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What’s New in Retirement Research

Millennials, longevity, Americans’ retirement outlook – these are among the topics economists tackle in five interesting research briefs.

Links to each brief below appear at the end of their titles. (Full disclosure: the researchers are at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which funds this blog.)

  • “Will Millennials Be Ready for Retirement?” – They are the most educated generation. Yet they lag previous generations of young adults in their retirement preparedness. Student loan debt is one big reason.
  • “National Retirement Risk Index Shows Modest Improvement in 2016 – Rising house prices boosted individuals’ wealth, modestly improving our retirement outlook. But, again, Millennials face significant headwinds.
  • “Is Working Longer a Good Prescription for All? – Most households’ retirement plans would benefit from working longer, saving more, and delaying Social Security. Low-income and less-educated workers with the most to gain financially, however have fewer job options for postponing retirement. …
  • Learn More

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The Ultimate in Travel: Retiring Abroad

retirees photo

Tami Fincher dives into projects head first. Two years into a 5-year plan to retire early in Central America, her short list – so far – is Boca Chica and El Valle de Antón, in Panama, and Guanacaste Province, in northern Costa Rica.

She and husband Stephen Fincher are making their plans to join the growing number of Americans-turned-expatriate retirees. In 2016, more than 603,200 Social Security checks were mailed to retirees, their spouses and widows living abroad. They are moving as much for the adventure as for the lower cost many countries offer.

An exotic retirement isn’t for everyone. Even if they could save on living costs, people who’ve never been keen on international travel might prefer to remain close to home and grandchildren.   But the baby boomer wave is pushing up the number of U.S. retirees living abroad – by 11 percent in five years, according to the U.S. Social Security Administration, which tracks its pension checks sent overseas. Ex-pat’s favorite countries include Japan, Mexico, France, Thailand, and Colombia. (More are listed on the next page.)

To assess the pros and cons of Costa Rica vs. Panama, the Finchers made their first exploratory trips, to Costa Rica last June for their 20th anniversary and to Panama over the New Year’s holiday. If Tami, age 53, has her way, they’ll retire in about three years and sell their Houston home to relocate. …Learn More

Boat that says "Tax refund"

Low Earners Save Their Tax Refunds

Cash-strapped workers understandably are tempted to spend their tax refunds, a sort of financial lifeboat that floats by once a year.

Financial experts see the windfall as something more: an ideal opportunity to sock money away. Yet only about 10 percent of low-income workers save their refunds, even though doing so could prevent the financial dominoes – past due bills, late rent payments, or delayed car repairs – from falling. These are common outcomes when their spending gets out of whack.

Past experiments that tried to encourage cash-strapped low earners to save had modest success. A novel research study looks for clues to what motivates them by examining who spends the refund versus who saves it. The central finding in a Journal of Consumer Affairs article: the people who saved had put some thought into predicting the size of their refunds at the time they filed their taxes. This held true whether their estimates were accurate or not.

The act of estimating in advance “appears to be a form of planning,” said the researchers, University of Rhode Island professor Nilton Porto and Michael Collins, director of the University of Wisconsin’s Center for Financial Security.

Porto said they don’t know the reason estimating leads to saving, but he had one idea. The connection between the two could stem partly from the taxpayer having some advantage, such as financial skill or superior knowledge – in short, they might have higher financial literacy. …Learn More

Businessman carrying white mask - business fraud and faking concept

Cautionary Tale of Defrauding the Elderly

Two Morgan Stanley investment advisers agreed last week to plead guilty to stealing nearly $500,000 in a set of schemes that took particular aim at their elderly or retired clients, the U.S. Department of Justice charged. One client is in his mid-80s.

Multiple allegations detailed in the federal complaint demonstrate the creative ways that trusting older individuals might be deceived. For example, the Justice Department (DOJ) indicated that college tuition may have been the auspice or motivation for adviser and broker James S. Polese’s alleged fraud to obtain $320,000 from the client in his 80s – labeled Client B in the complaint.

The allegations included that Polese, age 51, knew a $50,000 loan from Client B for his children’s college expenses was prohibited by Morgan Stanley and was “a conflict of interest between the client and his adviser,” said the complaint, which was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Boston.

Polese and Cornelius Peterson, who both live in the Boston metropolitan area, also worked together to divert money from Client A and also a Client B to a failed wind farm investment without their knowledge, the complaint said. A third client allegedly paid inflated fees.

The brazen allegations in this case come amid reports that financial fraud against the elderly is on the rise. Retired people with nest eggs can be enticing targets for scam artists, and the elderly are “likely financially vulnerable” if they are experiencing cognitive decline, one study said. Further, a trusting senior might have more difficulty detecting financial deceptions that involve complex transactions. (Little detail about the clients’ personal situations was disclosed in the court documents.)

Morgan Stanley said that it fired Polese and Peterson in June 2017 immediately after uncovering the fraudulent activities and “referred the misconduct to regulatory and law enforcement agencies.” The two are registered brokers, and the Securities and Exchange Commission was involved in the investigation. The brokers agreed to plead guilty, said a statement from the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts. A plea hearing is scheduled for February 15.

Client A and Client B were involved in the wind farm investment, the complaint said: Client A lost $100,000 after Peterson made “false statements” to his employer “when he signed a form stating that Client A had verbally authorized the $100,000 [wind farm] investment.” Client B, a businessman, was unaware that his funds were being used to support the wind farm, in the form of a loan account that could be used as a collateral backstop to the project, according to the charges. Although the funds were never used, Client B’s money was nevertheless put at risk, DOJ said, and he paid $12,000 in fees associated with the transaction.

