MONEY mortgages

The Surprising Threat to Your Financial Security in Retirement

House made out of dollar bills with ominous shadow
iStock

More Americans could face a housing-related financial hardship in retirement, according to a new Harvard study.

America’s population is going to experience a dramatic shift during the next 15 years. More than 130 million Americans will be aged 50 or over, and the entire baby boomer generation will be in retirement age — making 20% of the country’s population older than 65. If recent trends continue, there will be a larger number of retirees renting and paying mortgages than ever before.

A recent study published by Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies describes how this could lead an unprecedented number of America’s aging population to face a lower quality of life or even financial hardship. However, the same study also points out that there is time for many of those who could be affected to do something about it.

Housing debt and rent costs pose a big threat

According to the data Harvard researchers put together, homeowners tend to be in a much better financial position than renters. The majority of homeowners over 50 have retirement savings with a median value of $93,000, plus $10,000 in savings. More than three-quarters of renters, on the other hand, have no retirement and only $1,000 in savings on average.

While renters — who don’t have the benefit of home equity wealth — face the biggest challenges, a growing percentage of those 50 and older are carrying mortgage debt. Income levels tend to peak for most in their late 40s before declining in the 50s, and then comes retirement. The result? Housing costs consume a growing percentage of income as those over 50 get older and enter retirement.

How bad is it? Check out this table from the Harvard study:

Source: "Housing America's Older Adults," Harvard University.
Source: “Housing America’s Older Adults,” Harvard University.

More than 40% of those over 65 with a mortgage or rent payment are considered moderately or severely burdened, meaning that at least 30% of their income goes toward housing costs. The percentage drops below 15% when they own their home. If you pay rent or carry a mortgage into retirement, there’s a big chance it will take up a significant amount of your income. In 1992, it was estimated that just more than 60% of those between 50 and 64 had a mortgage, but by 2010, the number had jumped past 70%.

Even more concerning? The rate of those over 65 still paying a mortgage has almost doubled since 1992 to nearly 40%.

The impact of housing costs on retirees

The impact is felt most by those with the lowest incomes, and there is a clear relationship between high housing costs and hardship. Those who are 65 and older and are both in the lowest income quartile and moderately or severely burdened by housing costs spend up to 30% less on food than people in the same income bracket who do not have a housing-cost burden. Those who face a housing-cost burden also spend markedly less on healthcare, including preventative care.

In many cases, these burdens can become too much to bear, often leading retirees to live with a family member — if the option is available. While this is more common in some cultures, this isn’t an appealing option to most Americans, who generally view retirement as an opportunity to be independent. More than 70% of respondents in a recent AARP survey said they want to remain in their current residence as long as they can. Unfortunately, those who carry mortgage debt into retirement are more likely to have financial difficulties and limited choices, and they’re also more likely to have less money in retirement savings.

What to do?

Considering the data and the trends the Harvard study uncovered, more and more Americans could face a housing-related financial hardship in retirement. If you want to avoid that predicament, there are things you can do at any age.

  • Refinance or no? Refinancing typically only makes sense if it will reduce the total amount you pay for your home. Saving $200 per month doesn’t do you any good if you end up paying $3,000 more over the term of the loan. However, if a lower interest rate means you’ll spend less money than you do on your current loan, refinance.
  • Reverse mortgages. If you’re in retirement and have equity in your home, a reverse mortgage might make sense. There are a few different types based on whether you need financial support via monthly income, cash to pay for repairs or taxes on your home, or other needs. However, understand how a reverse mortgage works and what you are giving up before you choose this route. There are housing counseling agencies that can help you figure out the best options for your situation, and for some reverse mortgage programs you are required to meet with a counselor first. Check out the Federal Trade Commission’s website for more information.

