This New Yorker cartoon by Trevor Spaulding is cute, but – spoiler alert – it’s not quite right.
A company offering a 401(k) retirement savings plan to its workers is a good thing, but it’s no “favor,” noted my long-time editor Steve Sass, an economist with a hawk eye for inaccurate retirement information. Setting up and funding a 401(k) is a big expense for employers. But many think it is worthwhile, because 401(k)s – and, more so, employers’ matching contributions – help them attract and retain the sharpest, most productive, or most-skilled workers.
Another employer calculation is that the income tax deduction employees get for saving, which costs the employer nothing, is especially valuable for those on the payroll who earn the most money and, by definition, pay more taxes. It’s a neat outcome that the tax deduction most helps those presumably doing the most for the bottom line, though the government does limit how much highly compensated employees can contribute based on how much the rank-and-file workers are contributing.
But, it’s no fun to criticize a cartoon!Learn More
A social worker hands Lenny Higginbottom, 52, the keys to a 378-square-foot apartment, the first home of his own after 24 years on the streets.
“Try to fight the tears,” he says, gripping the keys during a video accompanying a story by Boston public radio (WBUR) reporter Lynn Jolicoeur. “Something I thought I’d never be able to do,” Higginbottom says.
His past issues are not uncommon among the homeless: a father who died when he was six, depression, substance abuse, and a failed marriage. He had a Section 8 housing voucher but couldn’t find a landlord willing to rent to him due to minor criminal activity in his past. …Learn More
This Donald Duck cartoon, funded by the U.S. government in 1943, urged Americans to pay their income taxes to support the war effort. Paying taxes was a patriotic act, to build up the inventory of war planes and battleships to defeat the Nazis – “sink the Axis!” the narrator bellows.
Nobody liked paying taxes then, and they still don’t. Yet there was a growing awareness as the war played out in the 1940s that taxes – like saving your scrap metal – were necessary to advance the greater good.
Things are different today. There doesn’t seem to be as much room in the public conversation for the benefits that federal taxes bestow, such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid (nursing home funding) and the Part D prescription drug benefit for retirees, or for government investments in education, roads, and research – or about who would suffer more if deprived of these benefits.
“Most people who do in fact receive significant forms of economic security from the federal government don’t know it,” argued Molly Michelmore, an economic historian at Washington and Lee University, in a recent interview on New York public radio. …Learn More
Reflecting a lofty ambition to educate Delaware residents about financial management, state government officials put together some terrific videos.
This is not high-level finance – the speakers tell stories about real people facing up to the dimensional challenges of money and retirement. Viewers outside Delaware might find one of the 10 online Tedx talks valuable to them. Here are three:
Javier Torrijos, assistant director of construction, Delaware Department of Transportation: His take on the immigrant experience in a nutshell: “The parents’ sacrifice equals the children’s future,” said Torrijos, who has two sons and whose own father left Columbia for a tough neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York, in 1964 so his children would have a shot at escaping poverty. Today’s immigrants are no different. But the pervasive ethos of family above all else, he argues, is responsible for some of the Latino immigrant community’s financial instability.
When required to make the impossible choice between going to college or straight to work to support family, family usually wins. “That mentality still exists” but needs to change if Latinos are to improve their lot, he said. …Learn More
As more baby boomers retire, Social Security’s impending financial shortfall will become more pressing.
To restore solvency, Congress can either cut Social Security’s pension benefits or increase the payroll taxes deducted from workers’ pay.
Both policies would impact how much is available for households to spend. Researchers at the Center for Retirement Research find that the benefit reductions would have an appreciably larger annual impact on retirees than would the higher taxes on workers. But the taxes would be spread over a longer time period.
The new study looks at four specific policies, two that cut retirement benefits and two that raise taxes. Each policy analyzed would equally benefit Social Security’s finances.
Gauging their separate effects required using a model to predict workers’ behavior. This was necessary because some workers might feel they should retire earlier if more taxes are being taken out of their paychecks. On the other hand, if their future pension benefits will be trimmed, they might decide to work a few more years to increase the size of their monthly checks.
One option for reducing Social Security payouts would be to delay the full retirement age (FRA) at which retirees are eligible to collect their “full” benefits. A second option is trimming Social Security’s annual cost-of-living (COLA) increases.
A two-year increase in the FRA, to 69, would reduce annual consumption in retirement by 5.6 percent for low-income, 4 percent for middle-income, and 2.2 percent for high-income retirees. …Learn More
You have more debt than the two generations born during the early Depression and World War II, much of it compliments of the mortgage bubble that financed your larger, more expensive houses. The housing bubble popped in 2008, but the mortgage on the new house or perhaps a second mortgage continues to plague many.
It should be no big surprise that a new study finds the “substantial” debts taken on specifically by those born in the late 1940s and early 1950s will gobble up more of their not-always plentiful retirement income.
“The evidence clearly shows that many Americans” on the cusp of retiring “continue to be burdened by debt and to be financially vulnerable,” the researchers said.
The lead researcher, Annamaria Lusardi at the George Washington University School of Business, is a national expert in financial literacy. As part of her study, she also wanted to understand how these early boomers manage their debts. It turns out that people overburdened with debt more often have lower levels of financial literacy. However, debt is also an issue among older workers in poorer health or those who’ve seen their incomes decline, which is fairly common over 50. …Learn More
Federal Medicare spending will increase sharply as baby boomers, with their longer life spans than previous generations, sign up in droves. The Social Security Trust Fund also reports that its reserves will be depleted in 2034, requiring either benefit cuts or new revenues to replenish a program that keeps millions of older Americans either out of poverty or just above water.
These two programs currently account for about 40 percent of the federal government’s $3.7 trillion budget. Most people agree that we need to deal with the financial shortfalls in Medicare and Social Security. And there is precedent. Remember the bipartisan 1983 reform that put Social Security on firmer footing by increasing the program’s revenues and gradually raising its Full Retirement Age?
But there is growing concern among retirement experts and advocates for the elderly that the proposed $1.5 trillion in tax cuts will make future reductions to these critical retiree programs all the more likely in order to rein in growing federal budget deficits.
If cuts to Medicare and other social programs follow a tax cut, it would fly in the face of what regular folks said are their top priorities in a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll: Only a small minority of Americans support tax cuts if they involve cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid. …Learn More