TIME

This Is Why Gen X Will Never Be Able to Retire

The "slacker generation" retire? Not so much

Gen X claimed the title of the slacker generation back in the day, but it turns out most of these now-middle-aged people will be working well into their golden years and have no expectation of a “traditional” retirement. That might be because some surveys show that a lot of them are just plain clueless about their retirement preparations.

According to Ameriprise’s new Retirement 2.0 study, almost three-quarters of Gen Xers are redefining what we’ve typically thought of as “retirement,” saying they plan to work right through those years. Although about half expect to scale back their hours to part-time, others are leaving their options open, saying they want to consult or work for themselves.

Ameriprise finds that about as many Gen Xers are actively preparing for their retirement as plan to continue working. Although nearly all say they’re confident that they’ll be able to pay for “basic needs,” 75% are worried about healthcare costs, and roughly one in seven aren’t sure they’ll be able to pay off their major debts before they retire — and this is from a survey pool of investors with nest eggs of $100,000 or more. (That’s a lot more than most Americans these days have socked away.)

Other research into this age bracket’s financial readiness also reveals some troubling blind spots. A recent survey by Fidelity Investments of couples in the Gen X age group finds that just over half have “no idea” how much they need to be saving now in order to keep their current lifestyle in retirement. About a third of surveyed couples don’t agree with their partner about how much they’ll need to live on (although, worryingly, close to half of Baby Boomers, many of whom are right on the cusp of retirement if not there already, say they disagree about how much they need).

But while about half of Boomers still don’t know how much they’ll be getting in Social Security, the number jumps to nearly three-quarters for Gen Xers. It’s only fair here to point out that more than 90% of millennials know how much Social Security they’ll get, but there’s one big difference. Gen Y workers still have decades of employment ahead of them, and most are only now getting to the stage where they have to make like choices like deciding to leave the labor market to raise kids, so trying to pin a bead on their eventual Social Security benefits is much more of a moving target.

For the trailing edge of Generation X, this isn’t dire news — not yet. Since they’re still in their mid-to-late 30s, these workers are just now getting into the groove of their peak earning years. But those on the leading edge who are approaching 50, just a few short years from the age of a “traditional” retirement they won’t be taking.

MONEY financial advice

How to Become a 401(k) Millionaire

Fidelity Investments' Jeanne Thompson lays out three simple steps.

For millennials, retirement is something that feels like it’s forever away, which is a good thing when it comes to preparing for it. Jeanne Thompson, Fidelity Investments’ vice president of thought leadership, lays out three simple steps for hitting the ultimate 401(k) milestone: a million dollars.

1) Save a lot. Seriously, save as much as you can. One of the BrightScope co-founders phrases it simply as “Save until it hurts.

2) Start now. When you start saving while you’re young—Thompson says 25 at the latest—you give your money as much time as possible to mature alongside you.

3) Invest for growth. Keep your eye on stocks, and don’t shy away from aggressive investments.

Read next: The Painful Secret to Retirement Success

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 Donald Trump

Donald Trump Employees’ 401(k) Plans Come With a Huge Catch

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Chicago Tribune—TNS via Getty Images Presidential candidate and businessman Donald Trump

They have to wait a year to open an account

It turns out that Donald Trump—the real estate mogul and Republican presidential hopeful who has promised to be “the greatest jobs president that God ever created”—is a bit of a Scrooge when it comes to his employees’ retirement plans.

Workers who are eligible for Trump’s company 401(k) cannot actually open an account until they have been employed by the tycoon for a year, Bloomberg reports. And the employer match—a generous-enough 4.5% for employees who invest at least 6% of their earnings—doesn’t kick in for six years. (That’s the longest amount of time allowed by United States law).

While these policies may simply signal how much Trump values loyalty, one other important 401(k) feature is lacking in the plan: automatic enrollment. Studies have shown that by automatically signing employees up for savings, employers can greatly boost how much workers end up having for retirement.

“If the plan really wanted to facilitate employee savings, it would institute automatic enrollment, reduce or eliminate the eligibility requirement, and vest employees in the employer match more quickly,” Harvard Kennedy School professor Brigitte Madrian told Bloomberg.

