June 11, 2020
401ks are a Source of Cash in Pandemic
The U.S. retirement savings system has always been a little leaky. But the leaks seem to be getting bigger.
Some Americans are eyeing withdrawals from their 401(k) plans as the best of a few bad options for paying their rent or solving other cash-flow problems.
As of May 8, 1.5 percent of retirement plan participants had taken some money out of their 401(k) plans under new federal legislation permitting penalty-free withdrawals, The Wall Street Journal reported. An April survey by the non-profit Transamerica Institute put the number of savers responding to the pandemic much higher – about one in five.
But the data included people who took out loans from their 401(k)s, in addition to withdrawals from 401(k)s and IRAs. Further, Transamerica reported not only on what people have already done but what they say they plan to do. Younger workers and men were the most likely to resort to this desperation move.
Prior to the pandemic, many workers were already behind on their retirement savings and still had not fully recovered from the recession a decade ago.
The current economic downturn will only set them back further as the layoffs, reduced hours and sales commissions derail or curtail their efforts to save. Employers having to lay off workers are also conserving cash by suspending their matching contributions to their employees’ 401(k)s.
“The negative economic effects of the pandemic are further threatening retirement savings and security,” said Catherine Collinson, chief executive of the Transamerica Institute, a partner of the Center for Retirement Research, which funds this blog.
The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed in March made it easier to withdraw money by waiving the standard 20 percent income tax withholding and 10 percent penalty, which usually applies to people under age 59½. But one estimate made prior to the pandemic shows this is a costly strategy: prematurely taking money out of 401(k)s and IRAs reduces the average amount of money available for retirement by about one-fourth.
People who still have jobs are also saving less. One in five workers have reduced their 401(k) contributions, a Magnify Money survey shows. The informal poll isn’t representative of the population but is certainly an indication of the financial strain the pandemic is putting on workers.
Employers are pulling back too. At last count, some four dozen companies reeling from a drop in revenue – including big names like AutoNation, Best Buy, Hilton Grand Vacations, and Tripadvisor – are temporarily halting their matching contributions, according to a list compiled by the Center for Retirement Research. …Learn More
January 30, 2020
A Cost in Retirement of No-Benefit Jobs
Only about one in four older Americans consistently work in a traditional employment arrangement throughout their 50s and early 60s. For the rest, their late careers are punctuated by jobs – freelancer, independent contractor, and even waitress – that do not have any health or retirement benefits.
Some older people are forced into these nontraditional jobs, while others choose them for the flexibility to set their own hours or telecommute. Whatever their reasons, they will eventually pay a price.
The Center for Retirement Research estimates their future retirement income will be as much as 26 percent lower, depending on how much time they have spent in a nontraditional job. During these stints, the issues are that they were not saving for retirement or accruing a pension and may have had to pay for health care out of their own pockets.
The researchers estimated the losses in retirement income to these workers by comparing them with people who have continuously been in traditional jobs with benefits. The workers in their analysis were between the ages of 50 and 62 and were grouped based on how their careers had progressed. The groups included people whose careers were primarily traditional but were interrupted by periods of nontraditional, no-benefit work, and people who spent most of their time in nontraditional jobs.
This last group lost the most: they had accrued 26 percent less retirement income by age 62 than the people who consistently held a traditional job. Who are these workers? They are a diverse mix that includes people who dropped out of high school and are marginally employed and people who are married to someone who is also employed and has benefits. …Learn More
December 12, 2019
Caregiving Disrupts Work, Finances
What do groceries, GPS trackers, and prescription drug copayments have in common?
They are some of the myriad items caregivers may end up paying for to help out an ailing parent or other family member. And these are just the incidentals.
Three out of four caregivers have made changes to their jobs as a result of their caregiving responsibilities, whether going to flex time, working part-time, quitting altogether, or retiring early, according to a Transamerica Institute survey. To ease the financial toll, some caregivers dip into retirement savings or stop their 401(k) contributions. Not surprisingly, caregiving places the most strain on low-income families.
People choose to be caregivers because they feel it’s critically important to help a loved one, said Catherine Collinson, chief executive of the Transamerica Institute.
But, “There’s a cost associated with that and often people don’t think about it,” she said. “Caregiving is not only a huge commitment of time. It can also be a financial risk to the caregiver.”
The big message from Collinson and the other speakers at an MIT symposium last month was: employers and politicians need to acknowledge caregivers’ challenges and start finding effective ways to address them.
Liz O’Donnell was the poster child for disrupted work. As her family’s sole breadwinner, she cobbled together vacation days to care for her mother and father after they were diagnosed with terminal illnesses – ovarian cancer and Alzheimer’s disease – on the same day, July 1, 2014.
Her high-level job gave her the flexibility to work outside the office. But work suffered as she ran from place to place dealing with one urgent medical issue after another. She made business calls from the garden at a hospice, worked while she was at the hospital, and learned to tilt the camera for video conferences so coworkers wouldn’t know she was in her car.
“I felt so alone that summer,” said O’Donnell, who wrote a book about her experience. “We’ve got to do better, and I know we can do better.” …Learn More