July 3, 2018
Readers Like a Travel Twist on Finances
Two of our readers’ favorite articles so far this year connected difficult bread and butter issues – personal finance and retirement – with a far more pleasant topic: travel.
The most popular blog profiled a Houston couple scouting locations for a dream retirement home in South America, which has a lower cost of living. Another well-read blog was about Liz Patterson, a young carpenter in Colorado who built a $7,000 tiny house on a flat-bed trailer to radically reduce her expenses – so she could travel more.
The downsizing efforts of 27-year-old Patterson inspired several older readers to post comments to the blog about their own downsizing. “From children’s cribs and toys in the attic, to collectible things from my parents’ 70-year marriage!” Elaine wrote. “Purging has been heart wrenching and frustrating and long overdue!”
The following articles attracted the most interest from our readers in the first six months of 2018. Topics ranged from 401(k)s, income taxes, and Americans’ uneven participation in the stock market to geriatric care managers. Each headline includes a link to the blog. …Learn More
June 21, 2018
Despite Medicare, Medical Expenses Bite
Medicare pays for the bulk of the medical care for Americans over 65, but a lot of their income is still eaten up by medical expenses.
The list of expenses is long. The lion’s share goes toward various insurance premiums – for Medicare Part B coverage, Part D prescription drug coverage, and supplemental insurance, whether Medigap, a Medicare Advantage plan, or employer health insurance for retirees. The remaining costs, for copayments and deductibles, are also significant.
These out-of-pocket costs, when added together, averaged about $4,300 annually per person, finds a new study by researchers Melissa McInerney, Matthew Rutledge, and Sara Ellen King of the Center for Retirement Research.
Out-of-pocket costs consume a third of the amount that retirees receive from Social Security, which is the most significant source of retirement income for a wide swath of the nation’s seniors, including many people in the middle-class. Half of seniors get at least half of all their income from the federal program.
The Medicare Part D prescription drug program has given some relief to retirees. After it became effective in 2006, the share of seniors’ income consumed by out-of-pocket costs declined slightly and then declined again after a follow-up reform of Part D began to close a big gap in drug coverage – known as the donut hole – in 2010. …Learn More
May 8, 2018
Social Security Mistakes Can be Costly
Kay Dobson is 68, and it’s time to retire from her job as the jack of all trades at the Augusta Circle Elementary School in Greenville, South Carolina.
But she isn’t quite as ready for her June retirement as she could’ve been. She recently learned that an admitted unfamiliarity with Social Security’s arcane rules cost her about $31,000 for two years of foregone spousal benefits based on her husband’s earnings.
“I had not the vaguest idea that I would be eligible for that,” she said.
Dobson is hardly the first person to make a painful mistake like this. People have all kinds of misconceptions about Social Security, or they lack a basic understanding of how it works – that the government calculates benefits using their 35 highest years of earnings, that the size of the monthly checks depends on the age the benefits start, and that working women, like Dobson, are often entitled to a spousal benefit based on their husband’s work record and earnings.
Two years ago, Dobson could have applied for this benefit, because she’d reached her full retirement age – 66. But since she didn’t know this at the time, Social Security recently sent her a check for $7,800 for only six months retroactively – typically the maximum period for retroactive spousal benefits.
Her $1,300 monthly checks are starting to come in now too. When she turns 70, she’ll start collecting a larger benefit based on her own earnings from a long-time career in the school system.
This particular strategy – file for spousal benefits and delay your own – is now available only to people who turned 62 prior to Jan 2, 2016. The unintended loophole was eliminated, because it subverted the original intent of the spousal benefit, which was designed with an eye to retired households with a low-earning or non-working spouse. (The spousal benefit, in and of itself, remains intact and can be a big help to older households in which a working wife earned less than her husband. If that’s the case, her Social Security benefit would be increased until it is equal to half of his full retirement benefit if she claims at or above her own full retirement age.)
