September 5, 2019
Social Security: the ‘Break-even’ Debate
Our recent blog post about the merits of delaying Social Security to improve one’s retirement outlook sparked a raft of comments, pro and con.
In the example in the article, a 65-year-old who is slated to receive $12,000 a year from Social Security could, by waiting until 66 to sign up for benefits, get $12,860 a year instead. By comparison, it would cost quite a bit more – about $13,500 – to buy an equivalent, inflation-adjusted annuity in the private insurance market that pays that additional $860 a year.
The strategy of delaying Social Security “is the best deal in town,” said a retirement expert quoted in the article.
Aaron Smith, a reader, doesn’t agree. “It will take 14 years to make that ($12,000) up. Sorry but I’ll take the $12k when I’m in my early 60s and can actually enjoy it,” he said in a comment on the blog.
Smith is making what is known as the “break-even” argument, which is behind a lot of people’s decisions about when to start collecting their Social Security.
But other readers point out that the decision isn’t a simple win-loss calculation. The benefit of getting a few extra dollars in each Social Security check – between 7 and 8 percent for each year they delay – is that it would help retirees pay their bills month after month.
This is a critical consideration for people who won’t have enough income from Social Security and savings to maintain their current standard of living after they stop working – and 44 percent of workers between 50 and 59 are at risk of falling short of that goal.
One big advantage of Social Security is that it’s effectively an annuity, because it provides insurance against the risk of living a long time. So the larger check that comes with delaying also “lasts the rest of your life,” said Chuck Miller, another reader. …Learn More
July 9, 2019
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
June 27, 2019
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
January 31, 2019
How Long Will Retirement Savings Last?
It might be the most consequential issue baby boomers will deal with when they retire: did I save enough?
Vanguard’s free online calculator will estimate that for you, using the same sophisticated technique financial advisers charge hundreds of dollars to provide.
The user-friendly calculator uses 100,000 of what are called Monte Carlo simulations of potential future returns to the financial markets to arrive at the probability that a household’s invested savings will last through the end of retirement. To get to this number, older workers enter their information into the calculator – 401(k) account balance, asset allocation, estimated years in retirement, and annual withdrawals – by moving around a sliding scale for each input.
The financial industry recommends aiming for a probability in the 80 percent range – 95 percent is overdoing it. In the end, however, your comfort level is a personal decision.
An important purpose of the calculator is to demonstrate how changes in the inputs can hurt one’s long-term retirement prospects – or improve them. One obvious example is increasing the annual withdrawal amount, which lowers the probability the money will last. To increase your chances, try a later retirement date.
The calculator is a lot of fun, but it has some limitations.
First, it’s no substitute for a detailed pre-retirement financial review. The other issues are primarily mathematical, and they boil down to the difficulty of predicting the future.
The calculator assumes, for simplicity, that a retiree withdraws the same dollar amount from savings every year to supplement Social Security and any pension income. But Anthony Webb, an economist at the New School for Social Research in New York, said this ignores the most important thing retirees should do to preserve their money: adjust the withdrawals every year, depending on how their investments have performed.
“If you encounter icebergs (bear markets), you should cut your spending” and withdrawals, he said. …Learn More
January 15, 2019
Savings Tips Help Millennials Get Serious
This is young adults’ financial dilemma in a nutshell: you’re well aware you should be saving money, but you admit you’d rather spend it on the fun stuff.
Yes, paying the rent or student loans every month takes discipline. But it isn’t enough. Even more discipline must be summoned to save money, whether in an emergency fund or a retirement plan at work.
Tia Chambers, a financial coach in Indianapolis and certified financial education instructor (CFEI), has put some thought into how Millennials can overcome their high psychological hurdles to saving.
The 32-year-old lays out six doable steps on her website, Financially Fit & Fab, which she recently elaborated on during an interview.
Get in the right mindset. “It is the hardest part,” she said. “When I speak with clients, money is always personal, and it’s also emotional.” The best way to clear the emotional hurdles is to keep a specific, important goal in mind that continually motivates you, for example buying a house. Or create a detailed savings challenge, such as vowing to save $1 the first week, $2 the second week, $3 the third week, etc. This adds up to $1,378 at the end of the year, she said.
Cut expenses. Some cuts are no-brainers. Scrap cable for Hulu and Netflix subscriptions. Drop that gym membership you never use. The biggest challenge for young adults is saying no to friends who want to go out for dinner or drinks. Chambers suggests enlisting your friends to help – after all, they’re probably spending too much too. She and her friends have agreed to go out one weekend and save money the next weekend by hanging out at someone’s apartment. Another idea is happy hour once a week instead of twice. …Learn More