Logos of various gig companies

Self-employed Lose Some Social Security

Self-employed and gig workers who fail to report all of their earnings to the federal government will pay a price: a smaller monthly Social Security check when they retire.

Gauging the magnitude of this problem is tricky since the IRS doesn’t know how much is not being reported by a group of workers not easily identified in the available data. As a first step, new research derived estimates of the unpaid self-employment taxes that result from the under-reporting, using a combination of U.S. Census data on the workers’ incomes and past studies on the prevalence of the problem.

Specifically, the researchers found that more than 3 million self-employed people – construction contractors, small business owners, and other independent contractors – did not disclose some or all of their earnings to the IRS in 2014. This under-reporting translated to unpaid self-employment taxes of $3.9 billion to Social Security and another $900 million to Medicare.

An additional 2.3 million Americans sell goods and services on platforms like Airbnb, Lyft, and Etsy every month. A large share of these gig workers are not reporting all of their income either. Their under-reporting resulted in an estimated non-payment of $2 billion to Social Security and $500 million to Medicare in 2014.

In fact, the estimates are conservative, and the true level of the missing payroll taxes is probably larger, said the study’s authors, a tax expert at American University and a private policy consultant.

Independent contractors are most likely to be baby boomers over 55, while Generation Xers are more common on the online platforms. Self-employed people fail to disclose earnings for a couple of reasons: they are confused about the tax law or they want to increase their disposable income. But responsibility also falls on the platform companies that process payments for their workers and sellers, the researchers said, because the companies are not required to file 1099 earnings forms with the IRS for a majority of their workers.

Whatever the reasons for the underreporting, self-employed workers will one day get less from Social Security. This study raises an obvious question for future research: how much less? …Learn More

Millennial moving into an apartment

Class of 2019: Low Rent Key to Survival

The first and arguably most important decision a new graduate will make is how much to pay for rent.

If it’s too high, the rent – on top of those annoying student loans – will push out other priorities necessary to prevent financial trouble down the road.

Rick Epple, a certified financial planner in Minnesota’s Twin Cities area, counsels his daughter’s friends and clients’ children entering the labor force to keep their rent at around 20 percent of their income.

“Nobody ever talks about what they should spend,” he said. He worries about young adults who pay a third of their income – the standard recommendation – for an apartment. If the rent blows a hole in the budget, paying student loans every month and on time becomes a much bigger challenge.

A paycheck, Epple said, “just goes quick.”

A manageable rental payment also leaves room to prepare for the inevitable unexpected expense – and, yes, retirement. …Learn More

Picture of an elderly woman

Husbands Ignore Future Widow’s Needs

The amount of money a widow receives from Social Security can mean the difference between comfort and hardship.

Husbands have a lot of control over how this will turn out. Each additional year they postpone collecting their own Social Security adds another 7.3 percent to the amount a future widow will receive every month from the program’s survivor benefit.

But husbands can be a stubborn lot.

Previous research has shown that a large minority fail to take their wives into account when deciding to start their Social Security. A new study confirms this in an online experiment designed to raise husbands’ awareness of the financial impact their claiming age could have on a spouse. The men’s ages ranged from 45 to 62.

In the experiment, the researchers displayed Social Security’s benefit information to the men three different ways. In the first format, a control group saw the basic information: the husband’s full retirement benefit, and then a link to a second page displaying his benefits for various claiming ages. A second format also displayed his full benefit, but the link went to a page with estimates of his widow’s survivor benefits, based on the husband’s various claiming ages – the later he files, the more she would receive. The third format had the same information as the second format, but it was presented on a single web page.

Regardless of the way the survivor benefits were displayed, the men weren’t persuaded to postpone their own benefits to one day help their widows. Potential explanations include their feelings about work, existing health issues, and whether they will get a defined benefit pension from an employer.

Whatever their motivation, simply educating husbands on the financial impact of choosing a claiming age “is unlikely to improve widows’ economic outcomes,” concluded the study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.

The impact of widowhood is often significant. An average widow’s total income drops 35 percent when a husband passes away, the researchers estimated from financial data for married men who had retired. The earlier the husband had started his benefits, the larger the drop in the widow’s income after the couple’s second Social Security check stops coming in. …Learn More

Health Plan Deductibles Triple in 10 Years

The evidence continues to pile up: workers are having a very hard time affording their high-deductible health plans, which have gone from rare to covering nearly a third of U.S. workers.

Between 2008 and 2018, the deductibles in employer health plans more than tripled – growing much faster than earnings. Workers’ full insurance coverage doesn’t kick in until they pay the deductibles, which now exceed $3,000 for individuals and $5,000 for families in the highest-deductible plans. Add to that a 50 percent hike in premiums during that time.

