MONEY consumer psychology

The Simple Mind Trick That Will Boost Your Savings in No Time

mirage calendar
Howard Sokol—Getty Images

If you think about how many years you have to reach long-term savings goals, it's easy to procrastinate. A simple tweak to your thinking will get you started saving much sooner.

Human nature being what it is, probably the best strategy to ensure you’ll sock money away and achieve long-term savings goals is to involve your fickle, easily distracted brain as little as possible. As renowned economist Richard Thaler explained in a recent Q&A with MONEY, it’s very difficult for humans to control our impulses, and therefore the wisest approach to saving is to remove it as a choice. Invariably in our lives, stuff comes up, and if it’s an option, we’ll find more pressing and seemingly good uses for money other than incrementally trying to hit goals that won’t be realities for decades.

“Here’s a model of saving for retirement that’s guaranteed to fail: Decide at the end of every month how much you want to save. You’ll have spent a lot of the money by then,” Thaler said. “Instead, the way to really save is to put the money away in a 401(k) even before you get it, via a payroll deduction.”

A new study published by Psychological Science has other insights about how to boost savings. In this instance, the trick isn’t turning your brain off but tweaking the way you think about savings goals. The gist is that you must think about the future as now, rather than, well, way off in the future. And the way to go about this is to consider deadlines for your goals in terms of days rather than years.

“The simplified message that we learned in these studies is if the future doesn’t feel imminent, then, even if it’s important, people won’t start working on their goals,” said Daphna Oyserman, co-author of the study and co-director of the USC Dornsife Mind and Society Center. “If you see it as ‘today’ rather than on your calendar for sometime in the future, you’re not going to put it off.”

In one part of the study, hundreds of participants were asked about when they would start saving for their (theoretical) newborn child’s college education. Some were told they had 18 years to reach this goal, while others heard their deadline would arrive in 6,570 days. These are the exact same amounts of time, yet the people who thought about the deadline in terms of days said they would start saving four times sooner than those who considered the event in years. A similar experiment concerning retirement savings yielded equally compelling results, indicating that thinking in days makes goals seem more imminent—and kicks people into action much, much sooner.

The takeaways don’t apply just to savings, but to sidestepping procrastination in order to reach goals at work or school as well. Tricking yourself into thinking about goals in terms of days rather than years, Oyserman said, “may be useful to anyone needing to save for retirement or their children’s college, to start working on a term paper or dissertation, pretty much anyone with long-term goals or wanting to support someone who has such goals.”

Read next: How a Bowl of Cashews Changed the Way You Save for Retirement

MONEY Retirement

These Simple Moves By Your Employer Can Dramatically Improve Your Retirement

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Sarina Finkelstein (photo illustration)—iStock (2)

Easy enrollment procedures and automatic escalation of contributions dramatically increase 401(k) participation rates and savings.

Nearly four decades into the 401(k) experiment, employers and policymakers may finally understand how to get the most from these retirement accounts—and it all boils down to a principle that Warren Buffett has long espoused: Keep it simple.

Nothing promotes participation and sound investment practices in 401(k) plans more than simple plan choices, according to a report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Last year, 79% of workers offered Express Enrollment in Merrill-administered plans followed through and began contributing to their plan. That compares to just 55% who enrolled after being offered a more traditional experience requiring choices about investment options and deferral amounts, Merrill found.

These findings jibe with other research that has found that inertia is most workers’ biggest obstacle to saving for retirement. A TIAA-CREF survey found that Americans spend more time choosing a flat-panel TV or a restaurant than they do setting up a retirement account. The Merrill report underscores the inertia factor, noting that, when considering how much of each paycheck to contribute, workers typically just choose the first rate listed.

Features like automatic enrollment and automatic escalation of contributions, with an opt-out provision, turn inertia into an asset. These features are now broadly employed and have greatly boosted both participation and deferral rates. Among companies with a 401(k) plan, 70% have some kind of auto feature, reports benefits consultant Aon Hewitt. Merrill found that plans with auto enrollment had 32% more participants, and those with an auto escalation feature had 46% more participants increasing their contributions.

Merrill oversees $138 billion in plan assets for 2.5 million participants and credits simplified enrollment for big gains in the number joining a plan or contributing more. The number of employers adopting Merrill’s simplified Express Enrollment more than doubled last year. Meanwhile, the number of participants raising their contribution rate jumped 18%.

A key feature of any simplified enrollment system is that workers are put into a diversified and age-appropriate target-date mutual fund, or some other option with similar characteristics, and that they begin deferring 5% or more of pay—generally enough to fully capture any employer match. Many employers also add auto escalation of contributions to keep up with raises and inflation—or to catch up if the initial deferral rate was lower. In many plans, the default rate is just 3% of pay.

