Dennis Ackley says he doesn’t get a lot of holiday cards from the mutual fund industry.
The Kansas City, Missouri, consultant has become a well-known critic of the 401(k) materials that funds provide to employers, which usually leave the complex job of retirement planning to the workers to figure out. When speaking to a room full of 401(k) plan sponsors, he has a unique way of getting his point across. Ackley hands out sheets of paper similar to what’s shown here and asks them to wad them up and throw them at the target.
The problem – for the plan sponsors in the audience – is that Ackley doesn’t give them a target.
“Most of them are just kind of befuddled by the whole thing.” Befuddlement, he tells is audience, “is what young employees experience sitting in a 401(k) meeting.” …Learn More
A good friend in Houston recently emailed me to ask whether she should buy long-term care insurance. Let me be very clear about my answer: I have no idea.
This writer is like baby boomers everywhere trying to get a grip on this long-term care stuff. Where to start?
First, let’s look at the prices for long-term care. Squared Away used data from Genworth, one of the nation’s largest insurers in this market, to generate a U.S. map with the median cost in each state of a semi-private room in a nursing care facility.
Genworth’s goal is obviously to sell insurance. But I ran its data by a few people, and it held up well, with a few observations and caveats discussed later…Learn More
Nearly half of people who have cell phones pay more than $100 per month for the service and 13 percent pay $200 or more, according to a survey by an online coupon company.
That doesn’t include the cost of the physical phone, the app and music downloads, the extra data plans. A certified public accounting organization in Oregon, Oregon Saves, estimates that the total cost for a two-year contract can easily reach $3,000.
And then there are the rogue teenagers who go over the monthly limits on minutes set by their parents’ cell plans – eventually, the parents relent and buy an unlimited data/text plan, which drives up their monthly charges permanently.
Wow, this habit is getting expensive.
The cell phone isn’t the only electronic habit that’s costing us. We also pay hundreds for cable TV, the Internet on our home computers, the land line. The automatic withdrawals for these services suck hundreds from our bank accounts each month – and we may not notice how much we’re spending since the transactions are electronic…Learn More
New research suggests that the more mutual funds your 401(k) offers, the more likely you are to take the easy way out to escape the mental gridlock.
The typical 401(k) has seven mutual fund investment options, but some have as many as 21 funds. We may think we like choices, but behavioral research has shown that people simply can’t handle so many options – that’s why some employers have turned to auto enrollment in their 401(k)s or picking investments for workers who can’t or won’t make the decision.
A new study building on prior research finds that the more investment options an employee has the more likely he or she is to simply divide the money evenly among those options. This can potentially reduce the diversification in employees’ retirement portfolios, with long-term consequences.
“We find that considering a larger number of funds to invest in may be overwhelming for many investors,” said the research, by Gergana Nenkov and colleagues at Boston College, as well as Rutgers University, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Texas, Austin. Splitting the money evenly is how we cope.
“We just don’t have enough capacity to sift through the options that are out there,” Nenkov explained in an interview. Employees aren’t financial experts, and asking them to make these decisions is often “too much,” she said, and may even be “making us unhappy.”
The focus is on 401(k) choices in this study, recently published in the Journal of Marketing Research, But the argument may apply to the proliferation of all kinds of complex financial products, including credit cards charging different rates for balance transfers, purchases and cash advances, as well as debit cards with hidden fees and mortgages with complicated terms.
Multiple products act to prevent consumers from comparison shopping. But the demise of the defined benefit plan and the sudden responsibility thrown on employees to manage tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in their personal investment portfolios is clearly more than many of us can handle. Don’t feel bad either – Nenkov, who has a PhD in marketing, admits to feeling overwhelmed by the choices. (As does this blog writer.) …Learn More
Married couples have up to 567 options for deciding when and how to file for their Social Security benefits. Yes, 567!
“They are faced with a bewildering array” of choices, said David Freitag, vice president of Impact Technologies Group Inc. in Charlotte, North Carolina, which just released a spiffy, user-friendly Social Security calculator to help.
No wonder people just throw up their hands and claim their benefits at 62, when they first become eligible. But in the midst of the baby boomer retirement tsunami, oodles of calculators are coming online to simplify the decision for couples. Impact is offering a 14-day free trial to anyone who wants to test its calculator.
Couples’ strategies have become more complex, because today’s boomer wives have spent a lifetime working and because they may earn wages rivaling or exceeding their husband’s, said Jim Blankenship, a financial planner in New Berlin in central Illinois. There is also more money at stake in making the right decision, he said.
“Before, it was much easier to have a rule of thumb to go by,” he said. “The decisions are different than what they used to be.” …Learn More
Perhaps because our summer vacations are over and it’s time to increase our 401(k) contributions, Squared Away is on a jag about saving money.
Amitai Etzioni is one of the last old-school public intellectuals. He hasdone everything from writing 24 books to serving in the Carter White House and currently directs George Washington University’s Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies. But this video captures the wisdom of an 83-year-old man who taps deeply into the psychology of money in the 21st century.
Etzioni also wonders why, when he suggests his prescription to people, they “get angry with me.”
Since everyone is unique – and uniquely motivated – you may prefer a video that ran last week.
To support our blog, readers may also want to sign up for our e-alerts – just one per week – by clicking here. And there’s always Twitter!Learn More
Single people can receive tens of thousands more from Social Security over many years of retirement and couples can receive nearly $125,000 more by waiting until their late 60s to sign up.
The most common age for starting up Social Security is 62, when individuals first become eligible, even though monthly benefit checks would rise sharply if they’d wait. But it’s becoming increasingly worthwhile financially to hold out, according to economist Sita Nataraj Slavov of the American Enterprise Institute, who presented her research findings at the Retirement Research Conference in Washington last month.
This contradicts the conventional wisdom that no matter when people file, they’re going to essentially receive the same total amount over their entire retirement. The trade-off has always been between filing early and receiving a smaller check for a longer period of time, or filing later and receiving a bigger check for fewer years. Financially, it’s a wash.
But an economic fluke has changed all that: historically low interest rates. Slavov and co-author John Shoven, a Stanford University economist, have determined that, increasingly, there’s a payoff to holding out in this unusual rate environment. (More later on how that works.)
“There’s real money at stake here. This is not a trivial amount for most people,” Slavov said in a telephone interview. “What we’re trying to communicate is, it’d be good to think more about what you’re giving up when you claim early.”
At Squared Away’s request, Slavov calculated the present values for retirees who file for Social Security at the age at which they would maximize their benefits – she did so for the average single man, single woman, and two-earner couple. The payoff is largest for married couples who delay filing for benefits: …Learn More