Video: Retirement Prep 101

Half of the workers who have an employer retirement plan haven’t saved enough to ensure they can retire comfortably.

This 17-minute video might be just the ticket for them.

Kevin Bracker, a finance professor at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, presents a solid retirement strategy to workers with limited resources who need to get smart about saving and investing.

While not exactly a lively speaker, Bracker explains the most important concepts clearly – why starting to save early is important, why index funds are often better than actively managed investments, the difference between Roth and traditional IRAs, etc.

Bar graph showing percentage of workers without a 401kSome of his figures are somewhat different than the data generated by the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog. But both agree on this: the retirement outlook is worrisome.

The Center estimates that the typical baby boomer household who has an employer 401(k) and is approaching retirement age has only $135,000 in its 401(k)s and IRAs combined. That translates to about $600 a month in retirement.

Future generations who follow Bracker’s basic rules should be better off when they get old. …Learn More

Screenshot of SS statement

Social Security Statement Has Impact

When a Social Security statement comes in the mail, most people do not, as one might suspect, throw it on the pile of envelopes. They actually open it up and read it.

But are they absorbing the statements’ detailed estimates of how much money they’ll get from Social Security? RAND researcher Philip Armour tested this and found that the statement does, in fact, prompt people to stop and think about retirement: workers said their behavior and perceptions of the program changed after seeing the statement of their benefits.

The study was made possible after Social Security introduced a new system for mailing out statements. Workers used to get them in the mail every year. In 2011, the government took a hiatus and stopped sending them out. The mailings resumed in 2014 – but now they go out only before every fifth birthday (ages 25, 30, 35 etc.).

Armour was able to use the infrequent mailings to compare the reactions of the workers who had received a statement with those who had not during a four-year period, 2013-2017.

The statements bolstered their confidence that they could count on Social Security when they retire. More important, receiving them in the mail spurred some people to work more. To be clear, this is what they said – it isn’t known what they actually did.

Those who had been out of the labor market were much more likely, after getting a statement, to say they had returned to work. Working people under age 50 increased their hours of work.

Social Security benefits, on their own, usually are not enough to live on in retirement, and half of U.S. working-age households are at risk of falling short in retirement. But unfortunately, the study wasn’t able to detect another critical aspect of their retirement preparation: saving. …Learn More

Stars and stripes

Happy Independence Day!

Here’s the back story to your barbecued chicken and grilled hamburgers.

On July 4, 1777, Philadelphians marked the first anniversary of independence from the British with a spontaneous celebration. Future president John Adams described the ships parading on the Delaware River that day as “beautifully dressed in the colours of all nations.” In the aftermath of the Civil War, freed slaves turned the Fourth into a celebration of their emancipation.

If you have the day off from work, thank Congress for declaring the Fourth a federal holiday in 1870. Enjoy! …Learn More

Photo of a waitress

When Your Health, Job Demands Clash

Home health aides, nurses, teacher assistants and servers do a lot of lifting or standing for long periods, which takes a toll on their bodies.

For a middle-aged waitress, it might be a bad knee. For a baby boomer caring for an elderly person, it might be the strain of lifting a patient out of a chair.

In a new study, researchers calculated the percentage of workers who cite health-related obstacles to performing their jobs for nearly 200 occupations. A ranking of these percentages proved a fairly reliable indicator of what one would expect workers to do. Workers in the occupations with the largest share of people having difficulty performing their jobs were more likely to quit work and file for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI).

The chart below shows the occupations with the highest percentages of health-related obstacles. For example, some of the most hazardous jobs are welders and brazers, who assemble equipment made of aluminum. …Learn More

Photo of lonely elderly woman

Widows: Manage Your Grief, Finances

Kathleen Rehl’s husband died in February 2007, two months after his cancer diagnosis. She has taken on the mission of helping other widows process their grief, while they slowly assume the new financial responsibilities of widowhood. Rehl, who is 72, is a former financial planner, speaker, and author of “Moving Forward on Your Own: A Financial Guidebook for Widows.” She explains the three stages of widowhood – and advises women to take each stage at their own pace.

Question: Why focus on widows?

