August 9, 2018
Divorce Very Bad for Retirement Finances
When a marriage ends in divorce, there are no fewer than seven ways that it could damage a person’s finances.
Divorce can rack up costly legal fees; force a house or stock sale in a down market; increase living expenses; increase tax rates; hamper the ability of the primary caregiver – mothers – to earn money; require fathers to pay alimony; and reduce each partner’s access to credit.
A new study looking at their impact on workers’ future finances concludes that divorce – the fate of four in 10 marriages – “substantially increases the likelihood” that their standard of living will decline after they retire. …Learn More
July 26, 2018
Book Review: the Middle-class Squeeze
Marketplace recently estimated that a family’s common expenses have increased 30 percent since the 1990s. This was based on the inflation-adjusted prices for 11 necessities and small luxuries, from food, housing, college, and medical care to movie tickets and air fare.
On the income side of the household ledger, one well-known study estimates that the lifetime, inflation-adjusted income of a typical 60-year-old man today is substantially less than it was for a man who turned 60 back in 2002. Women, who have benefitted from getting more education, are earning more, but they started out at much lower pay levels and still trail men.
These trends – rising expenses and shrinking paychecks – get to the essence of the middle-class struggle described in Alissa Quart’s new book, “Squeezed: Why Our Families Can’t Afford America.”
Putting faces to the numbers, she had no trouble finding workers who feel they are losing their tentative grip on the middle class. Her focus is the 51 percent of U.S. households earning between $40,000 and $125,000.
That’s not to say that Americans’ quality of life hasn’t improved in some ways. Consider the dramatic increase in the square footage of U.S. houses over the past 30 years or the enormous strides in medical technology. In today’s strengthening economy, the Federal Reserve Board reports that a majority of adults say they are doing okay or even living comfortably, and they are feeling more optimistic. Yet this doesn’t entirely square with another of the Fed’s findings: a large majority of adults would not be able to cover an unexpected $400 expense without selling something or borrowing money. …Learn More
July 3, 2018
Readers Like a Travel Twist on Finances
Two of our readers’ favorite articles so far this year connected difficult bread and butter issues – personal finance and retirement – with a far more pleasant topic: travel.
The most popular blog profiled a Houston couple scouting locations for a dream retirement home in South America, which has a lower cost of living. Another well-read blog was about Liz Patterson, a young carpenter in Colorado who built a $7,000 tiny house on a flat-bed trailer to radically reduce her expenses – so she could travel more.
The downsizing efforts of 27-year-old Patterson inspired several older readers to post comments to the blog about their own downsizing. “From children’s cribs and toys in the attic, to collectible things from my parents’ 70-year marriage!” Elaine wrote. “Purging has been heart wrenching and frustrating and long overdue!”
The following articles attracted the most interest from our readers in the first six months of 2018. Topics ranged from 401(k)s, income taxes, and Americans’ uneven participation in the stock market to geriatric care managers. Each headline includes a link to the blog. …Learn More
May 10, 2018
Tiny House Fixes Millennial’s Money Woes
Sky-high city rent, college loan payments, and the low-paying days of an early career are a bad combination for today’s Millennial.
Liz Patterson has solved all that. The carpenter built herself a 96-square-foot house on top of a flatbed truck for less than $7,000 in Manitou Springs, Colorado, a hip neighborhood near Colorado Springs.
The house “represents my monetary freedom – it’s the whole reason I did it,” the 27-year-old said.
Tiny houses, which average 500 square feet, are only about 1 percent of U.S. home sales. But builders say that sales continue to grow as Generation-X buys them as Airbnb rental properties, and baby boomers park their “granny pods” in an adult child’s backyard.
Patterson’s house before
Tiny houses actually make the most sense for 20-somethings in rebellion, given their financial constraints and a distaste for all the junk their parents accumulated over a lifetime, said Shawna Lytle, a spokeswoman for Tumbleweed Tiny Homes Company in Colorado Springs, which built its first tiny house in 1999. The national tiny house price is $23,000.
