MONEY 401(k)s

Americans Left $24 Billion in Retirement Money on the Table Last Year

stacks of cash on table
Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—Getty Images (2)

The average worker is missing out on more than $1,300 a year. Make sure to get your share.

Personal savings rose last year, as conscientious workers reined in their spending. But a smaller portion of those savings were stashed in employer-sponsored retirement plans, new research shows. This and other recent findings suggest that the much-vaunted 401(k) match may not be the silver bullet for retirement savings that is widely presumed.

Personal savings jumped to 5.5% last year from 4.6% in 2013, according to data from Hearts and Wallets, a financial research firm. In the same period, average household savings allotted to employer-sponsored retirement plans fell to 22% from 29%. Among households eligible for a plan, only 56% participated, down from 60% the previous year.

Partly due to such behavior, Americans leave a staggering $24 billion on the table every year simply by not contributing enough to get their full employer match, according to a study by Financial Engines, a 401(k) advisory firm. Last year about a quarter of employees failed to collect their full match. The average worker missed out on $1,336 a year in free money—over 20 years, that can add up to $43,000.

The matching contribution is so ineffective at boosting savings that one third of eligible workers past the age of 59 ½ fail to take full advantage, research out of Yale and Harvard shows. That’s an especially dismal showing because these older workers can make penalty-free withdrawals from their plans.

If a 401(k) plan match is free money, why don’t more people take advantage? Inertia explains a lot. That’s why so many employers are switching their plans to automatically enroll new workers and automatically escalate their contribution rate. Another issue is that some workers don’t believe they can get by on less than their full take-home salary, and so they do not enroll or opt out of the plan if they have been automatically enrolled.

Typically, those who miss out on the match tend to be low- and middle-income workers. Ironically, this group would benefit the most from participation because the match would represent a bigger percentage of their income. A typical middle-income worker would more than double his or her annual savings just by raising the contribution rate to get the full match, Hearts and Wallets found.

In the end, the biggest beneficiaries of the 401(k) match are highly motivated savers, who tend be the most highly compensated. That’s why some policy experts and academics have raised questions about the fairness of corporate tax policies that encourage employers to offer a match. Maybe better public policy would be to redirect those tax dollars toward fixing Social Security, which benefits the low-income households least likely to save on their own and who need help the most.

Of course, any changes to tax policy aren’t likely to happen soon. All the more reason to make sure you are saving enough to get your full 401(k) match. Chances are, you won’t notice the difference in your take home pay—it helps that you get a tax break on the amount you sock away. To see how stepping up your savings will get you closer to your retirement goals, try this calculator.

Read next: When $1.5 Million Isn’t Enough for Retirement

MONEY buying a home

Why Millennials Are Better Off Waiting 10 Years to Buy a Home

Millennial in front of house for rent
Daniel Grill—Getty Images

A new Fed study finds most young adults require years of saving before they can afford home ownership.

In a report sure to make the real estate industry cringe, researchers at the St. Louis Federal Reserve suggest most young adults postpone home ownership for years, if not a decade or longer. This comes as the housing market is beginning to boom again and older Millennials, a group that generally has eschewed homeownership, shows signs of wanting to take the plunge.

Can this be sound advice? Home ownership has been a reliable long-term wealth builder for generations. Often home equity is retirees’ largest asset and, along with Social Security, enough for them to live out their days financially secure.

The housing bust changed the calculus. Flipping and other short-term strategies, and risky nothing-down and no-documentation mortgages, contributed mightily to the bust. Yet short-term moves have always been dicey. Properly considered, a home is less an investment than a forced savings plan and place to live. Over time, real estate keeps pace with inflation and a stable, affordable mortgage provides a valuable tax deduction.

The Fed study does not dispute that. It is an examination of age and wealth, and finds that younger families are on track for a lower net worth than all previous living generations. Adjusted for inflation, the median wealth of families headed by someone at least age 62 rose 40% between 1989 and 2013—to $210,000 from $150,000. Meanwhile, median wealth of households headed by someone age 40 to 61 fell 31% to $106,000 and median wealth for younger families fell 28% to $14,000.

