A pile of pills

The Inflation Reduction Act signed by President Biden in 2022 somewhat limits how much retirees will pay out of their own pockets for medications this year. Next year, the law imposes a hard cap of $2,000. But while retirees are getting a reprieve from Congress, insurance companies are pushing in the opposite direction. According to research appearing in Health Affairs, insurers are tightening retirees’ access to some medications and increasing the number that are excluded from Part D and Medicare Advantage plan coverage altogether. Ultimately, this might either cost retirees more or, in the most extreme cases, prevent them from taking some necessary medications if they can’t afford to pay the cost themselves. The $2,000 annual cap on out-of-pocket drug…

Roses on a gravestone

The negative financial consequences for individuals over age 50 who lose a partner are dramatic. A new study by Ohio State researchers found that the surviving partners see their credit scores drop by 10 points – a decline that persists for up to two years following the partner’s death. Further confirmation of the financial fallout is the rise in delinquencies on debt payments. If the late payments involve credit cards, which retirees frequently roll over to the next month, they can expose the fragility of the survivor’s finances. Anytime a spouse or partner dies, the survivor’s finances destabilize. The Social Security income coming into married households declines if the number of checks is reduced from two to one. Other researc…

National Retirement Plan Would Lift Low-income Saving

Virtually all high-income workers in this country are saving in some type of employer retirement plan. But only a minority in the lowest-income group are. A new study tackles this serious shortfall for disadvantaged workers in service, retail and other low-paying jobs. The crux of the problem, the researchers find, is that they lack easy access to a retirement savings plan at their jobs. This analysis, by establishing a direct connection between access to an employer-based plan and the act of saving, goes on to show that national legislation would greatly boost the financial security of low- and also middle-income workers by providing a retirement plan when, as is often the case, their employers do not. Automatically enrolling them would…

April 4, 2024

Delay Social Security? Not Everyone Can Do it

Financial advisers often encourage older workers to delay signing up for their Social Security as long as possible to maximize their monthly income. But several of our blog’s readers point out, rightly, that this isn’t always possible for people in physically taxing jobs. Blue-collar workers are in a real Catch-22, caught between the unforgiving financial demands of retiring and a body that can’t take any more work. “They were just worn out by 62, and continuing to work in their occupations would be exceedingly taxing and dangerous due to declining abilities,” he said. “Work like that can take years off a life.” But for another reader, financial security – his wife’s – was the primary consideration in deciding when to…

April 2, 2024

Rising Stocks, House Prices Boost US Retirement Outlook

While COVID was raging, the jump in house prices and a rising stock market were dramatically improving U.S. workers’ retirement finances. But the news is not quite as good as it appears, because the increase in house prices in 2020 through 2022, which continues today, was the largest single reason for the improvement. Yes, Americans are wealthier on paper, thanks to a combination of old mortgages with low interest rates and increasing house prices fueled by strong housing demand during COVID in suburban and rural markets. Among the narrower group of people who own their homes, the share of households at risk dropped sharply, from 34 percent to 24 percent. But it is also fairly unusual for retirees to capitaliz…

March 28, 2024

Bureaucracy, Paperwork Block Access to Government Aid

Seven million low-income Americans who would qualify for SNAP food stamps are not receiving them. And millions have fallen out of their state’s Medicaid coverage or Children’s Health Insurance Program since the federal guarantee of coverage during COVID expired last year.   The bureaucratic hurdles, multiple-page applications, and layers of federal and state requirements cause many eligible people to give up on applying or, if they apply, to be rejected by government safety net programs for incomplete or improper applications. “It can feel like a full-time job getting on those programs and actually staying on them,” Pamela Herd, co-author of “Administrative Burden: Policy by Other Means,” said in this NewsHour video. Morgan Wingate, a single mother of three, said she could really us…

March 26, 2024

Nursing Homes Forced to Hire More Costly Outside Staff

COVID has wreaked havoc on the nursing home industry’s staffing. Prior to COVID, only one in five nursing homes had to hire some of their workers from outside agencies to fill in as caregivers for their patients. Today, nearly half are using agency staff, who are providing more and more hours of the direct care that these high-need patients require, according to research in the March issue of the journal Health Affairs. Hiring agency staff is more expensive than employing people in-house, and the growing use of them has created numerous problems for nursing homes and potentially their patients, who lose out when their caregivers are temporary workers unfamiliar with their needs. Staff shortages had already been an issue but…

March 21, 2024

In COVID Year 2, Older Workers Faced Tough Choices

The first year of the pandemic, a period of great uncertainty, was even more fraught for older workers, who were at higher risk of serious illness or death if they contracted the virus. The second year brought more uncertainty. Older Americans were embracing the new vaccine as variants of the virus continued to evolve. Unemployment, after spiking at nearly 15 percent the previous year, was coming back down. In September, the generous cash assistance approved in Congress that had kept many Americans afloat expired. Despite the job market recovery in Year 2 of COVID – April 2021 through March 2022 – new research finds that fewer older people were employed because many of them had decided to stop working or…

March 19, 2024

Homeownership in Retirement: an Asset or a Burden?

The conventional wisdom for older workers heading into retirement is that owning a house is a good thing. The property has no doubt appreciated over many years, adding to their wealth.  But new research finds that homeowners often strain to a pay a mortgage that is larger than what they can realistically afford. The essence of the problem for retirees, who usually rely on savings to help with living expenses, is that many do not have enough to make their monthly payments comfortably. This problem has become more pressing over the years. Half of the retired homeowners who were born in the early years of the baby boom wave are still making mortgage payments. They are in a very different…

March 14, 2024

Caregivers Share their Stresses and Joys

Jacquelyn had finally snared her dream job as an assistant to a television writer in New York City. Riding the subway one Saturday night, she got a call that changed all that. Her mother, who was living with her grandmother, was in trouble back home. Jacquelyn returned to find rotting food in the refrigerator and a house on the brink of foreclosure for past due mortgage payments. Her mother had Alzheimer’s disease. Jacquelyn said she had to quit her job and never returned to New York. “Caregiving requires a restructuring of who you are,” she said. Undervalued, stressed, exhausted, guilty and even resentful – these are some of the feelings that unpaid caregivers, who are mostly women, experience on t…

March 12, 2024

Shrinking Social Security’s Racial Gap – but Only a Little

Consider the myriad reasons Black Americans get 19 percent less from Social Security during their retirement years than White retirees. Inequities in the labor market limit their job opportunities and earnings, which are the basis for determining how much they will get in their Social Security checks. Poorer health or the demands of caring for children or ill family members shortens careers and cuts into benefits. Smaller benefit checks are also a problem because Blacks are less likely to marry. The strain on single workers’ finances spills over into old age if they lacked a higher-earning spouse who would get a bigger Social Security check. Hispanics also get less – 14 percent less – for some of the same reasons,…

March 7, 2024

Saving for Retirement Can Mean Adding Some Debt Too

In today’s world, workers need to save if they want to be comfortable in retirement. But there are also limits to what many people can afford. A new study finds that when U.K. workers were automatically enrolled and started contributing to a retirement savings plan, their household debt – credit cards, bank overdrafts, and other unsecured loans – increased. For every 32 to 38 pounds (or $40-48) in combined monthly contributions by the employer and employee, their debt rose by just over 7 pounds (about $9). Stepping back to look at the big picture, this research also confirms the benefit of auto-enrollment: it encourages workers who might not otherwise have saved to get started. And the increase in unsecured debt,…

March 5, 2024