Four Social Security Myths Debunked

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There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding the Social Security system. Here are four common myths and the truth about how Social Security works and its future prospects.

Myth 1: You Should Collect Benefits EarlyThis is one of the biggest Social Security myths. In 2015, more than half of Social Security recipients began collecting benefits before their full retirement age (66 for those born between 1943 and 1954), potentially costing themselves thousands of dollars in additional benefits. If you take Social Security between age 62 and your full retirement age, your benefits will be permanently reduced to account for the longer period you will be paid.

On the other hand, if you delay taking retirement, depending on when you were born your benefit will increase by 6 to 8 percent for every year that you delay, in addition to any cost of living increases. There are a lot of factors that go into the decision as to when to take Social Security benefits, but if possible it is usually better to wait until your full retirement age or older.

Myth 2: Your Money Goes into an Account with Your Name on It

When you pay into Social Security, the money is not set aside in a separate account, as with a 401(k) or IRA. Instead, your contributions are used to pay current recipients. When you start receiving benefits, people paying into the system will be paying your benefits.

Myth 3: Social Security Will Be Out of Money Soon

Many young people believe the Social Security system will run out of money before they have a chance to collect anything. Currently, the Social Security trustees predict that the trust fund will run out of money in 2034. Politically, it seems unlikely that Congress and the President would let this happen. Changes will likely be made to the system by either raising taxes (such as by lifting the cap on income subject to Social Security tax), reducing benefits for high-income individuals, increasing the retirement age, or doing something else that will allow Social Security to be fully funded. However, even if the trust dries up and there isn’t enough money to pay all the promised benefits, people will still be paying into the system and Social Security will be able to pay at least 75 percent of benefits.

Myth 4: If You Haven’t Worked, You Cannot Collect Benefits

If you haven’t worked outside of the home, you will not be able to collect Social Security benefits on your own record, but you may be able to collect them based on your spouse or ex-spouse’s record. Spouses are entitled to collect as much one half of a worker’s retirement benefit. This rule applies to ex-spouses as well, as long as the marriage lasted at least 10 years and the spouse applying for benefits isn’t remarried.

To learn more about Social Security, click here.

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4 things to put on your to-do list for retirement prep

You may think you need a long and complicated list of tasks to accomplish your retirement goal. But a good place to start is with these four simple steps.

JUNE 20, 2016; Via Vanguard

Determine how much you need to save

Here’s where a bit of list-making—or the help of a financial professional—can make the process easier. Grab a piece of paper (or pull up a blank screen if that’s easier) and jot down some expenses associated with your retirement vision.

No matter what you see yourself doing once you retire, figure out some rough estimates for expenses you’re likely to have.

Mary Ryan“Common expenses—regardless of your plans— include housing, food, utility, and health care costs,” said Mary Ryan, a financial planner with Vanguard Personal Advisor Services.

No time for a checklist?

Consider working with a financial advisor, such as the professionals in Vanguard Personal Advisor Services®.

An advisor works closely with you to develop a customized goals-based financial plan according to your unique situation—and can manage your portfolio throughout your retirement years.

Learn more about how Vanguard Personal Advisor Services can help »

“The goal is to determine a general target of how much you’ll need to meet those expenditures, using the income you expect from things like Social Security, a pension, or annuity, along with the sum you’ll need tucked away in retirement or investment accounts,” she said.

Invest for retirement with an appropriate asset mix

Put your savings to work for your future through investing. A best practice is to invest in the right mix of stocks, bonds, and short-term cash reserves (your asset allocation), based on your goals, the length of time before you’ll need to use your savings, and your comfort with risk. Vanguard research shows that, even more than specific investment selections, asset allocation is a key component of investment success.

Anish Patel“A crucial part of determining your asset mix means being honest with yourself about how comfortable you are with risk, including when you might have to challenge your comfort level a bit for your long-term benefit,” said Anish Patel, also a planner with Vanguard Personal Advisor Services.

“Returns are the incentive to attract investors; that’s why investments with low risks also have low returns—because there’s less need to entice someone to make that investment. But risk comfort can be highly dependent on the market environment. When markets are good, many people think they have a high tolerance for risk, only to find when downturns occur, as they always do, that they have very little tolerance,” he said.

Review and adjust investments regularly, even when markets are turbulent

Markets don’t tend to move in slow-and-steady progressions. And when they shift, the changes can pull your asset allocation out of alignment with your set strategy.

“Regular reviews that focus on whether or not your asset mix is on target can help you know when to make adjustments so you can stick to your long-term plan,” said Ms. Ryan.

“Rebalancing aims to minimize risk rather than maximize returns,” Mr. Patel added.

Without rebalancing, “it’s possible for a portfolio to become overweighted with one type of investment. More often, this situation occurs with stock holdings when equity markets are strong. When stocks appreciate quickly and shift a portfolio’s balance, it’s more vulnerable to market corrections, putting it at risk of greater potential losses when compared with the original asset allocation,” Ms. Ryan said.