All that said, avoiding financial hardship in retirement takes more than managing your mortgage. A big hedge is entering retirement with as much wealth as possible. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Max out your employee match. If your employer offers a match to retirement account contributions, make sure you’re getting all of it. Even if you’re only a few years from retiring, this is free money; don’t leave it on the table. Furthermore, your 401(k) contributions reduce your taxable income, meaning it will actually hit your paycheck by a smaller amount than your contribution.
  • Catching up. The IRS allows those over age 50 to contribute an extra $1,000 per year to personal IRAs, putting their total contribution limit at $6,500. And contributions to traditional IRAs can reduce your taxable income, just like 401(k) contributions. There are some limitations, so check with your tax pro to see how it affects your situation. Also, while contributions to a Roth IRA aren’t tax-deductible, distributions in retirement are tax-free.
  • Financial assistance and property tax breaks. Whether you’re a homeowner or a renter, there are assistance programs that can help bridge the housing-cost gap. Both state and federal government programs exist, but nobody is going to knock on your door and tell you about them. A good place to start is to contact your local housing authority. The available assistance can also include property tax credits, exemptions, and deferrals. Check with your local tax commissioner to find out what is available in your area.

Stop putting it off

If you’re already in this situation, or know someone who is, then you know the emotional and financial strain it causes. If you’re afraid you might be on the path to be in those straits, then it’s up to you to take steps to change course.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a few months from 65 or a few months into your first job: Doing nothing gets you nowhere and wastes invaluable time that you can’t get back.

MONEY renting

Moving in Together? Here’s How to Make it Work

Following this advice should lower the chance you'll be paying to move out sooner than expected.

You’ve done it. You’ve decided you’re ready to take the next step in your relationship … and move in together.

You’re simultaneously excited and a little terrified. That’s totally normal.

Sharing a space with someone can test whether or not you’re a good fit for each other. It can also cause some awkward and potentially testy situations if you don’t handle it correctly.

Follow these basic dos and don’ts to increase the chances you’ll live happily ever after in the same home, and won’t be paying to move out in a short amount of time.

DO: Brace for an adjustment period

Even if you’ve gotten along flawlessly up to this point, things change when you start living with someone. After all, you’ll be around them (and their quirks) 24/7.

Be prepared for a little awkwardness and getting to know each other all over again— it’s natural and bound to happen. Even the strongest couples in the world (whoever they are) experience moments when they irritate the heck out of each other. It doesn’t mean your relationship is in trouble; it just means you’re going through an adjustment period.

DO: Keep an open line of communication

If you have a disagreement or misunderstanding, the worst thing you can do is keep quiet. Even seemingly little things — like her tendency to leave dirty clothes on the floor or his failure to check with you before inviting friends over — can balloon into huge fights if you secretly stew over them.

There are very few problems that can’t be worked out or compromised in some way. The key is to stay open and communicative about what bugs you. Open the conversation with an “I” statement, such as “I feel stressed out when …,” and you’ll be on the road to domestic bliss.

DON’T: Feel like you have to spend every second together

Living with someone doesn’t mean you have to spend every waking moment with them. In fact, doing so can drive even the closest couples crazy.

In order to stay happy (and keep your relationship healthy), enjoy some “me” time at least a few times a week. Whether that means reading a good book, going out with your friends, or pursuing a hobby your partner isn’t interested in, make sure you’re allowing yourself some physical and mental space to relax, unwind, and recharge.

DO: Be willing to sacrifice a little

Yes, you hate doing the dishes. We all do. But living together successfully means that each of you needs to be willing to do the “un-fun” stuff that needs to get done. If you can go one extra step and occasionally do more than necessary, that will go a long way towards keeping things harmonious.

Surprise your significant other by relieving them of dish duty every once in a while. Offer to walk the dog tonight even though it’s your s.o.’s duty, because you can tell she’s had a long day at work. Think of little ways you can make your partner smile, and (hopefully) they’ll return the favor.

DON’T: Insist on doing things “your way”

Maybe the toilet paper was always spooled from the top in your household, but your boyfriend grew up with it reversed. Maybe your girlfriend always loads the dishwasher from the back to the front, and you’ve always done the opposite.

These little things are not worth getting upset over. As long as you’re both pulling your own weight, it shouldn’t matter if your techniques are a little different. Be willing to let go of “the way you’ve always done it” and find a new way that works for your combined household.

