Posts Tagged "401k"

Teacher teaching a class

Smaller Pensions Don’t Spur More Saving

Most state and local governments provide their employees with traditional pensions, which are nice to have. But not all pensions are equally generous.

The monthly benefits vary from one place to the next, and some governments have cut costs by reducing pensions for their newest hires. Further, one in four public-sector workers aren’t currently covered by Social Security, because their employers never joined the system.

A logical back-up plan for these workers would be to contribute money to the supplemental savings plans that most public-sector employers provide. When the workers retire, they can add the money saved in their accounts – a 401(k), 401(a), 457 or 403(b) – to their pension benefits.

But researchers at the Center for Retirement Research (CRR) find that workers are only slightly more likely to participate in a savings plan if they work for government employers with less generous pensions – a criterion based on how much of the worker’s current income will be replaced by the pension after they retire.

This lackluster response may not be surprising. Workers can see what’s deducted from their paychecks every week but don’t necessarily understand how these deductions – combined with their employer’s contributions – will translate to a pension.

Public-sector workers are probably more aware of whether their employers are part of the Social Security system. But apparently workers don’t consider that either. …Learn More

2021 art

Our Popular Blogs in the Year of COVID

2020 was a year like no other.

But despite the pandemic, most baby boomers’ finances emerged unscathed. The stock market rebounded smartly from its March nosedive. And the economy has improved, though it remains on shaky ground.

Our readers, having largely ridden out last spring’s disruptions, returned to a perennial issue of interest to them: retirement planning.

One of their favorite articles last year was “Unexpected Retirement Costs Can be Big.” So was “Changing Social Security: Who’s Affected,” which was about the toll that increasing the program’s earliest retirement age could take on blue-collar workers in physical jobs who don’t have the luxury of delaying retirement.

COVID-19 in the nation’s nursing homes has caused incomprehensible tragedy. A nursing home advocate explained how this happened in “How COVID-19 Spreads in Nursing Homes.” And the mounting death toll in nursing homes surely confirmed a longstanding preference among baby boomers – as documented in “Most Older Americans Age in their Homes.”

Despite the economy’s halting recovery, layoffs due to COVID-19 still “may be contributing to the jump in boomer retirements,” the Pew Research Center said. Pew estimates that 3.2 million more boomers retired last year than in 2019, far outpacing the increases in recent years.

The layoffs have no doubt forced some boomers to start their Social Security earlier than planned, as explained in “Social Security: Tapped more in Downturn” and “A Laid-off Boomer’s Retirement Plan 2.0.” But unemployed older workers who are still too young for retirement benefits might apply for disability insurance, according to a study described in “Disability Applications Spike in Recession.”

Baby boomers hoping to ease into retirement on their own terms liked a pair of articles about ongoing research by Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile: “Mapping Out a Fulfilling Retirement” and “Retirement is Liberating – and Hard Work.”

Other 2020 articles popular with our readers included: …Learn More

Tax Form 1040

How Much Will Your Retirement Taxes Be?

Four out of five retired households will pay little or no income taxes. But the tax rates at the highest income levels are meaningful, averaging 11 percent of household income and as much as 23 percent at the very top.

These estimates come from a new analysis by the Center for Retirement Research that sheds light on a potentially important consideration that is often overlooked by people approaching retirement age.

The highest tax rates are paid by the highest-income households because they often withdraw money from 401(k)s and IRAs to supplement their Social Security benefits. They must also pay capital gains taxes when they sell stocks and bonds for a profit from their regular financial accounts.

Retirement Taxes ChartHouseholds with income in the top 20 percent have nearly $770,000, on average, in retirement savings and other financial assets – their taxes equal 11 percent of their total retirement income. However, limiting the households to the top 5 percent of the income distribution, the tax rate increases to 16 percent – and the top 1 percent pays 23 percent.