Boston attorney Carol Starkey said her client, Peterson, age 28, was a “minor participant” and noted that Polese, who is 23 years his senior, was Peterson’s supervisor. Polese’s attorney did not respond to requests for a comment. …Learn More

Health Coverage Varies Widely by State

When it comes to state residents’ health insurance coverage, Utah and New Mexico are polar opposites.

TableSixty percent of Utah residents are covered at work – the most nationwide. New Mexico employers cover only 36 percent – the lowest coverage rate.

It follows that their Medicaid populations also differ. In Utah, the federal-state health insurance program covers the nation’s smallest share (10 percent) of poor and low-income workers. New Mexico’s Medicaid population is triple that (31 percent of residents), and its poverty rate is among the highest nationwide.

“Where you live can play an important role in what coverage options are available to you and how affordable they are,” said Rachel Garfield, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s senior researcher and associate director of its Medicaid and uninsured program. The Kaiser data are from 2016.

The factors driving the two indicators – employer vs. Medicaid coverage – are intertwined. A larger presence of big, successful companies ensures more employer coverage, raising the standard of living and reducing the need for federal aid. These are, in turn, influenced by other cross-currents in each state, Garfield said: the nature of its industry, whether retail, industrial, high-tech, or agricultural; population demographics, such as the number of immigrants; whether the state expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act (ACA); and the ebbs and flows of regional recessions and recoveries.

Take Utah. Despite being a primarily rural state with its “Mighty Five” national parks, it is chock full of major employers. Utah’s three largest have 20,000-plus workers each: Intermountain Healthcare, the University of Utah, and state government. Many more employ at least 5,000. Utah’s relatively slim Medicaid population is no doubt influenced by both its employer base and the state’s decision not to participate in the ACA’s Medicaid expansion, which increased the program’s income limits to make more workers eligible. …Learn More

My Hillbilly Roots

J.D. Vance’s rural Kentucky roots, described in his book, “Hillbilly Elegy,” differ from my father’s family in southern Indiana in one important way. Vance’s violent, angry mother was a substance abuser with a trail of failed relationships in her wake. Vance carries the childhood scars. My dad’s family was a bunch of kind, reticent, teetotaling farmers.

Alvin and Lena Belle Blanton and sons Gerald and Leland, 1966.

But the similarities between our families struck me too – Vance called his grandfather Blanton “Papaw,” which I’d always thought was unique to my own Papaw Blanton but, I now know, is an endearment. And believe me, the corn fields and hills of southern Indiana and contiguous Kentucky are more southern than Midwestern. My grandma’s fried chicken was heaven.

The backdrop for Vance’s hillbilly stories emerges front and center in my own take on family: I look at rural poverty through a socioeconomic lens.

Vance, an acclaimed writer and Silicon Valley investment banker, “got out” via the Marine Corps, Ohio State University and Yale Law School. “To move up,” he writes, “was to move on.”  With sheer determination – supported by his tough, caring Mamaw – he overcame long odds, childhood stress-eating, and psychological retreat from a conflict-filled home. His Yale scholarship wasn’t earned on grades but because “I was one of the poorest kids in the school.”

To be clear, I do not see “getting out” as pejorative. Nor does “getting out” mean getting away from family. Rural people relocate in search of better job opportunities than what is available in depressed areas with eerily quiet “downtowns” of struggling or abandoned establishments pushed out of town by big-box retailers like WalMart and fast-food joints. Getting out is code for earning a decent living, buying a modest house, having health insurance, and being able to retire. In short, capturing the American Dream.

In my family, the strategy of getting out worked for some but not for others. Please bear with me through my generational story.

My late father, Leland Blanton, left home – Jasonville, Indiana, population 2,147 – so that my two brothers and I didn’t have to. His father – Papaw – owned a small-town gas station and, due to childhood polio, walked with a cane. A midwife helped my father’s true-grit mother deliver him into a three-room farmhouse with an outhouse. Twenty years later, his ticket out was a high test score that paved the way to becoming a hotshot pilot in the U.S. Air Force in the 1950s and 1960s. Greenland, Saudi Arabia, Morocco, Greece, Germany, Bangkok, Saigon, Turkey – he flew to every corner of the globe. We all lived nearly three years outside Tokyo. …Learn More

gold, silver, and bronze stars

WSJ Recognizes our Retirement Blog

I was honored to be in the company of some excellent retirement writers recognized in a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, “My Favorite Writers on Retirement Planning.” Since I started writing this blog in May 2011 for the Center for Retirement Research, which is funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA), retirement writers have come out of the woodwork to help the swarms of retiring baby boomers – and many of us need it!

Others featured in the article by the Journal’s Glenn Ruffenach – some new, some veterans – include financial planner Michael Kitces, whom I’ve interviewed about tax strategies for retirement plan withdrawals. Most everyone knows Jonathan Clements, a former long-time Journal reporter now editing and writing a blog. Last but not least, I’ll mention Mike Piper, a certified public accountant – someone new to interview! – and Christine Benz of Morningstar, a Chicago firm that is a long-time source of data and information for this blog.

Each writer is distinct. So, what do we try to do here at Squared Away?Learn More

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