Merrill found that 64% of employers now have plans with both auto enrollment and auto escalation. One in four employers who did not have both plan features in 2013 did last year.

Taking simplification further, more employers are now using the annual health benefits enrollment period to educate workers about 401(k) plans, Merrill found. As a result, twice as many workers enrolled in a plan or raised their contribution rate the second half of 2014 vs. the first half—a trend that Merrill says has been in place for several years.

 

 

 

 

MONEY Marriage

5 Ways to Protect Your Money Without a Prenup

"His" and "Hers" towels
Ethan Myerson—Getty Images

If a prenuptial agreement is not in the cards, you can still keep your cash secure.

Prenuptial agreements can be a great tool for protecting assets for married couples who ultimately end up divorcing. But what happens when you don’t have a prenup? Or if you wanted one but your spouse refused to sign and you decided it wasn’t worth the aggravation? Can you still protect your assets? The answer, as is so often the case in law, is that it depends. Certain assets can absolutely be protected. Others not so much. Here is the list of ways you can protect (at least some of) your money and assets without a prenup.

1. Keep your own funds separate.

The word “commingling” is often synonymous with “lottery winnings” to one spouse; and “gambling losses” to the other. If you have an account that has funds in it that you either 1) owned prior to the marriage; or 2) received during the marriage as inheritance or a non-marital gift; and then mixed in your earnings from your pay, or joint funds from another bank account – then poof! The entire account becomes marital. Why? Because the courts consider money to be “fungible” meaning that once that marital dollar goes in, you can’t tell which dollar is coming back out. So Rule #1 – Keep your separate funds separate!

2. Keep your own real estate separate.

Many people own a home prior to getting married. Oftentimes, especially if that home becomes the home for the married couple, the homeowner decides to throw the other person’s name onto the deed. What harm could that be? Right? I mean what happens if the owner died – wouldn’t you want your spouse to have it? The answer is that once the non-owning spouse’s name is on that deed, even if it is removed again down the road, the result is that the court will presume that you have given half the value to that spouse as a gift. And yes, you can sit on the stand and testify that it was only done for “estate planning” purposes, but most times that kind of testimony just comes off as self-serving and falls flat. So, you can always create a will or trust that leaves your property to your spouse. Rule #2 – do not put your spouse’s name on the deed unless you are prepared to hand over half the value of it in a divorce.

3. Use nonmarital funds to maintain non-marital property.

Here’s where the waters get murkier. It is easy enough to decide to keep your own property in your own name. The rub comes when it comes to maintaining that property. This is where the couple is using their paychecks to pay the mortgage on that property, or to make renovations or improvements to that property. Now the court is going to be faced with trying to carve out which part of the value of the property might be marital and which part of the value has remained non-marital – a tedious and tortuous task. To keep it all clean, just use your funds from your premarital or inherited account to maintain your non-marital property, too.

4. Keep bank statements for retirement accounts issued at the date of marriage.

Unlike other accounts that are commingled, if you have retirement account assets at the date of marriage, and at the time of divorce, you can produce a statement that shows what you had in that account, then the court may let you carve off that amount and divide the rest. The challenge is finding those statements sometimes. Make sure you keep statements that show if the custodian changes.

5. Get a valuation of your business around the date of the marriage.

Also unlike bank accounts that are commingled, the court has the ability to potentially carve off the appreciated value of a non-marital business. So for example, if your business was worth $1 million on the date of your marriage and worth $2 million on the date of your divorce, your spouse would be entitled to the one half of the difference or $500,000. (Or you could have just had the spouse sign a prenuptial agreement that waived any and all appreciation — but assuming you didn’t, this is the next best option).

While a prenuptial agreement is the ideal way for specifying how assets are to be divided should there be a dissolution of marriage, all is not lost if there isn’t one. By following these five steps, you can still protect some, if not all, of your premarital or non-marital assets.

The financial effects of divorce can also have an impact on your credit. So both during and after your divorce, it’s important to keep an eye on your credit reports and credit scores to watch for inaccuracies or any other problems that need your attention. You’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies through AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also get your credit scores for free from many sources, including Credit.com.

More from Credit.com

This article originally appeared on Credit.com.

TIME Retirement

Retirement ‘More Myth Than Reality,’ Survey Finds

Pensioners in Retirement
Christopher Furlong—Getty Images A pensioner holds his walking stick on September 8, 2014 in Walsall, England.

61% of Americans expect to continue working past the age of 65

Only 21% of Americans say they plan to stop working at the age of retirement, according to a new survey.

