Infographic: Pension coverage U.S. & Australia

Aussie Employer Mandate Fuels Saving

Consider this: 92 percent of Australian workers have 401(k)-style plans, while less than half of Americans have any kind of pension coverage on their current job.

This yawning disparity exists, because the Australian government requires employers to contribute 9 percent of each worker’s earnings to a personal account, which participants invest much like a 401(k). Under reforms to Australia’s system, employer contributions will rise gradually until 2020 – to 12 percent.

Even though Aussie employers are mandated to make the contributions, economists argue, the money ultimately comes from workers – through lower wages. But U.S. workers, left on their own, have proved to be poor savers, and the fact remains that putting the onus on employers to ensure that retirees have something in savings is working better than our catch-as-catch-can system.

“Australia has been extremely effective in achieving key goals of any retirement income system,” concluded a new report by the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog. …Learn More

Photo: healthcare reform

Health Reform May Impact Your Finances

Getting or keeping health insurance is central to many of the major decisions that working Americans make.

Canadian and European governments provide universal health care to their citizens, but this country has relied heavily on employers for health insurance, and only about two-thirds of them provide it. It’ll be fascinating to see how health care reform changes our decisions about work, starting a business, college, and individual finances when more Americans have access to coverage in 2014.

Research years ago established the influence of employer health insurance on the workplace. When employees are covered at work, job turnover is lower – workers know health care is a big thing to give up. There’s also newer evidence that people on the disability rolls, who receive health care as part of that federal benefit, are more likely to go back to work if they live in a state with better access to health insurance in the private market.

Retirement is another big decision driven by one’s health insurance options. Medicare eligibility at age 65 can trigger the decision, new research shows: people working for employers without any health benefits for their retirees are more likely to retire at 65, according to a paper by economists Norma Coe of the University of Washington’s School of Public Health and Matt Rutledge of the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, which supports this blog.

“We interpret this finding as evidence that Medicare eligibility persuades people to retire, because they can begin receiving federal health coverage,” Coe and Rutledge write. …Learn More

Photo of hands holding underwater

To Live Cheaply, See the World

U.S. dollars go a long way in Indonesia.

Adam Shepard estimates that it cost him $19,420.68 to circumnavigate the globe from October 2011 through September 2012.

It was a budget tour filled with simple pleasures and wild adventures for the failed professional basketball player and successful book author. He helped poor children in Honduras, hugged a koala in Perth, rode an elephant in Thailand, bungee jumped in Slovakia, and hung out in lots of places with Ivana, whom he met while traveling and later married (she brought only $12,000, so he paid for the food).

If he’d kept his bartending job in Raleigh, North Carolina, his car, and apartment, he estimates he would’ve easily spent more than $20,000 during that same year.

Petting a koala was on Shepard's international to-do list.

“If you wonder whether an odyssey like mine is financially realistic for you, I answer with a resounding yes,” he writes encouragingly in his new e-book, “One Year Lived,” which is being published today.

You’d have to read it to find out how he did it – and how energetic someone has to be to pull off an escapade through 17 countries. Shepard’s book is a strong reminder to those of us who burrow at our desks day after day that, as the saying goes, there’s more to life than money. …
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Jobless Boomers: How They Survive

Squared Away wrote about three unemployed baby boomers on Tuesday – an arts administrator, a corporate executive, and a social-services professional – who are having to scrounge for income to sustain themselves.

They are among the more than 1.5 million baby boomers caught in that painful limbo between a long and successful career and retirement – very possibly by default. All three want to get back into the labor force but may be forced to retire, because it’s more difficult for them to find employment than it is for younger workers.

While nearly half of unemployed adults between the ages of 25 and 49 were able to find work within seven months during and after the Great Recession, it took more than nine months for half of those over 50 to find a job, according to the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank. Many boomers may never find a job and will eventually retire.

“It’s different than being 35 or 45 and out of work,” said Kevin Milligan, an economics professor at the University of British Columbia. “We don’t necessarily expect these [older] people to go back to work.”

