April 14, 2020
More Cuts to 401k Matches are Coming
To conserve cash, some employers are suspending contributions to their workers’ 401(k)s. And if this downturn plays out like previous recessions, more will follow.
The handful of employers announcing suspensions in recent weeks include travel companies and retailers hit first and hardest by shrinking consumer demand, including Amtrak, Marriott Vacations Worldwide, the travel company Sabre, Macy’s, Bassett Furniture Industries, Haverty Furniture Companies, and La-Z-Boy.
Tenet Healthcare and a physician practice in Boston on the front lines of providing expensive coronavirus care have also suspended their matches. Employees, not surprisingly, are unhappy with these moves. An emergency room doctor told The Boston Globe that his organization’s decision comes as he is “working huge extra hours trying to scrape together [personal protective equipment] and otherwise brace for COVID-19.”
Employers are required to give their workers a 30-day notice and cannot stop the match prior to the 30-day period.
Suspending matching contributions has become somewhat of a recession tradition. In the months following the September 2008 market crash, more than 200 major companies rushed to do so, according to the Center for Retirement Research. The firms’ primary financial motivation was easing an immediate cash-flow constraint – not a concern about profits – the researchers found.
But cutting 401(k) contributions may be a small price to pay for mitigating layoffs, said Megan Gorman, a managing partner with Chequers Financial Management in San Francisco. “It might be a stop gap to help save the business in the long run,” she said. A typical employer matches 50 percent of employee contributions up to 6 percent of their salaries.
Amy Reynolds, a partner at Mercer Consulting, said the bigger danger for workers’ future retirement security is tapping their 401(k)s to pay their routine expenses in a tough economy. As part of the rescue package Congress passed in March, workers can withdraw up to $100,000 without paying the 10 percent penalty usually imposed on 401(k) withdrawals by people under 59½. “We want them to be thoughtful and consider other sources before they get to that,” Reynolds said. …Learn More
March 31, 2020
Boomers Facing Tough Financial Decisions
For baby boomers who thought they were on the path to retirement, the road is shifting beneath their feet.
Danielle Harrison, a financial planner in Columbia, Missouri, sees a raft of problems stemming from the COVID-19-induced economic slowdown.
Many older workers getting close to retirement age are taking big hits to nest eggs that were already too small. Some boomers who lacked pensions and were behind on saving tried in recent years to make up for lost time with a riskier portfolio in the rising stock market – now they’re experiencing the downside of that risk. Others are scrambling to pay expenses or maintain debt payments as their income drops, altering their financial security now and changing their calculations for the future.
“It’s really going to hurt people,” said Harris, who believes that some baby boomers who had planned to retire in the near-term may be rethinking those plans.
And she’s talking about the boomers who still have jobs. The layoffs have already begun and will continue. Economists estimate GDP will contract in the second quarter at an unprecedented 10 percent to 24 percent annual rate.
Evan Beach, a financial planner in Alexandria, Virginia, predicted that “People are going to get fired, and the people who get fired are not the 25-year-olds making $60,000. They’re going to be the 50- and 60-year-olds making $120,000.”
The economic stimulus package Congress passed last week could help, because it was designed to mitigate some job losses by extending loans to businesses that preserve their payrolls. It will do nothing to repair investment portfolios, however.
Beach and other financial advisers worry that panic decisions in this tumultuous time will only make things worse for boomers who, now more than ever, need to preserve their retirement resources.
Just as they did in the years after the 2008 financial market crash, some unemployed boomers will pound the pavement for a job and will scrape by – through odd jobs, short-term contracts, and unemployment benefits – rather than be forced into a premature retirement.
But Beach anticipates that many of them may have no other option than to claim their Social Security – the program’s earliest claiming age is 62. The problem with starting Social Security now is that it would permanently lock in a smaller monthly check. This goes against a central tenet of retirement planning, which is that many people would be better off delaying the date they sign up to increase a retirement benefit they will need for the rest of their lives.
Beach conceded, however, that claiming the smaller benefit now is not irrational for a couple with one laid-off spouse, only $2,000 in income, and $3,000 in expenses. If the laid-off spouse can start getting $1,000 from Social Security, he said, “that’s not irrational. That’s desperate.” …Learn More
March 10, 2020
Hypertension, Arthritis? Keep Working!
The growing list of effective medications available for managing a variety of chronic conditions seem to be changing the way we work and retire.
For example, older workers at one company who suffer from arthritis and high blood pressure – two relatively easy conditions to treat – are able to keep working just like their healthier co-workers, according to a new study from a research consortium funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration.
In fact, the two specific groups in this study – employees with hypertension or a combination of arthritis and hypertension – actually worked an average of four to 10 months longer, respectively, than the healthy workers. This counterintuitive finding might owe to the fact that people with chronic conditions are motivated to work longer to maintain their employer health insurance. Another possibility is that, because of their condition, they pay closer attention to their overall health and take better care of themselves.