The central point here is that ignorance of program rules can mean substantial losses for retirees. For low- or middle-income retirees, the consequences can be especially dire since they’re already scraping by. …
April 17, 2018
Timing of Social Security Checks is Key
It’s a simple concept. Deposit retirees’ Social Security checks right before their big-ticket bills come, especially rent.
The U.S. Social Security Administration’s current schedule for depositing pension checks in bank accounts is based on each retiree’s birth date– it can be the second, third, or fourth Wednesday of each month.
The problem is that cash-strapped, low-income seniors receiving the earlier checks, on the second or third Wednesdays, can fall into a common behavioral trap: they spend the money soon after it comes in and then can’t cover the rent, mortgages or credit cards due at the beginning of the following month.
According to a clever new study, people who get these early monthly checks are at greater risk of resorting to desperate measures like payday loans than are seniors receiving them on the fourth Wednesday.
Such measures of financial distress are occurring “even though the pay schedule is known in advance,” write researchers Brian Baugh and Jialan Wang.
The advantage of Social Security deposits made on the fourth Wednesday is that retirees can get the big expenses out of the way first, forcing them to make do for the rest of the month with the money they have left. Indeed, people with fourth-Wednesday deposits had fewer bounced checks, account overdrafts, and payday loans, the researchers found. …Learn More
April 3, 2018
Dependence on Social Security is Striking
A retiree’s sources of money are often described as a three-legged stool: Social Security, pension, and savings.
But many seniors’ financial support looks more like a single, sturdy pillar: Social Security.
This is shown dramatically in new U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates of just how critical the federal program is to millions of older Americans. The data speak for themselves:
- One in two retired households counts on Social Security for at least 50 percent of their total income.
- One in four gets virtually all income – 90 percent – from the program.
The differences among myriad demographic groups also follow the usual socioeconomic patterns, according to the SSA researchers, Irena Dushi, Howard M. Iams, and Brad Trenkamp. …Learn More
March 22, 2018
Creating Paths to Latino-owned Business
Rank-and-file workers’ wages have barely gone up since the 2008-09 recession, despite a U.S. job market firing on all cylinders for several years.
Latinos struggle more than most. Take restaurant workers. They are overrepresented in an industry that expanded rapidly post-recession, putting hundreds of thousands of cooks, waiters, and busboys to work. But “those are some of the worst jobs” says Carmen Rojas, who heads The Workers Lab in Oakland, which supports small entrepreneurs.
Food-service and other low-paying jobs not only lack benefits and security but typically don’t invest heavily in training and don’t provide upward mobility, “proving what it means to debase the promise of work away from opportunity and toward survival,” said Marie Mora of the University of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley.
She and Rojas were panelists at a recent Aspen Institute event to discuss Latino economic challenges and solutions. The focus was on new avenues to increasing their presence among small businesses, which are a good fit for their particular interests, needs, and culture.
There are, of course, extraordinary models of success in the Latino community. Maria Rios emigrated from El Salvador as a teenager and has the gumption of a character in a 19th century Horatio Alger novel. In the early years of her multi-million-dollar recycling and waste company in Houston, she drummed up commercial clients by showing up and pointing out their overflowing dumpsters. “When I see trash, I see opportunity!” she says on Nation Waste Inc.’s website.
“I feel that if I did it, anybody can do it,” she told the other panelists and audience. …Learn More
January 2, 2018
Baker’s Dozen: Popular Retirement Blogs
Appropriately, the most popular blogs over the past six months were about retirement, among both the young adults looking ahead to it and the later baby boomers heading toward it.
Based on page view counts, here were the most-read blogs on Squared Away during the last six months of 2017:
Retirement Calculators: 3 Good Options
Why Many Retirees Choose Medigap
Reverse Mortgage: Yes or No?
Why Most Elderly Pay No Federal Tax
The 411 on Roth vs Regular 401ks
Medicare Advantage Shopping: 10 Rules …Learn More