Author Archives: amy

College Graduates Cope with Money

College upperclassmen and recent graduates have a lot on their minds. One thing they don’t always like to think too hard about is money.

Maggie Germano

But Maggie Germano, a financial coach, encourages them to get things out in the open and talk about it. At a recent personal finance session here at Boston College, she answered students’ questions about their credit ratings, student loans, and how to avoid spending money they do not have.

Here are the five best tips from Germano, a 2009 graduate of the State University of New York in Fredonia. She now lives in Washington D.C.

Pay attention. The first step to getting control of one’s finances is to pay attention to them, she said. Not dealing with credit card bills and student loan statements doesn’t make the problems go away. “The opposite is true: the more you pay attention, the more in control you’ll be,” she said.

Get a credit rating – or fix it. The key is to have a credit card but use it judiciously. Germano advises young adults to get what’s known as a secured credit card with a low spending limit – say $500. Secured credit cards typically require users to put up a cash deposit. To slowly establish a sound credit history, spend no more than 30 percent of the card’s limit and pay it off at the end of each month.

Student loans are hard work. Germano said that, after she graduated, her rent and student loan payments equaled all of her income. She signed up for the federal government’s income-based repayment program. In this program, the government reduces the payments to reflect the low incomes many recent graduates are earning at the start of their careers. Germano said she paid off her $26,000 loan balance off about four years ago.

Quote by Maggie Germano

The secret to not overspending. She learned this trick from a client. Set up two separate checking accounts. One account is for paying monthly bills – rent, Netflix, electricity – and the payments are deducted automatically. For all other spending, use a second account with a debit card and “don’t touch” the money in the first account. Using a debit card for discretionary expenses makes it easy to keep track of how much is left to spend each month – maybe it’s better to walk than take another Uber.

“It’s very human to want new things, be social, and spend money you’ve never had before,” she said. So put “systems into place that will prevent [that] from getting out of control.” …Learn More

Posted in Field Work, Squared Away | Tagged , , | Comments Off on College Graduates Cope with Money

Happy Thanksgiving to All!

Whether you’re having Thanksgiving with family or your celebration will take the form of a Friendsgiving, the staff at Squared Away and the blog’s sponsor, the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, wish you a wonderful holiday. …Learn More

Posted in On the Web, Squared Away | Tagged , | 2 Comments

The Art of Persuasion and Social Security

Retirees could get substantially more in their Social Security check if they would just wait longer – up to age 70 – to sign up.

Bar graph showing Social Security claiming agesBut only a tiny fraction of workers make it to 70, and more than a third get the minimum monthly benefits because they start them as soon as the program allows, at 62. A Bocconi University professor and three UCLA professors have set about trying to change minds by testing 13 ways of encouraging older workers to hold off and lock in a larger Social Security check.

The techniques, which they tried on various groups of workers between ages 40 and 61, ranged widely in approach. But two of the most successful tests had one thing in common: participants were asked to engage in a little reflection about the personal impact of choosing when to start receiving their Social Security. This approach departed from the more common strategy of trying to influence people by feeding them financial or other information.

Everyone began the same way: they saw a table showing how much more they would receive from Social Security for each year after 62 that they delayed. One of the most effective tests was an exercise in self-reflection. The participants were asked to list “their own reasons” for how delaying would help them personally. Only after this step did they list the reasons to start their benefits at a younger age.

The order of these requests was intentional and intended to counteract the tendency by most people to focus on their short-term desires. This group reported that they intended to sign up 10 months later than the control group, which wasn’t exposed to the test, according to the study conducted for the Retirement Research Consortium. …Learn More

Posted in Field Work, Squared Away | Tagged , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Oldest Women, Often Poor, Need a Hand

In this video, Elena Chavez Quezada introduces two working women in her family who didn’t get a fair shot at a comfortable retirement.

Her mother-in-law, a single mother and immigrant from the Dominican Republic, pieced together a living for herself, her parents, and her children. She never had a 401(k) or owned a house. Each time she built up a little savings, an emergency depleted it. Now in her 70s, she is supported by her son and Quezada.

Quezada’s aunt possessed the personality of a chief executive but worked as a housekeeper and sold snow cones and hot dogs at her husband’s stand in Albuquerque. After his death, she worked well into her 90s as a receptionist for a hair salon.

The goal for retired women like them should be “to age comfortably and with dignity,” said Quezada, a senior director for the San Francisco Foundation, which supports communities in the Bay area.

That’s very difficult for many older women to do. They have less wealth, and although their poverty rate has declined, women – many of them widows – still make up the vast majority of poor people over 80. This is rooted in part in their years as working women, when they earned less. Women are also the majority of single parents raising their families on a single paycheck.

