MONEY Health Care

The Easy Way to Beat the High Cost of Health Care in Retirement

Senior couple riding bicycles
Ariel Skelley—Getty Images

Out-of-pocket healthcare costs may total $318,000 in your retirement, new research shows. This expense is most peoples' biggest worry. But it needn't be.

Americans’ top financial concern in retirement is paying for healthcare, which has been rising at twice the rate of inflation and will reach more than $318,000 in out-of-pocket expenses per retiree over a 30-year stretch, new research shows. And those out-pocket costs do not include potential further expenses associated with long-term care.

Strikingly, the fear factor is most acute among the affluent. Perhaps because they have more to lose (or fewer things to worry about), 60% of folks with investable assets greater than $5 million name healthcare costs as their top retirement concern, compared with 35% of those with less than $250,000 in investable assets.

The findings come from a health and retirement report out today from Bank of America Merrill Lynch and aging consultants Age Wave. Overall, 41% of those age 50-plus name healthcare costs as their top financial concern; 29% say it’s outliving their money; and just 11% cite Social Security cuts.

Three major health-related forces are conspiring to change the face of retirement planning, according to the report:

  • Boomers, now all 50-plus, have high expectations for wellness and will demand care that may be costly but keeps them vital and feeling young.
  • Longer life spans will give rise to greater numbers of retirees suffering from chronic diseases including hypertension, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and arthritis.
  • Long-term care costs are unpredictable and can run into many tens of thousands of dollars in a short time, potentially putting a lifetime of saving and planning at risk.

These forces present a huge challenge to government, which must try to keep costs from rising too fast, and to the scientific community, which could make longer lives a joy by discovering treatments for chronic diseases. The report notes:

“If we could find an effective treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s the future health and financial landscape for almost every family would be dramatically improved. The goal is to match our health spans (how long we can expect to be healthy) with our increasing life spans.”

A more readily solved problem may be the dearth of medical professionals focused on healthy aging. Today, there is only one certified geriatrician for every 13 pediatricians, even though the 65-plus population is growing four times faster than any other cohort and is most likely to suffer from some kind of ailment, according to the report. Put another way: We have one pediatrician for every 1,200 children, but just one geriatrician for every 9,400 older adults.

Institutional change will not come fast. So it is important that, as part of taking charge of your financial future, you also take charge of your health. This includes:

  • Exercise People who begin exercising in their 60s or 70s are three times more likely than those who don’t exercise to age in good health.
  • Diet A healthy diet improves heart health, fortifies bones, and reduces the risk of stroke, type 2 diabetes and cancer.
  • Weight People 45 to 64 who eat well, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise a few hours a week can reduce risk of cardiovascular disease by 35%.
  • Connections A low level of social interaction is just as unhealthy as smoking and can be unhealthier than lack of exercise or obesity.
  • Lifestyle It’s never too late to quit smoking, and the benefits are almost immediate. People who consume more than two drinks a day have a 62% greater risk of stroke.

Your money and your health are all part of the same equation in retirement. The good news is that anyone can choose to live healthier—and doing so can make a big difference as to how well you live your last 20 or 30 years.

Do you want help getting your retirement planning off the ground? Email makeover@moneymail.com for a chance at a makeover from a financial pro and to appear in the pages of MONEY magazine.

Related:
Live a Little, Your Kids Will Make Their Own Money
Our Retirement Savings Crisis—and the Easy Solution
Why Gen X Feels Lousiest About the Recession and Retirement

MONEY housing

How the Financial Crisis Put Up Two More Barriers to a Secure Retirement

Two new studies underline housing and income challenges facing older Americans.

Monday marks the sixth anniversary of the bankruptcy filing of Lehman Brothers, a key event in the Wall Street meltdown that led to the Great Recession. The recession wreaked havoc on the retirement plans of millions of Americans, and two studies released last week suggest that most of us haven’t recovered well.

To be more precise: Middle- and lower-income Americans haven’t recovered at all, while the wealthiest households have done fine.

The Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University (JCHS) issued its findings on the challenges we face meeting the housing needs of an aging population in the years ahead. Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Board released its triennial Survey of Consumer Finances (SCF), a highly regarded resource for understanding American households’ finances.

The Harvard study found that our existing housing stock is ill-suited to meet seniors’ needs, including affordability, accessibility, social connectivity and support services. And high housing costs are eating into the ability of low-income older adults to pay for necessities like food and healthcare.

Housing is the largest expenditure in most household budgets, and so is a linchpin of financial security and well-being. “It’s really at the nexus of your financial health, physical health and healthcare,” says Jennifer Molinsky, research associate at the JCHS and principal author of the study.