Read next: 8 Epic Business Failures with Donald Trump’s Name on Them

MONEY Greece

Here’s How Greece Could Affect Your Retirement Savings

Reaction As Greece Imposes Capital Control
Bloomberg—Bloomberg via Getty Images A customer places her daily cash machine withdrawal limit of 60 euros into her purse after using an automated teller machines (ATM) outside a closed Eurobank Ergasias SA bank branch in Athens, Greece, on Monday, June 29, 2015.

Your 401(k) or IRA will probably be fine

Greek leaders are scrambling to nail down a new bailout deal before July 20, when the country would otherwise default on a €3.5 billion bond repayment to European creditors and might be forced to abandon the Euro currency altogether.

As recent stock performance in the U.S. suggests, fears of what a so-called “Grexit” could do to Europe’s economy has spread to American shores. Indeed, U.S. markets may very well be choppy for at least the next several weeks until there’s more certainty about the future.

But there are many reasons to believe that any impact on your 401(k) or IRA investments would be short-lived.

For one, Greece comprises only 0.3% of the global economy. And a typical target date mutual fund, used by many retirement plans, has an even smaller sliver of exposure to the country.

Even if the worse case scenario happens and the Greek crisis affects Europe—or even causes a slowdown among U.S. companies that rely on European demand—history has shown that people who keep investing through recessions make their money back more quickly than one might expect. For example, if you had been so unlucky as to start investing $1,000 per year in the stock market right before the most recent recession, you would have made your money back after only two years post-recession.

That’s a good reason to stay calm and not do anything rash.

Certainly, investing in today’s globalized markets comes with risks. While Greece is relatively tiny, for example, China is a top global trader—and its current market crash could potentially affect economies across the world. But the fact that it’s hard to predict how market forces will play out on a global level is a reason to stay diversified, with portfolios exposed to many different countries and their economies.

Watch the video below to learn more about why foreign stocks are important to your portfolio:

MONEY financial advice

The Painful Secret to Retirement Success

The co-founders of retirement and investment analytics firm BrightScope share the secret of a well-funded retirement.

BrightScope co-founders (and brothers) Mike and Ryan Alfred say saving is the most important thing you can do for your retirement. Start saving early and start saving a lot—way more than the 5% or 6% that workers put in their 401(k) to get an employer match. Ryan, president and chief operating officer, said he knows it can be hard to start saving when you’re young and just started a career, but he thinks you should start saving a little bit and try to increase how much you save each year.

MONEY Savings

When Good Investments Are Bad for Your Retirement Savings

Q: I have an investment portfolio outside of my retirement plans. That portfolio kicks out dividend and interest income. If I roll all that passive income back into my portfolio, can I count that toward my retirement savings rate? — Scott King, Kansas City, Mo.

A: No. The interest income and dividends that your portfolio generates are part of your portfolio’s total return, says Drew Taylor, a managing director at investment advisory firm Halbert Hargrove in Long Beach, Calif. “Counting income from your portfolio as savings would be double counting.”

There are two parts to total return: capital appreciation and income. Capital appreciation is simply when your investments increase in value. For example, if a stock you invest in rises in price, then the capital you invested appreciates. The other half of the equation is income, which can come from interest paid by fixed-income investments such as bonds, or through stock dividends.

If your portfolio generates a lot income from dividends and bonds, that’s a good thing. Reinvesting it while you’re in saving mode rather than taking it as income to spend will boost your total return.

But dividends can get cut and interest rates can fluctuate, so counting those as part of your savings rate is risky. “The only reliable way to meet your savings goal is to save the money you earn,” says John C. Abusaid, president of Halbert Hargrove.

It’s understandable why you’d want to count income in your savings rate. The amount you need to save for retirement can be daunting. Financial advisers recommend saving 10% to 15% of your income annually starting in your 20s. The goal is to end up with about 10 times your final annual earnings by the time you quit working.

How much you need to put away now depends on how much you have already saved and the lifestyle you want when you are older. To get a more precise read on whether you are on track to your goals, use a retirement calculator like this one from T. Rowe Price.

It’s great that you are saving outside of your retirement plans. While 401(k)s and IRAs are the best way to save for retirement and provide a generous tax break, you are still limited in how much you can put away: $18,000 this year in a 401(k) and $5,500 for an IRA. If you’re over 50, you can put away another $6,000 in your 401(k) and $1,000 in an IRA.

