There’s an informal rule in journalism: put too many numbers in an article, and readers will drop like flies. A similar phenomenon might also be at work when someone looks at a Social Security statement filled with numbers.
The statement, which is intended to help workers plan for retirement, shows the size of the monthly benefit check increasing incrementally as the claiming age increases. Yet many people still choose to claim their benefits soon after becoming eligible at 62, which means smaller Social Security checks, possibly for decades.
In a recent experiment, a friendlier approach proved effective in helping people process this information: tell a story. Researchers at the Center for Economic and Social Research at the University of Southern California created a fictional 3-minute video of a 62-year-old man talking with a financial adviser about retirement. The researchers showed it to workers between 50 and 60 years old.
Here’s one exchange in the video:
Adviser: [Social Security has] a tradeoff: you can decide to claim earlier. In that case, you would have a lower monthly benefit, but you’d get to enjoy these benefits for a longer period.
Worker: So if I claim sooner, I get less money per month? …Learn More
Retirement, as portrayed in TV commercials, is the time to indulge a passion, whether tennis, enjoying more time with a spouse, frequent socializing, or civic engagement.
Boston University sociologist Deborah Carr isn’t buying this idealized picture of aging.
“This gilded existence is not within the grasp of all older adults,” she argues in “Golden Years? Social Inequality in Later Life.” “For those on the lower rungs of the ladder,” she writes, retirement is “marked by daily struggle, physical health challenges and economic scarcity.”
Her book, which mines multidisciplinary research on aging, reaches the distressing conclusion that economic inequality not only exists but that it becomes more pronounced as people age and become vulnerable. And this problem will grow and affect more people as the population gets older.
Poverty has actually declined among retirees since the 1960s. But by every measure – health, money, social and family relationships, mental well-being – seniors who have a lower socioeconomic status are at a big disadvantage. They have more financial problems, which creates stress, and they are more isolated and die younger.
Throughout the book, Carr documents the myriad ways the disparities, which begin at birth, reinforce each other as people grow up and grow old.
“Advantage begets further advantage, and disadvantage begets further disadvantage,” Carr concludes. For the less fortunate, “old age can be the worst of times,” she said. …Learn More
As retirees’ health declines, their medical costs go up. These costs include both everyday healthcare expenses and long-term care costs.
The everyday expenses that Medicare does not cover – Part B and Part D premiums, copayments, eyeglasses, and dental care – consume about 20 percent of the incomes of households ages 75 and over. While not exactly good news, 20 percent is “perhaps manageable” for most, concluded researchers at the Center for Retirement Research in a summary of various studies in this area.
The real problem comes for the unlucky minority – about 5 percent of seniors – who spend more than half of their income out of their own pockets for healthcare.
Turning to long-term care, these services are less frequently required but can be very costly. For example, while many nursing home stays are relatively short, a lengthy stay is a potentially crippling expense. One common trigger for a long-term stay is dementia.
The retirees facing the greatest financial risk from health care expenses tend to be those who earned enough to buy a house and put money away in their employer’s retirement plan. They have more to lose if their wealth is eaten up by exorbitant medical costs. The poor, in contrast, are covered by Medicaid, which often pays for Medicare premiums and long-term care. …Learn More
The perils of aging generally escalate around 75, and they are becoming more pervasive as more Americans live to very old ages.
One of these perils – declining cognitive ability – often creates financial problems. A new study that summarized the research on this side of the retirement equation identified the financial fallout from dementia.
Currently, dementia afflicts roughly a quarter of seniors in their early 80s. And geriatricians and demographers have predicted for years that dementia will become a serious societal problem in the future as the tsunami of baby boomers reach older ages.
The first sign of deteriorating financial skills might be forgetting to pay a bill. But when severe dementia sets in, the vast majority completely lose their ability to manage their finances and risk making big mistakes, such as losing money in a fraudulent investment scheme.
Another concern is retirees’ growing reliance on 401(k)s for more of their income. Increasingly, they are grappling with the complicated question of how much money to withdraw each year from their 401(k) accounts – this is difficult for anyone but virtually impossible for people with dementia.