Harvard found that a third of adults over age 50 pay more than 30% of their income for housing—including 37% of people over age 80. Harvard defines that group as “housing cost burdened.” Another group of “severely burdened” older Americans spend more than 50% of income on housing. That group spends 43% less on food, and 59% less on healthcare, compared with households that can afford their housing.

Homeowners are much less likely to be cost-burdened than renters, the study found. But more homeowners are carrying mortgages well into retirement. More than 70% of homeowners aged 50 to 64 were still paying off mortgages in 2010.

The Federal Reserve findings on middle-class retirement prospects are equally troubling. Despite the economy’s gradual mending, the SCF found a widening gap in income and net worth. The top 10% of households was the only income band registering rising income (up 2% since 2010). Households between the 40th and 90th percentiles of income saw little change in average real incomes from 2010 to 2013. And the rate of homeownership was 65%, down from 69% in 2004 and 67% in 2010.

Ownership of retirement plan accounts also fell sharply. In the bottom half of income distribution, just 40% of households owned any type of account—IRA, 401(k) or traditional pension—in 2013, down from 48% in the 2007 survey. The Fed attributes the drop mainly to declining IRA and 401(k) coverage, since defined benefit coverage remained flat. Meanwhile, coverage in the top half of income distribution was much higher. In the top 10%, 95% of families are covered.

Overall, the average value of retirement accounts jumped a substantial 10% from 2010 to 2013, to $201,300. The Fed attributed that to the strong stock market and larger contributions. But for the lowest-income group that owned accounts, the average combined IRA and 401(k) value was just $39,100—and that is down more than 20% from 2007.

Considering the stock market’s strong performance in the intervening years, that suggests many of these households either sold while the market was depressed, drew down savings—or both. Meanwhile, upper-middle-income households saw a gain of 20% since 2007.

In Washington, lobbyists and policymakers have been debating about whether a retirement crisis really is looming. The various sides typically filter the data to support their viewpoints and agendas. But it’s difficult to think of two sources aligned than the Federal Reserve Board and Harvard. The SCF, in particular, is widely viewed as a gold standard survey that will be relied on for many economic reports in the months ahead. It includes information on the household balance sheets, pensions, income and demographic characteristics of about 6,500 families.

The JCHS study was funded by the AARP Foundation and The Hartford insurance company, so there’s a possible agenda there, if you doubt Harvard’s independence as researchers. (I don’t.)

Taken together, the studies paint the portrait of a widening divide in the retirement prospects of working Americans. No matter how the data is sliced, we’ve got problems that need to be addressed.

MONEY 401(k)s

How Do I Choose Investments for My 401(k)?

What's the the right mix of stocks and bonds for your retirement account? Financial planners explain.

MONEY Kids and Money

The Surprising Thing Gen Z Wants to Do With Its Money

Teen in front of home
Getty Images

More than half of teens would give up social media for a year and do double the homework if it guaranteed they’d be able to buy a house when they're older.

During the Great Recession, home ownership took a beating as the ideal for the American dream. The median home nationally lost a quarter of its value, prompting adults of all ages to adopt other elusive goals—like retiring on time for boomers or working on their own terms for millennials.

Just 65% of Americans own their home, down from 69% pre-bust. And four out of five Americans are rethinking the reasons they’d want to buy a house in the first place. But Generation Z—also known as post-millennials, born after the 1990s Internet bubble— seems to prize home ownership like no generation since their great-grandparents.

An astounding 97% of post-millennials believe they will one day own a home; 82% say it is the most important part of the American dream, according to a survey of teens age 13 to 17 by Better Homes and Gardens Real Estate. More than half would give up social media for a year and do double the homework if it guaranteed they’d be able to buy a house.

This yearning stands in starkest contrast to the aspirations of millennials, older cousins who pretty much created the sharing economy and in large numbers prefer to rent. The housing bust and foreclosure epidemic scarred millennials, probably for life, as some watched parents and neighbors lose everything. In a key part of this generation—heads of households age 25 to 34—renters increased by more than 1 million in the years following the crisis, while the number who own a home fell by 1.4 million.

Post-millennials saw the carnage, too, though at a tender age that left them more confused than traumatized. Where millennials hardened and vowed never to repeat the errors of their parents, post-millennials sought the comfort of family and togetherness, says Sherry Chris, CEO of Better Homes and Gardens. “Many of these Gen Z teens were 7 to 11 years old when the recession hit,” Chris said. “At that age, children equate home with stability.”

The innate quest for stability leads them to prize a family home above things like going to college, getting married, having children, or owning a business, according to the survey. And the dream appears firmly grounded in reality. Chris observed that today’s teens have more information than any previous generation at their age and show early signs of financial awareness. Asked for an estimate of what they might spend on a house, the 97% who aspire to be owners gave an average response of $274,323—strikingly close to the median home value of $273,500.