That’s a lot of money. “But if you’re playing catch-up or want to live a more lavish lifestyle when you retire, you may have to do more than max out your 401(k) and IRAs,” Taylor says.

Read next: How to Prepare for the Next Market Meltdown

MONEY Greece

How Investors Should React to the Greek Crisis

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Louisa Gouliamaki—AFP/Getty Images The Greek economic crisis isn't ending anytime soon.

Step one: Don't panic.

Even from afar, it’s hard for U.S. investors to ignore the Greek economic crisis, which continues to roil global markets.

After Greece saw its bailout funds expire Tuesday—and became the first developed country to fail to pay back a loan from the International Monetary Fund—Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras sent a letter offering concessions to European creditors in hopes that a new agreement might help the country remain afloat.

The fate of the Greek economy depends in large part on whether its government can quickly make a deal with European leaders.

One point of tension: Leaders in Germany, Greece’s biggest creditor, are insisting that the country accept additional austerity measures like pension cuts before it can get more emergency funds. Though a compromise could be reached this week, the worst case scenario is that Greece would continue to miss debt payments and, eventually, be forced out of the euro currency. Doing so would allow Greece to pursue its own fiscal and monetary policies in pursuit of economic recovery.

But what would that mean for investors around the world? The short answer, assuming you have a fairly diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds, is that it probably wouldn’t have a dramatic long-term effect.

Here’s why: If you look at the kind of target-date mutual funds that are popular compenents of many American retirement accounts, like 401(k)s—the Vanguard Target Retirement 2035, for example—about a third of their holdings are in foreign stocks. And of those foreign stocks, only a small fraction tend to be Greek companies. The Vanguard Total International Stock (which the 2035 fund holds), for example, has only about 0.07% of assets in Greek companies. So not a lot of direct impact.

The indirect impact is also likely to be muted. More than 45% of the holdings in Vanguard Total International Stock are in European countries—and if Greece leaves the Eurozone, that could affect companies and markets throughout the Continent. But some analysts are arguing that the market has already reacted, and perhaps even over-reacted, to the possibility of a so-called Grexit. “You have to assume that a substantial amount of the correction is priced in,” Lawrence McDonald, head of U.S. macro strategy at Societe Generale, recently told MarketWatch.

That being said, a note of caution ought to be sounded about the dollar. If the Greek crisis isn’t resolved quickly, it could lead to a flight to safety away from the euro and toward the U.S. dollar. The dollar’s strength has already led to sluggish profit growth in the U.S. In the past few months, the euro has rebounded a bit. But the euro could weaken again if crisis persists in Greece, putting U.S. companies that sell their goods abroad in a tough spot.

Still, even if you believe things in Greece will get worse before they get better, history suggests you’d be unwise to pull much of your money from the market right now. Though we could be in for more bad news and some painful market gyrations in the near term, keeping your money invested and sticking to your long-term strategy will likely pay off in the end—no matter what happens in Greece. Plus, there’s potentially good news for bond investors: If fear of European instability drives investors to seek out safe assets like U.S. Treasuries, then many bond funds will do well.

MONEY retirement income

3 Retirement Loopholes That Are Likely to Close

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Design Pics/Darren Greenwood—Getty Images

The government has a knack for catching on to the most popular loopholes.

There are plenty of tips and tricks to maximizing your retirement benefits, and more than a few are considered “loopholes” that taxpayers have been able to use to circumvent the letter of the law in order to pay less to the government.

But as often happens when too many people make use of such shortcuts, the government may move to close three retirement loopholes that have become increasingly popular as financial advisers have learned how to exploit kinks in the law.

1. Back-door Roth IRA conversions
The U.S. Congress created this particular loophole by lifting income restrictions from conversions from a traditional Individual Retirement Account (IRA) to a Roth IRA, but not listing these restrictions from the contributions to the accounts.

People whose incomes are too high to put after-tax money directly into a Roth, where the growth is tax-free, can instead fund a traditional IRA with a nondeductible contribution and shortly thereafter convert the IRA to a Roth.

Taxes are typically due in a Roth conversion, but this technique will not trigger much, if any, tax bill if the contributor does not have other money in an IRA.
President Obama’s 2016 budget proposal suggests that future Roth conversions be limited to pre-tax money only, effectively killing most back-door Roths.

