Market Drops Hit Those Who Don’t Invest

Photo by T. Charles Erickson How fitting that I would see the play “Sweat” on Feb. 28 – a Friday night at the end of a week in which the stock market dropped 12 percent and the specter of recession reared its ugly head. The Pulitzer Prize-winning “Sweat” – I saw the Boston revival – is about the havoc the boom-bust economy and falling financial markets wreak on working people’s employment security and their personal lives. In fact, the timeline of the play is bracketed by 2000, when the stock market crashed, and 2008, when it crashed again. At the beginning of each scene, a voice-over broadcasts the day’s bad financial news. The stock market never crosses the lips of…

March 12, 2020

Hypertension, Arthritis? Keep Working!

The growing list of effective medications available for managing a variety of chronic conditions seem to be changing the way we work and retire. For example, older workers at one company who suffer from arthritis and high blood pressure – two relatively easy conditions to treat – are able to keep working just like their healthier co-workers, according to a new study from a research consortium funded by the U.S. Social Security Administration. In fact, the two specific groups in this study – employees with hypertension or a combination of arthritis and hypertension – actually worked an average of four to 10 months longer, respectively, than the healthy workers. This counterintuitive finding might owe to the fact that people wit…

March 10, 2020

State Uninsured Rates All Over the Map

A decade after the passage of the Affordable Care Act, about one out of every five Texans under age 65 still do not have health insurance. Georgia, Oklahoma and Florida are close behind. The contrast with Hawaii, Minnesota, Michigan, and New Hampshire is stark – only about one in 20 of their residents lacked insurance in 2018, the most recent year of available data, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation’s annual roundup of insurance coverage in the 50 states. Despite this glaring disparity, the share of Americans lacking coverage has dropped dramatically across the board, including in Texas. Texas’ uninsured rate fell from 26 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2018. This translates to 2.3 million more people wit…

March 5, 2020

Pre-Retirement Debt is Rising Over Time

Baby boomers have a lot more debt than their parents did. By all accounts, the parents were in pretty good shape for retirement because they held their debt levels down to a mere 4 percent of their total assets in the years immediately before retiring – ages 56 to 61 – according to a new study. At those same ages, the typical baby boomers’ debt has ranged from 19 percent to 23 percent of their assets, thanks in large part to the 2008 drop in stock portfolios and in the housing market. Generational trends in debt levels are difficult to analyze, and the issue is far from settled among researchers. This study notes, for example, that the situation might not…

March 3, 2020

Retirement is Liberating – and Hard Work

Most baby boomers find the first weeks of retirement liberating. But it takes some work to ensure the feeling lasts. “Almost everyone is just thrilled with the first days of retirement, and the big thing is: ‘I do not have to set my alarm,’ ” said Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile. Eventually, another thought dawns on a new retiree: “I don’t want to turn into one of those people who sits around in their jammies half the day. I need more of a routine.” That’s when they start investigating what they’ll do with their time, said Amabile, who, with a team of researchers, interviewed 83 older professionals during their pre- or post-retirement years (or both) to understand the transformation…

February 27, 2020

Have You Misplaced a Retirement Plan?

Wouldn’t it be nice to find some money sitting in a long-forgotten retirement account somewhere? It’s not hard for workers to lose track of an old account as they move from employer to employer, often across state lines. Each state government keeps a repository of unclaimed property – most have been doing this since the 1980s – and residents and former residents can check online through a simple name search in the state’s unclaimed-accounts database. But not everyone takes the trouble to search for the money or is even aware it exists. So billions of dollars have accumulated nationwide in various types of unclaimed accounts, including retirement plans, insurance policies, trusts, and brokerage and bank accounts – so much so…

February 25, 2020

Mapping Out a Fulfilling Retirement

One might say that baby boomers on the cusp of retiring come in two varieties. Some cannot wait to retire and already have a plan. For others, the unknowns fill them with dread. How will I occupy my days? Should I do something meaningful, or is the goal just to have fun? And how do I figure this out? At 62, this writer really has no idea. For the other boomers who are feeling this way, take some comfort in knowing you are in good company. “I can’t say this strongly enough. There are some people who seem to literally not think about what their retirement might look like before they retire,” says Harvard Business School professor Teresa Amabile, whos…

February 20, 2020

Electric Bills and Financial Survival

Timing is everything for low-income people who rely on federal benefits to survive. For example, retirees who receive their Social Security checks early in the month and spend the money before the bills come in are more prone to fill the gap with high-cost payday loans than people who get their checks a few weeks later, a 2018 study found. New research in a similar vein shows that timing also matters for individuals who receive food aid under the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. When the electricity bill arrives on or within a day of the monthly SNAP benefit, the lowest-income customers in this study were much less likely to have a past due bill or to hav…

February 18, 2020

Romance Frauds are Hiding in Plain Sight

 Romance scammers follow a predictable script. Find a willing person on social media or a dating website. Use the information she’s posted online to befriend her and then win her affection. Ask her for a loan for an urgent matter and promise to pay it back. After the money is wired, ply the victim for more money while promising to meet in person – a plan that never seems to pan out. Despite the flashing red lights that say “fraud,” romance scams are becoming increasingly profitable. Last year, its victims were cheated out of more than $200 million. This is a 40 percent increase over 2018 and exceeds the losses for any other type of scam, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Middle-aged…

February 13, 2020

Most Older Americans Age in their Homes

Retirees are apparently unpersuaded that it’s a good idea to convert their substantial home equity into some retirement income. One way to tap this home equity is through state programs that defer older homeowners’ property taxes. The programs are offered in many states, but very few people take advantage of them. Retirees are also skeptical about the benefits of converting their equity into income using a federally insured reverse mortgage: only about 50,000 older homeowners, on average, get them every year. A big concern is that if they ever sell the house, the back taxes or the reverse mortgage must be paid back – with interest. But a new study by the Center for Retirement Research finds that this is…

February 11, 2020

Can’t Afford to Retire? Not All Your Fault

Three out of four members of Generation X wish they could turn back the clock and get another shot at planning for retirement. One in three baby boomers say don’t think they’ll ever be able to retire. “Overwhelmingly, Americans are stressed about their current – and future – financial situation,” the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors said about these new survey results. Regrets about not planning and saving enough are enmeshed in our thinking about retirement. But it is really all your fault that you’re not getting it done? The honest answer to that question is “no.” There are big gaps in the U.S. retirement system that make it very difficult for many to carry the responsibility it places…

February 6, 2020

US Life Span Lags Other Rich Countries

Life expectancy for 65-year-olds in the United States is less than in France, Japan, Spain, Italy, Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and Germany. Fifty years ago, we ranked third. First, some perspective: during that time, the average U.S. life span increased dramatically, from age 79 to 84. The problem is that we haven’t kept up with the gains made by the nine other industrialized countries, which has caused our ranking to slide. A troubling undercurrent in this trend is that women, more than men, are creating the downdraft, according to an analysis by the Center for Retirement Research. The life expectancy of 65-year-old American women is 2½ years less than women in the other countries. The difference for…

February 4, 2020