January 22, 2015
Winging It in Retirement?
Saving should be the centerpiece of any retirement plan today. But a new survey indicates that many Americans on the cusp of retiring have given little thought to the other key issues they’ll face in retirement.
A majority of older Americans recently surveyed by the American College of Financial Services, an educational organization for financial professionals, said they have set a goal for how much money to save to “live comfortably” as retirees. And, when asked to assess their own progress, they feel they’re doing a good job of it. Granted, the survey was limited to a select group of about 1,000 people over age 60, all of whom have at least $100,000 in investable assets.
But the financial risks posed by the transition away from full-time work and a regular paycheck are complex and continual – and preparing for them goes well beyond contributing to a 401(k).
Only a minority of people planning their retirement take into account these important financial issues: …Learn More
January 20, 2015
Errors in Medical Bills Are Rife
Ever try to make sense of a medical bill, with its co-payments, cost-sharing, and government or insurance-company reimbursements that haven’t been paid yet? Hospital stays with multiple doctors and lab tests make billing even messier.
These layers of complexity contribute to errors and confusion that can damage Americans’ credit ratings. Consumers “incur medical debts in collection without certainty about what they owe, to whom, when, or for what,” the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) reports.
When a hospital or physician hasn’t been paid, they may, after trying to resolve the issue in-house, pass the unpaid bill to one or a series of collection agencies. Yet nearly one in four of the complaints consumers have made to CFPB about medical bills in collection said the debt “is not mine.” One in five said they’ve paid the bill being reported as past due.
There’s new evidence that the number of people reporting medical debt issues is declining, and new federal rules are aimed at curbing aggressive collection practices for low-income patients. But medical debt still accounts for half of the collections posted on credit reports and is the largest source of complaints about credit reports, exceeding complaints about utility and cable bills and retail and financial transactions. …Learn More
January 15, 2015
The Psychology of Fraud
What makes this AARP video about fraud compelling is that a few brave seniors were willing to discuss how they were cheated out of a few thousand dollars, $20,000, even $300,000.
With the baby boom population aging at the same time that the Internet has become a haven for hackers, scammers, and invasions of privacy, experts predict that the incidence of online and other fraud against the elderly will continue to increase in coming years. Some researchers have begun to explore the topic of fraud and aging, with one recent study showing that people become more vulnerable to fraud as they age and experience natural cognitive decline.
The seniors’ testimonials in the video, produced by the AARP Fraud Watch Network, demonstrate how con artists’ strategies tap into our deepest emotional needs. “These tactics are so powerful, and [scammers] use them with such intensity that it is difficult to say ‘no,’ ” said Anthony Pratkanis, a psychology professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz.
Pratkanis explains four psychological strategies that con artists use to lure people into surrendering their money: …Learn More
January 8, 2015
Many in Dark About Their College Debt
A recent Brookings Institution report confirms for the first time how severely uninformed many college freshman are about the impact of the debts they’re taking on to fund their education.
This isn’t entirely surprising. But with tuitions continually rising and students now often forced to borrow the equivalent of a house down payment by the time they graduate, the Brookings findings should serve as a wake-up call:
- Half of the full-time freshmen surveyed “seriously underestimated” how much they were borrowing.
- Among students known to have federal college loans, four out of 10 either said they didn’t have any federal loans or didn’t have any debt at all.
According to the report, “Students who do not have a good idea of their level of borrowing may make expensive mistakes that they will later come to regret.” …Learn More
January 6, 2015
Fewer Need Long-term Care Insurance
Years of confinement to a nursing home is everyone’s worst fear for old age.
With a semi-private room now costing about $81,000 annually, the prospect of a lengthy stay is also a popular reason for buying a long-term care insurance policy to cover it.
Undercutting this rationale is a new study led by senior economist Anthony Webb of the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog. He finds that U.S. nursing home stays are relatively short: 11 months for the typical single man and 17 months for a single woman. There’s some unpleasant news in the study, too, because the risk that an older person may one day need nursing home care is 44 percent for men and 58 percent for women.
The significance is that nursing home stays are higher-probability, lower-cost events than previously thought, which reduces the appeal of purchasing long-term care insurance. This finding helps to explain why so few older Americans – 13 percent – buy the coverage to protect their financial assets from potentially being drained by nursing home bills. …Learn More
December 16, 2014
Evaluating a Pension Buyout Offer
Like many baby boomers, I’ve received an offer from a former employer that’s meant to entice: “The Company is offering you a limited-time opportunity to receive this benefit now, rather than waiting until you otherwise become eligible to receive payments from the Plan.”
My 17-year employment as a Boston Globe reporter entitles me to a $1,762 monthly pension for life, starting at age 65. I’m 57 now. But a few weeks ago, the company put two alternatives on the table: take a smaller pension that starts now or trade my pension for a lump sum of $170,000 in cash. The deadline for accepting the new offer: the day after Christmas.
The New York Times Co., which used to own the Globe, has no doubt made this offer to employees for the same reason most companies do: to reduce burdensome pension liabilities and create financial certainty. But what’s in it for me? And how should other boomers think about similar offers coming over the transom?
My first thought was this: I’m working now and don’t want or need a pension right away. This money is for my retirement. I view my decision as choosing between the remaining two options: my original pension at 65 or the new lump sum offer.
A senior economist here at the Center for Retirement Research, Anthony Webb, helped me compare these two options: …Learn More
December 2, 2014
Curbing Debt: It’s Not What You Know
The biggest financial hurdle facing workers with low incomes is just that: inadequate income to meet their daily needs.
Low-income households are further tripped up by their greater tendency to borrow at high interest rates – rates they are the least able to afford in the first place.
Some academic research blames this on poor financial literacy. But a new study out of Northern Ireland examines two separate aspects of financial literacy and finds the problem is not a lack of knowledge but rather an absence of money management skills.
Among “financially vulnerable” people, the study concluded, “money management skills are important determinants of consumer debt behavior” and “numeracy has almost no role to play.”
The study involved researchers conducting one-hour, face-to-face interviews in low-income neighborhoods in Belfast. They interviewed 499 people whose average gross earnings were the equivalent of $567 per week or less. …Learn More