January 10, 2017
Try Walking in the Working Poor’s Shoes
Minimum-wage workers in 21 states and Washington D.C. will have larger paychecks this year.
But it’s still extremely difficult to eke out a living on the minimum wage, as demonstrated by this video game. The game, “Spent,” was actually the topic of Squared Away’s very first blog in 2011 and is worth featuring again.
The Urban Ministries of Durham in North Carolina designed Spent a few years ago so others could see how it feels to live on about $300 per week – the weekly income of those earning the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour but at the low-end in many states. The game conveys the very real, sometimes impossible, financial choices faced by working men and women who use the organization’s food pantry and clothing closet.
The game was updated a few years ago to incorporate both the monthly premiums and more reasonably priced health care offered by the Affordable Care Act.
Employers from Arizona to Maine are being required to increase their 2017 minimum wages to anywhere from $8.90 to $12.50 per hour, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Many of the ballot initiatives, legislation, and automatic cost-of-living adjustments driving these wage hikes promise more increases in the future.
Click here to try walking in the shoes of a minimum-wage worker.
January 3, 2017
Our Readers’ Favorite Blogs in 2016
The 10 articles that received the most attention from our readers last year are ranked below in the order of their total page views. Retiree taxes and Medicare made up the top three:
Why Most Elderly Pay No Federal Tax
Medicare Advantage: Know the Pitfalls
Federal Taxation Drops for Retirees
Financial Fallout from Gray Divorce
Stress is One Reason People Retire
How Many Years Can You Do Your Job? …Learn More
December 1, 2016
Retirees’ Tax Puzzle: Pay Now or Later?
The majority of retirees pay no federal taxes. But taxes should be a concern for retirees who have retirement savings. That’s because the money they take out of their retirement accounts for living expenses will be treated as federal taxable income. It’s difficult enough to figure out how much money to withdraw – and when. Taxes are a separate but related issue.
In this blog, we interviewed Michael Kitces, a well-known financial adviser and partner with a Maryland financial firm, who writes the “Nerd’s Eye View” blog. He discusses the basics of navigating the tax code. The challenge facing retirees is to make tax decisions today that will minimize taxes now and in the future.
Question: Do you find that new retirees are surprised by their retirement tax situation?
Kitces: It’s usually not even on their radar screen. Pre-tax and post-tax income, different tax buckets – I don’t think most people even think about it once they’re in retirement. That’s why we’re still seeing people who are “surprised” when they turn 70½ and the required minimum distributions (RMDs) begin, and their tax bill gets a whole lot higher. They say, “Why didn’t we plan for this?” We say, “We’ve been recommending you plan for this for years!” …Learn More
October 27, 2016
Parents Pass (Bad) Money Habits to Kids
When people are asked why they are stressed, money – or the lack of it – is often at the top of the list.
Ask psychologists why this is so, and many would point to a deeper explanation: our parents.
How and whether our parents talked about money, as well as the emotional tenor of these conversations – or silences – are critical to how we manage money as adults.
Sonya Britt, a certified financial planner and associate professor at Kansas State University, explained how these family dynamics play out in a research summary written for financial planners, under a contract with the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Britt describes a two-way street between parent and child. Parents signal their attitudes about money, either through purposeful and explicit messages or in unconscious ways. Meanwhile, children learn the behaviors that take them into adulthood by observing what parents do. These observations can override financial knowledge in shaping behavior.
For example, college students who remember that their parents had healthy credit card practices, such as living within their means, are more successful at keeping their college debt under control. Generally, parents are advised to talk about financial matters with their children – it’s known as parental financial socialization. Avoiding such conversations has a negative effect that can “wreak havoc on children as they age.” In extreme cases, silence can lead some to hoard money as adults and others to be careless spenders.
Financial dependence in post-adolescence is an emerging issue as young adults extend the amount of time they live in their parents’ homes, often to cope with college debts and inadequate employment options. Young adults whose parents provide financial help tend to develop dependency. In contrast, the offspring of people with fewer financial resources – who can’t help their children – learn more quickly to become financially independent. …
October 13, 2016
Medicare Enrollment Help is Plentiful
Open enrollment starts Oct. 15 for people who’ve signed up for Medicare and must buy into or change their supplemental Advantage or Part D prescription drug plans.
The Medicare Rights Center in New York tells me that you can “make as many changes as you need during this period” and that “only your last coverage choice will take effect Jan. 1.”
A long list of resources appears at the end of this blog to help Medicare beneficiaries through the enrollment process. But there’s a lot of hoopla around the Oct. 15-Dec. 7 enrollment period, so it’s important to know what Oct. 15 is not about.
One’s birthday – and not a date on the calendar – determines when people should initially enroll in the Medicare program. Most people turning 65 who are not covered by their own or their spouse’s employer health insurance at work are required to enroll in Medicare Parts A and B during a seven-month period that starts three months prior to their 65th birthday. During this seven-month window, new Medicare participants must also sign up for their Part D drug plans – or risk paying a lifelong penalty. Oct. 15 is not the trigger date for selecting Medigap plans either.
Here’s what the Medicare open enrollment that starts Oct. 15 is about: figuring out the right Advantage or Part D drug plan to buy or switch to. This is a complex process that involves multiple choices, anticipating your future health care needs and expenses, and a lot of research into the plans available.
It’s an implicit recognition of Medicare’s complexity that so many resources are available to help with this process, from private and government-funded consultants to YouTube videos and detailed web pages on the Medicare website. The following resources and blogs can help answer your questions: …Learn More
October 11, 2016
Financial Product Legalese – it’s on You
The Center for Plain Language had this to say about the legal fine print that overran one advertisement for an investment product:
“Once again a financial institution that expects me to trust them with my money makes it impossible for me to know what they are going to do with my money.”
The Center had singled out a Charles Schwab & Co. ad for a Wondermark “award” for unintelligible writing. But the center might have been referring to any of the hundreds of financial institutions that inundate us daily with online and television ads or the credit card offers that come in the mail.
Financial minefields pervade all aspects of our lives too. The 2016 Wondermark awards went to Victoria’s Secret for the “mumbo-jumbo” in its lengthy credit card agreement and to a Phoenix healthcare company that offers discounts to low-income customers – but first, they must decipher the confusing chart that explains who qualifies.
The person who nominated the healthcare company for an award said its discount information “seems like a classic case of the 0.2% who understand this chart will receive 85% of the Medical Financial Assistance, but they are clearly 400% above the average American who just got out of the hospital and has 0% of a clue as to what they’re talking about.” [Oddly, this chart seems to indicate that customers with higher incomes get larger discounts.] …Learn More
September 27, 2016
Annuities Have Real Value
The value that annuities can provide to retirees may not be obvious, but it is real.
Annuities are also becoming increasingly valuable as fewer people have that traditional source of reliable retirement income: an employer pension.
Insurance company annuities, like pensions, pay out a monthly income no matter how long you live. These payments come from three sources: 1) the initial amount invested to purchase the policy; 2) the interest earned on the amount that’s invested before it is paid out; and 3) “mortality credits.”
These mortality credits are the essential element that protects retirees from outliving their savings. As a retiree moves through her 80s, a growing share of the other people in the annuity pool die. The funds they leave behind in the pool are used to continue making monthly payments to those who are still living.
This is the starting point for a new summary of academic research on annuities by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which supports this blog. To fully understand the individual studies, it’s necessary to read the report. But here are some takeaways: …Learn More