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
There’s an informal rule in journalism: put too many numbers in an article, and readers will drop like flies. A similar phenomenon might also be at work when someone looks at a Social Security statement filled with numbers.
The statement, which is intended to help workers plan for retirement, shows the size of the monthly benefit check increasing incrementally as the claiming age increases. Yet many people still choose to claim their benefits soon after becoming eligible at 62, which means smaller Social Security checks, possibly for decades.
In a recent experiment, a friendlier approach proved effective in helping people process this information: tell a story. Researchers at the Center for Economic and Social Research at the University of Southern California created a fictional 3-minute video of a 62-year-old man talking with a financial adviser about retirement. The researchers showed it to workers between 50 and 60 years old.
Here’s one exchange in the video:
Adviser: [Social Security has] a tradeoff: you can decide to claim earlier. In that case, you would have a lower monthly benefit, but you’d get to enjoy these benefits for a longer period.
Worker: So if I claim sooner, I get less money per month? …Learn More
Despite the mounting pressures on Americans of all ages to save for retirement, our saving habits haven’t changed in 10 years.
The combined employer and employee contributions to 401(k)s consistently hover around 10 percent of workers’ pay, according to “How America Saves 2018,” an annual report by Vanguard, which administers thousands of employer 401(k)s and other defined contribution plans.
Retirement account balances aren’t going up either. The typical participant’s 401(k) balance is no larger than it was in 2007, even though accounts grew 7 percent last year, to $26,000, thanks to a strong stock market. The balances, when adjusted for inflation, are slightly smaller.
The growing adoption of 401(k) plans that automatically enroll their workers is having both negative and positive influences on the account balances. Employers tend to set employees’ contributions in these plans at a low 3 percent of their pay. This has had a depressing effect on balances, but it has been offset somewhat in recent years by a modification to auto-enrollment plans: more employers are automatically increasing their workers’ contribution rates periodically.
Baby boomers with a few short years left to save are particularly under pressure to increase their savings. The typical boomer has accumulated only $71,000 in his current employer’s retirement account, according to Vanguard. Total account balances are generally larger, however – though still often inadequate – because many baby boomers have rolled over savings from past employer 401(k)s into their personal IRA accounts.
Overall, the situation for all workers hasn’t really changed and neither has Vanguard’s message to future retirees.
“Going forward, we need to reach for higher contribution rates for more individuals,” Jean Young, senior research analyst says in the company’s video above. …Learn More
Two Morgan Stanley investment advisers agreed last week to plead guilty to stealing nearly $500,000 in a set of schemes that took particular aim at their elderly or retired clients, the U.S. Department of Justice charged. One client is in his mid-80s.
Multiple allegations detailed in the federal complaint demonstrate the creative ways that trusting older individuals might be deceived. For example, the Justice Department (DOJ) indicated that college tuition may have been the auspice or motivation for adviser and broker James S. Polese’s alleged fraud to obtain $320,000 from the client in his 80s – labeled Client B in the complaint.
The allegations included that Polese, age 51, knew a $50,000 loan from Client B for his children’s college expenses was prohibited by Morgan Stanley and was “a conflict of interest between the client and his adviser,” said the complaint, which was filed last week in U.S. District Court in Boston.
Polese and Cornelius Peterson, who both live in the Boston metropolitan area, also worked together to divert money from Client A and also a Client B to a failed wind farm investment without their knowledge, the complaint said. A third client allegedly paid inflated fees.
The brazen allegations in this case come amid reports that financial fraud against the elderly is on the rise. Retired people with nest eggs can be enticing targets for scam artists, and the elderly are “likely financially vulnerable” if they are experiencing cognitive decline, one study said. Further, a trusting senior might have more difficulty detecting financial deceptions that involve complex transactions. (Little detail about the clients’ personal situations was disclosed in the court documents.)
Morgan Stanley said that it fired Polese and Peterson in June 2017 immediately after uncovering the fraudulent activities and “referred the misconduct to regulatory and law enforcement agencies.” The two are registered brokers, and the Securities and Exchange Commission was involved in the investigation. The brokers agreed to plead guilty, said a statement from the U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts. A plea hearing is scheduled for February 15.
Client A and Client B were involved in the wind farm investment, the complaint said: Client A lost $100,000 after Peterson made “false statements” to his employer “when he signed a form stating that Client A had verbally authorized the $100,000 [wind farm] investment.” Client B, a businessman, was unaware that his funds were being used to support the wind farm, in the form of a loan account that could be used as a collateral backstop to the project, according to the charges. Although the funds were never used, Client B’s money was nevertheless put at risk, DOJ said, and he paid $12,000 in fees associated with the transaction.
Boston attorney Carol Starkey said her client, Peterson, age 28, was a “minor participant” and noted that Polese, who is 23 years his senior, was Peterson’s supervisor. Polese’s attorney did not respond to requests for a comment. …Learn More
All the headlines about “financially illiterate” Americans miss something important. The language financial professionals use can be incomprehensible.
In this humorous video, David Saylor, whose job is basically “word consultant” for Invesco Van Kampen Consulting, walked around downtown Chicago and asked people to define industry terms such as “dollar-cost averaging” and “beta.”
One person got one answer right. (After watching the video, readers may need to consult Saylor’s glossary, below.) Even a seemingly simple concept – “transparent fees” – was misinterpreted. It means that fees are fully disclosed but was interpreted to mean “invisible.”
No wonder people are confused by the “Finglish” – financial English – thrown around by their mutual-fund companies, 401(k) managers, and other investment professionals, Saylor said.
His work also explores the subtle distinctions people make when the industry attempts to use familiar terms, such as “guarantee” or “nest egg.” …
J. Michael Collins, faculty director of the Center for Financial Security at the University of Wisconsin – Madison
People often have a tough time deciding whether they would benefit from hiring a financial advisor.
J. Michael Collins, who specializes in consumer decisionmaking in the financial marketplace at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, attempted to answer some questions on the topic in an online interview by a Chicago money manager.
Most agree that fee-based advisors are preferable to those who earn commissions by selling products to their clients – being a broker or a salesman conflicts with giving advice. This troublesome conflict is eliminated by paying an advisor a fee for his or her work.
But even the prospect of hiring a fee-based advisor typically raises more questions than answers. What do advisors do? Is the service worth the fee an advisor charges? What exactly am I paying for?
To help retirees choose the best way to spend down the 401(k) savings they have built up over a lifetime, Nobel Prize laureate William Sharpe urged them to focus on a single outcome: the size of their monthly check.
This video was created by Professor William Sharpe of Stanford University.
Financial advisors should say to their clients, “Don’t worry about the strategy or model. Look at the outcomes that matter: what you can spend year by year in retirement,” he said.
Speaking at a conference this week at Boston University’s School of Management, which brought financial practitioners together with top minds in academic finance and Washington think tanks, Sharpe said advisors should present clients with various payout schedules and then explain the probability of success for each one they’re considering. Learn More
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