Rehl: After a husband dies, and whether it’s unexpected or a long-lingering death, there is a numb period. Some widows refer to it as “my jello brain” or “my widow’s brain.” It’s a result of how the body processes grief. The broken heart syndrome is actually real. After a death, the immune system is compromised, and chronic inflammation can happen. It’s hard to sleep at night and there can be digestive difficulties. Memory can be short, attention spans weakened, and thinking downright difficult. You’ve got this grief, and yet the widow might think, “What do I have to do?” The best thing she can do initially is nothing.

Q: Why nothing?

Rehl: I talk about the three stages of widowhood: grief, growth, grace. At first, she’s so vulnerable that if she’s making irrevocable decisions immediately, they may not be in her best interest. The only immediate things she might need to do are file for benefits like Social Security and life insurance and make sure the bills are still being paid.  All widows need to take care of these essential financial matters. But major decisions should be delayed. I knew one widow whose son said, “Move in with us.” That would’ve been a really bad decision, because she didn’t get along with the daughter-in-law, and it would’ve introduced another type of grief – loss of place, loss of friends. Then her son got a job in Silicon Valley and moved away.

Or a widow deposits her life insurance in the bank, and a helpful teller says, “I think Fred in our wealth management department down the hall can see you because you need to do something with your money.” Fred sells her a financial product she doesn’t understand, and two or three months later, when she’s coming out of her grief, she thinks, “What did I buy?” One widow came to me who had locked her money into a deferred annuity that wasn’t going to pay out for years, and she needed the money now.

Q: With most women working today, aren’t they better equipped than previous generations of widows to handle the finances? Learn More

Photo of mom and daughter

Moms Help Jobless Sons and Daughters

“Families often serve as the first line of defense against adverse events,” a RAND study starts out.

In this case, the researchers are talking about a mother who protects her unemployed adult child by providing financial assistance, a request that’s not easy for a mother to resist.

RAND researchers Kathryn Edwards and Jeffrey Wenger find that women of all ages are very likely to help out and “significantly alter their behavior” when a son or daughter loses a job.

How much mothers’ sacrifices affect their standard of living are beyond the scope of this study. But although unemployment is at historic lows today, when a child does lose a job, a mother who provides assistance is potentially exposing herself and her husband to financial problems down the road.

The types of the assistance the women in the study provided varied for different groups. The youngest group, working-age mothers between 35 and 62, were the most willing to help an unemployed child, though women of all ages did to some extent.

Mothers employed full-time, and in some cases their partners or husbands, worked more to earn additional money, an option largely closed off to the retired women. Another way working mothers adjusted was to reduce their contributions to employer retirement funds. All of the women also cut their own food budgets for a year or more.

This study is a conservative take on their assistance, because it doesn’t include an indirect, but often costly, source of support that is an obvious solution for unemployed offspring: moving back home. Moving back in will, at minimum, increase their parents’ utility and grocery bills. …Learn More

401k in typewriter font

Index Fund Rise Coincides with 401k Suits

Employee lawsuits against their 401(k) retirement plans are grinding through the legal system, with mixed success. Many employers are beating them back, but there have also been some big-money settlements.

This year, health insurer Anthem settled a complaint filed by its employees for $24 million, Franklin Templeton Investments settled for $14 million, and Brown University for $3.5 million.

More 401(k) lawsuits were filed in 2016 and 2017 than during the 2008 financial crisis, and the steady drumbeat of litigation could be affecting how workers save and invest. For one thing, the suits have coincided with a dramatic increase in equity index funds, according to a report by the Center for Retirement Research. Last year, nearly one out of three U.S. stock funds were index funds, double the share 10 years ago.

Line chart showing stock index funds on the riseSome see this change as positive. Many retirement experts believe that the best investment option for an inexperienced 401(k) investor is an index fund, which automatically tracks a specific stock market index, such as the S&P500. Federal law requires employers to invest 401(k)s for the “sole benefit” of their workers, and index funds usually charge lower fees and carry less risk of underperforming the market than actively managed funds – two issues at the heart of the lawsuits.

To avoid litigation – and to comply with recent regulatory changes – employers are also becoming more transparent about the fees their workers pay to the 401(k) plan record keeper and to the investment manager. This transparency may have had a beneficial effect: lower mutual fund fees, which translate to more money in workers’ accounts when they retire. The average fund fee is about one-half of 1 percent, down from three-fourths of 1 percent in 2009, according to Morningstar.

In short, these lawsuits appear to be changing how people invest and how much they pay in fees for their 401(k)s. …Learn More

...34567...102030...