Researchers conclude that younger families would be better served by maintaining a personal asset mix that more closely resembles the asset mix of older families—less debt and less real estate relative to their other assets. In other words, stretching for that first home when you have no other savings and little ability to save going forward is a huge mistake.

This “mistake,” by the way, is one plenty of families in previous generations made—and for many it paid off well. What seems to have changed is a greater degree of speculation that leads to a boom-bust pattern in the housing market, one that can wipe you out in the short term if your timing stinks. The Fed researchers write that young people should “delay purchase of a home with its attendant debt burden until it was possible to buy a house that did not make the family’s balance sheet dangerously undiversified and highly leveraged.”

John Bucsek, managing partner of MetLife Solutions Group, finds merit in the Fed’s argument, saying that young families should rent for years for less money than a mortgage would cost. That preserves career flexibility and cuts monthly costs. They should begin saving in a Roth IRA to build long-term wealth through a diversified portfolio. They should also pay down student loans and other debts. Later, when they have more assets, if need be they may withdraw their original Roth IRA investment plus up to $10,000 penalty free for a first-time home purchase.

That is sound strategy, and would have been especially valuable advice before the housing collapse. Today the housing market is on firmer footing. Banks remain careful about extending credit, and in June the median price for an existing home rose 6.5% to a record $236,400, at last topping the previous high of $230,400 set in July 2006—before the bust. The pace of homes being sold is the strongest since 2007. All this suggests the market is in full recovery, though the prominent economist Robert Shiller, as ever, is raising red flags about a bubble.

At the same time, Millennials, a generation that pioneered the sharing economy and many of whom have claimed to never want to own anything, are poised to enter the housing market. A Digital Risk survey found that 70% of 18-to-34 year olds are interested in purchasing a home in the next five years. If they act on that interest, it will further boost the housing recovery—and if they commit to staying their house and saving a bit on the side, they will begin to build long-term wealth much like their parents and grandparents.

Read next: These States Offer the Most Help for Buying a Home

MONEY Social Security

How Reading Your Social Security Statement Can Make You Richer

senior reading bills
Getty Images

Making smart use of the information in your benefits statement can save your retirement.

The Social Security Administration is learning what financial educators have known for decades: good information is helpful but does not always lead to useful action. Now, in a bid to help individuals make smarter decisions about their benefits and retirement income overall, a push is on to broaden the regular Social Security statements that all taxpayers receive.

Social Security is the nation’s most important source of retirement security, providing half the monthly income of half of all retirees. Yet the system is so complicated that many puzzle over when to take monthly benefits, which may vary widely depending on the age at which you begin. You can start at age 62. But your check is about 8% higher for each year you delay until age 70.

As traditional pensions disappear, Social Security is the only source of guaranteed lifetime income that many future retirees will have. Making the most of it is critical—and it may be as simple as just reading your statement, now available online, in order to understand your options. (To find yours, go to ssa.gov/myaccount.)

The government began mailing a regular benefits statement in 1995, but stopped in 2011 as a cost-cutting measure and tried to direct people to the Social Security website instead. Last fall, however, the agency began mailing out paper statements again to recipients every few years.

This statement shows your expected monthly Social Security benefit at various retirement dates. Studies show that 40% of taxpayers use these calculations in their planning, according to a new study from the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College. But individuals do not use this information as a prod to change the date that they intend to start taking benefits, the CRR’s researchers found.

This is a familiar disconnect that lurks in money behavior at many levels. Proponents of financial education have had a difficult time proving that kids or adults who are taught about things like budgets and retirement saving put this knowledge to good use and make smarter money decisions because of the knowledge they have gained. They understand. They can pass a test. But does this knowledge change behavior for the better? Some encouraging signs are surfacing. But the lasting impact of financial education remains an open question.

Looking at a set of studies centered on awareness of the regular Social Security statements, researchers at CRR found that more Americans have been delaying benefits since the statements began arriving in mailboxes 20 years ago. But they attribute this entirely to outside forces, including a higher rate of college graduates, greater longevity and longer careers. “The information contained in the statement is not sufficient to improve their retirement behavior,” the authors note.

