One intention in introducing Squared Away this year was that it would become a forum for readers to share views about financial behavior, psychology, decision-making, products, education, and culture.
Some articles have been more successful than others in generating readers’ comments in the space provided at the end of each post. A post last week, “Long-Term Care: To Buy or Not to Buy,” was notable for the heat it generated.
It provided reasons the vast majority of the elderly do not purchase long-term care coverage from an insurance company. While the article, based on academic research, was about personal decision-making, readers focused on problems with the policies themselves:
Samantha Price noted:
Firstly, they are very expensive, so no one should be surprised why so many people are not buying. Secondly, many of the more affordable policies are issued by below-quality insurers, who have already shown their unreliability by being unable to pay their policyholders.
Let’s face it: thinking about long-term care insurance, nursing homes and home health aides is depressing.
It’s no wonder that just 10 percent to 12 percent of America’s elderly population has purchased a long-term care policy.
More are thinking about it though: New research shows that 40 percent of people 50 years or older who were surveyed had “thought a lot about needing long-term care” if they were to become ill in old age.
This research delved into the factors driving individual decisions about whether to buy long-term care coverage – or not buy. The decision “depend(s) on a complex amalgam of many different factors,” concluded a conference paper based on research conducted by the NBER Retirement Research Center.
Here are some of the findings in the paper, by Jeffrey Brown at the University of Illinois, Gopi Shah Goda at Stanford University, and Kathleen McGarry at the University of California at Los Angeles: …Learn More
Mid- and late-career professionals staring into their futures, eyes glazed, often don’t have a clue how much their health care will cost them during retirement.
Few pre-retirees know how many holes exist in Medicare coverage. One MetLife survey this year found that 42 percent of pre-retirees age 56 to 65 believe, incorrectly, that their health coverage, Medicare or disability insurance will pay for their long-term care. Such knowledge gaps make it virtually impossible for most people to take a stab at tallying their total costs, out of pocket, for Medicare, Medigap, and private premiums and copayments over years of retirement.
Retiree healthcare is “the elephant on the table,” said Dan McGrath, vice president of HealthView Services outside Boston. The omission amounts to hundreds of thousands of dollars per retiree.
Calculators that estimate retiree health expenses are scarce, according to a 2008 AARP brief. But HealthView’s calculator, recently upgraded, estimates total out-of-pocket health expenses, which are tailored to an individual’s specific medical traits – diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure etc. – and health habits – smoking, exercise etc.
The pioneering behavioral economist Richard Thaler said employers and the financial industry should increase their efforts to help people prepare financially for their retirement.
“Making it easy isn’t the most profound thing anyone has said. But if we want people to do a better job saving for retirement, make that easier,” he said last week at a Retirement Income Industry Association conference, backed by a wide-angle view of Boston’s skyline.
Thaler is co-author of the bestselling “Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness” and a pioneer in a branch of economics that rejects the convention that people are “rational” when it comes to making decisions. Behavioral economists acknowledge that people are psychological beings who don’t always act in their best interest and often do downright perplexing things. One prominent example is employees who do not sign up for their 401(k) retirement plan, leaving the money from their employer’s savings match on the table.
To nudge people to save, about half of U.S. corporations now automatically enroll their employees in their 401(k), according to consultants Callan Associates, though many offer it only to new employees. Before auto enrollment came into vogue, companies gave employees the option of signing up if they wanted to participate in the plans. With auto-enrollment, they must choose to opt out of saving, a strategy behavioral economists argue helps overcome the powerful inertia of doing nothing.
But employers typically deduct only 3 percent from employees’ paychecks. Thaler said this is nothing more an arbitrary percentage that a US Treasury Department official once mentioned in passing but that has now been accepted as gospel. It’s also too low by financial planners’ standards, particularly for mid- and late-career workers. “It’s time to get over that” and raise the rate, he said. …Learn More
When it comes to retirement, we women are in lousy shape.
We live longer, so will need more money when we retire. Yet we work less over our lifetimes and earn 80 percent of what men earn while we are working. As a result, we’ve saved less in our 401(k)s and IRAs.
Not surprisingly, the rising economic insecurity among all Americans ushered in by the Great Recession is more pronounced among women, according to reports Monday by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research (IWPR) in Washington:
58 percent of women interviewed by IWPR were concerned they would not have enough to live on in retirement, compared with 43 percent of men;
47 percent of women lacked confidence that their resources would last throughout their retirement, compared with 35 percent of men;
51 percent of women worried they would not be able to afford retiree healthcare, compared with 44 percent of men.
Financial data support women’s concerns. In 2010, the average balance in defined-contribution plans managed by Vanguard Group, one of the nation’s largest mutual fund companies, was $58,833 for women and $95,675 for men. The median balance was $21,499 for women and $33,547 for men.
Women’s personal retirement savings are even lower, relative to men’s, when one considers that women live much longer. Among women born in 1935, 51 percent are expected to live until age 85 – just 36 percent of men will, according to the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which hosts this blog. Fully 13 percent of women will make it all the way to 95 – only 6 percent of men will. …Learn More
When health care is factored in, more than half of Americans haven’t saved enough money for retirement.
But that price tag could become more unattainable under President Obama’s proposal last week to cut $248 billion from Medicare by raising premiums, copayments, and other health costs. With Republicans also talking reform, the impact of Beltway belt-tightening is coming into sharper focus for more than 45 million Americans covered by the federal program.
It’s a good time to revisit 2010 research by Anthony Webb, an economist with the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which hosts this blog. Webb calculated how much a “typical” retired couple, both age 65, needs today to cover out-of-pocket expenses over their remaining lives. The numbers are shocking:
A couple needs $197,000 for future Medicare and other premiums, drugs, copayments, and home health costs;
There is a 5-percent risk they need more than $311,000;
Including nursing-home costs, the amount needed increases to $260,000;
There is a 5-percent risk that will exceed $517,000.
To arrive at the estimates, Webb simulated lifetime healthcare histories by drawing on a national survey of older Americans. The difficulty for individual retirees who might want to use these estimates, however, is that their actual spending will vary widely depending on how long they live and their health outcomes. That’s where the risk comes in.
In this video, Alicia Munnell, director of the Center, interviews Webb about his research. To read a research brief, click here.
A centuries-old trend of retiring at an earlier and earlier age has completely reversed, concluded a July report by the TIAA-CREF Institute.
In 1910, men didn’t retire until they were about 73 but that dropped to age 63 by the mid-1980s, the golden era for generous union- and employer-sponsored pension plans. Then the retirement age and labor force participation ages started heading back up, according to TIAA-CREF’s report, “Early Retirement: The Dawn of a New Era?” Women experienced a similar though less dramatic trend.
The report provided numerous explanations for this, including the demise of the mandatory retirement age for most American workers; the improved health of older Americans; and technology that has created options about when and where they work. Many retirees go from full-time work to part-time “bridge” jobs.
But what about the economic and cultural forces that have left baby boomers, myself included, financially unprepared for retirement? Delay for us isn’t a choice but a financial imperative. …Learn More