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:
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
April 23, 2013
Financial Boot Camp Helps Army Enlisted
A U.S. Army requirement that newly enlisted men and women complete an ambitious personal finance course is having some impressive results.
At a time when financial education is increasingly being criticized as an ineffective way to raise Americans’ low saving rate, an 8-hour course held on 13 Army bases is significantly boosting how much military personnel are saving for their retirement – among both big and small savers. They also trimmed their debts.
The strong results, described in a new study by William Skimmyhorn, an assistant professor at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, are also sending a ripple through the financial literacy community.
“The reason this study is so interesting is because it’s so unusual,” said Harvard University’s Brigitte Madrian, co-director of the household finance working group for the National Bureau of Economic Research. “There aren’t a lot of other scientific studies one can point to” that show empirically that financial education can improve an individual’s well-being, she said. …Learn More
April 16, 2013
Women “Reactive,” Not Planning Finances
What motivates women to get to work on their personal finances? Change.
Emotions are also important motivators. But “the most compelling factor” spurring most of the women interviewed in a focus group to take action was a significant life change, Utah State University researchers write in the Journal of Financial Counseling and Planning.
Since April is financial literacy month, Squared Away is again making an appeal to women, who continue to make strides professionally, yet lag men in understanding how to manage their money.
“Major life changes like a premature death of a spouse or divorce are often the wake-up call to people to reassess their lives,” said Utah State researcher Jean Lown, who also teaches a workshop, Financial Planning for Women.
This tendency isn’t necessarily a good thing for women. Rather than being “reactive,” she said, women need to learn to plan ahead and prepare for the future.
For Megan Rowley, who conducted the focus group, the women’s stories hit home. While Rowley pursued her master’s and worked full-time at Utah State, her husband left a part-time job to complete his MBA. After they graduated, he found employment at a pipeline company in Salt Lake City, and she became a stay-at-home mother, said Rowley, who wants to become a financial counselor when her three young children are older. …Learn More
March 28, 2013
Store, Online Browsing Can Be Dangerous
Impulse purchases – new spring clothes or an expensive dinner out – can create a rush. But a few minutes of pleasure can blow a hole in the budget for a month. If it’s chronic, it can eat into savings for a down payment or retirement.
The reason for these rash decisions is obvious: see it, want it. But for people who want to better understand – and prevent – their impulse buys and remain on budget, FinCapDev, which is hosting an online competition for a financial literacy app, recently posted a reading list of three research papers that explain why we can’t resist buying stuff.
- One study has confirmed that store browsers actually are vulnerable to impulsive purchases, because the act of browsing through a store’s merchandise produces positive feelings. “It is a state of high energy, full concentration, and pleasant engagement,” researchers wrote in a 1998 paper that is probably relevant to online browsing. Can you relate? …