The upshot: a more “comprehensive” Social Security statement would lead more taxpayers to better optimize their benefit, CRR asserts. That might mean including instruction on how to place Social Security benefits in context with other assets and income sources, and how to determine the amount of monthly income you are likely to need.

Meanwhile, to make sure you are making the right claiming decision, gather the information in your statements and plug those numbers into one or more Social Security calculators; you can find several listed here. As a study last year by Financial Engines found, many individuals are leaving $100,000 or more in income on the table—as much as $250,000 for married couples—by choosing the wrong claiming strategy. That money could make your retirement a whole lot more comfortable.

Read next: This Is the Maximum Benefit You Can Get from Social Security

MONEY Personal Finance

6 Crucial Life (and Money) Lessons I Learned Playing in the World Series of Poker

Players compete during the main event at the World Series of Poker Wednesday, July 8, 2015, in Las Vegas.
John Locher—AP Players compete during the main event at the World Series of Poker Wednesday, July 8, 2015, in Las Vegas.

Add these poker lessons to a long list of tips for personal and professional success, thanks to the biggest game of all.

I’m not the kind of person that can’t sleep. But at the World Series of Poker last week I found myself up both early and late, a nervous energy stealing my natural sense of calm. That’s ok. My adrenaline would sustain me—and this is just one of the things I learned playing in the biggest game of them all.

Much has been written about the life, business, and investing lessons you can learn at a poker table. The game trains you to read body language and spot opportunity; to lose with grace and focus on decisions, not outcomes; to choose battles wisely and be aware of what others see when they look at you.

It’s all true, valuable, and widely applicable. I’ve even suggested that kids take up poker (with age appropriate stakes, of course). It can help youngsters strengthen memory, improve math skills, learn to consider risks, and practice money management. Playing for the first time in the Main Event in Las Vegas, an elimination tournament with more than 6,400 entrants, I discovered still more ways this game teaches success.

  1. Passion is everything Isaac Newton’s mother had to remind him to eat because he was so busy discovering the laws of gravity that he might go days forgetting he was hungry. Newton did pretty well for himself. For me, losing sleep to thoughts of strategy and analysis reinforced that I was doing something I find exhilarating. Sleep is important. The mind must rest. But in the short run the thrill of passion more than compensates. Tournament poker is just a game, and because I enjoy it I am consumed by improvement. But the same principle applies in other endeavors. I apply it in my day job too. When you love what you do, you keep doing it better—an important ingredient of success. So do what you love, not what others expect of you.
  2. Nice guys finish last…or first You meet all kinds of people around a poker table. Some yak incessantly and others remain stone faced for hours; some are unassuming and engaging and others snarl and trash talk. None of it matters. What counts is focus. The two nicest guys at my first table went opposite ways, one to an early exit and the other to the next stage as a chip leader. Heck, I’d have a beer with either of them, and both were solid players. The only real difference was that one paid attention to the table all the time; the other only while in a hand. Guess who advanced? In life, career, or at the poker table, the things you learn while others are taking it easy give you an edge. Smiles and snarls are immaterial if you stay focused.
  3. Down is not out In 1997, a little computer company named Apple was floundering, having lost money for 12 consecutive years. But Steve Jobs returned to the company he had founded, struck gold with the iPod and by 2011 Apple had become the most valuable company in the world. At my table on the second day, the guy that started with the fewest chips kept fighting. He didn’t panic. He kept his wits. Like Jobs, he never gave up. This player, after hours on the brink, finally began to rake some pots and later advanced deep into the tournament. In any pursuit, you may fail or get bested. So you try again. You are only out when you quit.
  4. Your comfort zone should make you uncomfortable People who challenge themselves tend to rise to the occasion, psychologists have found. Children are fearless. They try anything. That’s how they grow. But most adults have tasted enough failure that they tend to avoid difficult situations, which leaves them trapped within personal and professional boundaries. Fear of failure is a powerful obstacle to growth. “There is no learning without some difficulty and fumbling,” John Gardner writes in Self-Renewal. “If you want to keep on learning, you must keep on risking failure—all your life. It’s as simple as that.” At the poker table, you can play safe a long time before your chips run out. But they will run out—unless you get out of your comfort zone and make the occasional bet that scares you half to death.
  5. There is no such thing as house money The economist Richard Thaler pioneered the notion of mental accounting, where individuals treat money gained in different ways with more or less care. You are more likely to spend $20 that you found on the sidewalk than $20 you earned at your job. Why is that? Simple: The money you stumbled into on the sidewalk was found money; you are no worse off when it is gone. Similarly, a gambler on a roll might raise the stakes, reasoning that since he is wagering only money he has won—house money—he can’t really lose. And yet $20 is $20, no matter how you got it. When you spend or lose it, you have less money than before and have missed a chance to improve your financial security. The most impressive player at my table on the second day was a guy with a bunch of chips who remained true to his game. Despite his bountiful resources, he kept methodically building a bigger pile, avoiding the trap of taking unnecessary risks with his “house” money.
  6. Sometimes you have to wing it Most information is imperfect. When you invest in a stock, you know what the company has done in the past. You think you understand how it will do in the future. But you cannot be sure. You gather as much information as possible and buy when you sense opportunity. You might be wrong. Warren Buffett bought shares of ConocoPhillips just before oil prices unexpectedly tanked a few years ago and he lost $1 billion. My tournament ended late on the second day—after 21 hours of card playing—when I bet all my chips at a time when, using the best table information I could gather, I sensed opportunity. It turned out the guy to my left was holding two aces and, alas, I had essentially bought ConocoPhillips ahead of plunging oil prices. That really hurt. But I can live with the Buffett comparison.

