May 19, 2020
The Profound Financial Pain of COVID-19
It was hard to miss the news last year that four out of 10 people couldn’t come up with $400 if they had an emergency. The coronavirus is that emergency – on steroids.
A wave of new surveys asking Americans about their personal finances reveal the depth of a crisis that has suddenly befallen untold numbers of people. And the worst, economists say, is probably still ahead of us.
As of last week, 36.5 million people had filed for unemployment benefits, and that doesn’t include some workers who were furloughed or have not yet been able to file their applications for benefits. The Federal Reserve said nearly 40 percent of people living in households earning less than $40,000 have lost their jobs.
As the virus tore through the country in April, most adults cited a lack of savings as the reason for their financial stress in a survey by the National Endowment for Financial Education.
What many people have, instead, is debt. In recent years, consumers loaded up on credit card and other debt – for bigger houses, new cars, vacations. This is what people do when the job market is strong and confidence is riding high. …Learn More
April 2, 2020
1st Quarter: Our Most Popular Blogs
People born smack in the middle of the baby boom wave, including many of this blog’s readers, are now in their mid-60s and have retired – or, at least, they were planning to retire before the stock market crashed.
Some of your favorite articles in the first quarter, based on the blog’s traffic, were about the nuts-and-bolts of retirement, including one that ranked retiree living standards by state.
The 10 most popular blogs listed below ran before the coronavirus changed our lives but they may still hold kernels of wisdom that will be useful in these trying times.
For example, one article reported on the $38 million in misplaced retirement funds from prior employers. If you think you have a long-lost retirement plan, search the unclaimed property account in the state where you worked.
Or, if you’d already committed to retiring before the market drop, it’s become more important to fashion a satisfying lifestyle. One blog explores how to prepare for retirement.
Our readers’ most popular blogs in the first quarter were:
Have You Misplaced a Retirement Plan?
Can’t Afford to Retire? Not all Your Fault
Mapping Out a Fulfilling Retirement
Most Older Americans Age in their Homes …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.) …
October 3, 2019
The Secret to Feeling Younger
You’re as young as you feel!
This cliché is meant to be uplifting to older people. But it really just begs the question: what, exactly, is it that makes a person feel young?
Having a sense of control over the events in one’s life is the answer that emerged from a 2019 study of 60- to 90-year-olds in the Journal of Gerontology. “[B]elieving that your daily efforts can result in desired outcomes” lines up nicely with what the researchers call “a younger subjective age.”
This makes a lot of sense. Feeling in control becomes important as we age, because it counteracts our growing vulnerabilities – we can’t move as fast, hear as well, or remember as much. Wresting back some control can rejuvenate older people, instill optimism, and improve memory and even longevity, various studies have found. …Learn More
August 8, 2019
For Family, Caregiving is a Choice
Francey Jesson’s life took a dramatic turn in 2014 when she lost her job at Santa Fe, New Mexico’s airport after a dispute with the city. In 2015, she relocated to Sarasota, Florida to be close to her family. One day, her mother, who has dementia, started crying over the telephone.
Jesson had always known she would be her mother’s caregiver, and that time had arrived. She and her brother combined resources and bought a house in Sarasota, and Jesson and her mother moved in.
“It wasn’t difficult to decide. What was difficult was everything that came with it,” she said.
One reason for the rocky adjustment was that Jesson, who is single, had been preparing herself mentally to take care of her mother’s physical needs in old age. But Kay Jesson, at 88, is in pretty good health. She requires full-time care because she has cerebral vascular dementia, the roots of which can be traced back to a stroke more than 15 years ago.
She is still able to function and has not lost her social skills. Her muscle memory is also intact, allowing her to chop onions while her daughter cooks dinner. But she forgets to turn off the water in the bathtub, mixes up her pills, can’t remember who her great-grandchildren are, and is unable to distinguish fresh food from rotting food in the refrigerator.
She’s also developed a childlike impatience and constantly interrupts her daughter, who works from home for her brother’s online company. “When she’s hungry, she’s hungry,” Francey Jesson said about her mother.
“Nothing ever stops for me. I can’t sit in a room and not be interrupted,” she said. “Sometimes I just want to watch TV for an hour.”
One way she copes is to approach caregiving with a combination of love and bemusement. She uses “therapeutic fibbing” to protect her mother’s feelings, for example, telling her that a friend who died has moved instead to Kansas so she doesn’t grieve over and over again. Francey Jesson also resorts to humor in a blog she writes about her day-to-day experiences. In one article, “Debating with Dementia,” she recounted a conversation about the best way to repair some bathroom floor tile: …Learn More
July 30, 2019
Why are White Americans’ Deaths Rising?
Rarely does academic research make a splash with the general public like this did. A grim 2015 study, prominently displayed in The New York Times, showed death rates increasing among middle-aged white Americans and blamed so-called “deaths of despair” like opioid addiction, suicide, and liver disease.
Rising mortality, especially for white people with low levels of education, ran counter to the falling death rates the researchers found for Hispanic and black Americans. The husband and wife team who did the study proposed that “economic insecurity” might be an avenue for research into the root cause of white Americans’ deaths of despair.
A 2018 study took up where they left off and found a connection between economic conditions and some types of deaths. Researchers from the University of Michigan, Claremont Graduate University, and the Urban Institute said poor economic conditions – in the form of local employment losses – have played a role in the rising deaths since 1990 from chronic health problems like cardiovascular disease, particularly among 45 to 54 year olds with a high school education or less. However, they could not establish a connection to the rise in deaths of despair.
In a 2019 study in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, these same researchers instead focused on what is driving the growing educational disparity in life expectancy trends among whites: life expectancy is rising for those with more education but stagnating or falling for less-educated whites.
As for the health reasons behind this, they found that chronic conditions like cardiovascular disease and even cancer are critical to explaining less-educated whites’ life expectancy, and they warned against putting too much emphasis on deaths of despair. In the medical literature, they noted, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers are consistently linked to the “wear and tear” on the body’s systems due to the stress that disadvantaged Americans experience over decades, because they earn less and face adversities ranging from a lack of opportunities and inadequate medical care to substandard living environments. …Learn More