Fortunately, most of them get assistance managing their finances. But the seniors who don’t get help face potentially grave repercussions, such as having difficulty affording food, housing and medical care.
Managing money is not the only financial risk posed by dementia. A more serious issue is the potential need for a lengthy stay in a nursing home, which will be addressed in a future blog post. …Learn More
In April, Trudy Schuett will have a procedure to save a tooth, which she estimates a dentist would charge $3,000 to $5,000 to do.
But Schuett, who lacks dental insurance, will pay about $1,000, because the procedure will be performed by dental students at Midwestern University Clinics in Glendale, Arizona. Her cleanings at the school are affordable too.
Regular clinic visits have saved “buckets of money,” she said.
She is one of those resourceful retirees who always finds a way. But two out of three people over 65 do not have dental insurance, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, often because they lose the coverage when they leave their employer. Medicare does not pay for routine dental expenses, though it sometimes covers care for medical procedures considered integral to a retiree’s health, such as jaw reconstruction or heart surgery; some Medicare Advantage plans offer dental insurance.
But retirees who lack dental insurance are often forced to forgo care or limit their visits to the dentist. Half of seniors haven’t been to a dentist in over a year, Kaiser said. When they do see a dentist, they spend an average $922 out of pocket. For the half of Medicare beneficiaries trying to live on $26,200 or less, dental care consumes, at minimum, 3.5 percent of their income.
Poor dental care also causes health problems. Dry mouth, a side effect of some medications, can cause teeth to loosen or fall out. Tooth loss makes it more difficult to eat. For a variety of reasons, 15 percent of retirees have lost all of their natural teeth – in West Virginia, a low-income state, 30 percent of retirees have no teeth, Kaiser said.
Schuett, who is 67, is working five hours a week for extra income, but she would rather not spend it on expensive dental care. By saving money at the university clinic, she gets to “blow some cash on the grandkids.”
Squared Away writer Kim Blanton invites you to follow us on Twitter @SquaredAwayBC. To stay current on ourblog, please join our free email list. You’ll receive just one email each week – with links to the two new posts for that week – when you sign up here. This blog is supported by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. …Learn More
With more Americans today living into their 80s and beyond, the elderly are becoming more vulnerable to slipping into poverty.
To reduce the poverty risk facing the oldest retirees, some policy experts have proposed increasing Social Security benefits for everyone at age 85. Under one common proposal analyzed by the Center for Retirement Research in a new report, the current benefit at this age would increase by 5 percent.
The poverty rate for people over 85 is 12 percent, compared with 8 percent for new retirees. But more elderly people may actually be living on the edge, because the income levels that define poverty for them are so low: less than $11,757 for a single person and less than $14,817 for couples.
One reason the oldest retirees are especially vulnerable is that their medical expenses are rising as their health is deteriorating, yet they’re too old to defray the expense by working. This is occurring at the same time that the value of their employer pensions – if they have one – has been severely eroded by inflation after many years of retirement.
Further, elderly women are more likely to be poor than men, because wives usually outlive their husbands, which triggers a big drop in income that is generally not fully offset by a drop in their expenses.
Limiting the 5 percent benefit increase to the oldest retirees would ease poverty while containing the cost. …Learn More
The federal government has released online brochures to give people who are thrust into a caregiving role a better idea of what they’re getting into.
“It’s a big shock at first and a big adjustment,” an Episcopal priest says in the video above. He became his mother’s caregiver after she developed dementia.
But people who anticipate they will one day be a caregiver can soften the blow by studying up on their future responsibilities with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new guides to caring for a loved one.
The brochures are free and cover four financial responsibilities: guardian, trustee, power of attorney, and fiduciary for a Social Security or Veterans Affairs beneficiary.
They can be downloaded in English or in Spanish at the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) website, or the agency will mail them.
CFPB has also posted brochures detailing the caregiver regulations and laws specific to six states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Oregon, and Virginia. The state guides each cover the same four topics: guardian, trustee, power of attorney, and fiduciary for a Social Security or Veteran Affairs beneficiary.
Non-profit organizations in Michigan and Texas have also published their own brochures on caregiver issues in their states – links to these brochures are also on CFPB’s website. …Learn More