The Transamerica Center for Retirement Studies (TCRS) surveyed 4,550 full-time and part-time workers about their retirement and savings plans. One in five said they would continue working as long as possible and 41% planned to reduce their hours. The study also found that 61% of Americans expect to continue working past the age of 65 or do not plan to retire at all.

“Today’s workers recognize they need to save and self-fund a greater portion of their retirement income,” said Catherine Collinson, president of TCRS. “The long-held view that retirement is a moment in time when people reach a certain age, immediately stop working, fully retire, and begin pursuing their dreams is more myth than reality.”

MONEY Best Places

See How Your Neighborhood Ranks As a Place to Age

Powell & Mason Cablecar Line, Taylor Street, Fishermans Wharf, San Francisco
David Wall—Alamy Fisherman's Wharf, San Francisco

Use this tool to see how livable your town or city is for retirees.

Should you stay or should you go? That will be a key question in an aging America, as people try to decide if their homes and communities still work for them as they grow old.

A new online tool from AARP can help with answers. The free Livability Index grades every neighborhood and city in the United States on a zero-to-100 scale as a place to live when you are getting older.

There is no shortage of lists and rankings of places to live in retirement. Many are superficial, measuring factors such as sunshine, low tax rates or the number of golf courses. More thoughtful studies reframe the question to consider quality-of-life issues that affect everyone—affordability, health care, public safety, public transportation, education and culture (See Reuters’ version at reut.rs/13Bcl4h).

The new AARP tool adds value by making it possible to score any neighborhood and community in the country – and drill down into the details. Just plug in an address to see how a location scores for seven key attributes: housing, neighborhood, transportation, environment, health, civic engagement and opportunity.

Overall, the highest-ranking large city is San Francisco with a score of 66 and rose to the top due to its availability and cost of public transportation, walkability and overall levels of health. The top medium city is Madison, Wisconsin (68) and the top small town is La Crosse, Wisconsin (70).

It is telling that even the top-ranked locations get just mediocre scores. “The numbers are telling us that no community is perfect – and most are far from perfect,” says Rodney Harrell, director of livable communities at the AARP Public Policy Institute. “The goal here is to provide a tool that helps people make their communities better.”

The timing is right for discussions to get under way about making communities better places to age. The number of households headed by someone age 70 or older will surge 42% by 2025, according to the Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University. Most of those households will be aging in place, not downsizing or moving to retirement communities.

What exactly is aging in place? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines it as “the ability to live in one’s own home and community safely, independently, and comfortably, regardless of age, income or ability level.”

Of course, that definition does not oblige you to age in your current place. The smart move is to assess your current location – and make a move if necessary.

That is the plan recommended by gerontologist Stephen M. Golant in his new book Aging in the Right Place (Health Professions Press, February 2015).

He challenges the orthodoxy about aging in place, explaining why it is not always realistic to stay where you are. In particular, he makes the case that a home must get a cold-eyed assessment as a financial asset, with an eye toward the cost of living in it (mortgage, taxes, and insurance) and any possible repairs or remodeling that might be needed to adapt the home as you age.

But that can be a tall order, considering the emotional ties to place that we all develop.

“It’s one of the biggest issues people face, and they don’t have a lot of information about these issues,” Harrell says. “People do build emotional ties to friends and community, but they also need information to help them make sound choices.”

TIME Money

1 in 5 Elderly Americans Dies Broke, Survey Shows

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46% of Americans had less than $10,000 in financial assets in the last year of their life

It’s the biggest financial worry for anyone saving for retirement: will I outlive my savings and die broke?

Based on surveys repeatedly pointing to dismally low levels of retirement savings, most American households have reason to be concerned. The latest report on how many Americans die broke comes from an analysis by the Employee Benefits Research Institute based on data from the University of Michigan’s Health and Retirement Study.

Of those 85 or older who died between 2010 and 2012, roughly one in five had no assets other than a house, according to the analysis. The average home equity was…

Read the rest from our partners at NBC news

MONEY real estate

Four Moves That Will Make Your House a Great Place to Retire

Q: I want to remain in my current home when I retire. What can I do to make sure it is a place where I can age well?

A: If your home is where your heart is, then you have lots of company: Three-quarters of people 45 and up surveyed by AARP say they’ll remain in their current residences as long as they can.

Adapting your home to accommodate your needs as you age takes work, however. So the earlier you start, the better. Do it now, while you have the income and energy to tackle the project, advises Amy Levner, manager of AARP’s Livable Communities initiative. Here’s your plan of action:

Start with the easy fixes. Many of the upgrades that make it easier to stay in your home as you get older—such as raising electrical outlets to make them more accessible, installing better outdoor lighting, and trading in turning doorknobs for lever handles—aren’t expensive. “And these small changes can make a big difference,” says Levner. Check out AARP’s room-by-room guide at aarp.org/livable-communities for more suggestions of what to fix.