These estimates assume retirees start pulling money out of their taxable 401(k) and IRA accounts when the IRS’ required minimum distributions (RMDs) kick in at age 70 1/2 – this age will increase to 72 next year. The tax rates were very similar under alternate scenarios that assume retirees either start withdrawing savings prior to the RMD or buy an immediate annuity with a survivor’s benefit.

The tax estimates are based on data for older U.S. households with at least one recent retiree. The researchers first calculated their expected future lifetime income from Social Security, 401(k)s and other sources in each year. The future yearly tax payments were then estimated using a program that applies IRS rules and each state’s tax rules to the various types of retirement income.

The tax rates are their total tax bills as a percentage of their total income. …Learn More

Blue-Collar Workers Often Retire Early

Construction workers

Construction and factory workers, truck drivers, and cleaning crews don’t always have the flexibility to work a few extra years to beef up their monthly Social Security checks.

Several blog readers stressed this point in their comments on a recent blog article, “Changing Social Security: Who’s Affected.”

Lorraine Porto retired from a desk job, but her family is filled with craftsmen, carpenters, electricians, farmers, and truckers who worked “until they were worn out.”

People in white-collar jobs don’t always appreciate “just how tough and demanding it is” to climb poles every day, descend into manholes, build skyscrapers, or bring in the hay in 90-degree heat and sub-zero temperatures, Porto said.

Her comment was in response to the article, which described a study about a hypothetical increase in Social Security’s retirement ages. It found that if Congress were to increase the earliest possible age for starting Social Security from 62 currently to 64, blue-collar workers would have much more of an adjustment to make.

Blue-collar workers, Kenneth Wegner wrote, “are less physically able to remain in their jobs.”

Policymakers are well aware of this concern, and a proposal to increase the early retirement age isn’t currently on the table. Yet many people are deciding to postpone retirement on their own. The general trend in recent decades is for all workers – even some people in physically demanding jobs – to delay when they collect Social Security.

That wasn’t possible for Mark Roberts. The former electrician, who worked on construction sites in Austin, Texas, said he had to go on disability due to an old foot injury that got worse over time. Now 67, he said he wasn’t able to work long enough or earn enough to save for retirement and ekes out an existence on his Social Security checks.

“I have to survive for a month on what I used to make every week,” he said.

White-collar workers who lose their jobs can also find themselves in a similar predicament. …Learn More

High Fees Tied to Mutual Fund Complexity

When David Marotta is investing his clients’ money in mutual funds, he scrutinizes the fees.

SP500 Index FundsTo demonstrate why fees are so important, Marotta charted the fees and 10-year returns for dozens of index funds in the Standard & Poor’s 500 family. Since these funds all track the same index and their performance is roughly the same, the fees will largely determine how much of the return the investor keeps and how much goes to the mutual fund company.

“The larger the fee the less that it performs. It’s kind of a straight line,said the Charlottesville, Virginia investment manager. “Anytime we’re picking a fund” for a client, “we’re trying to find the lowest-cost fund that we can find in that sector.”

The fees for the S&P 500 index funds he analyzed using Morningstar data ranged from one-tenth of a percent to 2.5 percent of the invested assets.

The issue of fees versus performance is more complicated for actively managed investments, which sometimes have strong returns that justify paying a higher fee. But in any investment, the true measure of how it’s doing is the after-fee return.

However, deciphering mutual fund fee disclosures can be extremely difficult for do-it-yourself 401(k) and IRA investors – and that is by design.

An analysis of S&P 500 index funds identified numerous narrative techniques in mutual fund documents that confuse investors. The researchers – from the University of Washington, MIT, and The Wharton School – evaluated each fund’s disclosures and showed that funds with more complex explanations of their investment holdings and fees also have higher fees. The researchers call this “strategic obfuscation.”

The study, which covered the period from 1994 through 2017, illustrated this complexity with two firms’ descriptions of their S&P 500 index funds. Schwab’s one-sentence summary gets right to the point: “The fund’s goal is to track the total return of the S&P 500 index.” This fund’s annual fee is 0.02 percent of the assets.

