Posts Tagged "financial"

Save money sticky note

2 Options in an Emergency: Savings or Family

The pandemic was a crash course in the importance of having some money in the bank for an emergency.

When COVID started to spread, jobs vanished, mothers abruptly stopped working to care for children who weren’t in school, and, for the unlucky people who became ill, the medical bills rolled in.

Congress took extraordinary measures during these extraordinary times and approved three rounds of relief payments totaling several thousand dollars per household in 2020 and 2021. But the federal payments, along with extra unemployment benefits and an increase in the child tax credit, weren’t enough to keep everyone afloat.

That left the people who didn’t have any savings with one other fallback option to get them through the tough times: borrowing from a family member.

The non-savers resorted to borrowing from family at three times the rate of people who did have savings – 15 versus just 5 percent, according to surveys conducted in 2020 and 2021 by the financial services company, BlackRock.

But borrowing from family to ease financial strains causes another problem: the people who got help from family said it stressed them out, the survey found.

Right now, the economy is doing pretty well, and jobs are plentiful. It might be time to think about a New Year’s Resolution. Many workers are still barely getting by, and it can be difficult to save. But at least give it a try.

The next time you have a financial emergency, Congress probably won’t be there to bail you out.

Read more blog posts in our ongoing coverage of COVID-19.Learn More

Financial Troubles Hide in Soaring Markets

Texas Securities Commissioner Travis Iles says we’re living in a perfect storm – for financial fraud.

Bitcoin Isolated at home to avoid COVID, people are spending more time online, and he suspects that some have become more susceptible to fraud because they think a big win would take the edge off of the financial uncertainties of the pandemic. And social media only feeds the frenzy, giving scam artists a natural audience for selling their “investments” – and for recruiting others on social media to help them.

“People look for follows and likes and they’re dialed in on a lot of social media platforms that three to four years ago were very foreign,” Iles said in a recent interview. “It’s actually influencing people’s decisions about where” to invest their money.

In March 2020, just as the pandemic took hold, he began tracking how many administrative and enforcement actions his office had taken. Over the next 18 months, his office launched some 450 investigations, resulting in more than 60 actions against suspicious companies selling investments to Texans.

“We’ve never been more prolific in terms of output,” he added.

The craziness of these times can be seen in a recent cease-and-desist order issued by the Texas Securities Division against a company promising wild returns of 30 percent in 60 days or 50 percent in 90 days to investors in a nebulous operation: cryptocurrency cloud mining.

Cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin are complicated enough – but mining cryptocurrency? As one law firm explains, it’s a treasure hunt that “involves validating cryptocurrency transactions on a blockchain network and adding them to a distributed ledger.” …Learn More

Pushing a rock up a hill

Parent PLUS Debt Relief: the Good and Bad

Some 3.6 million parents are paying off more than $100 billion in debt used to fund their children’s college education. For many parents, the federal Parent Loan for Undergraduate Students (PLUS) was the only way they could afford college, but many are now struggling to make the monthly payments.

In a Harris poll in July, nearly one in three said they regret the decision to borrow. If these parents need relief, they have two basic options: enter into the government’s repayment plan for PLUS loans or refinance their federal student loans through a private lender such as a bank. Both options have significant downsides.

Anna HelhoskiAnna Helhoski

Anna Helhoski, a student loan expert with the financial website, NerdWallet, explained the good and bad in the federal government’s income-contingent repayment program for parents overburdened by college debt.

Before we get into the details of this option, how big a problem is this?

We do know that parent PLUS borrowers are one of the fastest growing groups of people with student loans. With any student loan, you borrow to afford the degree so you can earn the money to repay the loan. But the conflict with parent PLUS loans is that you get the debt, but you don’t reap the higher earnings that come with a new degree. PLUS loans were originally meant to provide liquid funds for families with higher assets. But when it was opened up to more borrowers in 1992, it became a lot easier to take on more debt, and college costs were going up, so it became more of a necessity to access it.