Half say they know more about money than their parents did at their age. Two-thirds attribute their knowledge of money matters to discussions in the home, and two in five credit discussions in school. Three in five teens have already begun saving, the survey found. Post-millennials, on average, aim to own a home by age 28—three years earlier than the median age of first-time homebuyers reported by the National Association of Realtors.

These are encouraging findings. A home remains most Americans’ single largest asset, and while the housing bust will have lingering effects, home prices nationally tend to rise every year—and have been trending up again the past few years. Not all of the news is good: Only 17% of post-millennials believe stocks are the best long-term investment; half prefer a simple savings account, TD Ameritrade found in a survey that defines the generation as slightly older (up to age 24).

But the TD survey also found that post-millennials have half the post-college credit card debt of millennials. And the Better Homes survey suggests that our youngest generation is at last learning more about money at an early age, which is the goal of a broad public-private financial education movement. A generation of financially adept youth who begin to save and gather assets that will grow for four or five decades is the surest way to avoid another meltdown and solve the retirement savings crisis.

Related:
Why Gen X Feels Lousy About the Recession and Retirement
Our Retirement Savings Crisis—and the Easy Solution

MONEY Retirement

Live a Little: Your Kids Will Make Their Own Money

Some of us are saving too much. Really. Here's how to live a little and not shortchange your retirement.

The only thing worse than saving too little is saving too much. Most people who oversave do so at a stiff price in terms of the lifestyle they enjoy. Forgoing travel and nice meals to wind up with a modestly larger estate for heirs is a lousy trade.

Lawrence Kotlikoff, a Boston University economics professor, was among the first to begin raising this red flag. He recognizes that the vast majority of the population is undersaving. The U.S. has one of the lowest savings rates in the developed world, and fewer than one in five retirees has as much as $250,000. Those who diligently save in a 401(k) plan, on the other hand, are doing much better—and along with some others may be overdoing it.

He blames the retirement industry for spooking people into saving too much and shortchanging their daily lifestyle. From his blog:

“Economics has an enormous amount to offer the financial planning industry. But the industry has ignored economics, providing millions of Americans with what I and other economists view as truly awful advice.”

Around 1.5 million Americans will retire each year through 2025, according to the LIMRA Secure Retirement Institute. More than half of preretirees expect to live less comfortably than they had planned. Granted, a small portion of that is due to scrimping and saving—but if you suspect you are in that crowd, here are some ways you can avoid compromising your lifestyle unnecessarily:

Don’t plan for perfection. Most advisers and savings models rely on Monte Carlo simulations to estimate how long your money will last under various scenarios. You want to end up with a plan that gives you an 80% to 90% chance of not outliving your money. Reaching for, say, 97% certainty gets expensive in terms of the money you must save and may leave you cheaping out for no reason.

Writes Christine Fahlund, senior financial planner for T. Rowe Price: “If you are acknowledging that between 10% and 20% of the time, if you use this strategy, that you might run out in advance, now you are in a good place because you are not leaving too much money on the table.” You want to use that money to enjoy retirement, knowing you can always adjust along the way.

Lock in longevity insurance. An increasingly popular strategy is to use a portion of your savings to purchase a deferred fixed annuity, known as longevity insurance. If you spend $200,000 on this insurance at 65, you can begin collecting around $5,000 a month for the rest of your life at age 85. This provides absolute certainty for how long the rest of your savings must last. There are other considerations like emergency funds and potential healthcare costs. But if you have those bases covered, you can go broke throwing an 85th birthday party.

Stop saving at 60 Saving in small increments over three or four decades is smart because compounding works magic in the later years. But any money you put away past the age of 60 will have little time to grow if you retire at, say, 67. Putting away $5,000 a year for seven years, or a total of $35,000, would result in just $44,200 with a 6% average annual return. Is the $9,200 gain over that span worth the all the cruises you passed up?

Delay Social Security Every year you delay Social Security between ages 62 and 70 results in a certain benefit that is 8% higher. In today’s low rate environment, that’s the best deal around and basically means that if you are in good health and do not need the income you can spend more freely in your 60s knowing the added benefit will pay for some of it. Your kids will make their own money. Don’t play it so safe that you fail to enjoy your retirement years.

Related:
Our Retirement Savings Crisis—and the Easy Solution
Boomers Are Hoarding Cash in Their 401(k)s, Here’s a Better Solution
Why Gen X Feels Lousiest About the Recession and Retirement

 

TIME Business

Planning for Unretirement and Why It Pays Dividends to Work Longer

It pays to invest in your human capital, maintaining your skills and adding to your education

Several years ago I picked up a book published in 1920 by Simon Wilson Straus, president of the American Society for Thrift. His description of the popular image of thrift in History of the Thrift Movement in America still rings true nearly a century later. “Penny-counting, cheese-paring, money-hoarding practices were looked upon by the public as the ideals sought by those who tried to encourage thrift,” wrote Straus. “The man who practiced this virtue, it was felt, was he who hoarded his earnings to such an extent that he thrust aside every other consideration in order to keep from spending his pennies, his dimes, and his dollars.” Who wants to live a “cheese-paring” life? Sounds bad, doesn’t it?