 

 

MONEY retirement income

This Is the Top Secret of Wealthy Retirees

yacht in front of Miami mansions
Barry Winiker—Getty Images

Successful retirees still save nearly a third of income from their pension and 401(k) distributions.

Individuals that have saved successfully for retirement evidently cannot kick the habit. Even after they have reached retirement age they continue to save, on average, 31% of income, new research shows.

In many cases this continued saving comes from income streams guaranteed for life, such as a traditional pension, certain annuities, or Social Security. So further saving may have little to do with financial security—and much to do with a routine that has served them well over the years. If you are looking for the top secret of affluent retirees, it may be just that simple.

Retiree income flows from five primary sources, according to the research from fund company Vanguard. Guaranteed lifetime income is the biggest cut at 42%. Withdrawals from tax-advantaged accounts like IRAs and 401(k) plans are the second biggest source (20%), followed by pay from a part-time job (12%), withdrawals from savings accounts (7%) and from specialty accounts like a cash-value life insurance policy (4%).

The income source matters. Those who mainly get by on withdrawals from a 401(k) or other financial accounts reinvest about a third of what they take out due, say, to required minimum distribution rules. Those collecting guaranteed monthly income save only 25%.

This makes perfect sense. Lifetime income, by definition, never runs out. Those who get most of their income this way are under far less pressure to save anything at all. Meanwhile, those living off withdrawals from financial accounts, which can run dry, show a predictable concern with that possibility.

These are findings worthy of some study in government and pension circles. In coming years, a greater share of retirees will rely more heavily on their own savings, which could undermine spending in general and take a bite out of economic growth. On the other hand, those who get most of their income from withdrawals from financial accounts are more likely to work longer or part-time in retirement, which contributes to the economy and probably the individual health of those doing so.

The Vanguard study looked at households where the head was 60 to 79 years old, had at least $100,000 of investable assets, and at least one member of the household was fully or partially retired. This is an affluent, though not rich, group that continues to save and, in some ways may be doing so inappropriately.

Two-thirds of the money saved from income that comes from financial accounts goes into low-yielding savings vehicles. That might be by design—a desire to lower risk or save for a big purchase. But it might also be the result of inertia—required distributions left unattended. If such distributions are not needed for spending they might be better reinvested in growth or higher income accounts.

It’s tempting to assume that affluent retirees keep saving simply because they have the means to live as they wish and still have income left over. But that probably sells them short. They had to save or work hard for their pension to get there. It’s the habit that made it happen—and once established it’s tough to kick.

