Posts Tagged "debt"

Flatline: U.S. Retirement Savings

Baby boomers’ balances in 401k and IRA accounts have barely budged for most of the past decade.

In 2004, the typical U.S. household between ages 55 and 64 held just over $45,000 in their tax-exempt retirement plans. Plan balances for people who fell in that age group in 2007 rose but settled back down after the biggest financial crisis in U.S. history. In 2010, they were $42,000, a few bucks lower than 2004 balances.

These are among the reams of sobering data contained in the Federal Reserve’s 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances released in June. The $42,000 average balance is for all Americans – it includes the more than half of U.S. workers who do not participate in an employer-sponsored savings program.

There’s more bad news buried in the SCF: the value of other financial assets such as bank savings accounts dropped in half, to $18,000. And hardship withdrawals from 401(k)s have increased, to more than 2 percent of plan participants, from 1.5 percent in 2004.

So, where did all that wealth created by the longest economic boom in U.S. history go? The 2008 financial collapse didn’t help. But we can also blame the baby boom culture. Click here to read a year-ago article that examines the cultural reasons for the troubling condition of our retirement system.

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What You May Have Missed

A few articles Squared Away readers might’ve missed while they were on vacation are listed below.

A link to each article appears at the end of these summer headlines:

Couple Reach Across Financial Divide

Little Thought Put Into Retirement Date

How Can Debt Enhance Self-Esteem?

Progress Stalls for Young Adults

Free Financial Advice Goes Online

10 Student Loan Prevention Strategies

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word 'debt' being erased

Student Loan Prevention: Part 2

Last week, Squared Away published the first five of 10 strategies to help parents and their college-bound kids limit their borrowing through student loans.  As promised, readers can find the remaining five ideas below.

On a complexity scale, finding a college is comparable to buying a house, and some of these debt-cutting strategies are extremely difficult to put into practice.  In addition to the financial challenges involved, the emotional aspects of parent-child dynamics and the college application process are daunting.

But the soaring cost of an undergraduate education has made student debt prevention a top priority for most families.  Here’s more help from college financial advisers.

  • Get Practical

Deborah Fox of Fox College Funding LLC in San Diego said the days of majoring in English, philosophy or history are over – or should be.  Given the financial pressures of college, she said, students can’t afford to “just study what’s interesting to you.”  When weighing future earnings for graduates with such majors, the numbers just don’t add up, especially if the English degree is from a high-cost institution like Columbia University (high cost among private colleges) or the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (expensive for in-state students).

Fox asks her clients to identify skills the college-bound teenager is good at.  When entering college, they should already have a handful of potential occupations in mind.  Then they can focus on relevant internships, jobs, courses and life skills that will help them get a job when they graduate – and begin paying back their loans.  Freshmen should immediately begin testing their theories about the work they’ll want to do – “possibilities they could get excited about,” she said.  She tells clients’ kids to “start exploring them immediately, shadow [people in their field], take someone out for coffee.  Find out what is the day-to-day work like.” …Learn More

Student Loan Prevention: Part 1

It’s panic time! College-bound teenagers and their parents are excitedly touring colleges this summer, or they’re signing the dreaded Stafford loan documents to pay for college in the fall.

One thing is crystal clear in the emotional fog of this exhilarating rite of passage: parents and their teenagers both need to get serious about limiting their dependence on student loans. Squared Away asked several experts on financing a college education for their best tips on minimizing total borrowing for college.

Some of their debt-cutting strategies are difficult to swallow. But since 2005, student loans have shot up 55 percent, to $24,301 per student, for an undergraduate degree that has, as one financial adviser noted, become “ubiquitous.” Yet college places an unprecedented financial burden on parents also saving for retirement and on graduates when they get their first full-time jobs. Debt prevention also requires families to face head-on the emotional roadblocks to an affordable education.

Squared Away came up with 10 debt-prevention strategies. Here are the first five ideas, with five more scheduled for next Tuesday. Links to Web resources are also sprinkled throughout the article.

  • Aid Deadlines Are Crucial

Buy a calendar and red marker and closely track every single deadline for merit or need-based aid – they’re different for each college under consideration.

“If I could give you one piece of advice that would be it,” said Lyssa Thaden, a financial education manager for American Student Assistance, which educates and counsels student-loan borrowers.

Thaden listed four common mistakes that cost parents dearly, requiring them to borrow more: …Learn More

Businessman amongst a crowd

How Can Debt Enhance Self-Esteem?

The media went crazy last month over research determining that debt – whether college loans or credit cards – is a major source of self-esteem for young adults.

Judging by the tone of these articles, the reporters were so flabbergasted that they didn’t think to ask the logical follow-up question: Why? Credit cards aren’t inherently bad, though they can get people who abuse them in trouble. But equating self-esteem with debt seems to turn the notion of financial judgment on its head.

So Squared Away consulted therapist Dave Jetson and financial planner Rick Kahler, both of Rapids City, South Dakota. They often work together with clients on their financial issues but offered different explanations for this puzzling phenomenon.

Because debt is increasingly required to get a college education, Kahler said it may benefit from the glow of what an education represents. Debt has become a mark of being “smart enough to get through college.”

Jetson sees a dramatic cultural shift that is influencing today’s young adults. This shift coincides with shrinking economic opportunity for many college graduates. …
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Chart: U.S. Credit Card Balances

Credit Card Act Increased Payoffs

Government policies often seek to alter human behavior: a 2009 tax credit for first-time homebuyers, for example, encouraged more people to buy houses.

Now research has determined that the first federal update since 1968 to the interest rate disclosures on credit card statements has changed card users’ behavior for the better.

The Credit Card Accountability, Responsibility and Disclosure Act of 2009 (CARD) increased the number of users who pay off their bills each month, from about 60 percent prior to the act, to between 64 and 69 percent currently, concluded Cornell University doctoral student Lauren Jones, Ohio State University professor Cäezilia Loibl, and Cornell professor Sharon Tennyson.

They also found that the size of card holders’ payments, relative to their debt levels, increased, and that fewer card users are paying only the minimum. Their findings, though somewhat mixed, provide support for the increasingly popular notion that more precision and clarity in financial-product disclosures can be effective.

Their research controlled for the effects of the Great Recession and its aftermath, when consumers slashed their debt; in other words, card holders improved their behavior on top of the belt tightening forced upon them by lower wages, unemployment and other recessionary impacts. A previous report also suggested that other provisions of the CARD Act that made it more difficult for college students to obtain credit cards have curbed card use on campus.

However, Jones cautioned against being complacent about CARD’s impacts, because they are “positive and significant” only for a subset of credit card users. …
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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

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