The researchers, who are from Stanford University’s Medical School and Princeton University, had the advantage of access to nearly 4,700 employees’ detailed medical records, which allowed them to track how their health progressed over an 18-year period, until they retired.
A limitation of the study is that the employees aren’t representative of the general working population. They were mainly white men employed in Alcoa smelters and fabrication plants around the country. And because it was very common for them to join the company in their 20s and qualify for a 30-year pension, their average retirement age was only 58.
But older workers in a wide variety of professions are reckoning with the need to work longer than they might have planned so they can afford to retire.
A chronic medical condition doesn’t have to be a barrier to working as long – or even longer – than everyone else. …Learn More
June 4, 2019
Husbands Ignore Future Widow’s Needs
The amount of money a widow receives from Social Security can mean the difference between comfort and hardship.
Husbands have a lot of control over how this will turn out. Each additional year they postpone collecting their own Social Security adds another 7.3 percent to the amount a future widow will receive every month from the program’s survivor benefit.
But husbands can be a stubborn lot.
Previous research has shown that a large minority fail to take their wives into account when deciding to start their Social Security. A new study confirms this in an online experiment designed to raise husbands’ awareness of the financial impact their claiming age could have on a spouse. The men’s ages ranged from 45 to 62.
In the experiment, the researchers displayed Social Security’s benefit information to the men three different ways. In the first format, a control group saw the basic information: the husband’s full retirement benefit, and then a link to a second page displaying his benefits for various claiming ages. A second format also displayed his full benefit, but the link went to a page with estimates of his widow’s survivor benefits, based on the husband’s various claiming ages – the later he files, the more she would receive. The third format had the same information as the second format, but it was presented on a single web page.
Regardless of the way the survivor benefits were displayed, the men weren’t persuaded to postpone their own benefits to one day help their widows. Potential explanations include their feelings about work, existing health issues, and whether they will get a defined benefit pension from an employer.
Whatever their motivation, simply educating husbands on the financial impact of choosing a claiming age “is unlikely to improve widows’ economic outcomes,” concluded the study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College.
The impact of widowhood is often significant. An average widow’s total income drops 35 percent when a husband passes away, the researchers estimated from financial data for married men who had retired. The earlier the husband had started his benefits, the larger the drop in the widow’s income after the couple’s second Social Security check stops coming in. …Learn More
May 21, 2019
Retirement Dates Don’t Always Fit Plan
Today, half of U.S. workers say they want to work past age 65 – in the 1990s, only 16 percent did.
Apparently, people are getting the message that, if they want to be comfortable in retirement, they will need to work as long as possible. However, good intentions don’t pan out for more a third of workers closing in on retirement age. And the older the age they had planned to retire, the more they fall short of the goal.
Researchers at the Center for Retirement Research, which sponsors this blog, wanted to uncover why people do not follow through. Their study was based on a survey that asked people in their late 50s when they planned to retire and then watched them over the next several years to see what they did and why.
Two factors – the researchers call them shocks – play important roles in pushing people to retire early. The big factor is health. One health-related reason is intuitive: when older people develop a new condition, they become more likely to retire earlier than they’d planned. A second reason is that, when setting a date, they over-estimate how long they’ll be able to work if they have already developed health conditions like arthritis, heart disease, or emphysema. …Learn More
November 29, 2018
Boomers Find Reasons to Retire Later
It is one of “the most significant labor market trends” in the United States, says Wellesley College researcher Courtney Coile.
She’s referring to big increases since the 1980s and 1990s in the share of older Americans in the labor force, including one in three men in their late 60s.
As for women, the baby boomers were really the first generation to thoroughly embrace full-time employment. Older women’s participation in the labor force hasn’t quite caught up with their male coworkers, but they’ve made impressive strides since the 1980s and have rapidly closed the retirement-age gap.
Given the implications of this trend for retirement security – the longer people work, the better off they’ll be – Coile and many other researchers have investigated what’s driving it. They agree on several things that are changing the retirement calculation.
College. College graduation rates have increased dramatically over the past few decades, and people who’ve spent at least some time in college tend to remain in their jobs longer. This trend has played a big role in the increase in baby boomers’ participation in the labor force, Coile said.
Social Security. Three major reforms to the program have boosted U.S. retirement ages. A 1983 reform is slowly increasing the age at which workers are eligible to receive their full benefits, from 65 for past generations to 67 for workers who were born after 1959. This amounts to a significant benefit cut at any given age that a retiree claims his benefits. Various studies show that this has created an incentive to delay signing up for Social Security in order to increase the size of the monthly benefit checks.
The 1983 legislation also played a role in pulling up the average retirement age by providing larger monthly benefit increases for people who delay Social Security beyond their full retirement age. In 2000, a third reform ended the temporary withholding of some benefits that had been in place for people in their late 60s who worked while simultaneously collecting Social Security.
Employer retirement plans. Two employer benefits that encourage people to retire at relatively young ages have largely gone by the wayside in the private sector. …Learn More