Our personal biases can play havoc with how we handle our finances.
Two such biases have long been suspected as obstacles to saving for retirement. The first is a tendency to procrastinate on decisions that may benefit an individual in the long run, but also involve short-term costs, like saving for retirement – economists call this “present bias.”
The second bias is a failure to perceive the power of compounding investment returns and how this can build wealth over decades of saving.
But the impact of these biases on how much people actually save wasn’t really understood – until now. A new study by a team of economists from Stanford University, the University of Minnesota, the London School of Economics, and Claremont Graduate University finds that people who are not blinded by these two biases in particular have saved significantly more for retirement, largely because they start putting money away earlier in life.
The researchers based their findings on a big sample of nearly 2,500 people in online surveys in 2014 and 2015; the average age was about 49. To determine the consistency with which they value the present over the future, the survey asked the participants a series of questions about whether they would, for example, rather have $100 now or a larger amount on some future date – people who want their money now are a bit like Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons, who became famous for wanting a hamburger now but offering to pay for it later. The survey questions about compounding revolved around estimating an account’s future value, using a variety of different interest rates and time periods. … Learn More
It probably doesn’t feel like it, but workers got a decent pay raise in 2015.
Inflation last year was an improbably low 0.7 percent, and the fairly strong job market helped, too, by pushing up average hourly wages by 2.6 percent. Together, these translate to nearly a 2 percentage point increase in workers’ pay. Wages rose again in January by one-half percent, which was the second-best monthly increase in the current economic expansion. Minimum wages are also going up in many states.
It gets even better, based on an analysis by the American Institute of Economic Research (AIER) in western Massachusetts. An inflation measure designed by AIER that it calls the everyday price index, or EPI, actually declined last year. As its name implies, the EPI gauges changes in prices for things that are necessary for daily living, such as utilities and groceries, and excludes infrequent big-ticket items such as cars, homes, appliances, and even clothing. For this reason, it also weights gasoline more heavily than the standard consumer price index (CPI). The EPI declined 1.4 percent for the 12-month period ending in November, the latest data available, compared with the 0.7 percent increase for the CPI. …Learn More
Day care, sneakers, cell phones, maybe college – kids are expensive. When they grow up, empty-nesters face a decision about what to do with their extra money.
What they choose is crucial to their retirement security for two reasons – one obvious, and one subtle but very important.
The Center for Retirement Research estimates that about half of U.S. workers might not have enough savings to maintain their standard of living after they retire. So, the obvious thing to do after being freed from child-rearing obligations is to put more money into an employer retirement plan. But 401(k) saving increases only modestly after the kids leave home, according a study by the Center comparing empty-nesters with parents whose kids are still living at home.
The Center’s researchers confirmed this finding using two separate sources of data on married households’ finances. One was a University of Michigan survey of nearly 2,500 households in which the man was over age 50, with financially independent offspring defined as those who are no longer living at home and, if they are college students, have not attended school continuously. The other was U.S. Census data on more than 40,000 adult households of all ages, with independence defined simply as over age 23. …Learn More
The above video qualifies as Personal Finance 101 – one critic dismissed it as nothing more than “common sense.” But that’s appropriate for the audience and worth sharing with teenagers and young adults in your life who are just starting on a financial path.
The speaker, Alexa von Tobel (three years before she agreed to sell her online advisory company to a major insurance company for millions of dollars) provided common sense goals for people who get their money the old-fashioned way – one paycheck at a time.
She proposed these five financial priorities (with minor alterations by Squared Away):
Follow a budget.
Have an emergency savings account.
Strive to become debt-free. Pay credit cards in full.
The Earned Income Tax Credit is a critical lifeline that lifts some 9 million low-income Americans out of poverty – half of them children.
But the federal tax refund program isn’t perfect. The large refunds come just once a year, in the spring tax filing season. A cash crunch is a year-round problem for working families with low or erratic incomes who can’t always pay their bills.
A new study by the Center for Economic Progress identified additional financial benefits from the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) when participants in a Chicago pilot project received smaller, regular EITC payments throughout the year.
For example, workers who received the quarterly payments – in May, August, October, and December – were much less likely to have high-rate payday loans than people whose EITCs came all at once, helping program participants to avoid expensive late fees on payday loans. There was also evidence that workers in the EITC pilot accumulated less total debt, though the sample size was small.
The participants surveyed overwhelmingly said they preferred the periodic payments, and they reported lower stress levels than the control group. Shirley Floyd explained why in a previous blog post:
When Floyd receives a one-time tax refund in February, “the entire thing is gone” by March. But each payment she received in the pilot program, she said, allowed her “to do what you need to do.”
The program was run by the Center for Economic Progress, which provides financial services to low-income families. David Marzahl, president, was disappointed that about one-third dropped out of the research pilot, leaving only 217 participants who saw it through to the end. Nevertheless, he feels the pilot confirmed the concept’s potential to help low-income working persons with children and would like to see it expanded into a nationwide program, administered by the IRS. …Learn More
If two people – one black, one white – have good jobs with comparable incomes, the black person would still be less likely to have a taxable investment account, such as a mutual fund, a new study finds.
Numerous reports have shown that black Americans have fewer retirement and other savings accounts, and less money in those accounts than white Americans. But the problem with many of these comparisons is that they lump people together, regardless of how much they earn.
A new study by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation looks at one type of account – taxable investment accounts – and controls for income as well as two other characteristics that influence wealth: education and age. The study, using data from a 2012 survey of more than 25,000 U.S. households, found that when everything else is equal, black American households were still 7 percentage points less likely to have taxable investment accounts than white households; and Hispanic households were 4 percentage points less likely to have such taxable accounts than white households.
FINRA also identifies other characteristics typical of the one-third of households with a taxable account. …Learn More
Longer lives, eroding Social Security benefits, and rising health care costs – these are just some of the reasons older workers need to save more in their 401(k)s.
To encourage them, Congress in 2001 approved a “catch-up contribution” for workers over age 50. The size of this additional tax-deductible contribution started at $1,000 in 2002 and jumped to $4,000 by 2005 and $5,000 in 2006. (After 2006, it continued to increase, though only at the rate of inflation, and is currently $6,000.)
But the catch-up contribution has not turned into a broad-based solution to Americans’ retirement woes that some proponents had claimed at its passage. According to researchers at the Center for Retirement Research (which supports this blog), it helps only a select group of older workers: those who were already contributing at or near the tax-deductible maximum allowed on their regular 401(k) contributions. It’s a group with higher-than-average incomes and wealth than the typical older worker. …Learn More