Reverse Mortgages Get No Respect

Fran and Bob Ciaccia Bob and Fran Ciaccia could not be happier with their reverse mortgage, which unlocked some of the equity in the house they purchased in 1966 for $12,500. Reverse mortgages are federally insured loans available to U.S. homeowners over age 62. The loan is made against the equity in the house, and the principle, plus interest and some federal insurance fees, are not repaid until the homeowners or their children sell the house. “I cannot find a downside,” Fran Ciaccia, a retired high school cafeteria cook from Levittown, Pennsylvania, said in an interview. “We have told so many people about it.” Although the Ciaccias may be big fans, reverse mortgages are unpopular, despite historically low interest rates…

July 25, 2013

The Aging Mind and Money

As we age, the things we forget are at first laughed off as “senior moments.” But when forgetting to send a birthday card becomes forgetting to pay the mortgage, the natural cognitive decline that accompanies aging becomes a serious financial issue. With Americans living longer and an estimated 10,000 baby boomers turning 65 every day, a spate of fresh research has examined how and whether older brains can handle the challenges of modern financial life. But what the researchers have found out so far about the aging mind and money is somewhat of a mixed bag. First, the bad news. Diminished cognition is an increasingly important concern in the financial arena, because the choices faced by retirees are getting ever…

July 23, 2013

Amid Recovery, Part-Time Jobs Still High

One segment of the U.S. labor force sheds light on the continuing struggle to find work: part-time employees who want a full-time job but can’t find one. The U.S. unemployment rate has drifted down during the economic recovery. But the number of people the Department of Labor calls “involuntary part-time” roughly doubled during the recession to 8 million and still remains stuck at this much higher level. Millions of Americans work part-time because they want to, but this involuntary part-time workforce is one more gauge of the slack labor market and lingering pain three years after the Great Recession officially ended. The Labor Department counts part-timers as involuntary if they can’t find a full-time job or if they work part-tim…

July 18, 2013

Retiree Paralysis: Can I Spend My Money?

Financial planner J. David Lewis can rattle off stories in his Tennessee drawl about trying to persuade clients to spend their retirement savings – now that they’re retired. One couple wouldn’t tap into a $100,000 account dedicated to the travel they always dreamed they’d do after they stopped working. It took another retired couple well into their 70s before they’d spend a bit of their ample savings on a car – their first new car ever, in fact. What are they afraid of? “That something is going to take it all away from you, or you’re going to run out,” said Lewis, president of Resource Advisory Services in Knoxville. Spending money “is a big bridge to cross” for retirees. But…

July 11, 2013

Aging U.S. Workers: The Fittest Thrive

By the time people reach their mid-60s, two out of three have retired, either voluntarily or because they’re unable to keep or find a job. By age 75, nine out of ten are out of the labor force. But the minority who do continue working aren’t just survivors – they’re thrivers. Think novelist Toni Morrison, rocker Neil Young, or the older person who still comes into your office every day. The earnings of U.S. workers in their 60s and 70s are rising faster than earnings for people in their prime working years, according to a new study. Defying the stereotype that they’re marking time, today’s older workers are also just as productive as people in their prime working years. Driving…

July 9, 2013

Happy Fourth of July

Squared Away will return next Tuesday with a new blog post and more news and research on financial behavior and retirement…

July 3, 2013

Readers Call Gen-X to Action

A recent blog article, “Retirement Tougher for Boomer Children,” did not elicit much sympathy for Generation X. Many readers who commented expressed a sentiment something like this: Yes, things are tougher for young adults. So deal with it. Members of Generation X, as well as Millennials, are largely on their own with their 401(k)s, in contrast to their parents and grandparents who may’ve had a guaranteed pension at work. But the evidence indicates young adults are not preparing for retirement: well over half of 30- and 40-somethings are on financial path to a lower standard of living once they retire, according to an analysis cited in the article. They need to find “the discipline to save for retirement through a…

July 2, 2013

62YO Men File Social Security; Wives Pay

My father was never more in love with my mother than on the day he died in 2004, days before their 50th anniversary. But he made one bad financial decision that she lives with today: he started up his Social Security benefits at age 62. He felt he needed the money sooner than later. He had an inadequate pension from his first career, as an Air Force flyboy, and none from his Rust Belt business that went bust. But waiting to claim his Social Security would’ve increased the size of his check – and, after he died at 70, the money that’s still deposited into my mother’s bank account every month. This happens to a significant share of couples, becaus…

June 27, 2013

401(k)s Stall, Post-Auto Enrollment

Seven years after Congress encouraged employers to automatically enroll their workers in the company 401(k), the retirement fix has run out of steam. Corporate America rushed in to adopt the feature in their 401(k) plans after the Pension Protection Act (PPA) made auto enrollment more attractive by giving employers that used it a safe harbor from non-discrimination rules governing their benefits. Immediately after the PPA provision became effective in December 2007, employee participation in 401(k)s increased.  But since that initial bump, it’s been virtually flat for years. In 2008, participation increased to 73 percent of all employees in workplaces that offered 401(k)s, up from 68 percent in 2007, according to Vanguard Group Inc.’s new “America Saves 2013” report, which provides…

June 25, 2013

Older Patients Tell Doctors, “Charge It!”

New research has uncovered one reason for the alarming rise in credit card use among older Americans: medical bills. When people age 50 or older experience “health shocks” – newly diagnosed medical conditions – their credit card balances rise, according to research published in the Journal of Consumer Affairs. The worse the medical condition, the more they charge. A mild, new medical problem, for example, adds $230 to credit card bills – that’s a 6.3 percent increase on a starting balance of $3,654. If the new condition is severe, balances increase by $339, or 9.3 percent. Separately, the researchers looked at the effect of out-of-pocket medical costs, such as copayments for doctor visits and prescriptions not covered by private insuranc…

June 20, 2013

Are You An Ostrich About Investing?

As the stock market approached and then broke through the 15,000 mark, did you get a little obsessed with your 401(k) balance? You would not be alone. A novel research project recently analyzed how often investors went online to check their 401(k) accounts and found that they did so more often when the Dow was rising. What could be more pleasant than watching your wealth grow? The researchers quantified the emotional roller coaster that our investments can take us on by looking at log-on activity during 2007 and 2008 for 100,000 401(k)-style accounts at Vanguard Group Inc. To make sure they were properly measuring investor interest, the sample included only online customers who did not receive paper statements in t…

June 18, 2013

Retirement Tougher for Boomer Children

The financial media (including this blog) inundate baby boomers with articles cajoling, coddling, and counseling them about their every retirement concern. But members of the Me Generation might want to focus on their children: retirement is likely to be an even greater financial challenge for Generation X, now in their 30s and 40s. Economists at the Center for Retirement Research, which supports this blog, recently produced this striking prediction: three out of five Americans in their 30s and well over half of those in their 40s are at risk of experiencing a decline in their standard of living after they retire. This compares with 44 percent of baby boomers. The reasons for Generation X’s poorer prospects are due to long-term…

June 13, 2013