Is 62 Dead (as a Retirement Age)?

Life expectancy rises. Wages stagnate. Retirement accounts shrink. Guaranteed monthly pensions are an endangered species.

The average U.S. age for men retiring from work has gradually increased to 64. Yet age 62 continues to be held out as the popular standard, perhaps because that’s Americans’ marker for Social Security eligibility.

Is retirement at age 62 destined be a casualty of dovetailing medical, financial, economic and even political trends? Many baby boomers are already postponing retirement into their mid- or even late 60s. One study found that claiming Social Security at 62 is becoming less popular, a trend that is expected to continue despite the hardships of the Great Recession.

“I don’t think it’s dead, but its health has eroded,” Chuck Miller, a Chicago communications consultant who specializes in retirement, said about age-62 retirement in this country.

Wisconsin’s failed recall election for Governor Scott Walker suggested growing U.S. voters’ disdain for generous pensions and early retirement ages, even as Europeans protest government proposals to raise public employees’ retirement ages. Rhode Island has already raised its employee retirement age to 67, from 62 previously. And voters in San Jose just approved measures to scale back public worker pensions that included an increase in the retirement age.

Squared Away readers, where do you stand? Have you or will you retire at age 62? Tell us about your situation or your theories!Learn More

Progress Stalls for Young Adults

The promise of America is progress, but that progress stalled for the youngest generation: U.S. workers under age 45 earned dramatically less than workers who were that same age a decade ago, the Federal Reserve Board’s latest survey shows.

For Americans 35 through 44, the median household income – the income that falls in the middle of all earners – was $53,900 in 2010. That’s 14 percent less income than in 2001 when households in the 35-44 age bracket were earning $63,000, according to the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances released Monday. For young adults in the under-35 age bracket, median income fell to $35,100 in 2010, from $40,900 for that group in 2001.

The median income also declined, by nearly 9 percent, for Americans in their peak earning years, 45 through 54, to $61,000 in 2010 from $66,800 in 2001. [Incomes for all years are in current dollars.]

The sharp decline in real incomes, especially for young adults, occurred in a decade bracketed by the high-tech bubble of early 2000 and the jobless recovery of 2010 from the financial crisis. Without further analysis, it’s difficult to pinpoint precise explanations for the patterns. But the reasons vary depending on the age bracket being analyzed.

For the youngest workers, incomes may be lower if many are extending their college educations – high school and college graduates face the lowest level of employment ever recorded.
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National park entrance

Couple Reach Across Financial Divide

Meet Shannan Schmitt, 40: She cannot resist $200 Via Spiga pumps, hickory hardwood floors, or the fancy soaps and gourmet goodies at the farmers market where she likes shopping with her toddler son.

Meet her husband, Randy Nauman, 36. His penny-pinching ways are dictated by the numbers and his bachelor’s degree in finance. Her Internet shopping drives him to distraction.

“Opposites attract,” said their financial coach, Kelley Long.

Married five years, the Cincinnati couple’s willingness to discuss their finances publicly, for this article, is rare. But their marital discord over money is not: A recent survey found that the typical American couple argues about money three times a week, and past academic research has found that the more couples argue about money the greater is their risk of divorce.

Nauman said money “is the biggest issue,” and he worries it may be severe enough to jeopardize their marriage. “It leads into other stressful situations and arguments that don’t need to happen,” he said.

But Long, who owns KCL Financial Coaching in Chicago (formerly Cincinnati), said Schmitt and Nauman are like other couples who marry at a later age. “It’s harder to combine your finances if you’ve already had a chance to establish your financial habits” before getting married, she said.Learn More

Enough to Make You Dizzy


Some of Michael Najjar’s images transport people to the precarious heights of the Andes mountain range in Argentina. Others focus attention on the severe cliffs over which a mountain can slide.

Using photographs taken during his climb to the summit of Mount Aconcagua, Najjar used the computer to manipulate the images of surrounding mountain ranges to track the paths of the world’s stock market indexes over the past three decades.

Inspired by his ongoing interest in technology, he attempted to evoke the impact of algorithmic trading on stocks and options trading, which carves out some market peaks and valleys. “I wanted to do something extremely physical to rematerialize what has become invisible,” Najjar said in a recent telephone interview from his Berlin studio.

Before Squared Away reveals which photograph the artist himself believes depicts Europe’s precarious financial and economic situation, click here to make your own decision. …Learn More

College Loans: A Punitive System?

News emerging on several fronts points to what increasingly looks like a student-loan system stacked against young adults fresh out of college.

The Federal Reserve Bank of New York last week said college debt outstanding surged to a record $904 billion – the figure, from a new and improved Fed data set, was higher than had previously been thought. What was also noteworthy was that the central bank said a $300 billion spike in college debt since 2008 has occurred during a time other U.S. households slashed $1.5 trillion from their loan balances in a massive, post-recession belt tightening.

Student loan debt “continues to grow even as consumers reduce mortgage debt and credit card balances,” Fed senior economist Donghoon Lee said.

Washington is the first place to look for one Kafkaesque aspect of the college loan system. Politicians are engaged in brinksmanship over whether to allow the expiration of a temporary interest rate reduction for the Stafford Loan program put in place in 2007. This would cause the rate to double, returning to its previous level of 6.8 percent.

That’s a nice interest-rate spread for the federal government, which currently pays historic lows of about 1.5 percent on 10-year U.S. Treasury Bonds and 2.5 percent for 30 years. Even taking into account the sky-high default rate on student loans, is 6.8 percent a fair price for recent graduates to pay? …Learn More


Couples’ Rifts Increase With Age

Newlyweds beware: The longer you are married, the more you will argue about money.

U.S. married couples argue an average of three times per month about their joint finances. But once couples hit their mid-40s, these spats increase to four times per month, according to a telephone survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,005 adults by the American Institute of CPAs.

“The stakes are higher” for older couples with more money in savings, said Kelley Long, a member of the Institute’s financial literacy commission. She said middle-aged couples also argue fiercely about steep financial obligations, such as how to pay for the children’s college.

What does all this emotional “baggage” have to do with newlywed bliss? …
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Boomers May Stop Work Because They Can

Baby boomers who’ve left the labor force in their pre-retirement years are in better financial shape than they once were.

The wealth of non-working Americans between ages 55 and 61 increased from $83,000 in 1992 to $98,000 in 2008, according to new research from the Urban Institute in Washington.  (Comparisons are in constant dollars.)

Potential explanations for this trend range from greater U.S. inequality that launched more boomers into the top wealth tier to a rise in the numbers of married men who don’t work – but have wives who do.

Barbara Butrica, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute, said her study did not look into the “why” for the emerging group of voluntary non-workers who are approaching traditional retirement ages, married and single men in particular.  One possibility, she said, is that “they are leaving the labor force because they can afford to.” …Learn More