But an emphasis on thrift doesn’t mean living cheaply– far from it. Thrift or frugality is really shorthand for an approach grounded in matching our money with our values. Straus defines thrift this way: “It is the thrift that recognizes that the finer things of life must be encouraged,” he writes. “The skilled workman, the artist, the musician, the landscape gardener, the designer of beautiful furniture, the members of the professions — all those, in fact, who, through the devotion of their abilities, contribute to the real betterment of mankind, must be given support through our judicious expenditures.”

Here’s how David Starr Jordan, founding president of Stanford University, defined thrift at the 1915 International Congress for Thrift in San Francisco. He told the assembled audience that thrift “does not involve stinginess, which is an abuse of thrift, nor does it require that each item of savings should be financial investments; the money that is spent on the education of one’s self or of one’s family, in travel, in music, in art, or in helpfulness to others, if it brings real returns in personal development or in a better understanding of the world we live in, is in accordance with the spirit of thrift.”

Who didn’t have a moment during the Great Recession of looking around their home or apartment, opening closets and drawers, gazing into garages and storage bins, and wondered, “Why did I buy that? Is this how I want to live? I’m paying off credit card debt for that?” The modern Mad Men have done a bang-up job equating the good life with owning lots of stuff paid for on an installment plan. Didn’t we always know this wasn’t quite right? By thinking through “What really matters to me?” the unretired movement will come up with far more sensible answers to the question “How much is enough?” than the financial services industry. Harry West, the former CEO of Continuum and current senior partner at Prophet, hit on the thrift mindset. In our conversation he remarked on the flexibility that comes with minimal expenses and debts. “When you talk to boomers, what you find is that freedom is really, really important. And you think about that because they grew up in the ’60s or were born in the ’60s, which was a time of freedom,” says West. “Freedom is a low overhead.” That expression should be a mantra for young and old workers alike.

The frugal mindset is spreading, thanks to growing awareness of sustainability. The term sustainability has many shades of meaning, but several themes have emerged in recent years. An awareness of global warming. The desire to cut down on waste. Concerns over the health of the environment. Worries about the vibrancy of local communities. My favorite definition of sustainability comes from the late actor and non-profit entrepreneur Paul Newman: “We are such spendthrifts with our lives,” said Newman. “The trick of living is to slip on and off the planet with the least fuss you can muster. I’m not running for sainthood. I just happen to think that in life we need to be a little like the farmer, who puts back into the soil what he takes out.” Sustainability has gone mainstream and, for growing numbers of people, being frugal is green and being green is frugal.

There is nothing cheap or penny pinching behind the pursuit of judicious expenditures, thrift and sustainability. Instead, thrift is a mindset for trying to match your spending with your values. “In some ways, that what’s financial independence is. You don’t have to answer to anyone because you have enough,” says certified financial planner Ross Levin. “When I am working with clients as they get older or near the end of life, they talk about the things they wish they had done. They talk about their regrets, and the regrets always focus on experiences. It’s always something like, ‘I wish I had done more with the kids when they were younger.’ It’s never ‘I wish I had bought a Mercedes.'”

The urban scholar Richard Florida, in his book The Great Reset, looked at potential economic changes in the U.S. following the Great Recession. His bottom line forecast could have been addressed to aging workers. “The promise of the current Reset is the opportunity for a life made better not by ownership of real estate, appliances, cars, and all manner of material goods, but by greater flexibility and lower levels of debt, more time with family and friends, greater promise of personal development, and access to more and better experiences.”

Unretirement will change not only how an aging population thinks about old age but also how it plans the elder years. Over the past three decades the baby boom generation has been taught to equate planning for retirement with savvy investing. In essence, the retirement planning mantra has been stocks for the long haul, asset allocation and picking mutual funds. But for the typical Main Street boomer the equation has always been wrong and, deep down, we’ve always known we couldn’t rely on Wall Street’s lush return promises. The core of unretirement planning is jobs, and the new unretirement planning mantra is encore careers, networking, and delay filing for Social Security. “You should be looking for the kind of jobs you could do that are challenging and interesting and offer an acceptable income,” says Arthur Koff, the septuarian founder of Retired Brains. “The time to do it is while you’re working.”

Next Chapter in Kansas City, Kansas is housed in a small brick building reminiscent of a bank in a section of town that houses the courts. Karen Hostetler is director of Next Chapter. She turned 65 in 2013. Next Chapter is a small grassroots organization with a mission of helping older workers in transition toward unretirement. I met with Next Chapter activists Pat Brune, Cris Siebenlist and Hostetler in a conference room in the fall of 2013. It was a lively conversation and at one point planning for unretirement came up.

