Students graduating during the pandemic

Women Faster to Accept Jobs. Pay Suffers

Women attend college at higher rates than men. Women’s labor force participation was also fairly steady prior to COVID, while men’s declined, and women continue to move into fields traditionally held by men.

Despite all this progress, women still earn much less than men.

Discrimination partly explains the pay gap, as does motherhood, which can interrupt the smooth progression in women’s careers at a critical time. But another explanation doesn’t get as much attention: women earn less because they’re not as confident as men about how much they can get and are more afraid of taking some risks in negotiations with employers.

In the 2018 and 2019 graduating classes at Boston University’s Questrom School of Business, women started their job searches earlier and accepted employers’ offers more quickly, according to a new analysis of student surveys before graduation and after they’d landed a job.

Men, on the other hand, do take risks, extending the negotiation with employers to see how much they can secure or even rejecting a job in hopes that a better one comes along.

Prior to graduating, nearly two-thirds of the women in BU’s business school had accepted a job during their junior or senior years but only about half of the men had, the researchers found.

The male students also enter their pay negotiations with higher expectations of what they want to earn. Their optimism, verging on overconfidence, serves them well. Male graduates from the BU business school earned about $6,700 more, on average, than their female classmates.

Men’s natural advantages in two psychological attributes – optimism and a willingness to take risks – “play a non-trivial role in generating early career earnings gaps among the highly skilled,” the study concluded. …Learn More

Silhouette of a detective with glasses

$4 Billion in Pension Payments Returned

It’s the employer’s responsibility to find former employees and keep them apprised of any retirement benefits they left behind.

But that hasn’t always worked out. Some employers don’t have former workers’ current contact information, and others don’t bother to track them down. Worst-case scenarios are often fallout from a merger: the company being acquired has kept shoddy pension plan records and the acquirer doesn’t update them.  Some companies have even deleted a participant’s name from the records.

Tyler Compton, an attorney with the Pension Action Center, which connects workers with lost pensions and 401(k) savings plans, said people frequently contact a former employer because they think they might have a plan. But if the worker is told he’s not in the records, he might drop the matter, she said.

The U.S. Department of Labor decided several years ago that employers’ efforts weren’t good enough. The department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) began investigating the problem and pushing companies to improve their methods for finding workers who had quit or been laid off but were owed pension benefits or had savings sitting in an old 401(k).

EBSA has gotten results. Since 2017, more than $4 billion in past due defined benefit pension payments have been returned to millions of plan participants.

By making clear what is expected of employers, regulators “put a lot of pressure, in a good sense, on plan administrators to really up their games,” Jeffrey Holdvogt, a legal partner with McDermott Will & Emery, said in a recent webinar hosted by the Pension Action Center at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. …Learn More

No-Benefit Jobs Better than Retiring Early

Woman in taxiMany workers in their 60s lose some of their stamina. Either their bodies start showing signs of wear, or they don’t tolerate on-the-job stress like they used to.

People who find themselves in this situation but can’t afford to retire will appreciate the findings in a recent study: older workers who transition to a new job – and perhaps a less demanding one – have greatly improved their retirement finances, even if the new job lacks health and retirement benefits.

The starting point for the analysis was to identify 61- and 62-year-olds employed in career jobs and follow the changes in their retirement finances over time, as they break into three groups. Some retired, some remained in longstanding jobs with benefits, and some found no-benefit jobs, whether with an employer or as an independent contractor.

Matt Rutledge and Gal Wettstein at the Center for Retirement Research compared each group’s retirement prospects in their early 60s with where they ended up years later, after the majority of them had retired. The focus was on the people who, at 62, were falling short of what they would need to retire comfortably.

The financial assessments were based on so-called replacement rates – estimated retirement income as a percentage of employment earnings. The average target required for financial security in old age is about 75 percent of past earnings, though the precise number depends on how much the individual earned.

The researchers estimated replacement rates for the 62-year-olds who fell short of the targets and estimated the rates again when they were 67 or 68. Retirement security improved over time for the under-prepared people who continued to work – in contrast to an erosion in security for the people who, despite falling short, had retired at 62 and locked in a small Social Security check.

The most interesting finding concerned the older workers who had extended their employment by switching to no-benefit jobs. Their retirement income in their late 60s replaced 68 percent of their past earnings, on average – still less than what they need but up dramatically from 52 percent if they had retired early. …Learn More

Psychology Added to CFP Certification

Financial advisers have no shortage of clever strategies to dispense to their clients. The tricky part is getting the psychology right.

Human beings have all kinds of hang-ups about money. Presumably, someone who’s walked into a financial adviser’s office has broken through the first barrier to getting help: denial. But even then, blind spots and fears can get in the way of a client choosing or executing a financial plan, even if it’s clearly beneficial.

To that end, psychology is being added to the educational curriculum – along with the longstanding topics like risk management, tax planning, and investing – required for advisers to get certification as a Certified Financial Planner, or CFP. 

Money “is a very emotional topic,” said John M. Loper, a CFP and director of professional practice on the CFP Board. That, he said, is a compelling reason for addressing clients’ psychological issues head-on: “If you can’t connect with your client, it’s going to be difficult for them to take your advice.”