Deutsche Bank’s disclosure is more complicated for a few different reasons. First, the summary is three paragraphs and starts this way: “The fund seeks to provide investment results that, before expenses, correspond to the total return of common stocks…” …Learn More

Workers racing

Retirement System Urgently Needs Fixing

The state of our retirement preparedness is captured in this fact: about half of U.S. private sector workers at any given time are not enrolled in an employer retirement plan.

To be clear, they are not currently enrolled. Some of them have participated in a plan in the past or will in the future. But this inconsistency is the problem, largely because so many employers still don’t offer 401(k) savings plans to their employees.

The financial toll of not saving consistently is modest retirement account balances. Yet saving has become increasingly urgent as traditional pensions have virtually disappeared from the private sector and Social Security is replacing less of workers’ incomes over time.

401k and IRA chartIn 2019 – after several years of economic growth and a surging stock market – the typical working household, ages 55 to 64, that saves in a 401(k) had only $144,000 in its 401(k)s and IRAs combined, the Center for Retirement Research found in an analysis of the Federal Reserve’s 2019 Survey of Consumer Finances.

That’s just $9,000 more than they had in the 2016 survey, and $144,000 won’t go very far.

A $144,000 account would yield $570 per month for retirement if a couple purchases an annuity that pays a guaranteed income for the rest of their lives. For most retirees, the annuity payments – totaling just under $7,000 per year – would be their only source of income outside of Social Security.

There are also enormous differences between high- and low-income households’ savings, which reflect the nation’s economic disparities and uneven employer coverage. The highest-income older households in the study had $805,500 in their combined 401(k) and IRA accounts, compared with just $32,200 for low-income households. …Learn More

Rewriting Retirement

A Laid-off Boomer’s Retirement Plan 2.0

Jennifer Lee quoteJennifer Lee wanted to work until 70 to max out her monthly Social Security checks – at least that was the plan before she was laid off three years ago from a Washington D.C. church.

The church’s newly hired pastor “decided he wanted a whole new staff,” she said. “I felt to a degree he was entitled to do that,” she said – except that “he was only eliminating people on the staff who were over 60.”

She wasn’t having any luck finding a new job and felt that her only choice was to sign up for Social Security at 63½ to pay her bills. Eventually, Lee, a one-time nurse and medical administrator, landed a nice part-time job as a Jack-of-all-trades in an oral surgeon’s office. Post-pandemic, her duties have expanded to include overseeing the COVID-19 safety protocols.

The recession is putting many baby boomers in a predicament similar to Lee’s: a layoff has derailed their plans to work full-time to build up their retirement savings. Since March, the unemployment rate for Americans who are at least 55 years old has more than tripled, to 9.7 percent in June.

“Most older people, when they’re laid off, will take Social Security right away,” but “that’s not their best short-term solution,” said Wendy Weiss, a Cambridge, Mass., financial adviser. She urges them to find other ways to generate income or reduce expenses, because delaying Social Security increases the monthly check by 7 percent to 8 percent for each additional year the benefits are postponed.

But, Weiss acknowledges, the recession is putting growing numbers of unemployed boomers in situations that aren’t easily solved. “It’s not going to be pretty,” she said about the next few years.

Lee, who is 65, was fully aware she should have postponed her Social Security. But it took her more than six months to find her current job, and she didn’t have any unemployment benefits to tide her over, because church employers don’t usually pay into state unemployment insurance funds. She wasn’t old enough for Medicare at the time of her 2017 layoff either.

“I waited five months to apply for Social Security. I waited as long as I could,” she said.

She sees a problem not in the difficult decisions she’s had to make but in a shortage of policies for older workers like herself, who may be more vulnerable to layoffs and also can have a tougher time finding a new job even in an expanding economy. …Learn More