Siebenlist: “Frankly, not everyone will figure it out. They’ll do a little bit of this and a little bit of that. Other people will float around for awhile and say, Is this all there is?”

Hostetler: “You need to plan. It takes commitment to figure it out.”

Brune: “If I could change my transition to what I did, it would have been to be more intentional. I said yes to what came along.”

Hostetler: “Don’t jump into the first thing that comes along.”

Bruning: “I only see my intentions looking back. It’s only later that I see how the dots are connected.”

The work longer message means it pays to invest in your human capital, maintaining your skills and adding to your education. Maybe you’d like to stay at your current company, but put in fewer hours or shift over to a different division. If you want to move on, know your employer is likely to hand you a pink slip soon, or want to start your own business invest in researching your options, from hiring a career coach to investigating temp agencies to picking up a book like Marci Alboher’s The Encore Career Handbook: How To Make a Living and a Difference in the Second Half of Life.

Most importantly, invest in your networks of family, friends, colleagues and acquaintances. Scholars have documented that about half or more of all jobs come through informal channels–connections to friends, families and colleagues. You may also want to create new connections to ease the transition into the next stage of life.

Take this example from Ralph Warner, the founder of Nolo.com, the self-help legal guide business, and author of Get a Life: You Don’t Need A Million to Retire Well. Let’s say it’s a dream of yours to work on environmental causes in retirement, says Warner. The pressures of daily life stop you from getting engaged, however. You’ll get to it, tomorrow. Now you’re 65 or 70 years old. You head toward an environmental organization you admire and say, “Here I am. How can I help you? The answer is going to be probably not much,” says Warner. Maybe help out with the phones or mailings. “Now, take that same person who in their 40s or 50s gets involved with several local environmental groups and at age 70 is a respected senior person. They’re valued and they’re needed. They earned it.”

They’ve just won the aging boomer trifecta: an income, a community and a mission.

Don’t get me wrong: Saving is important. Max out your 401(k) and IRA. Create a well-diversified, low-fee retirement savings portfolio. Savings is your margin of safety because life has a way of upending well-thought-out plans. An unexpectedly ill parent. A divorced child moving back home with the kids. For Robert Lawrence, it was a detached retina.

Lawrence was a teacher at Jefferson Community and Technical College (now Kentucky Community and Technical College) in Louisville. He taught there for about 20 years, commuting up to 10 weeks every year to visit his partner in New York City. Lawrence planned on retiring at age 66. Just after his 64th birthday, he stopped by a colleague’s office for a brief “hello” and ended up listening to a long, detailed explanation why his colleague planned working until age 70. The conversation convinced Lawrence to hold off retirement for another six years.

That is, until two months later. His retina detached and several surgical repairs didn’t hold. He retired at age 65 in 2005, sold his home, downsized and moved into his partner’s condo in Jackson Heights, Queens. His partner, age 75, is a consulting engineer, often putting in 40 hour workweeks. “If it had not been for health reasons I certainly would have been working,” says Lawrence.

A surgeon in New York fixed his retina. Lawrence now volunteers at a hospice in Manhattan, visits with grieving caregivers after the death of a loved one, and helps out at his local church. With a comfortable pension and some savings he chose flexibility over pay. The reason: Lawrence and his partner are railroad “rare mileage” collectors. “We’re railroad fanatics,” he says. They ride the rails throughout the U.S., often seeking out obscure lines to collect their miles. “The only reason I did not seek out teaching in New York is my partner didn’t want me to because of these trips,” adds Lawrence. “He’s in command of his own time as a consultant. If you’re teaching, you’re not.”

When it comes to retirement planning, the goal should be to put your savings on auto-pilot as much as possible. Instead, spend your time creating opportunities for an income and meaning later in life. The return on the unretirement investment will dwarf anything you’ll get from picking a good mutual fund.

Chris Farrell is a contributing economics editor for Bloomberg Businessweek and senior economics contributor for public radio’s Marketplace Money, Marketplace, and Marketplace Morning Report. Excerpted from Unretirement, copyright 2014 by Chris Farrell. Reprinted by permission of Bloomsbury.

MONEY Financial Planning

Get Free Help Getting Your Retirement Off the Ground

Lipsticks in the shape of a dollar sign
Anthony Lee—Getty Images

As a millennial or Gen Xer, you face unique challenges when it comes to retirement. If you need some help getting going, share your story for a chance at a free financial makeover.

The two youngest generations of workers could use a hand with retirement planning.

Gen Xers have had a run of bad luck: a recession that slowed down their careers, a brutal bear market that hit in their early years as investors, and a housing crash that set in just as many had bought a first home.

