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
In a webinar next Thursday, an official from the Social Security Administration will explain the fundamentals of calculating and claiming benefits.
Social Security represents the largest single financial resource for most baby boomers, so deciding when to file for benefits is their single biggest retirement decision.
The value today of that future stream of monthly checks – $287,200 for the typical household aged 55-64 – far exceeds the value of home equity or 401(k)s for most people, according to 2010 data from the Federal Reserve Board. And it often exceeds the value of their traditional defined benefit pension plan – if they even have one. The lower one’s income, the more Social Security matters too.
The webinar was organized by the National Retirement Planning Coalition for financial planners, who are not always familiar with all the rules for the program. But anyone can participate, according to the coalition leader, the Insured Retirement Institute. (Full disclosure: the Center for Retirement Research, which hosts this blog, is a coalition member). Space is limited and going fast for the webinar, which will also be available online a few days after the webinar on this website.
The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index has climbed steadily and surpassed its 2007 peak last week, and even sluggish European markets are showing signs of life as investors rush back in.
This interregnum between the collapse of global financial markets in 2008-09 and the next bubble – whenever and wherever that may occur – is a good time to reconsider investor behavior.
In this video, Ben Jacobsen, a finance professor at Massey University in New Zealand, discusses behavioral economics, market panics, and “strange” and inexplicable behavior.
“Most people,” Jacobsen concludes, “have a great difficulty assessing risk and what risk is.”
Check out another blog post about research confirming that people tend to rush in when the market is rising and pay dearly for stocks and then sell in a panic after experiencing large losses. Morningstar data also indicate that long-term investors have better returns if they buy and stay put.Learn More
Over the past 25 years, the difference in wealth held by white and black households in the United States has nearly tripled, to $236,500.
In December, Squared Away wrote about the difficulty that black families have in trying to accumulate wealth so they can pass it on to their children. New research out of Brandeis University’s Institute on Assets and Social Policy now finds that the gap between the median net worth for white and black households has widened to a chasm, as blacks have fallen farther behind.
The study also quantified the reasons for the widening gap and found that the difficulty of building up housing equity is the largest factor.
A house is usually the single largest asset owned by middle-class American families. But starkly different homeownership patterns between blacks and whites – ownership rates are lower for blacks, who also own their homes for fewer years than whites – accounted for 27 percent of the increase in the wealth gap.
Housing’s impact has been “incredibly large” and is the “key driver” of the growing black-white wealth gap, said Thomas Shapiro, the institute’s director. “It’s part of the disadvantage that keeps working its way through the life course” from one generation of a black family to the next, he said. …Learn More
More than half of baby boomers and Generation Xers do not realize how much they are likely to pay out of their own pockets for medical bills after they retire.
Many “were seriously underestimating the amount of savings they would need to accumulate in order to cover health in retirement,” according to what may be the first comprehensive survey and analysis of what Americans expect to pay – and how far off their estimates are.
The good news is that Medicare pays roughly 60 percent of retirees’ total costs. The bad news is that they have to somehow cover the other 40 percent, which is particularly expensive for those who live longer (read women).
If this new study carries one big message, it is that boomers need to learn more about what will certainly be one of their biggest retirement expenses. For example, by 2020, the range of out-of-pocket spending is expected to vary from $2,453 per year for a typical person with low health care needs to $7,272 for the typical high spender. Boomers also may not be aware that the bite that Medicare premiums take out of their monthly Social Security checks will increase sharply by 2020.
The new analysis of the disparity between future retirees’ expectations and what they’re facing was conducted by law professors Allison Hoffman at the UCLA School of Law and Howell Jackson at the Harvard Law School. …Learn More
At tax time, many Americans think, often fleetingly, about spending less and socking away more for retirement.
Until April 15, the IRS permits people who do not have a pension plan at work to deduct up to $6,000 for money placed in an IRA; taxpayers who do have an employer pension can also receive the IRA deduction if their earnings fall under the IRS’ income limits.
The tough question that trips people up is: How much will I need?
The easy way to think about this is in terms of the income necessary to maintain your current standard of living after the paychecks stop coming in. Click here for a tool that estimates both how much you’ll need and how much you’ll have if you continue on your current path.
The calculator, created by the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog, was designed for people over 50 and on the retirement runway. Younger people can also get a ballpark idea of how they’re doing using the calculator. Or click here for the percent of your wages to put into a tax-deferred retirement fund.
This is a beta website with a few kinks, and it works smoothly only on the Safari and Google Chrome browsers. But the results are sound and backed by academic research. Here’s how to read the results. …Learn More
Enrollment in 401(k)s is higher in companies that use auto-enrollment than in companies that don’t. But the innovation falls short of an ideal solution to the nation’s low retirement savings.
That’s because corporations using it contribute less of their workers’ earnings to the plan than do companies without it, according to a revised paper by Urban Institute researchers Barbara Butrica and Nadia Karamcheva.
“Firms are profit-maximizers, so we’d expect that, if there is some cost to providing these benefits, they may reduce their match rates to control their costs,” Butrica said.
The researchers found that employers that automatically enroll employees in their plans match their employee contributions up to 3.2 percent of earnings, which is lower than the 3.5 percent average match by employers in their study without auto enrollment. Their statistical analysis shows that it has a significant effect.
Americans are saving very little for their retirement, and news and reports often focus on what individual employees are or are not doing right. Why don’t they save enough? Do they properly invest their 401(k) savings?
This research adds a different perspective: the conflict corporations face between providing better benefits to employees – so they can recruit and retain talent – and maximizing profits to satisfy Wall Street or investors seeking higher profits.
Corporate motivations and decisions can “substantially affect future retirement security,” the authors wrote in an executive summary of their paper funded by the Retirement Research Consortium, which supports this blog. …Learn More