August 1, 2013
Student Debt May Slow Home Buying
First-time buyers are currently responsible for about 29 percent of all U.S. house sales, down from historical levels of 40 percent, according to the National Association of Realtors. The share of young adults who own a house has also declined sharply.
There’s debate about whether buying a house is a good financial move. But the waning of this coming-of-age ritual is a significant change in behavior for young adults in this country.
One culprit may be student debt, which is becoming more prevalent – 43 percent of young adults have some, compared with 25 percent a decade ago. The average borrower’s balance has also doubled in the past decade, to more than $20,000 in 2012.
Researchers at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York believe these unprecedented student debt levels may be dampening house purchases by first-time buyers. Student loans cause individuals to do poorly under two of the primary tests by Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae that lenders use to approve standard home loans. …Learn More
July 30, 2013
Social Security and Two-Income Couples
The decades-long march of women into the nation’s workplaces may be the most enduring trend in the labor force – and a signature of American progress.
But it is also one more reason that Social Security benefits today replace a smaller share of the lifetime earnings of married couples than they did in the past, when far fewer women worked for pay.
Other reasons include the gradual increase in the age at which U.S. workers can claim their full retirement benefits, from age 65 for the oldest retirees to 67 for Generation X. Medicare premiums are also taking more out of the monthly Social Security check, and more retirees are being taxed on a portion of their benefits over time.
But for married couples, the sharp increase in the ranks of working wives has reduced the share of their joint earnings during their working years that is replaced by Social Security when they retire. For the typical couple born in the Depression, Social Security benefits cover 45 percent of their prior earnings, but that falls to 41 percent for baby boomer couples retiring today, according to new research by the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog.
These Social Security “replacement rates” – benefits as a percent of employment earnings – will continue to decline, to just 37 percent for Generation X couples born between 1966 and 1975. …Learn More
July 25, 2013
Reverse Mortgages Get No Respect
Fran and Bob Ciaccia
Bob and Fran Ciaccia could not be happier with their reverse mortgage, which unlocked some of the equity in the house they purchased in 1966 for $12,500.
Reverse mortgages are federally insured loans available to U.S. homeowners over age 62. The loan is made against the equity in the house, and the principle, plus interest and some federal insurance fees, are not repaid until the homeowners or their children sell the house.
“I cannot find a downside,” Fran Ciaccia, a retired high school cafeteria cook from Levittown, Pennsylvania, said in an interview. “We have told so many people about it.”
Although the Ciaccias may be big fans, reverse mortgages are unpopular, despite historically low interest rates that make them a good deal for retirees right now. AARP has estimated that only 1 percent of older Americans use them.
In 2012, the average loan size was $158,228, and 54,676 Americans got one. That is less than half the loans made in the peak year, 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, which insures and sets standards for reverse mortgages. …Learn More
July 23, 2013
The Aging Mind and Money
As we age, the things we forget are at first laughed off as “senior moments.” But when forgetting to send a birthday card becomes forgetting to pay the mortgage, the natural cognitive decline that accompanies aging becomes a serious financial issue.
With Americans living longer and an estimated 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, a spate of fresh research has examined how and whether older brains can handle the challenges of modern financial life. But what the researchers have found out so far about the aging mind and money is somewhat of a mixed bag.
First, the bad news. Diminished cognition is an increasingly important concern in the financial arena, because the choices faced by retirees are getting ever more complex. One recent survey of people either experiencing cognitive decline themselves or observing it in a family member pinpointed the kinds of financial decisions that older people find difficult.
Among those surveyed, 41 percent said they or their family member forgot to pay their bills and 14 percent paid the same bill twice, according to the National Endowment for Financial Education and Harris Interactive. More than one-third had trouble with simple math or made rash purchases.
Retirees today face bigger financial challenges than that if they have to juggle their 401(k) investments and withdrawals. This is a change from the days when an employer simply issued a check every month from the defined-benefit pension plan, said Laura Bos, AARP’s acting vice president of financial education and outreach. …Learn More
July 11, 2013
Retiree Paralysis: Can I Spend My Money?
Financial planner J. David Lewis can rattle off stories in his Tennessee drawl about trying to persuade clients to spend their retirement savings – now that they’re retired.
One couple wouldn’t tap into a $100,000 account dedicated to the travel they always dreamed they’d do after they stopped working. It took another retired couple well into their 70s before they’d spend a bit of their ample savings on a car – their first new car ever, in fact.
What are they afraid of? “That something is going to take it all away from you, or you’re going to run out,” said Lewis, president of Resource Advisory Services in Knoxville. Spending money “is a big bridge to cross” for retirees.
But there’s another explanation for their paralysis: the decision about how much to spend, and how fast to spend it, is one of the most complex financial decisions an individual will make. It requires people who were lucky enough or diligent enough to save to suddenly juggle complex math and countless variables, some of them unknowable:
- How long will I live?
- How much money do I need?
- Where’s the stock market going? …
June 27, 2013
62YO Men File Social Security; Wives Pay
My father was never more in love with my mother than on the day he died in 2004, days before their 50th anniversary.
But he made one bad financial decision that she lives with today: he started up his Social Security benefits at age 62.
He felt he needed the money sooner than later. He had an inadequate pension from his first career, as an Air Force flyboy, and none from his Rust Belt business that went bust. But waiting to claim his Social Security would’ve increased the size of his check – and, after he died at 70, the money that’s still deposited into my mother’s bank account every month.
This happens to a significant share of couples, because almost 40 percent of all Americans claim their benefits the same year they turn 62. But a husband who waits until age 65 can increase his widowed wife’s future benefits by up to $170 a month, according to new research by Alice Henriques, an economist with the Federal Reserve Board in Washington.
What’s interesting about this study of nearly 14,000 older couples is that she teased out how much the husband’s decision was determined by the filing date’s impact on his own benefits, versus the financial impact on his wife’s spousal and, later, her survivor benefits. Similar research in the past had examined the impact of a filing date on their combined benefits during all their years of retirement.
Henriques was able to show that the husbands, when they made their decisions, took into account the impact on themselves of the claiming date they selected. But they showed virtually “no response to the large incentives” of having the ability to provide their widowed wives with more income in the future, she said. …Learn More
June 18, 2013
Are You An Ostrich About Investing?
As the stock market approached and then broke through the 15,000 mark, did you get a little obsessed with your 401(k) balance?
You would not be alone. A novel research project recently analyzed how often investors went online to check their 401(k) accounts and found that they did so more often when the Dow was rising. What could be more pleasant than watching your wealth grow?
The researchers quantified the emotional roller coaster that our investments can take us on by looking at log-on activity during 2007 and 2008 for 100,000 401(k)-style accounts at Vanguard Group Inc. To make sure they were properly measuring investor interest, the sample included only online customers who did not receive paper statements in the mail.
Their analysis gauged how responsive these investors were to stock market swings in either direction, based on the size of one-day market moves. If the Dow increased by 1 percent in a day, for example, the total number of log-ins rose nearly 2 percent. But if the Dow fell by 1 percent, then 2 percent fewer investors checked their accounts.
This human inclination to avoid the pain of losing money has been labeled the “ostrich effect,” because investors respond by putting their heads in the sand when the market is down. …Learn More