Social Security poster

Readers Debate Retirement Issues

It’s always interesting to see which Squared Away blogs get the strongest reaction from our readers. The June blog, “Husbands Ignore Future Widows’ Needs,” was one of them.

Some readers felt that the results of the study described in the article don’t match up with their experiences. The researchers determined that husbands often are not sensitive to the fact that if they sign up for Social Security in their early 60s, they could be locking in a smaller survivor benefit one day for their widows.

“The elderly couples with whom I do retirement planning are typically very conscious of each other’s needs,” said a critic named Jerry.

But financial planner Kathleen Rehl has the opposite experience when working with couples. “Most couples hadn’t previously known their options and ramifications of those choices,” she said. “Such an important planning concept.”

The blog was based on a study conducted for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium – consortium studies by researchers around the country are featured regularly on Squared Away.

Here are other 2019 articles about the consortium’s research on various retirement and labor market issues that readers weighed in on: …Learn More

Social Casinos: Stay Far, Far Away

This report about online casinos is incredible.

The PBS Newshour reports that these gambling websites – for poker, roulette and slots – are able to target people who are the most vulnerable to gambling addiction. The video features a site that assigns VIP status to encourage vulnerable customers to keep playing.

That’s not the only problem. Customers pay real money to buy chips to gamble or cover their losses on the gambling site. But when the customer wins, the website “do[es]n’t pay real money. They only…give you virtual chips to continue to play on their apps,” said a Dallas woman who said she lost $400,000 while gambling online.

Only 1 percent of Americans are gambling addicts, so the problem, while very serious for them, is not widespread. However, in the video, Keith S. Whyte of the National Council on Problem Gambling said that online social casinos are far more addictive than brick-and-mortar casinos.

Whyte said these social casinos are not regulated. The social casino profiled in the video said that it strives “to comply with all applicable standards, rules and requirements.” …Learn More

child drawing with chalk

Medicaid for Children Pays Off Later

Medicaid health insurance, which covers a third of the nation’s children, has a payoff down the line: fewer adults on disability.

A well-known benefit of Medicaid is that low-income children covered under the insurance program turn into healthier adults. But a recent study found that these health improvements translate to another positive outcome for adults: fewer applications to Social Security’s Disability Insurance (SSDI) program, which provides monthly cash benefits to people who are not healthy enough to work.

The study, conducted by researchers at Middlebury College and Vanderbilt University, used U.S. Census data to follow 63,000 individuals between ages 25 and 64 who were exposed to Medicaid for various lengths of time during childhood, depending on when they were born and when their state first implemented the program, which Congress passed in 1965.

First, the study confirmed the health benefits of Medicaid coverage for children: the adults in the study could more easily pass a few basic tests of health and physical stamina, such as lifting 10 pounds, standing for an hour, and walking up 10 stairs.

And better health did, indeed, reduce their applications for SSDI – and ultimately, the number of adults receiving disability benefits. In fact, the longer they would have been insured under Medicaid as children, the less likely they were to apply for disability, said the study, which was for NBER’s Retirement and Disability Research Center.

This is a clear example of how early intervention can reduce government spending down the road. …Learn More

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Social Security: the ‘Break-even’ Debate

Our recent blog post about the merits of delaying Social Security to improve one’s retirement outlook sparked a raft of comments, pro and con.

In the example in the article, a 65-year-old who is slated to receive $12,000 a year from Social Security could, by waiting until 66 to sign up for benefits, get $12,860 a year instead. By comparison, it would cost quite a bit more – about $13,500 – to buy an equivalent, inflation-adjusted annuity in the private insurance market that pays that additional $860 a year.

The strategy of delaying Social Security “is the best deal in town,” said a retirement expert quoted in the article.

Aaron Smith, a reader, doesn’t agree. “It will take 14 years to make that ($12,000) up. Sorry but I’ll take the $12k when I’m in my early 60s and can actually enjoy it,” he said in a comment on the blog.

Smith is making what is known as the “break-even” argument, which is behind a lot of people’s decisions about when to start collecting their Social Security.

But other readers point out that the decision isn’t a simple win-loss calculation. The benefit of getting a few extra dollars in each Social Security check – between 7 and 8 percent for each year they delay – is that it would help retirees pay their bills month after month.

This is a critical consideration for people who won’t have enough income from Social Security and savings to maintain their current standard of living after they stop working – and 44 percent of workers between 50 and 59 are at risk of falling short of that goal.

One big advantage of Social Security is that it’s effectively an annuity, because it provides insurance against the risk of living a long time. So the larger check that comes with delaying also “lasts the rest of your life,” said Chuck Miller, another reader. …Learn More

Paper airplanes in a row

Second Careers Late in Life Extend Work

Moving into a new job late in life involves some big tradeoffs.

