars is serious business. Ignoring a letter from the company that holds your loan won’t make the problem go away – in fact, it could worsen things.

3. Call your loan servicing company.  But do not call without doing some homework first.  

The reason: If you’re struggling to pay your loans, the companies that handle your student loans can be very helpful.  They are experts not only on your particular loan account but also on the federal government’s rules for loan repayment. Nevertheless, student loan servicers are not perfect.  Representatives might not know much more than is on the U.S. Department of Education’s website, Lemoine said.  And sometimes their advice can conflict with information from another representative in an earlier phone call. To make sure you’re getting the best advice, it’s important to read the information on the federal website, know your potential options, and compile a list of detailed questions pertinent to your unique situation. “Going in blind can cost you money,” he said.

4. The best option for lower-income former students with high debt levels is an income-based repayment plan. …Learn More

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Retirees’ Tax Puzzle: Pay Now or Later?

The majority of retirees pay no federal taxes. But taxes should be a concern for retirees who have retirement savings. That’s because the money they take out of their retirement accounts for living expenses will be treated as federal taxable income. It’s difficult enough to figure out how much money to withdraw – and when. Taxes are a separate but related issue.  

In this blog, we interviewed Michael Kitces, a well-known financial adviser and partner with a Maryland financial firm, who writes the “Nerd’s Eye View” blog. He discusses the basics of navigating the tax code. The challenge facing retirees is to make tax decisions today that will minimize taxes now and in the future.

Question: Do you find that new retirees are surprised by their retirement tax situation?  

Kitces: It’s usually not even on their radar screen. Pre-tax and post-tax income, different tax buckets – I don’t think most people even think about it once they’re in retirement. That’s why we’re still seeing people who are “surprised” when they turn 70½ and the required minimum distributions (RMDs) begin, and their tax bill gets a whole lot higher. They say, “Why didn’t we plan for this?” We say, “We’ve been recommending you plan for this for years!” …Learn More

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