DON’T: Get stuck in a rut

After you’ve lived with someone for a while, you can start to feel more like roommates than a couple. Even if you both enjoy spending every weekend in your PJs watching Netflix, make a point of setting up some nice, official outside-the-house dates now and then to keep the spark alive.

Get dressed up and go to a fancy restaurant you haven’t been to before. Book a room at a B&B and enjoy a romantic weekend. During date time, no trivial roommate-related talk is allowed — don’t mention you’re running low on milk or that you need to call the plumber in the morning about that leak. Focus instead on what you love about each other and how much fun you have together.

 

To read more from Paula Pant of Trulia, click here.

 

Related:

Should I buy or rent?

 

MONEY Millennials

The 15 Most Affordable Cities for Millennials

Greeting Card from Augusta, Georgia. ca. 1943
Universal Images Group (Lake County Discovery Museum)—Alamy

Finding an affordable place to live is one of the biggest challenges for millennials. This list should make it easier.

Last week, we told you about the 15 most expensive cities for millennials to live in based on a recent study by RealtyTrac. This week, we bring you the other side of the story: the 15 areas that are the most affordable, and the most attractive, to young people.

To quickly review how this list came to be, RealtyTrac ranked counties with at least 100,000 people by the percentage of median income one needs to spend in order to make a median housing payment or pay an average rent bill on a three-bedroom property. To make sure these cities are actually places young people would want to live, the company only included areas where millennials make up at least 24% of the population, and where the percentage of millennials has increased over the past six years.

So which area wins the most-affordable crown? It depends if you’re renting or buying. As is often the case, renting is significantly more expensive than making payments on purchased property. The best county for buyers—Richmond County, Georgia, which includes the city of Augusta—will cost an owner 10% less of their median income than if they were renting in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, the most affordable area for leasing.

For renters, Bossier Parish, home to Bossier City, will cost about 20% of the area’s median income. Average rent on a three-bedroom is a paltry $943. There aren’t as many familiar names on this list as its less affordable cousin, but some relatively major cities do make an appearance. Dane County, ranked ninth, includes Madison, Wisconsin; a beautiful city that also houses one of the nation’s top universities. Franklin County, home to to Columbus, Ohio, also offers a great city for millennials to live. Minneapolis, Minnesota’s Hennepin County even squeaks in at number 14.

Those willing to purchase a home are going to see a very different ranking. While Baltimore and Philadelphia are some of the least affordable places to rent, they’re actually one of the more affordable cities for buyers. Philadelphia County and Baltimore City rank 5th and 6th respectively, and payments will cost buyers around 14% of their area’s median income. Other highlights are Milwaukee, Minnesota, which comes in 9th, and Columbus’s Franklin County, which makes another, more highly ranked appearance.

Want the whole list? Here it is:

MONEY Millennials

The 15 Most Expensive Cities for Millennials

Skateboarder on the Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco, California
And the "winner" is...the City by the Bay. Jordan Siemens—Getty Images

Finding an affordable place to live is hard, especially when you're just starting out. Here are 15 cities where you'll be pinching pennies.

In June, I moved out of my college dorm room into what I thought was a reasonably priced apartment. I need two roommates to afford the monthly rent, and my room lacks space for anything more than a bed and tiny desk. But I figured those were luxuries my peers in other big cities gave up in their first apartment, too, right?

Wrong.

A new report from RealtyTrac ranks New York, my home town, as the one of the least affordable areas for millennials in the entire country. The study ranked counties with at least 100,000 people by the percentage of median income one needs to spend in order to make a median housing payment or pay an average rent bill on a three-bedroom property. In order to focus on young people, RealtyTrac only included areas where millennials make up at least 24% of the population, and where the percentage of young people has increased over the past six years.

When it comes to least affordable counties to buy a house, four of NYC’s five boroughs take up almost a third of the list, with Manhattan (New York County), Brooklyn (Kings Country), the Bronx (Bronx County), and Queens (Queens Country), each “earning” a spot.