What do older people look for when considering a change? Work that they enjoy, fewer hours, more flexibility, and less stress. What could they be giving up? Pensions, employer health insurance, some pay, and even prestige.

Faced with such consequential tradeoffs, many older people who move into second careers are making “strategic decisions to trade earnings for flexibility,” concluded a review of past studies examining the prevalence and nature of late-life career changes.

The authors, who conducted the study for the University of Michigan’s Retirement and Disability Research Center, define a second career as a substantial change in an older worker’s full-time occupation or industry. They also stress that second careers involve retraining and a substantial time commitment – a minimum of five years.

The advantage of second careers is that they provide a way for people in their late 40s, 50s, or early 60s who might be facing burnout or who have physically taxing jobs to extend their careers by finding more satisfying or enjoyable work.

Here’s what the authors learned from the patchwork of research examining late-life job changes:

People who are highly motivated are more likely to voluntarily leave one job to pursue more education or a position in a completely different field, one study found. But older workers who are under pressure to leave an employer tend to make less dramatic changes.

One seminal study, by the Urban Institute, that followed people over time estimated that 27 percent of full-time workers in their early 50s at some point moved into a new occupation – say from a lawyer to a university lecturer. However, the research review concluded that second careers are more common than that, because the Urban Institute did not consider another way people transition to a new career: making a big change within an occupation – say from a critical care to neonatal nurse. “Unretiring” is also an avenue for moving into a second career.

What is clear from the existing studies is that older workers’ job changes may involve financial sacrifices, mainly in the form of lower pay or a significant loss of employer health insurance. But they generally get something in return: more flexibility. …Learn More

Magnifying glass over the words 'life insurance'

Prevent Life Insurance Surprises

Angela Mahany was completely in the dark about how complicated her late husband’s finances had become.

Dick Mahany, in a loving effort years ago to make sure she would be set financially when he died, had borrowed money from a whole life insurance policy that had built up a cash balance to buy a term life insurance policy payable at his death. But when he used up the whole life policy’s value, he had to come up with enough cash to pay the premiums for both policies.

Angela discovered her husband had been doing this just a few months before he passed away in February 2017. By then, he was suffering the effects of Agent Orange exposure during the Vietnam War and could not help her figure out how to pay the premiums.

“When I was all of a sudden responsible for the finances, it blew my mind,” Angela Mahany, 73, said.

Her finances were far more complicated than the circumstances most people can expect to face when they become widowed. But being uninformed about the life insurance is not unusual.

“A husband wants to be in control, and he’ll take care of things,” said Paul Brustowicz, a former insurance agent and a grief counselor at his church. “The problems occur when he does not tell his wife about everything or what’s been done. Of course, this can also happen to a widower, if his wife handles the finances.”

Brustowicz recalled one woman who walked into the insurance company where he used to work and informed the receptionist that she could no longer afford the premiums on her deceased husband’s life insurance. The clerk looked up her policy number and confirmed her suspicion about the widow: rather than owe any money, she had $25,000 in death benefits coming to her. “The wife had no idea,” Brustowicz said. …Learn More

Healthcare.gov logo

The ACA and Retirement: Is there a Link?

When older workers are able to get health insurance from a source outside of their jobs – Medicare, a spouse’s job, or an employer’s retiree health coverage – they become much more likely to decide it is time to retire.

So it’s reasonable to ask whether the Affordable Care Act, which provided millions of people with health insurance for the first time, has also helped to nudge more older workers into early retirement.

The answer, surprisingly, is no, according to a recent study for the University of Michigan Retirement and Disability Research Center.  This finding is important, because baby boomers who are poorly prepared financially to retire should be working longer – not retiring sooner – to improve their retirement outlook.

The researchers, who are at the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University, estimated that the uninsured rate of 50- to 64-year-olds dropped substantially after the ACA went into effect in 2014 – from 16 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2016.  But when they tracked these older workers for several years, they found no evidence that they started retiring at a faster pace after the ACA established the state insurance exchanges and gave tax subsidies to people who purchased coverage on the exchanges.

The study also looked at whether retirement activity increased in response to a separate provision of the ACA: the expansion of the Medicaid health insurance program for low-income Americans.  The expansion, which was voluntary for each state, was achieved by increasing the income ceiling for eligibility. The federal government gave a financial incentive to states that broadened eligibility for Medicaid coverage, and about two-thirds of the states have expanded to date.

In comparing states that expanded their Medicaid programs to states that had not, the researchers again found virtually no change in low-income workers’ retirement trends.

There is widespread agreement that turning 65 and becoming eligible for Medicare motivates people to retire. So why is the ACA different?

One possible explanation is that the “political uncertainty” surrounding the ACA and Medicaid expansion “discourage[s] older workers from counting on them when making career decisions,” the researchers said. …Learn More

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