Mark's Feed
Apr 15, 2014

Time to raise – or scrap – the Social Security payroll tax cap

CHICAGO (Reuters) – It’s Tax Day, and a small number of wealthy Americans have something to celebrate: They are done paying Social Security taxes for the year.

The payroll tax that funds Social Security is levied only on a certain amount of income. This year it’s capped at $117,000. That means most wage earners will pay 6.2 percent of every dime they earn in 2014, but high earners will stop paying after passing the cap. If you’re among the 318,400 workers who will earn $407,000 or more this year, you’re done paying Social Security taxes today, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), a progressive think tank. Some 2 million taxpayers will be done on June 15, and 3.7 million on September 15.

Apr 10, 2014

Out of work and under 65? Here’s how to retool your retirement plan

CHICAGO, April 10 (Reuters) – We reached a milestone last
week when the government reported that the U.S. economy has
regained all the jobs lost during the Great Recession. Yet for
many older workers the recession never ended; long-term
joblessness has morphed into de facto premature retirement. Now,
millions are performing financial triage on retirement plans
that had been based on assumptions of working longer.

The overall job market does look promising. Although the
national unemployment rate was unchanged in March at 6.7
percent, 192,000 jobs were added. And the Bureau of Labor
Statistics reported that the private sector has gained 8.9
million jobs since the employment low in February 2010, just
over the 8.8 million jobs lost during the economic meltdown.

Apr 8, 2014

It takes villages: Boomers’ new retirement communities

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Where do retired recreational vehicle enthusiasts go when they get too old to hit the road? Some are parking – permanently – at the Escapees Care Center, an adult day-care center in Livingston, Texas, where they can live in their RVs and pay monthly fees that cover whatever care they may need and commune with other enthusiasts.

The center is just one example among dozens of innovative communal retirement living arrangements springing up around the country as boomers seek out alternatives to traditional senior living models. Some support aging in place, such as Beacon Hill Village in Boston, a grassroots community founded by a small group of neighborhood residents. Others involve moves to new communities of like-minded souls – retired postal workers, LGBT seniors, artists, Zen Buddhists and, yes, RV lovers.

Apr 3, 2014

Medicare reform redux: How Ryan’s new plan squeezes seniors

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Imagine a Medicare reform plan that boosts your premiums 50 percent. If you like your doctor, you won’t be able to keep her. The wealthy will subsidize healthcare for poor seniors.

An Obamacare takeover of Medicare? Nope. It’s the latest iteration of “premium support,” the plan for Medicare unveiled this week by U.S. Representative Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin).

Apr 1, 2014

Company pension plans are healthier, but they’re still dying

CHICAGO (Reuters) – This should be good news: At a time when worry about the retirement security of American workers is rising, traditional pension plans finished 2013 in their best shape last year since the financial crisis of 2008. Yet that may only be setting the table for more corporations to stop offering them.

The funding deficit of the 100 largest pension plans sponsored by publicly traded U.S. corporations plunged 57 percent in 2013, to $125.9 billion in the year-ago period, according to Towers Watson, the benefits consulting firm. (Funding is a measure of the assets that plans have on hand to pay projected obligations to beneficiaries.)

Mar 27, 2014

Should young retirement savers load up on stocks? Maybe not

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Millennials don’t seem to buy the traditional wisdom when it comes to investing. They’re the most risk-averse investors since the Great Depression, with the average portfolio 52 percent in cash, according to a recent report by UBS Wealth Management Americas.

That runs counter to what most investment experts will tell you – that young people need the greatest exposure to riskier stocks to meet long-range goals, and that equity allocations should decline as retirement approaches. That philosophy underpins the fastest-growing retirement savings product in the market today, the target date fund (TDF).

Mar 25, 2014

‘File-and-suspend’: A Social Security strategy under fire

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Are high-income Americans gaming Social Security? The Obama administration wants to go after the wealthy for “aggressive” moves to “manipulate” their Social Security claiming decisions, according to the fiscal 2015 budget released by the White House earlier this month.

The administration hasn’t offered much elaboration, but a White House official, speaking on background, confirmed to me that the target is a benefit claiming strategy known as file-and-suspend – a twist on the more straightforward strategy of delayed filing to earn a higher monthly benefit down the road. Although it’s technically available to anyone, the White House thinks the strategy is being used to unfair advantage by high-income seniors and wants to shut it down because of the added benefit cost it imposes on the Social Security program.

Mar 20, 2014

The other Social Security battle: the squeeze on customer service

CHICAGO (Reuters) – If you want to understand the fight over Social Security’s future, look no further than your annual benefit statement – if you can find one.

The Social Security Administration stopped mailing annual statements in 2011 in a budget-cutting move that saves $70 million annually. The SSA rolled out an online statement the following year, but only 10 million American wage earners have signed up. That’s a paltry 6 percent of all workers.

Mar 18, 2014

Retirement confidence bounces back, but only among wealthy savers

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Americans who owned stocks in 2013 are feeling better about their retirement prospects than they did just a few years ago. For everyone else, not so much.

The longest-running survey of American retirement sentiment shows confidence rose in 2013, the first increase since sentiment plunged following the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Mar 11, 2014

Why employers are shifting retiree health into insurance exchanges

CHICAGO (Reuters) – A dwindling number of retirees get supplemental health insurance coverage from their former employers. But for those who do, big changes are afoot.

A growing number of companies are dropping single-employer group insurance plans in favor of privately run insurance exchanges, where a third party sets up a marketplace offering Medicare coverage offered by dozens of carriers, with costs subsidized by their former employers.

    • About Mark

      "Mark Miller is a journalist and author who writes about trends in retirement and aging. He has a special focus on how the baby boomer generation is revising its approach to careers, money and lifestyle after age 50. Mark is the author of The Hard Times Guide to Retirement Security: Practical Strategies for Money, Work and Living (John Wiley & Sons/Bloomberg Press, 2010) and edits RetirementRevised.com. Mark is the former editor of Crain’s Chicago Business, and former Sunday editor of the Chicago Sun-Times. The opinions expressed here are his own."
    • More from Mark

    • Follow Mark