Congressional gridlock, though, means action is not likely until the next administration takes over, said financial planner and enrolled agent Francis St. Onge with Total Financial Planning in Brighton, Michigan. He doubts any tax change would be retroactive, which means the window for doing back-door Roths is likely to remain open for awhile.

“It would create too much turmoil if they forced people to undo them,” says St. Onge.

2. The stretch IRA
People who inherit an IRA have the option of taking distributions over their lifetimes. Wealthy families that convert IRAs to Roths can potentially provide tax-free income to their heirs for decades, since Roth withdrawals are typically
not taxed.

That bothers lawmakers across the political spectrum who think retirement funds should be for retirement – not a bonanza for inheritors.

“Congress never imagined the IRA to be an estate-planning vehicle,” said Ed Slott, a certified public accountant and author of “Ed Slott’s 2015 Retirement Decisions Guide.”

Most recent tax-related bills have included a provision to kill the stretch IRA and replace it with a law requiring beneficiaries other than spouses to withdraw the money within five years.

Anyone contemplating a Roth conversion for the benefit of heirs should evaluate whether the strategy makes sense if those heirs have to withdraw the money within five years, Slott said.

3. “Aggressive” strategies for Social Security
Obama’s budget also proposed to eliminate “aggressive” Social Security claiming strategies, which it said allow upper-income beneficiaries to manipulate the timing of collection of Social Security benefits in order to maximize delayed retirement credits.

Obama did not specify which strategies, but retirement experts said he is likely referring to the “file and suspend” and “claim now, claim more later” techniques.

Married people can claim a benefit based on their own work record or a spousal benefit of up to half their partner’s benefit. Dual-earner couples may profit by doing both.

People who choose a spousal benefit at full retirement age (currently 66) can later switch to their own benefit when it maxes out at age 70 – known as the “claim now, claim more later” approach that can boost a couple’s lifetime Social Security payout by tens of thousands of dollars.

The “file and suspend” technique can be used in conjunction with this strategy or on its own. Typically one member of a couple has to file for retirement benefits for the other partner to get a spousal benefit.

Someone who reaches full retirement age also has the option of applying for Social Security and then immediately suspending the application so that the benefit continues to grow, while allowing a spouse to claim a spousal benefit.

People close to retirement need not worry, said Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff, who wrote the bestseller “Get What’s Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Social Security.”

“I don’t see them ever taking anything away that they’ve already given,” Kotlikoff said. “If they do something, they’ll have to phase it in.”

MONEY

You’ll Never Guess the Latest Victims of the Student Loan Crisis

hand reaching out of hole using adding machine with rolls of paper
Renold Zergat—Getty Images

A fast-growing number of seniors are hitting retirement with a student debt burden. Even their Social Security is at risk.

Most debt you can get out of—painful as it might be. Credit card debt can be cleared in bankruptcy. A mortgage can end in foreclosure. But student debt is more sticky, and it turns out it can have big consequences in retirement.

Last year, Richard Minuti’s Social Security payments were cut by 10%.

The Philadelphia native was already earning only a bit over $10,000 a year, including some part-time work as a tutor. “I was desperate,” says Minuti. “Taking 10% of a person’s pay who’s trying to live with bills, that’s the cruelty of it.”

The Treasury Department was taking the money to pay for federal student loans he had taken out years before. Just before age 50, Minuti had gone back to college to get a second bachelor’s degree and a better job in social work and counseling. But the non-profit jobs he landed afterwards were lower paying, and he defaulted on the debt.

Student debt’s painful new twist

Minuti is one of the small but expanding group of seniors who are hitting retirement with a student debt burden. Over the past decade, people over the age of 60 had the fastest growing educational loan balances of any age group, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The total amount grew by more than nine times, from $6 billion in 2004 to $58 billion in 2014.

SeniorEduLoanGrowth

Only about 4% of households headed by people age 65 to 74 carry educational debt, according to a 2014 U.S. Government Accountability Office report. But as recently as 2004, student loans balances in retirement were close to unheard of, affecting less than 1% of this group.

Educational loans are very difficult to pay off when you are in or near retirement. Unlike a new college grad, there’s little prospect of years of rising salary income to help pay off the loan. That’s one reason older debtors have the highest default rate of any age group. (Also, most people who can’t pay off a loan will eventually age into being included among older debtors.) Over half of federal loans held by people over age 75 are in default, according to the GAO.

