March 24, 2016
Americans Are on a Credit Card Binge
Rising levels of credit card debt are a good thing and a bad thing.
And they are definitely rising: during the final three months of 2015, Americans added $52.4 billion to what they owe on their credit cards, according to a new CardHub report based on Federal Reserve Board data.
For context, that is nearly as much as was added to cards in all of 2014.
Spending rises when consumers have jobs or get better jobs and when the economy is growing, as it is now, said Lowell Ricketts, an analyst with the Center for Household Financial Stability at the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. With incomes increasing, he said, “they’re in a stronger position to make those investments like purchasing a new home or renovating their existing homes.” The surge in credit card debt indicates that people are using plastic to pay for things like the furniture for the new house.
The bad part is what happens to over-leveraged spenders when the economy suddenly turns down, which is what WalletHub analyst Jill Gonzalez is concerned about. “We are starting to get into scary territory here,” she said. The fourth-quarter binge “was much larger than usual.”
During all of 2015, credit card balances, net of payments, increased by nearly $71 billion, substantially higher than the $57.4 billion increase in 2014. Last year’s fourth-quarter binge was only part of the story, Gonzalez said. …Learn More
March 22, 2016
Rise in Fraud Reports is Unrelenting
A nearly three-fold increase over the past decade in the number of fraud and related complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission has pushed the total to 1.7 million filings in 2015, according to the government’s consumer 2015 data book released this month.
As Squared Away reported recently, older Americans are often the most vulnerable, as their cognitive abilities decline or they become more socially isolated. Not surprisingly, the FTC said Florida had the highest rate of reported fraud per resident last year (followed by Georgia, Michigan, Texas, and Nevada).
One reason for the increase in complaints is that people are increasingly aware of fraud and more likely to report it. Another is that fraud-reporting agencies such as law enforcement and consumer groups are increasingly aware they can file complaints with the FTC. But 1.7 million allegations of fraud, identity thefts, and other scams is, by any yardstick, a lot of complaints.
The typical loss was $400 for an individual fraud complaint. There is evidence that more people are getting savvy: a smaller share of the people who filed 2015 complaints said they turned over any money to their scammers than in previous years. … Learn More
March 17, 2016
How Federal Taxation Drops for Retirees
Taxes are not as inevitable as most people assume. As the chart shows, the share of Americans paying federal income taxes falls precipitously after age 60.
Young adults often have little or no tax liability, because they’re either in school or aren’t yet earning very much. Older people revert to a similar picture, after having paid taxes all their lives.
The peak occurs around age 50, when nearly 80 percent of households pay federal income taxes. That share plummets to half at age 65 and to just over a third at 70, according to The Hamilton Project at The Brookings Institution, which produced the chart. [The chart is based on 2007 data; there may be some changes in current data, though not in the age patterns.]
This is important information for most baby boomers, because their tax picture will change dramatically in retirement. Taxes paid, as well as the share of people paying taxes, decline because retirees’ incomes generally fall below what they earned while they were working.
Further, U.S. tax policy provides additional deductions and credits for people over age 65. While some people pay taxes on their Social Security benefits, this usually happens, according to the Social Security Administration, “only if you have other substantial income (such as wages, self-employment, interest, dividends and other taxable income that must be reported on your tax return) in addition to your benefits.”
As the chart makes crystal clear, tax considerations are a crucial part of retirement planning. Learn More
March 1, 2016
Loneliest Seniors Vulnerable to Fraud
“Lost my husband to 9/11 terror attack” – using heartbreaking stories like these, a U.K. scam that became public last month persuaded some lonely older men to turn their money over to widows.
This report is a dramatic illustration of a relationship between loneliness and fraud that has been uncovered in recent research. That study found that people over 50 have been vulnerable to being victimized by fraud in recent years – but the prevalence of fraud was three times higher among people who are extremely depressed or lonely.
The 2013 study in the journal Clinical Gerontologist might be the first to examine financial exploitation from the point of view of psychological vulnerability. It was based on a general survey of older Americans that asks each participant if they’ve “been the victim of financial fraud in the past five years.”
The psychological survey questions pin down whether they suffer from depressive symptoms and whether their social needs are fulfilled. The social needs questions address loneliness and a lack of social affirmation, asking the survey’s respondents whether they “have people to turn to, people to talk to, people to feel close to” and are “part of a group” and “appreciated.” …Learn More
February 25, 2016
Home Equity: a Retirement Resource
The National Council on Aging (NCOA) has redesigned its website providing information for “house rich but cash poor” older people who want to think about tapping their home equity.
Home equity – the house’s market value minus the amount owed on the mortgage – remains a largely unused source of income that many older Americans could be putting toward their medical care or to improve their lives.
Home equity held by Americans age 62 and over reached $5.76 trillion last year – an increase of nearly 30 percent since 2013. A marker of how much of this retirement resource remains untapped is the small number of federally insured reverse mortgages – about 50,000 – that seniors take out every year against the value of their home equity. Reverse mortgages, which are available to homeowners at age 62, are equity loans that do not have to be repaid until the senior permanently leaves their home. …Learn More
February 11, 2016
More Parents Split Bequests Unequally
As the American family becomes increasingly complex, so do parents’ wills.
The result has been a dramatic increase over the past two decades in the share of wills in which parents distribute their estate’s assets unequally among their genetic offspring and stepchildren.
New research, based on surveys of older Americans, finds that about one-third of parents today do not distribute their assets equally. The reasons range from the greater incidence of divorce and the inherent disadvantage of being a stepchild to the fact that some children naturally take on the role of caring for their aging parents. With parents now living longer and needing more care, children may receive compensation in the will for providing that care.
About 42 percent of older parents have not written a will, though it’s unclear why, according to the study. But when there is a will, here is how complexity affects the distribution of bequests, based on the research findings: …Learn More
February 9, 2016
Could Social Security Statement Do More?
Two out of three working Americans grade their retirement readiness at no better than a “C.”
So how about using the Social Security Statement that lands in their mailboxes, grabbing their attention, to spur them to action?
The statement is already valued by millions of Americans. A survey funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) found that people who received statements were “dramatically” more knowledgeable about their basic pension benefits than people who had already retired when SSA started mailing them out in the mid-1990s.
Social Security is the nation’s most important source of retirement income, and the information in the statements is essential to most workers’ retirement planning. Mailed out before every fifth birthday – 25, 30, 35, etc. – and annually at age 60, the statement provides estimates of each worker’s future benefits at three different claiming ages: 62, when they have access to their smallest monthly benefit; the “full retirement age”; and 70, when workers receive their highest monthly benefit. It clearly lays out how much workers can increase their monthly retirement income by delaying when they start collecting their benefits. …Learn More