January 14, 2020
Oddly, the Educated Pay Higher Fees
It’s smart to invest retirement savings in mutual funds that charge very low fees for one simple reason: the worker keeps more of his money and hands over less to Wall Street.
But in a study of people in their 50s and 60s who have retired or otherwise left federal employment, the people with the most education and the best scores on a standardized test were more likely to make what seems to be the wrong decision. Rather than keep their retirement funds in the government’s Thrift Savings Plan (TSP), which has extremely low fees, they transferred the money to much higher-fee IRAs operated by financial companies.
The $500 billion TSP – the world’s largest defined contribution retirement plan – is inexpensive in large part because it invests only in index mutual funds, which automatically track a variety of stock and bond market indexes and avoid the need to pay money managers to pick the investments. The annual fees for TSP’s index funds – known as expense ratios – are under 0.04 percent of the investor’s assets.
But over a 10-year period, about one fourth of the former federal employees rolled over the money saved during their careers into IRAs that typically had much higher expense ratios: 0.57 percent. On top of that, IRAs often charge additional fees for investment advice, pushing the potential total annual fees to well in excess of 1.5 percent. It’s possible that investing in an IRA could generate enough returns to make the extra fees worthwhile, but research has shown this is not the norm.
What explains the rollover decision? More educated people tend to have larger retirement account balances, raising the possibility that they were either seeking out financial advice or were targeted by advisors’ sales pitches. However, even among people with similar balances, those with more education were still more likely to roll over to IRAs.
It’s possible that they “perceive that they know what they’re doing” and want to take control of their investments “even when higher fees result,” the researchers said. …Learn More
January 9, 2020
Retiree Living Standards, Ranked by State
How well you will live in retirement will depend on two things: your income and the local cost of living.
A new study that ranks each state based on how many of its retirees can meet a basic standard of living comes up with an interesting combination of places that are financially friendly – or not – to people over 65.
For example, who would expect Mississippi to be in the same company with California?
The cost of living in Mississippi is much lower than in California – and most states. But 31 percent of Mississippi’s retired single people and 24 percent of its retired couples fall into what the study calls the “gap” between being poor and having barely enough income to cover their basic expenses, according to a 50-state analysis by the University of Massachusetts’ Gerontology Institute in Boston.
A general way to think about the people inhabiting this gap is that, while they are above the poverty line, they are still financially insecure.
“A lot of the folks who find themselves in the gap were middle class,” said Jan Mutchler, a U-Mass Boston professor and institute staff member. They have pensions or other income in addition to Social Security, she said, “and yet they’re still struggling.”
When the poor are added in, a total of 57 percent of Mississippi’s retired singles and 30 percent of its couples do not have the income required to pay for all of their essential household expenses, according to the analysis.
Like Mississippi, the share of older Californians who are feeling financially insecure is also one of the highest in the country: 34 percent of single people and 22 percent of couples. When poor retirees are included, the numbers rise to 54 percent and 27 percent, respectively.
Many people in California and Mississippi are having a difficult time – but for very different reasons. …Learn More
January 7, 2020
Credit Cards are the Most Stressful Debt
Debt is stressful. But did you know your stress level depends on the type of debt you have?
Credit cards cause far more stress than first mortgages and lines of credit, a study by Ohio State researchers finds. The more striking finding is that reverse mortgages, which allow people over age 62 to tap the equity in their homes, may reduce stress – at least temporarily.
The researchers used a simple example to illustrate the magnitude of credit card stress. Charging $640 on a card is as stress-producing as adding $10,000 to a mortgage. Credit cards are more stressful than home loans, because the balances on high-rate cards increase quickly when they’re not paid off, and the debt is not backed by an asset.
The researchers considered households to be debt-stressed if they said in a survey that they have had recent difficulty paying bills or have generally experienced financial strains.
This study focused on people over 62. As the share of older Americans carrying debt into retirement has increased, so have the amounts they owe. Debt arguably is very stressful for older workers, who have a dwindling number of years to get their finances under control before retiring, and for retirees, who have to live on fixed incomes.
The findings for reverse mortgages were nuanced – and interesting. Reverse mortgages create less stress than a standard mortgage and are much less stressful than consumer debt. On average, four years after taking out a reverse mortgage, the household’s stress level is 18 percent lower than it was at the time of the loan’s origination, according to the researchers, who did the study for the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.
But things can change over time. Retirees often use federally insured reverse mortgages to pay off debt or as a regular source of income. But the amount owed on a reverse mortgage increases over time, because retirees do not have to make payments, and the interest compounds. (The loans are paid off when the owner either sells the house or dies.) …
December 31, 2019
Boomers Want to Make Retirement Work
The articles that our readers gravitated to over the course of this year provide a window into baby boomers’ biggest concerns about retirement.
Judging by the most popular blogs of 2019, they were very interested in the critical decision of when to claim Social Security and whether the money they have saved will be enough to last into old age.
Nearly half of U.S. workers in their 50s could potentially fall short of the income they’ll need to live comfortably in retirement. So people are also reading articles about whether to extend their careers and about other ways they might fill the financial gap.
Here is a list of 10 of our most popular blogs in 2019. Please take a look!
Half of Retirees Afraid to Use Savings
How Long Will Retirement Savings Last?
The Art of Persuasion and Social Security
Social Security: the ‘Break-even’ Debate
Books: Where the Elderly Find Happiness
Second Careers Late in Life Extend Work …Learn More
December 24, 2019
Next Tuesday – New Year’s Eve – we’ll return with a list of some of our readers’ favorite blogs of 2019. Our regular featured articles will resume Thursday, Jan. 2.
Thank you for reading and posting comments on our retirement and personal finance blog. We hope you’ll continue to be involved in the new year. …
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
December 10, 2019
Nursing Homes: Why They Cost So Much
One of retirees’ biggest fears is that they will have to go into a nursing home. This fear isn’t just psychological – it’s also financial.
Roughly half of older Americans will find themselves in a nursing home at some point, according to a 2015 estimate. These stays usually last months, but sometimes years, and the costs add up quickly for those who have to pay for them out of their own pockets.
At an average price of at least $225 per day for a semi-private room, a nursing home stay can put a big dent in retirees’ savings.
A new study in the journal Medical Care Research and Review on how much seniors pay out-of-pocket for facilities in eight states – California, Florida, Georgia, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Vermont – found that prices across the board are rising at about two times the general inflation rate.
Some of the fastest price increases are in California and Oregon – 5 percent to 6 percent a year. There is also a large disparity between high- and low-cost states: the price tag for a typical New York nursing home is more than double the cost in Texas.
Yet little is understood about what’s behind the disparities. In this study, conducted for the Retirement Research Consortium, the researchers begin to uncover some of the things that determine whether an individual happens to live in a high-cost state.
One factor affecting the prices is the competitiveness of each nursing home market, which works in ways one would expect. When a small number of operators dominate in local markets, they can charge more. The results also suggest that prices are higher in markets where limited competition is combined with a high demand for beds.
Another important factor is who owns the nursing homes, and each state has a different mix of private and non-profit chains and smaller operators. For-profit companies own about 70 percent of U.S. nursing homes. More than half of the for-profit facilities are chains, and these chains charge the lowest prices.
The non-profit chains are the most expensive. Their prices, adjusted for staffing levels, location and other facility-level factors, are about 6.6 percent more than the for-profit chains – or about $4,160 more annually – the study found. …Learn More