The West Coast isn’t off the hook, either. Beating out Manhattan for the dubious honor of most expensive city for young people is San Francisco. Buying a median-priced three-bedroom house—$950,000 as of this April— in the City by the Bay will cost median income earners more than 78% of their wages.

In terms of renting, the picture changes—but only slightly. Bronx county is the least affordable of the nation’s millennial-heavy areas, not because three-bedroom rent—averaged at about $1,850 a month—is particularly expensive, but because median incomes are relatively low. In 2014, the median Bronx household is estimated to make only $32,891.

For residents of San Francisco, renting is actually relatively more affordable than buying. Leasing an apartment will take about 40% of a median earner’s income, almost half of what the usual housing payment would take away.

OK, we all knew New York and San Francisco were going to be expensive (just maybe not this expensive), but there are some surprising names on the list, too. Our nation’s capital takes up two spots on the most unaffordable homes list, and snowy Denver, Colorado, comes in before Portlandia‘s notoriously expensive namesake.

(No word on whether Denver has restaurants that inform you how many friends your chicken dinner had growing up.)

Renters will also notice that some cities they thought were cheap are a lot less affordable than expected. Baltimore, home of The Wire, is the the second least affordable city, behind the Bronx. Philadelphia comes in third, but the good news is that millennials have been surging into the city recently. From 2007 to 2013, Philly’s young-person population has increased by a fourth. At least you’ll have people your age to complain to about the rent.

What’s also notable are the cities not on this list. Hubs like Boston, San Antonio, Chicago, Houston, and San Jose are nowhere to be found. That doesn’t mean they’re cheap, but their prices might be more manageable than most people realize.

Check out the full list below for even more information.

More: The 5 Cities That Have Recovered Most—and Least—From the Recession

 

MONEY renting

Be a Successful Renter With These 3 Moves

For Rent sign
Zachary Zavislak

Whether you're renting an apartment or single-family home, taking these three steps will help you avoid costly blunders.

Whether you’re fresh out of college, or downsizing out of a suburban home, you may think renting a place is fairly risk-free. As long as you find a suitable unit you can swing each month, you need not worry about much else, right? Isn’t that one of the big advantages of renting over buying?

You don’t get off that easy! These three steps will secure both your home and your wallet.

Related: Avoid These Rookie Landlord Mistakes

1. Budget for upfront costs

Everyone knows this one, right? Renters will likely need to hand over at least their first month of rent plus a month as a security deposit before moving in. But consider this: If you’re moving from one rental to another, you’ll probably have to put down the cash before getting the security deposit back from the place you’re leaving.

This timeline is standard practice among landlords but continues to trip up unprepared renters, says Niccole Schreck, consumer insights and marketing manager for Rent.com. Rather than having to hit up mom and dad, or — horrors — start charging everyday expenses to conserve cash, begin saving a few months in advance. In fact, you should always have a few months of rent saved in case your landlord does not renew your lease. That could happen if, say, owners decide to sell the place.

And don’t underestimate the costs of boxes, tape, bubble wrap and other packing supplies. A moving kit for a three-bedroom home from Staples can run $400. Even ten 24” x 24” x 18” boxes for a studio can run $40, and that doesn’t include tape, wrapping paper, garment boxes, and other incidentals. Costs add up quickly.

Hiring professional help? Make sure you’re ready to go when the movers arrive. “If you aren’t organized and haven’t quite finished packing, it’ll take more time, and they generally charge by the hour,” says Schreck.

2. Read the lease. Really.

After an exhaustive search, it may feel like you can breathe easily once you’re approved for the rental. Not so fast. “Many people will just sign the lease without actually reading it,” says Schreck. A recent survey from Rent.com found that 26% of renters had lost their whole security deposit at some point. One culprit: not knowing the terms of the lease. “You can’t play by the rules if you don’t know them,” she says. For example, your lease may specify no painting, or have rules about putting holes in walls. Ask your landlord to include in the lease or as an attachment anything he verbally tells you, such as holes are fine or your cat won’t be an issue. Also double-check that utilities included in your monthly rent match what your landlord said.