Student loan debts can’t be discharged in bankruptcy. And, as Minuti learned, federal tax refunds and up to 15% of wages and Social Security can be garnished.

This can be devastating, says Joanna Darcus, consumer rights attorney at Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.

“Most clients find me because the collection activity that they’re facing is preventing them from paying their utilities, from buying food for themselves, from paying their rent or their mortgage,” says Darcus, who works with low-income borrowers.

The number of seniors whose Social Security checks were garnished rose by roughly six times over the past decade, from about 6,000 to 36,000 people, says the GAO. Legislation from the mid-1990s ensured recipients could still get a minimum of $750 a month. At the time, this was enough to keep them from sliding below the poverty threshold. But to meet the current threshold, Congress would need to increase this to above $1,000 a month.

In other words, with enough debt, a Social Security recipient can be pulled into poverty.

“That’s pretty stressful for seniors when they understand that,” says Jan Miller, a student loan consultant who has seen a rise in his senior clients.

What’s behind the rise?

It’s not, despite what you might guess, only about parents who are taking on loans for their kids late in their careers.

Listen: How to decide if you should take out loans for your children’s education

In the GAO data, about 18% of federal educational debt held by seniors was from Parent PLUS loans for children or grandchildren. The remaining 82% was taken out by the borrower for his or her own education. (The GAO data differs from the New York Fed’s, showing lower total balances, so it may be missing some parental borrowing.)

SeniorLoansforOwnEdu

Darcus says many of her clients turned to education as a solution to unemployment and long-stagnant wages. Enrollment for all full and part-time students over age 35 increased 20% from 2004 to its recessionary peak in 2010, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“Among many of my clients, education is viewed as a pathway out of poverty and toward financial stability, but their reality is much different from that,” Darcus says. “Sometimes it’s their debt that keeps them in poverty, or pushes them deeper into it.”

And in recent years, both tuition and older debts have been especially difficult to pay, as home values and household assets took a hit in the Great Recession. Meanwhile, of course, the cost of higher education has soared. Tuition for private nonprofit institutions is up 78% in real dollars since 2004, according to the College Board.

What may be changing

New regulations and legislation this year may bring some relief to educational loan borrowers. The Senate in March introduced legislation to make private loans, but not federally subsidized loans, dismissible through bankruptcy.

For federal loans, more favorable income-driven repayment plans may be extended to up to 5 million borrowers this year. These plans, which have been growing in popularity since launching in 2009, adjust monthly payments according to reported discretionary income. The Department of Education is scheduled to issue new regulations by the end of 2015 that may allow all student borrowers to cap payments at 10% of their monthly income.

But it is unclear what percentage of that 5 million people are older borrowers who would benefit. Some borrowers have also complained that income-driven repayment plans require too much complex paperwork to enroll and stay enrolled. Borrowers who want to find out if they are already eligible for income-driven repayment plans can go here.

Parent PLUS loans would not be included in the new regulations. However, Parent PLUS loans can still be consolidated in order to take advantage of a similar, albeit less generous option, called the Income Contingent Repayment plan. This plan allows borrowers to cap their monthly payments at 20% of their discretionary income.

Still, some feel the best way to help seniors with student loan debt is to stop threatening to garnish Social Security benefits altogether. This spring, the Senate Aging Committee called for further investigations of the effects of student debt on seniors.

“Garnishing Social Security benefits defeats the entire point of the program—that’s why we don’t allow banks or credit card companies to do it,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri in a statement.

Getting out from under

Richard Minuti was able to enroll in an income-based repayment plan last year with the help of a legal advocacy group. Because Minuti earned less than 150% of the federal poverty level, the government set his monthly obligation at $0, eliminating his monthly payment.

“I’m appreciative of that, thank God they have something like that,” Minuti says, “because obviously there are many people like myself who are similarly situated, 60-plus, and having these problems.”

But Deanne Loonin, director of the National Consumer Law Center’s Student Loan Borrower Assistance Project, says she doesn’t see the trend of rising educational debts ending any time soon. And some seniors will struggle with this debt well into retirement.

“I’ve got clients in nursing homes who are still having their Social Security garnished and they were in their 90s,” she says.

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