Some 156 million people get health insurance through work, and they’re largely grateful to have it. They blame rising medical costs on insurers and pharmaceutical companies – and not their employers and healthcare providers – a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey said.

One in four said medical bills or copayments for drugs and doctor visits are severely straining their budgets, and the Commonwealth Fund, another healthcare researcher, estimates that the typical worker spent about 12 percent of his income on deductibles and premiums in 2017, compared with 8 percent in 2008 – the figure is closer to 15 percent in Louisiana and Mississippi.

The solution is often to forgo or postpone care. And the higher an employee’s deductible – no surprise – “the more likely they are to experience problems affording care or putting off care due to cost,” Kaiser said. Inadequate medical care is especially dangerous for people with chronic conditions. …Learn More

Cars Separate U.S. Retirees from Germans

Florida

Florida

Retired Germans spend more days outdoors than retirees in this country. But when older Americans leave the house, they stay out longer.

What makes the difference? The car. Americans love their automobiles and overwhelmingly rely on them, according to a new study by MIT’s AgeLab. If they’re going grocery shopping, they might as well run their other errands.

Only about half of Germans, on the other hand, say driving is their favorite way to get around. And they venture out more frequently, because they can walk – or bike – to the market, which tends to be closer to home.

As people age and recognize the inevitability of their limitations, they begin to think more carefully about whether they will be able to remain in their homes. To gain insight into this issue, the AgeLab surveyed older Germans and Americans to compare their retirement experiences and satisfaction with their lifestyles – the AgeLab calls it “residential mastery.”

This goal is achievable for seniors everywhere, if they can find a way to continue to live healthily in a particular cultural and social environment. “Americans may reach residential mastery by having access to a car, ride-sharing or taxi services, while Germans may reach residential mastery by having shops and amenities in walking distance,” concluded an article in the Journal of Environmental Psychology.

In the survey, retirees in each country were asked what they need and what their neighborhoods provide. Both Germans and Americans put the most value on living close to healthcare facilities and their family and friends, who can provide the day-to-day support they need. They agreed on 12 of 17 aspects of their lifestyles – affordability, places to sit and rest, cultural institutions, green spaces, etc. – as being critical to them. …Learn More

Student Loan Payments Linked to 401ks

Abbott employee Harvir Humpal

Student loans or the 401(k)?

Young adults have a tough time finding the money for both. Unless they work for Abbott Laboratories.

Employees who put at least 2 percent of their income toward student loan payments will qualify for Abbott’s
5 percent contribution to their 401(k) account – without the worker having to put his own money into the 401(k).

From the company’s point of view, it’s an innovative recruitment tool – and it worked for Harvir Humpal, a 2018 biomedical engineering graduate of the California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo. He joined Abbott’s northern California office in February.

Humpal said his student loans weighed on him after graduation. “It’s very empowering that Abbott is willing to tackle an issue that’s near to my heart,” said the 24-year-old, who works on medical devices used in heart transplants.

He estimates he will pay off his $60,000 student loans about four years early and save $7,000 in interest – without completely sacrificing his retirement savings.

As the cost of college continues to rise and U.S. student loan balances hit $1.5 trillion, an increase in the number of private and even government employers offering student loan assistance is a response to the growing financial burden. An Abbott survey found that 87 percent of college students and 2019 graduates want to find an employer offering student loan relief.

The magnitude of the problem “forces us to focus on our employees’ greatest needs and how we, as an employer, can help them,” said Mary Moreland, an Abbott vice president of compensation and benefits. …Learn More

Puzzle pieces that say 'retire' and 'plan'

Retirement Dates Don’t Always Fit Plan

Today, half of U.S. workers say they want to work past age 65 – in the 1990s, only 16 percent did.

Apparently, people are getting the message that, if they want to be comfortable in retirement, they will need to work as long as possible.  However, good intentions don’t pan out for more a third of workers closing in on retirement age. And the older the age they had planned to retire, the more they fall short of the goal.

Researchers at the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog, wanted to uncover why people do not follow through. Their study was based on a survey that asked people in their late 50s when they planned to retire and then watched them over the next several years to see what they did and why.

Two factors – the researchers call them shocks – play important roles in pushing people to retire early. The big factor is health. One health-related reason is intuitive: when older people develop a new condition, they become more likely to retire earlier than they’d planned. A second reason is that, when setting a date, they over-estimate how long they’ll be able to work if they have already developed health conditions like arthritis, heart disease, or emphysema. …Learn More

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