3. Get renters insurance now.

Many renters assume if catastrophe strikes, such as a fire or break-in, the landlord’s homeowners insurance policy will cover their belongings. Wishful thinking. Landlord policies cover the structure of the home, and perhaps owner-provided extras such as appliances, but will not reimburse losses for the personal belongings of the tenant, says Paul Bruemmer, a landlord insurance expert at Farmers Insurance. Yet 60% of renters do not have renters insurance, a Rent.com survey found.

A typical policy runs between $15 and $30 a month, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. (Unusually expensive items such as fine jewelry and art may need additional coverage.) So for the cost of, say, a fine pair of jeans, you can ensure the rest of your beloved belongings will be covered in the event of bad luck.

TIME Smart Spending

Most People Say They Could Get Rid of Tons of Stuff and Still Be Happy

Deep in your heart of hearts, you probably know you could unload the majority of your possessions without getting too upset.

Could you get rid of most of your stuff and still be happy? The majority of consumers polled in a new study say they absolutely could. The study, titled “The New Consumer and the Sharing Economy” and conducted by Havas Worldwide, surveyed more than 10,000 people around the globe. The results offer some interesting takeaways about consumption—and overconsumption. Among them:

*Half of all consumers say they could live happily without most of the items they own.

*Two-thirds say they get rid of unneeded possessions once a year, if not more often.

*70% believe that overconsumption is putting the planet and society at risk.

The factoids mesh with plenty of previous research that indicates, for example, the average American home is cluttered with possessions (and our incessant yearning for stuff is stressful and unhealthy), and that the average American child receives some 70 new toys per year. Other research points out that happiness comes largely as a result of fun experiences and relationships with other people rather than the gathering or more and more “stuff.” Money has been correlated with happiness, though how we spend it has a lot to do with whether wealth helps make one content or miserable.

It probably isn’t necessary for researchers to delve into reams of data in order to deliver many of these official “revelations.” Down deep, most of us generally know that we don’t really need much of what we own, and that getting rid of some, if not most, of our clutter certainly wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen. (“Hoarders” anyone?) On the one hand, the new study data demonstrates that most people are fully conscious of the idea that overconsumption is bad, and that one’s happiness isn’t dependent on “stuff.” On the other hand, while it would seem to be good that the majority of people sell, recycle, or otherwise get rid of unneeded possessions at least once annually, the fact that people are swimming in unneeded possessions in the first place is a pretty clear indication that the average person regularly acquires more than he needs.

The title of the new study features the term “Sharing Economy,” which applies to businesses such as Airbnb, Lyft, and SideCar, among many others. What they all have in common is that they’re based on the idea that, for many consumers, it makes more sense to “share” (usually for a fee, of course) rather than buy a car, ride, vacation rental, dress, gadget, or almost anything else under the sun. Another of the study’s factoids shows that most people are in favor of sharing:

*65% agreed with the line “Our society would be better off if people shared more and owned less.”

Because sharing economy operations are new and often viewed as disruptors—if not likely destroyers—of traditional businesses like taxi companies and hotels, they routinely find themselves in the government’s crosshairs and may very well be subjected to increased restrictions and regulations in the future. Nonetheless, it seems like the sharing economy’s future is bright, if for no other reason than consumers largely embrace the concept.

“For a number of years, we’ve tracked the shift away from wasteful spending and toward a more mindful approach to consumption, but what we’re seeing now is much more proactive and hands-on,” Andrew Benett, global CEO of Havas Worldwide, which conducted the new study, said in a press release. “They’re getting involved in the consumption cycle by contributing to the funding or even the creation of products they want and by reselling or renting out their unneeded possessions. They’re creating new formats for the exchange of goods. And every step of the way, they are practicing ‘less is more,’ and savoring their ‘less.’”

Consumers who own stuff like the sharing economy because it gives them a way to get some use—and ideally, some money—out of the possessions that otherwise might be rarely unused, gathering dust and taking up space. And consumers who choose to own less like the sharing economy model because it gives them a way to get their hands on more stuff without having to actually take the plunge and buy. They also don’t have to worry about finding space to store this stuff because, remember, it’s not their stuff. They get to give it back.

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