The idea came out of feedback the CFP received in a 2019 study, but COVID-19 pushed the issue to the forefront, he said. The psychology curriculum will include managing crises, such as pandemics and stock market drops, that have severe financial consequences.

Wells Fargo’s Michael Liersch, who has a PhD in behavioral finance, said that giving financial advice is challenging because some people are uncomfortable even starting a conversation about money. In families, it’s often a point of contention between husbands and wives or parents and children. Talking about money risks exposes big differences in how it should be used, and the conversations can turn negative.

“People think it’ll be disruptive, so they don’t bring it up,” said Liersch, head of financial advice and planning for Wells Fargo. …Learn More

A small house

Home Equity Rises. Reverse Mortgages Don’t

The housing market has shrugged off the pandemic, and home prices are rising sharply due to historically low interest rates. The market crash more than a decade ago is a distant memory.

Home Equity graphThe total value of the equity in older Americans’ homes has doubled since 2010, hitting $8.05 trillion at the end of last year. The irony is that federally insured reverse mortgages, which allow a long-time homeowner to cash in on tens of thousands of dollars of equity, aren’t very popular.

Last year, only 42,000 Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (HECMs) were sold – half as many as in 2010 – according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

One reason HECM reverse mortgages haven’t caught on, as the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau notes, is that they might not be suitable to homeowners who eventually sell their house. As the loans accrue interest, the “balance is likely to grow faster than their home values will appreciate,” the agency said.

But most retired homeowners never move, and HECMs are one option for people who are short on income. “We accept it as ‘normal’ to spend-down 401(k) funds, yet somehow home equity is sacrosanct,” said Dave Gardner, a former mortgage broker who sometimes handled reverse mortgages. Retirees, he said, should consider this question: “Could you achieve a better result and extend the lifespan of your nest egg with a reverse mortgage?”

To qualify for the loans, borrowers must be at least 62. They can take the reverse mortgage proceeds in the form of a lump sum, line of credit, or monthly payments – or some combination of these.

Curious homeowners can check out the federal government’s new pamphlet, which explains the basics of reverse mortgages. It’s aimed at people who already have the loans but is just as useful for people who are curious about using one themselves.

Before proceeding with any complex financial transaction, however, it’s critical to do due diligence. A reverse mortgage is no different. …Learn More

Films about Dementia Help Us Understand it

“Supernova” does not have a happy ending. But that’s how stories about Alzheimer’s go, and the film, which recently began streaming, is worth watching.

It’s one of those occasional movies that come along and portray the emotional aspects of this disease with nuance. The films, by using big-name stars like Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth in “Supernova,” lift some of the stigma around dementia that can isolate its victims and their caregivers.

Dementiais still very much a taboo topic,” said Bobbi Matchar, who, as director of the Duke Dementia Family Support Program, facilitates group discussions for people with dementia and their families. “Having movies that more accurately portray the face of dementia is really helpful.”

The newest of these films, “The Father,” is in contention for an Oscar on Sunday, as is its star, Anthony Hopkins.

Julianne Moore also won an Oscar for the lead in the 2014 film, “Still Alice” about a spirited college professor coming to terms with a failing memory. The most powerful scenes are her first realizations – forgetting a class lecture or not recognizing the center of campus, where her jog has taken her. Her denial ends when she admits to her husband (played by Alec Baldwin), “I’ve got something wrong with me.”

In “Away from Her,” Julie Christie is an older woman with Alzheimer’s who wanders the woods near her home on Lake Ontario. For her safety, she and her husband (played by Gordon Pinsent) agree she will move into a nursing home. This movie is about the disintegration of a loving marriage when one partner’s memories fade and then go dark, forcing her husband to grieve while she is still alive.

“Supernova” examines the implications of Alzheimer’s for two men who remain partners until the bitter end. On a road trip, they struggle to communicate about what Tusker’s dementia means for each of them.

Tusker (Tucci’s character) is a writer. His partner, Sam (Firth), becomes angry after discovering Tusker is hiding the extent of his dementia – he finds indecipherable scribbles in a notebook – so as not to burden Sam. …Learn More

First, Money Woes. 6 Years Later, Dementia

Gayle Blanton

Gayle Blanton, the blogger’s mother

My 85-year-old mother is on top of her bills. She pays several of them online, which is impressive enough, and she knows which bill is due when.

So, we should both take some comfort in the fact that she is not having difficulty managing her money, which is an early sign of dementia.

The connection between poor money management and declining cognitive capacity was established in research years ago. An obvious next question – when does this early warning system kick in? – is answered in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The researchers followed more than 81,000 men on Medicare for more than a decade and linked their medical records to their Equifax credit reports. The men who would eventually be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia started missing the due dates on their bills about six years before the diagnosis.

There are many reasons for the gap between signs of trouble and an actual diagnosis. If family don’t detect a decline in cognitive ability, they won’t ask a doctor to administer a dementia test. Family might confuse early-stage dementia with memory loss, which is a natural part of aging. One financial manager said some of her clients try to hide that they’re having trouble handling their finances – or “do not want to admit the problem to themselves.”

If dementia goes undiagnosed, the financial problems get worse. A second finding in the study was that about 2½ years prior to a dementia diagnosis, retirees’ credit scores were much more likely to slip to subprime levels, or below 620 points. …Learn More