Read next: How Being a Boring Investor Can Make You Rich

MONEY Aging

How Obama Plans to Save Your Retirement

President Barack Obama speaks during the 2015 White House Conference on Aging 150714_RET_obama
Saul Loeb—Getty Images President Barack Obama speaks during the 2015 White House Conference on Aging

At a once-per-decade conference, the White House unveils an action plan some aging experts believe is ho-hum.

With Americans living longer than ever, medical experts recently updated their definition for the oldest of the old—they’re now people past the age of 90, up from 85. This group, along with retirees in general, is now firmly in the sights of government as it seeks to meet the needs of an aging population.

That message was at the heart of just about every panel discussion at Monday’s White House Conference on Aging, a once-per-decade gathering meant to “look ahead to the issues that will help shape the landscape for older Americans.” It’s a worthy topic. Longevity is changing the economic and social picture for everyone. But not all are happy with what seems like a stale approach.

Rather than focusing on things like eldercare and health problems, leaders in this area should be addressing ways to keep seniors active and “debunk the myths and stigma of aging,” Michael Hodin, executive director of the Global Council on Aging, writes in his blog.

Granted, issues surrounding caregiving and the financial exploitation of seniors must be examined. But keeping aging Americans productive—not dependent—is a challenge that calls for being proactive. Likewise, leaders need to adopt an innovative approach to education and saving. They must rethink the whole notion of retirement in a world where young people will have few safety nets, may work 60 years, and will be required to reinvent themselves over and over.

These themes weren’t missing entirely from the conference. Andy Sieg, head of global wealth and retirement solutions at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, spoke of the importance of paying off college loans and beginning to save early in life. Both of those are Millennials’ issues and by definition require taking far-sighted steps.

Robin Diamonte, chief investment officer at United Technologies, further spoke to the long-term savings issue when she said at her company “we are auto everything-ing,” a nod to the vital role that automatic enrollment of new employees in 401(k) plans and automatic escalation of contributions can play.

Still, the dominant themes of the conference focused on coping with old age and failing cognitive and general health, along with elders’ financial pressures. The best measure of a society is how it treats its older citizens, President Obama said, using the occasion to champion his legacy. Obamacare has extended the solvency of the Medicare trust fund by 13 years and helped nine million seniors save $15 billion on prescription drugs, he said. He called out Congress for not passing a tax-advantaged federal savings program for workers not eligible for an employer sponsored plan—the “auto IRA”. And he promised that by year-end he would roll out “a path for states” to offer such plans.

Also on Obama’s priority list are programs to educate prosecutors about elder abuse, upgrade nursing home facilities and promote flexible work schedules for family members who are caregivers. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell announced $35.7 million of funding for “geriatric workforce training” to raise the quality of both family and paid caregiving.

Pointing up the critical role that private employers must play in solving longevity issues, Sieg announced that Merrill Lynch would begin working with benefits and human resources professionals at 35,000 companies, offering up the latest gerontology research around continued employment and other retiree issues. Merrill is believed to be the only major bank with an executive gerontologist on staff.

A panel on financial security noted that the biggest obstacles to a secure retirement for all include expanding the popular concept of retirement to include productive engagement, getting people to save early, and finding ways to convert lifetime savings into lifetime income with easy low-fee annuities. These, at least, are proactive ideas—and that’s where the real solutions lie.

Read next: Here’s What You Can Really Expect from Social Security

MONEY Kids and Money

Why Virginia Teens Have a Big Edge Over Teens in Florida

high school students walking out of school
Getty Images

Florida's governor just sold the state's teenagers short.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a pilot project at the end of June that would have taken a big step toward mandating personal finance as a standalone course in high schools throughout the state. Meanwhile, Virginia’s high school class of 2015 just became the state’s first to finish with a personal finance requirement.

The developments highlight the on-again, off-again nature of the effort to make financial instruction a part of every child’s education. “Virginia’s class of 2015 enters the real world with a comparative advantage,” says Nan Morrison, CEO of the Council for Economic Education, adding that she was “disappointed” Florida killed the Broward County project, which would have cost just $30,000.