A lack of a retirement plan is a common problem. More than half of the women employed full-time or part-time in the private sector are not saving in a retirement plan at any given time. …Learn More

Posted in Money Culture, Squared Away | Tagged , , , , , | Comments Off on Oldest Women, Often Poor, Need a Hand

Social Security Eases Racial Disparities

Social Security is a major source of income for most retirees. It is even more important to blacks and Hispanics in a nation that is becoming increasingly diverse.

Social Security is helping to even out the racial and ethnic inequities in income and wealth that exist in the working population and continue in old age, according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.

The researchers estimate how much Social Security reduces this inequality by comparing retirement wealth for white, black, and Hispanic-Americans.

Wealth is defined broadly to include obvious things like home equity and financial assets such as 401(k) retirement accounts, certificates of deposit, and money market accounts. In addition, the researchers converted the income that workers get from Social Security and defined benefit pensions into wealth by estimating the total value today of their future benefit checks.

The estimates of wealth, when Social Security is excluded, reveal enormous disparities. The typical white worker in his early- to mid-50s can expect to have about $177,000 in non-Social Security wealth in retirement, compared with just $24,000 for blacks – about a 7 to 1 ratio. Hispanics have $35,000 – or a 5 to 1 ratio.

These ratios improve dramatically, dropping to roughly 2 to 1 when Social Security is added in. The white worker has $378,000 in total wealth, compared with $173,000 for blacks and $186,000 for Hispanics.

Social Security’s progressive benefit formula reduces retirement inequality by replacing more of the income of lower-paid workers. The program also provides nearly universal coverage, whereas many workers do not have access to retirement plans at work. These features help black and Hispanic workers, who tend to have lower incomes and are also less likely to have retirement plans.

“Social Security is the most equal form of retirement wealth and the most important source for most minority households,” the researchers conclude. …Learn More

Posted in Money Culture, Squared Away | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

More Retirees Today Have a Mortgage

In one significant way, retirement is materially different than it used to be: far more retirees are still trying to pay off their houses.

Bar graph showing the number of retirees with mortgagesThirty years ago, just one of every four homeowners in their late 60s to late 70s still had a mortgage – today, nearly half do. Once people hit 80, mortgages used to be extremely rare – only 3 percent had them. Today, it’s one in four, Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies recently reported.

Retiree’s financial condition depends on much more than how much they spend on housing – in particular the size of their retirement savings accounts and Social Security checks. But rent or a mortgage payment is typically the largest item in the monthly budget. Being free of both can be a significant boost to one’s standard of living in retirement.

Jennifer Molinsky, a senior research associate at Harvard’s housing center, described several developments over the past three decades that may explain the dramatic increase in the share of retirees with mortgages.

First, she said, Americans today “seem to have less aversion to debt” than the generation that grew up after the Great Depression and was instilled with frugality. Although consumer debt levels always ebb and flow with the economy’s cycles, total debt as a percentage of disposable income is significantly higher today than it was in the 1990s. The 1986 tax reform act also made mortgages a more attractive form of debt to hold. The reform eliminated the income tax deductions for interest on credit cards and other types of consumer debt, with one exception: mortgage interest.

Having a mortgage isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Mortgage rates have fallen dramatically in recent decades. Many retirees who are still making monthly mortgage payments were able to reduce the payments by refinancing old, partially paid off mortgages into new 30-year loans with lower interest rates.

But another factor that may have pushed up the share of retirees with mortgages has been the long-term run-up in house prices, relative to earnings, which makes it increasingly difficult to pay off a house before retiring. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, house prices were about three times the typical household’s earnings, according to the housing center. Today, prices are more than four times earnings. …Learn More

Posted in Money Culture, Squared Away | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Boomers at 80: Housing Issues to Grow

The baby boom generation is continuing to work its way up the age ladder. The number of Americans over 80 will more than double to nearly 18 million over the next two decades.

And that’s partly because baby boomers are healthier and are living longer – they are also enjoying more of their retirement years free of disability than previous generations.  But unfortunately, boomers can’t avoid the inevitability of their growing vulnerabilities and the impact this will have on their day-to-day lives. A new report by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies makes some sobering predictions about the issues the oldest retirees can expect to face in the future, from widening income inequality to more people living alone and in isolation.

The findings, taken together, point to a range of potential trouble spots revolving around housing our aging population.

  • As people get old, their spouses die, their bank accounts dwindle, and their rents keep rising. For these and other reasons, housing creates more of a cost burden at 80 than at 65. The Harvard housing center defines someone as cost-burdened if they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. Today, nearly 60 percent of households over 80 fit this definition, and their absolute numbers will increase as more baby boomers reach that age. One place the financial strain shows up is food budgets: retirees who spend disproportionate amounts on housing spend half as much on food as people whose housing costs are under control. …
  • Learn More

Posted in Money Culture, Squared Away | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments