September 20, 2012
Social Security: There is a Better Way
Married couples have up to 567 options for deciding when and how to file for their Social Security benefits. Yes, 567!
“They are faced with a bewildering array” of choices, said David Freitag, vice president of Impact Technologies Group Inc. in Charlotte, North Carolina, which just released a spiffy, user-friendly Social Security calculator to help.
No wonder people just throw up their hands and claim their benefits at 62, when they first become eligible. But in the midst of the baby boomer retirement tsunami, oodles of calculators are coming online to simplify the decision for couples. Impact is offering a 14-day free trial to anyone who wants to test its calculator.
Couples’ strategies have become more complex, because today’s boomer wives have spent a lifetime working and because they may earn wages rivaling or exceeding their husband’s, said Jim Blankenship, a financial planner in New Berlin in central Illinois. There is also more money at stake in making the right decision, he said.
“Before, it was much easier to have a rule of thumb to go by,” he said. “The decisions are different than what they used to be.” …Learn More
September 6, 2012
Campaign Discourse Misses Major Issue
Retirement-income security is receiving little attention as the presidential campaign heats up, despite a mound of evidence that Americans’ retirement prospects are stagnating – or worse.
While Medicare has been at the center of the debate, there has been little emphasis on the broader topic of income security for what remains the largest demographic bulge in U.S. history – the baby boomer generation – and now the largest block of retirees.
In the retirement community, however, debate swirls constantly about how bad the situation really is. These debates are slicing the onion awfully thin when one research paper or report after another contains a new aspect of the troubling fallout from the final years of a transition from secure, employer-guaranteed pensions to DIY retirement. Sometimes it seems that Wall Street’s collapse in 2008 was just the kickoff for the bad news on the retirement front.
A new report from Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research, which funds this blog, finds that just 42 percent of workers in the private sector had pension coverage in their current jobs in 2010 – that’s coverage of any kind, including the defined-contribution plans that now dominate. Yikes!…Learn More
September 4, 2012
Flatline: U.S. Retirement Savings
Baby boomers’ balances in 401k and IRA accounts have barely budged for most of the past decade.
In 2004, the typical U.S. household between ages 55 and 64 held just over $45,000 in their tax-exempt retirement plans. Plan balances for people who fell in that age group in 2007 rose but settled back down after the biggest financial crisis in U.S. history. In 2010, they were $42,000, a few bucks lower than 2004 balances.
These are among the reams of sobering data contained in the Federal Reserve’s 2010 Survey of Consumer Finances released in June. The $42,000 average balance is for all Americans – it includes the more than half of U.S. workers who do not participate in an employer-sponsored savings program.
There’s more bad news buried in the SCF: the value of other financial assets such as bank savings accounts dropped in half, to $18,000. And hardship withdrawals from 401(k)s have increased, to more than 2 percent of plan participants, from 1.5 percent in 2004.
So, where did all that wealth created by the longest economic boom in U.S. history go? The 2008 financial collapse didn’t help. But we can also blame the baby boom culture. Click here to read a year-ago article that examines the cultural reasons for the troubling condition of our retirement system.
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August 14, 2012
Hard Labor Spells Earlier Retirement
Men with the most physically demanding jobs retire earlier – by choice or due to exhaustion or chronic pain – increasing the financial pressures facing this segment of the workforce once they reach old age.
The retirement age for most Americans continues to float upward as people delay the date so they can sock more money away or boost the eventual size of their Social Security checks. But that’s often not a viable option for people with highly physical jobs, such as the 1,500 Alcoa plant workers in a new study.
The retirement pattern for Alcoa workers studied by the Stanford University School of Medicine suggests that men in manufacturing jobs face a unique set of retirement issues related to the physicality of their work. Most of the workers in Stanford’s 2001-2008 study were employed in aluminum smelters. The study found that men in these demanding jobs retired, on average, at age 60 and six months – a full year earlier than their male Alcoa coworkers with jobs such as floor inspector or shipping clerk.
“Those with heavier jobs retire earlier. Those with more sedentary jobs retire later,” Sepideh Modrek, a Stanford medical school lecturer, said at the recent Retirement Research Consortium conference, where she presented the results of her working paper. [The Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog, is a consortium member.] … Learn More
June 14, 2012
Progress Stalls for Young Adults
The promise of America is progress, but that progress stalled for the youngest generation: U.S. workers under age 45 earned dramatically less than workers who were that same age a decade ago, the Federal Reserve Board’s latest survey shows.
For Americans 35 through 44, the median household income – the income that falls in the middle of all earners – was $53,900 in 2010. That’s 14 percent less income than in 2001 when households in the 35-44 age bracket were earning $63,000, according to the Fed’s Survey of Consumer Finances released Monday. For young adults in the under-35 age bracket, median income fell to $35,100 in 2010, from $40,900 for that group in 2001.
The median income also declined, by nearly 9 percent, for Americans in their peak earning years, 45 through 54, to $61,000 in 2010 from $66,800 in 2001. [Incomes for all years are in current dollars.]
The sharp decline in real incomes, especially for young adults, occurred in a decade bracketed by the high-tech bubble of early 2000 and the jobless recovery of 2010 from the financial crisis. Without further analysis, it’s difficult to pinpoint precise explanations for the patterns. But the reasons vary depending on the age bracket being analyzed.
For the youngest workers, incomes may be lower if many are extending their college educations – high school and college graduates face the lowest level of employment ever recorded.
June 12, 2012
Couple Reach Across Financial Divide
Meet Shannan Schmitt, 40: She cannot resist $200 Via Spiga pumps, hickory hardwood floors, or the fancy soaps and gourmet goodies at the farmers market where she likes shopping with her toddler son.
Meet her husband, Randy Nauman, 36. His penny-pinching ways are dictated by the numbers and his bachelor’s degree in finance. Her Internet shopping drives him to distraction.
“Opposites attract,” said their financial coach, Kelley Long.
Married five years, the Cincinnati couple’s willingness to discuss their finances publicly, for this article, is rare. But their marital discord over money is not: A recent survey found that the typical American couple argues about money three times a week, and past academic research has found that the more couples argue about money the greater is their risk of divorce.
Nauman said money “is the biggest issue,” and he worries it may be severe enough to jeopardize their marriage. “It leads into other stressful situations and arguments that don’t need to happen,” he said.
But Long, who owns KCL Financial Coaching in Chicago (formerly Cincinnati), said Schmitt and Nauman are like other couples who marry at a later age. “It’s harder to combine your finances if you’ve already had a chance to establish your financial habits” before getting married, she said.Learn More
May 24, 2012
Wanna Live Forever, Huh?
Mark Wexler (right), director of the documentary “How to Live Forever,” with fitness celebrity Jack Lalanne.
Immortality hasn’t been this hot since Ponce de Leon searched for the fountain of youth in 16th Century Florida.
The evidence: Captain Jack Sparrow (a.k.a. Johnny Depp) searched high and low for it in “Pirates of the Caribbean” Part IV last summer. Meanwhile, U.S. beaches were littered with the polka dot cover of “Super Sweet Sad Love Story” about a dystopian Manhattan, where longevity had to be earned. Mark Wexler’s documentary, “How to Live Forever,” was a bizarre-funny send up of baby boomers’ search for their fountains of youth. And time – not money – was the currency in the Justin Timberlake vehicle, “In Time.” Another Twilight vampire movie on the way…
This spring, Jane Fonda is promoting her new book, “Prime Time,” about what she calls the “third act” of life as more Americans are increasingly healthy into their 70s, 80s, even 90s. Not to put a damper on things, but can we afford our third act if we’re not Jane Fonda?
Noting the 30-year increase in U.S. longevity over the 20th century, she said it is ushering in a lifestyle “revolution.” But an index produced by the Center for Retirement Research, which funds this blog, indicates that we won’t have enough income to afford it. This regularly updated retirement index shows that nearly half of U.S. households with boomers in their early 50s are “at risk” of not having enough money for retirement.
Are you ready for your glorious third act? Or will it be more like the explorer’s quest? Pure myth.