Financial education is gaining traction globally. The U.K. and Australia have mandatory money management classes in schools. Last month, Canada announced a national strategy for financial literacy and is rolling out 50 programs as part of Count Me In, Canada. These will include websites with educational resources for students as well as seminars and workshops for seniors.

The U.S. has a formal national strategy for financial capability, approved in 2006 and updated in 2011. Yet a persistent barrier to progress, at least at the school level, is that individual states have domain over their school curricula. There can be no federal mandate for financial education, as in other countries. So organizations like Jumpstart Coalition and the CEE have been leading the effort to establish standards for personal finance coursework and convince states to sign on, one by one.

It’s been a long slog. Just 17 states currently require students to take a personal finance course, according to the most recent Survey of the States report; 22 require high school economics. Both numbers are trending upward.

Will There Be a Test on That?

But in education, unless students get tested on a subject it never really gets taken seriously. And in both economics and personal finance, the number of states with required testing in these areas is falling — to 16 from a peak of 27 in economics and to six from nine in personal finance.

Why does this matter? Advocates for financial education see it as a buttress against the next financial meltdown. If more people understand more about how their mortgage works and why an emergency fund equal to six months of living expenses is important, they may be less likely to take on debts they cannot afford or default at the first hiccup in their financial plan. The idea is that this could stop any downward spiral in the national economy.

Yet even if that seems far-fetched, it is hard to deny the individual benefits of a population that knows more about retirement saving, budgets and credit. Millennials and younger generations will grow old in an age of greatly diminished public and private pensions; the sooner they understand that — and many are getting the message — the more likely they will be to save more at an earlier age.

So bravo, Virginia class of 2015. You have blazed an important path. One recent study found that a required high school course in economics and personal finance resulted in higher credit scores and lower delinquency rates as adults.

“In Virginia, since our course is relatively new, we have only anecdotal evidence,” says Daniel Mortensen, executive director of the Virginia CEE. “One student recently wrote a letter to the editor, talking about the required course and the value it has brought to his life.”

As for the setback in Florida, it is somewhat surprising in that the state last summer became the first to adopt CEE K-12 national standards for financial literacy. This is not a backward-thinking group of legislators. In effect, all the governor did was shoot down an attempt to strengthen what’s already in place: a required one-semester economics course that is 25% personal finance.

By comparison, Virginia’s requirement is two semesters — about half of which is personal finance. So it’s not as though Florida is doing nothing about financial illiteracy; it just isn’t doing enough.

MONEY Kids and Money

This App Will Have the Kids ‘Beg’ for More Chores

sisters doing dishes
Marcelo Santos—Getty Images

Here's how to keep the kids busy this summer, and teach them a thing or two about money and responsibility.

Any website that promises “your kids will beg to do their chores” deserves a skeptical eye. What might they promise next? They’ll eat all their vegetables? Floss after every meal?

Yet while the designers at ChoreMonster may be given to hyperbole, they also just might have hit on an answer to getting the kiddos to make their bed and empty the dishwasher without being asked for the thousandth time—and learn something about money and responsibility in the process.

Online chore charts are nothing new. You might even say the space is getting overcrowded for websites and apps that let parents assign chores to youngsters, tweens and teens, monitor progress and bestow awards for a job well done. The family can get organized at MyJobChart, ChoreBuster and FamilyChores. Places that connect allowance to household duties include Famzoo, iAllowance, allowance manager, Tykoon, GetPiggyBank and Threejars. The idea is to get the kids to pitch in, without all the nagging. That means doing it online and offering an incentive.

What makes ChoreMonster different is its engaging platform, which has plenty to offer parents and kids alike—like a timely list of seasonal chores you may not have considered, and funny little sounds and animated monster rewards. This is especially welcome as the dog days of summer roll in, and the kids are home all day and there are so many extra things that need to get done around the house. You know: cut the grass and wash the car.

Through a tie-in with Disney, ChoreMonster parents were able to reward kids with exclusive pre-release clips of the Pixar movie Inside Out in May and June. The company says it was a popular reward, and that other partnerships and unusual tie-ins will follow. In the meantime, rewards like TV and other screen time as well as cold hard cash should work just fine.