Assess the bigger jobs. To make your house livable for the long, long run, consider investing in some more extensive renovations. These include things like bringing the master suite and laundry room to the first floor to avoid stairs, adding a step-in shower, and covering entranceways to prevent falls. Such jobs can be costly (see chart below), so get a bid from a contractor—then determine if it’s worth that price to you to stay or whether you’ll just move later if need be. The good news is that changes you make for aging in place can also make the home more appealing to future buyers, says Linda Broadbent, a real estate agent in Charlottesville, Va.

Notes: Prices for grab bars, door handles, and lights are per unit. Sources: AARP, National Association of Home Builders, AgeInPlace.org, Remodeling magazine

Budget for outsourcing. No getting around the upkeep a house requires. Sure, when you’re retired, you’ll have more time to mow the lawn and paint the fence. But don’t forget that you may be away from home for periods traveling or visiting the grandkids. And later on, you probably don’t want the physical drudgery of home maintenance. Research the fees to hire out some of the tougher tasks such as snow removal and yard work, and build those costs into your retirement income needs.

Deepen community connections. Your close-by social network is just as important as the house itself. “Living in a place where people know you and can help you or provide social interaction will give you a better quality of life,” says Emily Saltz, CEO of geriatriccare-management service provider Life Care Advocates. Use these pre-retirement years to strengthen local ties—explore volunteer opportunities, check out classes, and get to know your neighbors.

Maintaining a social circle is especially important if your kids live far away or have demanding jobs. Good friends will shuttle you to doctors’ appointments and hold the ladder while you change the fire-detector battery, as well as help you up your tennis game.

 

MONEY

Hate Your Company’s 401(k)? Here’s How to Squeeze the Most From Any Plan

squeezing orange
Tooga Productions—Getty Images

Four steps to getting your savings plan right—even if your employer didn't.

Your 401(k) plan is potentially one the best tools you have to save for retirement. You get a tax advantage and often a partial match from your employer. But let’s face it: Not all company plans have the most compelling investment options. These strategies will help you use your plan to maximum advantage.

Money

1. Plug the biggest hole in your account: Costs.

Mutual fund charges look small, but the cost of paying an extra 1% a year in fees is that you give up 33% of your potential wealth over the course of 40 years. If there’s at least a basic S&P 500 or total stock market index fund in your plan, that’s often your best option for your equity allocation. Some charge as little as 0.1%, vs. 1% or more for actively managed funds.

2. Look beyond the company plan.

If your 401(k) doesn’t offer other low-cost investment options, diversify elsewhere. First, save enough in the 401(k) to get the company match. Then fund an IRA, which offers similar tax advantage. You can then choose your own funds, including bond funds and foreign stock funds, to complement what’s in your workplace plan.

3. While you’re at it, dump company stock.

About $1 out of every $7 in 401(k)s is invested in employer shares. But your income is already tied to that company. Your retirement shouldn’t be too.

4. Share strategy with your spouse.

It’s a good idea no matter how much you like your plan: If you hold a third of your 401(k) in bonds, for example, your combined mix may be riskier than you think if your spouse is 100% in stocks. But coordinating also improves your options. If your spouse’s plan has a better foreign fund, you can focus your joint international allocation there.

Adapted from “101 Ways to Build Wealth,” by Daniel Bortz, Kara Brandeisky, Paul J. Lim, and Taylor Tepper, which originally appeared in the May 2015 issue of MONEY magazine.

Read next: What You Can Learn From 401(k) Millionaires in the Making

TIME Television

Jon Stewart’s Departure From The Daily Show Now Has a Firm Date

Director/writer/producer Jon Stewart attends "Rosewater" New York Premiere at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on November 12, 2014 in New York City
Desiree Navarro—WireImage/Getty Images Director-writer-producer Jon Stewart attends the New York premiere of his movie Rosewater at AMC Lincoln Square Theater in New York City on Nov. 12, 2014

There's just a little over three months left of his legendary run

Fans of Jon Stewart have a little over three months to get their fill of the comedian and Daily Show host.

Stewart announced on the show’s Monday night broadcast that he would go off the air on Aug. 6 this year, Variety reports.

The 52-year-old comedian said in February that he would be retiring from the iconic satirical newscast after 16 years. Filling big shoes will be Trevor Noah, whom Stewart has warmly endorsed in spite of the South African funnyman’s involvement in a Twitter storm that occurred after some of his tweeted jokes were criticized for being “anti-Semitic” and “sexist.”

[Variety]

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