No wonder they are feeling gloomy about retirement, according to a new survey from the Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies. Only 12% of Gen X workers say they have fully recovered from the recession.

Millennials, on the other hand, are off to a strong start, outpacing Baby Boomers and Gen Xers when it comes to saving for retirement. According to the Transamerica survey, 70% of millennials with jobs are putting money aside. They began saving at a median age of 22. Still, this group faces steep student loan debts, high unemployment, and uncertain entitlement programs in the future.

If you’re like a lot of people your age, you could use some help getting started, whether it’s tips on how to tame your debts and find money to save or advice on what investments to choose and how to best allocate the funds you’ve built up.

For an upcoming issue of Money magazine and Money.com, we’ll pair several novice retirement savers with financial planners to get a full financial makeover. To participate, you should be comfortable sharing details of your financial life, and keep in mind that story subjects will be photographed for the story.

If you’d like to participate, please fill in the form below. Briefly tell us how you’re doing and what your biggest challenges are. And include a little about your family’s finances, including your income, assets, and debts. All of this information will be kept confidential unless we follow up with you for an interview, and you agree to appear in the story.

We look forward to hearing from you.

MONEY Saving

This App May Let You Retire on Your Spare Change

Acorn App
Acorn

The new Acorns app rounds up card purchases and invests the difference for growth, with no minimums and low fees.

Americans spend $11 trillion a year while saving very little. So it makes sense to link the two, as a number of financial companies have tried to do over the past decade. The latest is the startup Acorns, which hopes to hook millennials on the merits of mobile micro investing over many decades.

Through the Acorns app, released for iPhone this week, you sock away “spare change” every time you use your linked credit or debit card. The app rounds up purchases to the nearest dollar, takes the difference from your checking account, and plunks it in a solid, no-frills investment portfolio. So when you spend, say, $1.29 for a song on iTunes, the app reads that as $2 and pushes 71¢ into your Acorns account. With a swipe, you can also contribute small or large sums separate from any spending.

The Acorns portfolio is purposely simple: Your money gets spread among six basic index funds. The weighting in each fund depends on your risk profile, which you can dial up or down on your iPhone. More aggressive settings put more money in stocks. But you always have some money in each fund, remaining diversified among large and small company stocks, emerging markets, real estate, government and corporate bonds. The app will be available for Android in a few weeks and through a website in a few months.

Why Millennials Are the Target

Micro investing via a mobile device clearly targets millennials, who show great interest in saving but have been largely ignored by financial advisers and large banks. Young people may not have enough assets to meet the minimum requirements of big financial houses like Fidelity, Vanguard, and Schwab. With Acorns, there are no minimums. There are also none of the commissions that can render investing in small doses prohibitively expensive. “We want small investors who can grow with us over time,” says Acorns co-founder Jeff Cruttenden.

This approach places Acorns in the middle a rash of low-fee, online financial firms geared at young adults—including Square, Betterment, Robinhood, and Wealthfront. Such firms hope to capitalize on young adults’ penchant for tech solutions and lingering mistrust of large financial institutions. Cruttenden says a third of Acorns users are under age 22. They like to save in dribs and drabs—and manage everything from a mobile device.

Acorns charges a flat $1 monthly fee and between 0.25% and 0.5% of assets each year. The typical mutual fund has fees of 1% or more. Yet many index fund fees run lower. The Vanguard S&P 500 ETF, which invests in large company stocks, charges just 0.05%. If you have a few thousand dollars to open an account, and the discipline to invest a set amount each month, you might do better there. But remember that is just one fund. With Acorns you get diversification across six asset classes—along with the rounding up feature, which seems to have appeal.

Acorns has been testing the app all summer and says the average account holder contributes $7 a day through lump sums and a total of 500,000 round ups. Cruttenden says he is a typical user and through rounding up his card purchases has added $521.63 to his account over three months.

A New Twist on an Old Concept

Mortgage experts tout rounding up as a way to pay off your mortgage quicker. On a $200,000 loan at 4.5% for 30 years your payment would be $1,013.38. Rounding up to the nearest $100, or to $1,100, would cut your payoff time by 52 months and save you $26,821.20 in interest. Rounding up your card purchases works much the same way—only you are accumulating savings, not cutting your interest expense.

Bank of America offers a Keep the Change program, which rounds up debit-card purchases to the nearest buck and then pushes the difference into a savings account. Upromise offers credit card holders rewards that help pay for college. But Acorns’ approach is different: the money goes into an actual investment account with solid long-term growth potential.