Parents can easily rack up six-figure debt. The only requirement is that they don’t have adverse credit histories. PLUS loans are really easy to get and difficult to pay back.  Repayment for parents – it’s probably the No. 1 question I get from anyone around repaying student loans.

Wouldn’t this be a particular concern for parents close to retirement age? 

We know that is happening. Parents are putting off retirement because they can’t simply afford to retire because they have this debt looming.

Parents can get help from the federal government in the form of an income-contingent repayment plan (ICR). Generally, how does it work?

The standard repayment plan for new student loans is 10 years. But if parents are struggling to pay that debt, they have only one option: income-contingent payments over 25 years. The payments are set at 20 percent of their adjusted gross income on their tax filings, also known as discretionary income. And they can only get that if they first consolidate and then apply for the ICR program.

It’s not means-tested, so any parent PLUS borrower can qualify for ICR, but they are required to combine all of their PLUS loans first into a federal consolidation loan. If you don’t want to consolidate, you can’t access ICR.

What are the downsides of consolidation?

Your payments may be lower when you consolidate but you’re going to be paying the loans off over a longer period of time, which means you’ll pay more in interest over time. If you consolidate but don’t go into the ICR program, your term will be between 10 and 30 years – the larger the loan balance, the longer the term. The other downside of consolidation is that any outstanding interest on your existing loan balance will be added to the principal of your consolidation loan. You’ll be paying interest on your interest. If you consolidate and then enter the ICR repayment plan — the only option if you want to pin your payments to how much you can afford based on your income — your new term length will always be 25 years.

Given the downsides of ICR plans, what is the profile of the parents who could benefit? Learn More

Thinking ahead roadmap logo

How to Pick (or Be) a Retiree’s Financial Ally

If you need help managing your finances in old age, it’s a lot of work to find someone – and not a very pleasant task to think about.

But it’s crucial that retirees plan for this. As to when or whether you might need help, it really depends on your individual circumstance.

Attorney and researcher Naomi Karp cites a variety of studies that provide some clues to the different ways this process can play out. People who develop dementia obviously need what she calls a financial advocate. This might be a trusted friend, family member, lawyer or professional financial adviser.

But roughly a third of aging Americans who are experiencing natural cognitive decline are prone to making poor decisions about their money, she explained during a recent webinar sponsored by the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) where she used to work.

Financial acumen actually peaks well before retirement – at 53! – but wisdom makes up for some of that, she said. During one’s 70s and 80s, financial literacy declines, but unfortunately confidence about one’s abilities remains high. “That’s a risky situation,” Karp said.

She and other financial experts have put together an interactive website the Thinking Ahead Roadmapwith six steps to follow to find an advocate. Each step has tips, tools, and information to guide you through the process. An adult child or caregiver could also use this website if they feel the need to assume more responsibility for an elderly parent’s finances. …Learn More

Boomers Will Struggle with Care in Old Age

Granddaughter and grandmotherThe bulk of care for the nation’s elderly is informally provided by spouses, adult children, and other family members. But if family can’t fill the need, will retirees be able to hire an in-home caregiver or pay for a nursing home in the future?

Just one in five 65-year-olds has enough family and financial resources combined to provide the support they would require in the event they develop the most severe care needs as they age, according to new research by the Center for Retirement Research. At the other extreme, more than one in three will have insufficient resources to cover even a minimal amount of care.

The study builds on previous report showing that most retirees will eventually need some care, though only one in four is predicted to have severe needs. And one in five will not need any care. The new study used data from a national survey of older Americans to determine how many total hours of care are required for three different levels of need – minimal, moderate and severe.

For example, 924 hours of family or professional care per year are used by the typical person who gets minimal assistance, such as housekeeping or cooking for a few weeks or months. But people with severe needs receive nearly 2,300 hours of care per year – with half supplied by family members. This would add up to more than 11,000 hours over a five-year period, which is the length of time the researchers used to define severe care needs.