For this summer, ChoreMonster suggests having the kids clean the barbecue grill and the wheels on the family car, in addition to things you are more likely to have considered, like watering the garden and sweeping out the garage. Cash rewards should come with a money discussion, according to the site, which suggests 25% be set aside for a new game or book, 25% for a trip or other outing, and 50% for a future car or college. This conversation may be the most important one you have with your kids this summer, as it should get them thinking about concepts like wants vs. needs, budgeting, and saving. You might also have them consider carving out 10% for chartable giving.

The average allowance comes to $65 a month, according to a study from the American Institute of CPAs. Six in 10 parents pay allowance, half start the kids at age 8, and 89% expect their kids to work around the house at least one hour a week. There is a big debate about whether allowance should be tied to chores. Most of the sites and apps make it easy to keep track of which chores have been done and how much has been earned—whether it’s for allowance or straight pay.

What are the most popular rewards? Half of parents grant screen time (typically one hour); 14% pay cash; 11% give ice cream or some other treat; 6% buy a toy; and 3% pay for an outing. The top chores assigned are brush your teeth, make the bed, feed the pets, organize your laundry, and clean your room.

Monday is the best day for chores being completed and Friday is the worst, according to ChoreMonster. More assigned chores get completed on the West Coast than any other region, the company found. So much for that laid back California culture. Their kids probably eat their vegetables, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

MONEY Social Security

This Surprising Sign May Tell You When to Claim Social Security

old woman facing younger woman in profile
Liam Norris—Getty Images

For aging Americans, the condition of your skin can be a barometer of your overall health and longevity.

Skin is in, and not just for beach-going millennials. For boomers and older generations, the condition of your skin, especially your facial appearance, is a barometer of your overall health and perhaps your life expectancy, scientists say. And as the population ages—by 2020 one in seven people worldwide will be 60 or above—dollars are pouring into research that may eventually link your skin health to your retirement finances.

What does your skin condition have to do with your health and longevity? A skin assessment can be a surprisingly accurate window into how quickly we age, research shows. Beyond assessing your current health, these findings can also be used as to gauge your longevity. This estimate, based on personalized information and skin analysis, may be more reliable than a generic mortality table.

All of which has obvious implications for financial services companies. One day the condition of your skin—your face, in particular—may determine the rate you pay for life insurance, what withdrawal rate you choose for your retirement accounts, and the best age to start taking Social Security.

Skin health is also a growing focus for consumer and health care companies, which have come to realize that half of all people over 65 suffer from some kind of skin ailment. Nestle, which sees skin care as likely to grow much faster than its core packaged foods business, is spending $350 million this year on dermatology research. The consumer products giant also recently announced it would open 10 skin care research centers around the world, starting with one in New York later this year.

Smaller companies are in this mix as well. A crowd funded start-up venture just unveiled Way, a portable and compact wafer-like device that scans your skin using UV index and humidity sensors to detect oils and moisture and analyze overall skin health. It combines that information with atmospheric readings and through a smartphone app advises you when to apply moisturizers or sunscreen.

This is futuristic stuff, and unproven as a means for predicting how many years you may have left. I recently gave two of these predictive technologies a spin—with mixed results. The first was an online scientist-designed Ubble questionnaire. By asking a dozen or so questions—including how much you smoke, how briskly you walk and how many cars you own—the website purports to tell you if you will die within the next five years. My result: 1.4% chance I will not make it to 2020. Today I am 58.

The second website was Face My Age, which is also designed by research scientists. After answering short series of questions about marital status, sun exposure, smoking and education, you upload a photo to the site. The tool then compares your facial characteristics with others of the same age, gender, and ethnicity. The company behind the site, Lapetus Solutions, hopes to market its software to firms that rely heavily on life-expectancy algorithms, such as life insurers and other financial institutions.

Given the fledgling nature of this technology, it wasn’t too surprising that my results weren’t consistent. My face age ranged between 35 and 52, based on tiny differences in where I placed points on a close-up of my face. These points help the computer identify the distance between facial features, which is part of the analysis. In all cases, though, my predicted expiration age was 83. I’m not taking that too seriously. Both of my grandmothers and my mother, whom I take after, lived well past that age—and I take much better care of my health than they ever did.