One possible drawback is that this is a taxable account, which means you fund the Acorns account with after-tax money. Young adults starting a career with a company that offers a tax-deferred 401(k) plan with a match would be better served putting money in that account, if they must choose. But if you are like millions of people who throw spare change in a drawer anyway, Acorns is a way to do it electronically and let those nickels, dimes, and pennies go to work for you in a more meaningful way.

Read more on getting a jump on saving and investing:

 

MONEY Pensions

How To Be a Millionaire — and Not Even Know It

Book whose pages are hundred dollar bills
iStock

A financial adviser explains to two teachers why they don't need a lot of money in the bank to be rich.

Mr. and Mrs. Rodrigues, 65 and 66 years old, were in my office. Their plan was to retire later this year. But they were worried.

“Our friends are retiring with Social Security, lump sum rollovers, and large investment accounts,” said Mr. Rodrigues, a school teacher from the North Shore of Boston. “All my wife and I will get is a lousy pension.”

Mr. Rodrigues continued: “A teacher’s pay is mediocre compared to what our friends earn in the private sector. We know that when we start our career. But with retirement staring us in the face, and no more regular paycheck, I’m worried.”

Public school teachers are among the worst-paid professionals in America – if you look at their paycheck alone. But when it comes to retirement packages, they have some of the best financial security in the country.

For private sector employees, the responsibility of managing retirement income sits largely on their shoulders. Sure, Social Security will provide a portion of many people’s retirement income, but for most, it is up to the retiree to figure out how to pull money from IRAs, 401(k)s, investment accounts, and/or bank accounts to support their lifestyle each year. Throughout retirement, many worry about running out of money or the possibility of their investments’ losing value.

Teachers, on the other hand, have a much larger safety net.

Both of the Rodrigueses worked as high school teachers for more than 30 years. Each was due a life-only pension of $60,000 upon retirement. That totaled a guaranteed lifetime income of $10,000 per month, or $120,000 per year. When one of them dies, the decedent’s pension will end, but the survivor will continue receiving his or her own $60,000 income.

The Rodrigueses told me they needed about $85,000 a year.

Surely their pension would cover their income needs.* And since the two both teach and live in Massachusetts, their pension will be exempt from state tax.

As for their balance sheet, they had no mortgage, no credit card debts, and no car payments. They had a $350,000 home, $18,000 cash in the bank, and a $134,000 investment account.

But as far as the Rodrigueses were concerned, they hadn’t saved enough.

“All my friends boast about the size of the 401(k)s they rolled over to IRAs,” Mr. Rodrigues said. “Some of them say they have more than $1 million for retirement.”

It was time to show the couple that their retirement situation wasn’t so gloomy – especially considering what their private-sector friends would need in assets to create the same income stream.

“What if I told you that your financial situation is better than most Americans?” I asked.

They thought I was joking.

Their friends, I explained, would need about $1.7 million to match their $120,000 pension income for life.

To explain my case, I pulled out a report on annuities that addressed the question of how much money a person would need at age 65 to generate a certain number of dollars in annual income.

Here’s an abbreviated version of the answer:

Annual Pension Lump Sum Needed
$48,000 $700,539
$60,000 $876,886
$75,000 $1,100,736

If you work in the private sector, are you a little jealous? If you’re a teacher, do you feel a little richer?

The Rodrigues were shocked. Soon Mr. Rodrigues calmed down and Mrs. Rodrigues smiled. Their jealousy was replaced with a renewed appreciation for the decades of service they provided to the local community.

Whether your pension is $30,000, $60,000 or $90,000, consider the amount of money that’s needed to guarantee your income. It’s probably far more than you think. And it’s not impacted by the stock market, interest rates, and world economic issues.

With a guaranteed income and the likelihood of state tax exemption on their pension, Mr. and Mrs. Rodrigues felt like royalty. After all, they had just learned that they were millionaires.

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* The survivor’s $60,000 pension, of course, would be less than the $85,000 annual income the two of them say they’ll need. A few strategies to address this: (1) Expect a reduced spending need in a one-person household. (2) Draw income from the couple’s other assets. (3) Downsize and use the net proceeds from the house’s sale to supplement spending needs. (4) Select the survivor option for their pensions, rather than the life-only option. They would have a reduced monthly income check while they are both living, yet upon one of their deaths the survivor would receive a reduced survivor monthly pension benefit along with his or her own pension.
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Marc S. Freedman, CFP, is president and CEO of Freedman Financial in Peabody, Mass. He has been delivering financial planning advice to mass affluent Baby Boomers for more than two decades. He is the author of Retiring for the GENIUS, and he is host of “Dollars & Sense,” a weekly radio show on North Shore 104.9 in Beverly, Mass.

MONEY Kids and Money

The Best Thing You Can Do Now for Your Kid’s Financial Future

CAN'T BUY ME LOVE, from left: Patrick Dempsey, Amanda Peterson, 1987.
Your teens summer earnings can't buy love, but they can buy a bit of retirement security. Buena Vista Pictures—Courtesy Everett Collection

Open a Roth IRA for your child's summer earnings, and talk her through the decisions on how to invest that money, suggests financial planner Kevin McKinley.