Next, the researchers calculated how many hours of care could be covered informally by family and how many hours of formal care the retirees could purchase with their income and any financial assets. If the total hours of care they can cover with their resources fall short of what is required for a given level of need, then retirees have insufficient resources to meet that need.

Unmarried women are in the toughest position, because they lack not only a spouse to take care of them in old age but also the financial advantages enjoyed by married couples, who tend to be wealthier than single people. Over half of unmarried women will not be able to cover even minimal care needs. In contrast, only a third of couples could not provide for any future care.

There are also big disparities by race: nearly half of older Black Americans and two-thirds of Hispanics do not have the family and financial resources to provide at least minimal care, compared with only a third of whites. …Learn More

balancing balls

Social Security: Time for an Update?

The option to start Social Security benefits at any age from 62 to 70 – with an actuarial adjustment – is a key feature of the program. However, the adjustments – reductions in the monthly benefit for claiming early and increases for waiting – are decades old and do not reflect improvements in longevity or other important developments over time.

The option to claim early was introduced just over 60 years ago, when Congress set 62 as the program’s earliest eligibility age. The option to claim between 65 and 70 on an actuarially fair basis stems from the 1983 Social Security amendments, which gradually increased the annual “delayed retirement credit” from 3 percent to 8 percent. Also in 1983, reductions for early claiming were changed in tandem with the gradual increase in the full retirement age from 65 to 67.

The goal of actuarial adjustments to the monthly benefits has always been to ensure that retirees with average life expectancy could expect to get the same total lifetime benefits, regardless of when they started. But calculating lifetime benefits requires assumptions about how long people will live and assumptions about interest rates. The current calculations are based on life expectancy and interest rates in the early 1960s or 1980s.

Much has changed since those dates: life expectancy has increased dramatically and interest rates have declined. Longer life expectancy and, to a lesser extent, lower interest rates would each call for a smaller penalty for early claiming and a smaller reward for delaying claiming.

Consider what this means for baby boomers whose full retirement age is 67. Under the current system, if they claim at 62, they receive 70 percent of their age-67 benefit. However, to reflect decades of increasing life spans and falling interest rates, the researchers calculated that the accurate monthly benefit would be 77.5 percent of the age-67 benefit. That is, early claimers are penalized too much.

For workers who delay claiming, a discrepancy also exists between the current and accurate delayed retirement credits, though the difference is smaller since the credit was initially too small. Specifically, workers who wait until 70 to start Social Security today receive 124 percent of the benefit they would’ve gotten at 67, whereas 120 percent of the age-67 benefit would be more accurate. …Learn More

401k Plans Evolve to Boost Workers’ Savings

Many employees in the private sector, when left to their own devices, either save very little in the company retirement savings plan or don’t even sign up for it.

But a growing number of companies have revamped their 401(k)-style plans over the past two decades to strengthen the incentives for employees to save. While progress has been gradual and uneven, the companies are moving in the right direction.

In a new study, researchers have compiled a unique nationally representative data set that tracks the changes employers have made to their 401(k)s and 403(b)s. The findings describe three important areas in which they are making progress:

  • About 41 percent of the largest 4,200 U.S. employers in this study automatically enrolled workers in a savings plan in 2017 – up sharply from 2 percent in 2003. Workers can still opt out but the vast majority remain in the plans.
  • Similar improvements were also evident in the study’s broader sample of employers of all sizes. In 2017, about a third of all companies had auto-enrollment, compared to virtually none in 2003.
  •  Among companies with auto-enrollment, about 44 percent of the large employers and half of the overall sample are automatically increasing their workers’ contributions.
  • Contributions to the plans are generally rising too.

The researchers credited some of the improvements to the Pension Protection Act. The 2006 law explicitly allowed companies to automatically enroll employees in savings plans and also established a minimum standard for the level of employer contributions made by companies that adopt auto-enrollment. …Learn More