May 16, 2013
Our Mission at Year 2
The best place to invest, the coolest cash back rewards, the smartest or cheapest or lowest-rate mortgage – infinite spin ushers out of the financial world every day, and it’s all aimed at you.
That’s among the reasons the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College started this blog in May 2011. The blog’s focus is not financial products but financial behavior: what people do, why we do it, and how we can do it better. At its two-year anniversary, the Squared Away Blog hopes that it has become a reliable source of information for a growing number of readers of all ages who struggle every day to save and invest for their own or their children’s futures.
It’s important to explain to readers what “reliable” means for a blog housed at a university think tank. First, it’s about credibility. We are not selling anything. The blog is supported by a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration, which has an interest in making sure Americans get good financial information.
Second, Squared Away routinely covers the latest research – our own or others – about financial behavior, or we use it to inform other articles you’ll read here. That’s because empirical research, which uses statistical analysis to figure out what’s really going on, is critical to understanding and tackling our personal finance challenges. …Learn More
May 14, 2013
Getting What You Need for Retirement
You can’t always get what you want. But if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.
Rolling Stones, 1969.
There is nothing better that most people can do to get what they’ll need in retirement than delaying when they start collecting Social Security.
The recent PBS documentary, “The Retirement Gamble,” sounded the alarm for many viewers who may be ill-prepared for the financial challenge of a long life – and not much retirement savings in the bank.
To address this growing issue, financial advisers often emphasize retirement-survival strategies to their baby boomer clients. These strategies revolve around the complexities of figuring out how much to save, how to invest, or the best way to spend one’s 401(k) assets post-retirement.
But the real problem facing most Americans is that they have meager balances in their 401(k)s – or none at all.
Putting off when one claims Social Security “is the best deal in town,” concluded an analysis by Steven Sass, program director at the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog. …Learn More
May 9, 2013
How Good Is Your 401(k)?
When Sanofi froze its defined benefit pension plan last year, the top brass wanted to make sure its 401(k) was seen as a worthy replacement by the company’s 24,000 U.S. employees and retirees.
Sanofi has succeeded, judging by Plan Sponsor magazine’s designation of the U.S. division of the French pharmaceutical giant as 2013 “Plan Sponsor of the Year.”
In corporate America, 401(k) plans are now the norm: in 2012, only 11 of Fortune magazine’s 100 largest companies still offered a traditional defined benefit pension, according to the consulting firm Towers Watson. But Sanofi U.S. had strong motivation for designing a 401(k) that is generous compared with typical 401(k)s.
The company has “highly technical, highly specialized, highly skilled [employees] that we have to recruit for and retain,” said Richard Johnson, senior director of benefits. “We wanted to ensure our employees had adequate retirement income.”
Squared Away recently interviewed Sanofi executives about their plan’s details, shown below, which readers can compare with 401(k) plans in their own workplaces. We hope you’ll post a comment on Facebook and let us know how, or whether, yours stacks up.
Here how Sanofi compares with other 401(k)s:
May 7, 2013
Retirement Countdown: Sheila Downsizes
Sheila Taymore could not afford the $2,200 mortgage and home equity loan payments, the enormous heating bills, and the repairs – so many repairs – on the home she’d owned for decades.
Sheila Taymore, 60, of Salem, Mass.
But selling it was emotional: she and her first husband had raised two sons in that house in the seaside town of Swampscott, north of Boston. Her decision to move was triggered by a recent divorce and came about two years after the death of her mother.
“I walked around and cried and said, ‘Who cares about this house?’ I make all this money, and all my money was going towards my house,” said Taymore, a Comcast Cable salesperson – last year was her best year ever.
She is like millions of U.S. baby boomers struggling, often imperfectly, to prepare financially for their imminent retirement. Wall Street may tout investment savvy as critical to ensuring a comfortable old age, but less lofty decisions can be more helpful to those with too little savings and too few working years left to make it up.
Taymore is also planning to delay her retirement to age 70. That will give her a larger monthly check from Social Security and fewer years of retirement to pay for. That was an easy call, she said, because “I just love my job.”Learn More
May 2, 2013
Health Reform May Impact Your Finances
Getting or keeping health insurance is central to many of the major decisions that working Americans make.
Canadian and European governments provide universal health care to their citizens, but this country has relied heavily on employers for health insurance, and only about two-thirds of them provide it. It’ll be fascinating to see how health care reform changes our decisions about work, starting a business, college, and individual finances when more Americans have access to coverage in 2014.
Research years ago established the influence of employer health insurance on the workplace. When employees are covered at work, job turnover is lower – workers know health care is a big thing to give up. There’s also newer evidence that people on the disability rolls, who receive health care as part of that federal benefit, are more likely to go back to work if they live in a state with better access to health insurance in the private market.
Retirement is another big decision driven by one’s health insurance options. Medicare eligibility at age 65 can trigger the decision, new research shows: people working for employers without any health benefits for their retirees are more likely to retire at 65, according to a paper by economists Norma Coe of the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and Matt Rutledge of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which supports this blog.
“We interpret this finding as evidence that Medicare eligibility persuades people to retire, because they can begin receiving federal health coverage,” Coe and Rutledge write. …Learn More
April 30, 2013
Translating Savings to Retirement Income
Determining how much money one will need in retirement is a mathematically and psychologically daunting task for many Americans. But new research has landed on a deceptively simple strategy for prodding workers to save.
Employees in an experiment at the University of Minnesota saved more for retirement after researchers provided them with a personalized chart with information similar to that shown below. Each employee’s chart translated a $100, $200, or $500 contribution, made every other week, into the amount of income each of these contributions would generate annually once they retired. If they saved more, they could see that it translated to more retirement income.
“We think people may have a hard time making that translation from an accumulation of wealth to an income flow,” said researcher Colleen Flaherty Manchester. “They’re used to the flow because that’s what they get every month or week in their paycheck.”
The income projections, she said, are “completing the circle for them to make it clear.” …Learn More
April 25, 2013
Student Debt Binge: How Will It End?
This recent Huffington Post headline captured the march of shocking data about our growing societal burden: “12 Student Loan Debt Numbers That Will Blow Your Mind.”
Here’s a sample:
- The student debt balance has hit $1 trillion and is still rising – it is now exceeded only by mortgage balances, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York;
- Student debt is held by 26 percent of households headed by someone between the ages of 35 and 44, and 44 percent of under-35 households, and it’s concentrated in poorer households, according to the Pew Research Center;
- 80 percent of bankruptcy lawyers said student loans were driving more clients through their doors for relief.
It remains unclear where this era of student debt is taking society. Sure, college graduates will bring in another $1 million in earnings over a lifetime. But anyone who’s thought about it can’t help worrying this nationwide borrowing binge may end badly.
To help those grappling with how to pay for the fall semester, feeling the emotional fallout of debt, or trying to understand the larger issues, Squared Away pulled together some relevant blog posts published over the past 18 months.
Click “Learn More” below to read more. …Learn More