Milligan’s research last year determined that two-thirds or more of jobless Americans between ages 55 and 65 rely on their spouses for income. With only one spouse working, this creates hardships. These older households suddenly are able to save less in their 401(k)s. Milligan found that smaller numbers of boomers are also tapping their employer pensions or Social Security retirement benefits. …Learn More

Collage of yarns

Unemployed Boomers Resist Retirement

Brisk sales of Linda Novak’s crocheted scarves and baby blankets have subsidized the 62-year-old’s Manhattan rent since her 2012 layoff. Boston resident Marcus Queen, 58, receives food stamps while trying to reignite his beloved career: helping city kids get a leg up. Joseph Imperiale, 66, wants to get back into the business world, so he doesn’t have to tap his retirement savings yet.

Nearly three years after the Great Recession officially ended, more than 900,000 baby boomers laid off several months or years ago are still pounding the pavement, unable to find employment in an economy that produced only 88,000 jobs in March. They simply are not ready to retire – financially or emotionally – but they often feel that unemployment is forcing them to do so prematurely.

It takes boomers longer to find employment than it does younger job seekers, creating financial challenges unique to their stage of life. They could begin collecting their Social Security benefits immediately upon becoming eligible, at age 62, but the largely irreversible decision to accept a reduced monthly check would haunt them throughout retirement. They can’t afford to put more money into their savings – in fact, if things get really rough, they may have to raid the 401(k) to pay the bills.

UJA-Federation of New York, a Jewish social services agency, is increasingly seeing older workers “who lost their jobs a while ago and have depleted all their assets, and they realize they’re really in trouble,” said Elisabeth Kostin, the planning manager for the agency’s programs for the unemployed. She added, “If someone becomes unemployed as they’re approaching retirement, their value and worth is also depleted.”

Novak, Queen and Imperiale agreed to share their stories about how they try to keep their spirits up and the doors open. …Learn More

Danger quicksand sign

Millennials in Debt: Is It a Big Deal?

Young adults, when asked if they have college loans, often just sigh or groan quietly.

But how much does this debt really matter to their lives? Conflicting trends make this difficult to answer. College graduates have ample time – decades of employment – to pay off their student loans, economists argue, and they’ll bring in more earnings to pay them back. A college education is worth $1 million in extra earnings over a lifetime.

Behind the student-loan sigh is anxiety that the post-Great Recession job market makes it tougher for many graduates to earn what they need to pay their loans back. Indeed, the rate of delinquencies has risen in tandem with increased borrowing. Payments on half of all student loan accounts are now being deferred, the consumer credit firm TransUnion reported last week, and these deferrals are the first step to still more delinquencies.

Some researchers are warning about the additional financial risks facing graduates with large loan balances. “That didn’t happen in previous generations,” said Ohio State University’s Lucia Dunn, whose study published last month in Economic Inquiry found that young adults are on a path to having far more credit card debt in middle age than did their baby boomer parents. Credit cards, student loans – debt of all kinds – she said, “is just an overwhelming burden for many young people.” …
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Tarantula crawling out of a box of chocolates

Women in Debt Less Likely to Marry

Women with large student loan balances are less likely to marry than their girlfriends who’ve graduated debt-free, new research shows.

Men, in contrast, are immune to this impact.  Their marriage prospects are the same regardless of how much they owe for their education, according to Fenaba Addo, who studied the effect of college and credit card debt in the “marriage market.”

As U.S. college debt outstanding has surpassed the $1 trillion mark, the fallout is widening.  Recent graduates complain that paying off their student loans affects their ability to take critical steps to improve their future finances, such as buying a house or saving for retirement.  But there are psychological effects too: young adults who carry a lot of debt, for example, are more stressed, even depressed.

It was only a matter of time before student loans started messing with their love lives.

Addo, now a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin’s Department of Population Health Sciences, became interested in the topic as she watched her girlfriends taking on “crazy amounts of debt” to finish college or complete graduate degrees… Learn More