In my last column, I extolled the virtues of opening—and perhaps even contributing to—a Roth IRA for a working teenager. In short, a little bit of money saved now can make a big difference over a long time, and give your child a nice cushion upon which to build a solid nest egg.

Besides underscoring the importance of saving for retirement early and regularly, opening a Roth IRA can help your child become a savvy investor (a skill many people learn the hard way).

Here’s how:

Make the Initial Contribution

Your child needs to earn money if he or you are going to contribute to an IRA on his behalf. For the 2014 tax year, the limit for a Roth IRA contribution for those under age 50 is the lesser of the worker’s earnings, or $5,500.

The deadline for making the contribution is April 15, 2015. But you can start sooner, even if your teen hasn’t yet earned the money on which you will be basing the IRA contribution. (If the kid doesn’t earn enough to justify your contributions, you can withdraw the excess with relatively little in the way of paperwork or penalties.)

For a minor child, you will have to open a “custodial” Roth IRA on her behalf, using her Social Security number. Not every brokerage or mutual fund company that will open a Roth IRA for an adult will do so for a minor, but many of the larger ones will, including Vanguard, Schwab, and TD Ameritrade.

As the custodian, you make the decisions on investment choices—as well as decisions on if, why, and when the money might be withdrawn—until she reaches “adulthood,” defined by age (usually between 18 and 21, depending on your state of residence). Once she ages out, the account will then need to be re-registered in her name.

Depending on which provider you choose, you may be able to make systematic, automated contributions to the IRA (for example, $200 per month) from a checking or savings account. To encourage your teen to participate, you might offer to match every dollar he puts in.

Have the “Risk vs. Reward” Talk

How an adult should invest an IRA depends upon the person’s goals and risk tolerance—the same is true for a teen. You can help set those parameters by pointing out to your child that, since he’s unlikely to retire until his 60s this is likely to be a decades-long investment, and enduring short-term downturns is the price for enjoying higher potential long-term gains.

You might also show him the difference between depositing $1,000 now and earning, say, 3% annually vs. 7% annually over the next 50 years—that is, a balance of $4,400 vs. a balance of $29,600. Ask your child: Which would you rather?

No doubt, your kid will choose the bigger number.

But you also want this to be a lesson in the risks involved in investing. You might talk about what a severe one-year decline of 40% or more might do to his investment and explain that bigger drops are more likely in investments that have the potential for bigger growth. Now how do you feel about that 7%?

Some teenagers will be perfectly fine accepting the risk. Others may be more skittish.

You also might explain that there are options that will not decline in value at all—such as CDs and money market accounts. But should he choose those safer options, he’ll be trading off high reward for that benefit of low risk. In fact, while his money will grow, it will likely not keep up with the rate at which prices grow (“inflation,” in adult terms). So his money will actually be worth less by the time he’s ready to retire.

Some risk, therefore, will likely be necessary in order to grow his money in a meaningful way.

Choose Investments Together

Assuming he can tolerate some fluctuation, a stock-based mutual fund is probably the most appropriate and profitable strategy—especially since a fund can theoretically offer him a ownership in hundreds of different securities even though he may only be investing a few thousand dollars. You might explain that this diversification protects against some of the risks of decline since some stocks will rise when others fall.

A particularly-suitable option might be a “target date” or “life cycle” fund. These offerings are geared toward a specific year in the future—for instance, one near the time at which your child might retire.

Target date funds are usually a portfolio comprised of several different funds. The portfolio allocation starts out fairly aggressive, with a majority of the money invested in stock-based funds, and much smaller portion in bond funds or money market accounts.

As time goes by—and your child’s prospective retirement draws nearer—the allocation of the overall fund gradually becomes more conservative.

The value of the account can still rise and fall in the years nearing retirement, but with likely less volatility than what could be experienced in the early years.

One low-cost example of this type of investment is the Vanguard Retirement 2060 Fund (VTTSX).

Of course, if you choose a brokerage account for your child’s Roth IRA, you have the option of purchasing shares in a company that might be of particular interest to your kid. Choosing a company that is familiar to your child may not only inspire her to watch the stock and learn more about it, but eventually profit from the money she is spending on “her” company’s products.

If you’re going to go this route, you should include a discussion on the increased volatility (for better or worse) of owning one or two stocks, rather than the diversification offered by the aforementioned mutual fund.

Kevin McKinley is a financial planner and owner of McKinley Money LLC, a registered investment advisor in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. He’s also the author of Make Your Kid a Millionaire. His column appears weekly.

Read more from Kevin McKinley:

 

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