Still, the science is intriguing, and it’s not hard to imagine vastly improved skin analysis in the future. While a personalized, scientific mortality forecast might offer a troublesome dose of reality, it would at least help navigate one of the most difficult financial challenges we face: knowing how much money we need to retire. A big failing of the 401(k) plan—the default retirement portfolio for most Americans—is that it does not guarantee lifetime income. Individuals must figure out on their own how to make their savings last, and to be safe they should plan for a longer life than is likely. That is a waste of resources.

I plan to live to 95, my facial map notwithstanding. But imagine if science really could determine that my end date is at 83, give or take a few years. It would be weird, for sure. But I’d have a good picture of how much I needed to save, how much I could spend, and whether delaying Social Security makes any sense. I’m not sure we’ll ever really be ready for that. But not being ready won’t stop that day from coming.

Read next: This Problem is Unexpectedly Crushing Many Retirement Dreams

MONEY real estate

This Problem Is Unexpectedly Crushing Many Retirement Dreams

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Peter Goldberg—Getty Images

Housing is most Americans' most important source of retirement security. So a sharp reduction in the rate of ownership, coupled with rising rents, is taking a toll.

The housing bust of 2008 touched every homeowner. The subsequent recovery has been selective, mainly benefiting those with the resources and credit to invest. This has had a more damaging effect on individuals’ retirement security than many might expect.

For a quarter century, home equity has been the largest single source of wealth for all but the richest households nearing retirement age, accounting for 44% of net worth in the 1990s and 35% today, new research shows. The home equity percentage of net worth is greatest among homeowners with the least wealth, reaching 50% for those with median net worth of $42,460, according to a report from The Hamilton Project, a think tank closely affiliated with the Brookings Institution.

By comparison, the share of net worth in retirement accounts is just 33% for all but the wealthiest households, a figure that drops to 21% for low-wealth households. So a housing recovery that leaves out low-income families is especially damaging to the nation’s retirement security as a whole.

There can be little doubt that low-income households largely have missed the housing recovery. Homeownership in the U.S. has been falling for eight years, down to 63.7% in the first quarter from a peak of over 69% in 2004, according to a report from Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. Former homeowners are now renters, frozen out of the market by their own poor credit and stricter lending standards.

Meanwhile, rents are rising, taking an additional toll on many Americans’ ability to save for retirement. On average, the number of new rental households has increased by 770,000 annually since 2004, making 2004 to 2014 the strongest 10-year stretch of rental growth since the late 1980s.

The uneven housing recovery is contributing to an expanding wealth gap, the report suggests. Among households near retirement age, those in the top half of the net worth spectrum had more wealth in 2013, adjusted for inflation, than the top half in 1989. Those in the bottom half had less wealth.

Housing is by no means the only concern registered in the report. Much of what researchers point to is fairly well known: Only half of working Americans expect to have enough money to live comfortably in retirement; longevity is putting a strain on retirement resources; half of American seniors will pay out-of-pocket expenses for long-term services and supports; the percentage of dedicated retirement assets in traditional defined-benefit plans has shrunk from two-thirds in 1978 to one third today.

All of this diminishes retirement security. Individuals must adapt, and with so much riding on our personal ability to manage our own financial affairs it is surprising that the report goes to some lengths to play down the importance of what has blossomed into a broad financial education effort in the U.S.

Financial acumen is generally lacking among Americans and, for that matter, most of the world. Just half of pre-retirees, and far fewer younger folks, can correctly answer three basic questions about inflation, compound growth, and diversification, according one often-cited study. Yet researchers at The Hamilton Project assert that it is an “open question” as to whether public resources should be spent on educational efforts, citing evidence of its effectiveness as “underwhelming.”

I have argued that we cannot afford not to spend money on this effort. Yet I also understand the benefits of promoting things like automatic enrollment into 401(k) plans and automatic escalation of contributions, which The Hamilton Project seems to prefer. The truth is we need to do all of it, and more.

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