Five years earlier, the tiny house movement had started in Tokyo. Recently, a handful of U.S. communities, including Spur, Texas, and Berkeley, California, have modified their zoning rules or building codes to accommodate them. The laws are a patchwork: houses on wheels must sometimes be classified as RVs, and some cities set size minimums for houses with foundations. …Learn More
April 19, 2018
Credit Unions a Popular Antidote to Fraud
The 1980s featured bankrupt Texas savings and loans. Then, in the mid-2000s, Countrywide failed to clearly disclose to customers the spike in their subprime mortgage payments in year 3. In 2016, 5 million customers learned about their fabricated Wells Fargo accounts. And last year, Equifax breached 140 million customers’ privacy.
No wonder people are flocking to the friendly credit union in their church, labor union or workplace.
The widespread fraud reports making headlines with regularity have fed a perception that “fraud happens in the banking world and a lot of it goes unpunished,” said Mike Schenk, senior economist for the Credit Union National Association (CUNA).
“It’s not just Countrywide as an abstract concept. It’s that Countrywide put people into these toxic mortgages to make a buck.” The 2008 stock market and housing crashes, fueled partly by the collapse of several subprime lenders, hammered this point home.
CUNA has a bold marketing message: credit unions care more about their customers than impersonal banking behemoths. Schenk said he has the evidence to prove credit unions are benefiting from Wall Street’s financial shenanigans: membership increased an “astonishing” 4 percent in 2017, as the U.S. population grew less than 1 percent.
Of course, most banks aren’t bad guys, and they provide services that small credit unions can’t. Banks frequently upgrade their technology – Bank of America’s ATMs are cutting edge. Large banks also have much larger networks of ATMs and branches, and they can service the large corporate accounts credit unions aren’t equipped to do.
So, what do credit unions do better? Here are their three big advantages: …Learn More
February 27, 2018
Geriatric Help Eases Family Discord
Family harmony and your parent’s desires are the top priorities during their final years of life – not long-simmering sibling arguments or what you may feel is best for him or her.
That’s why it’s critical for the entire family to gather around parents for caring and gentle conversations before a crisis occurs, such as a medical emergency or sudden cognitive decline.
Jennifer B. Warkentin
“These are the kinds of conversations that need to happen while a parent is still able to discuss the options and make their wishes clear,” said Jennifer B. Warkentin, a clinical psychologist specializing in geriatric care.
Numerous conversations will actually be required to sort out myriad potential needs as a parent continues to age. The issues are both simple and complicated, from contacting Meals on Wheels and installing a shower chair to putting parents’ financial affairs in order, finding a suitable home health aide, and preparing legal documents.
Some parents are eager to have this conversation so they can get things squared away. More often, however, the conversations are tricky, because they make parents uncomfortable with a perceived “role reversal,” said Warkentin, who works primarily with elderly people in skilled nursing facilities in Boston’s western suburbs. She also has clients in independent and assisted living facilities. …Learn More
January 9, 2018
Burdensome Rents are “the New Normal”
During Boston’s mayoral election in November, Mayor Marty Walsh boasted that his administration has overseen $100 million in housing investment. Walsh’s challenger, City Councilor Tito Jackson, responded that this new investment has been dominated by the luxury apartments and condominiums sprouting downtown and around GE’s new headquarters in the booming Seaport neighborhood.
Walsh retained his seat, but Boston’s housing debate is playing out from Orlando to Austin to San Francisco.
“The lack of affordable rental housing is a consequence of not only increases in the number of lower-income households but also steeply rising development costs,” Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies concluded in its annual report on the nation’s housing stock.
An unprecedented 1 million new renters have come into the market annually since 2010, the center said, fueled by well-heeled older couples and young professional couples with children pouring into luxury apartments and the single-family homes that are on the rental market.
Building has slowed more recently, but not before strong demand had driven up the typical U.S. apartment rent by 27 percent, to $1,480, between 2011 and 2016. And $1,100-plus apartments leaped from one-third of the rental market to two-thirds; all rents were adjusted for inflation.
A decline in available apartments renting for under $850 are depriving working-class families of options. “[O]nce-affordable units have become out of reach for lower-income households,” the report said. …Learn More