Minimize taxes

The saying, “Location, location, location” applies to more than just real estate. As Vanguard’s IRA investment research notes, the type of account in which you hold your assets can make a difference in the amount of taxes you owe.

“Investments that generate capital gains distributions or taxable income are better held in tax-advantaged accounts. For example, taxable bond returns are almost all income and thus subject to income taxes, so holding them in an IRA is a smart strategy,” said Mr. Patel.

Ms. Ryan added, “Conversely, tax-efficient investments make more sense held in taxable accounts. So it often makes more sense to hold equity index funds, which generally have less turnover and fewer capital gains distributions, in taxable accounts.”

Get help

If you need a sounding board as you complete the tasks on your to-do list, a financially savvy family member may fit the bill. An advisor can also serve as that sounding board. And, if you don’t have the inclination—or the time—to perform these steps, it makes sense to enlist professional help. (Vanguard has a team of financial planners, including Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®) professionals, who don’t receive extra compensation for their recommendations; they work solely to help you reach your goals.)

Whether you work in partnership with a financial planner or act independently, checking these items off your to-do list can help you be more prepared for retirement.

* A Vanguard advisor may add about 3% on average to your net portfolio returns over time by following the Advisor’s Alpha principles discussed in Putting a value on your value: Quantifying Vanguard Advisor’s AlphaThis research isn’t an exact science. Potential value added relative to “average” client experience (in percentage of net return) is as follows: Investment coaching may add 1.50%; rebalancing your portfolio may add 0.35%; asset location between taxable and tax-advantaged accounts may add up to 0.75%; low-cost funds may add 0.45%; and tax-smart retirement spending may add up to 0.70%. It’s not added over a specific time frame but can vary each year, and according to your situation. It can be added quickly and dramatically—especially during times of a rapidly rising or falling market, when you may be tempted to abandon your well-thought-out investment plan—but it may be added slowly.

Notes:

  • Please remember that all investments involve some risk. Be aware that fluctuations in the financial markets and other factors may cause declines in the value of your account. There is no guarantee that any particular asset allocation or mix of funds will meet your investment objectives or provide you with a given level of income.
  • Advisory services are provided by Vanguard Advisers, Inc. (VAI), a registered investment advisor.

 

The Money Letter That Every Parent Should Write

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As an elder law attorney I come across many clients that are looking to pass their wealth to their children–but how about passing on some of your hard earned financial wisdom as well. Read on and you’ll find great ways to pass along your most prized asset…your wisdom.

6/17/16  via The New York Times Ron Lieber

The Money Talk, capital “M” and capital “T,” is overrated. As with the Sex Talk, children can sense that one is coming. And if they get antsy, your words will go in one ear and out the other.

Tempted to hand over a notecard instead? Your first principles may fit on it, and making one for a new graduate is a fine thing to do. But there isn’t much space for storytelling.

So in this season of transitions, consider the old-fashioned letter. It’s long enough to tell some tales to bolster your advice, and if it’s written with enough soul, there’s a good chance the recipient will keep it for a long time. Plus, it’s a literal conversation piece, since the good letters will inspire more curiosity about how the writers oversee their own financial affairs.

Kimberly Palmer still has the money letter her mother wrote her and her two younger sisters 13 years ago, and in her new book, “Smart Mom, Rich Mom: How to Build Wealth While Raising a Family,” she offers a template that parents or grandparents can use to pass on similar wisdom.

A good letter, according to Ms. Palmer, should include at least one story about a large financial challenge and another one about a big money triumph. Then, include a list of crucial habits and the tangible things they have helped the family achieve.

HEED YOUR IGNORANCE: Quite often, the best stories and takeaways come from the biggest mistakes, and so it is with Gail Shearer, Ms. Palmer’s mother. Lesson No. 6 in her letter is this one: Never invest in anything you don’t totally understand.

How many times did she and her husband ignore this advice? “Oh, three or four,” she said in an interview this week. Ms. Shearer, 65, a retired consumer health advocate who spent years at Consumers Union, proceeded to tick them off.

There was the tax shelter. “In the 1980s, they were the thing,” she said. “We drank the Kool-Aid, just a little bit.” And then suffered through many years of complex tax filings, which nobody tells you about during the sales pitch.

Then, there was some variable life insurance. And an annuity. And an adviser who promoted a “black box” investment strategy, as if that were a good thing.

The couple did not lose a lot of money, though if they had put it all in indexed mutual funds in the first place (See Lesson No. 5 in the letter). as they did with most of the rest of their savings, they would have more money now.

So better that their daughters avoid any such blunders from the beginning.

BEWARE OF GENIUS: The Palmer-Shearer clan is not the only one with a letter-writing tradition. Four years ago, John D. Spooner, an investment adviser and writer, collected an entire book of them called, “No One Ever Told Us That: Money and Life Letters to my Grandchildren.”

In it, Mr. Spooner takes to its logical conclusion Ms. Shearer’s advice about not understanding something: Don’t trust the person who claims to be omniscient either.

In a chapter titled “Beware of Genius,” Mr. Spooner tells the story of an impenetrable Alan Greenspan speech he once heard. He instructs his grandchildren to consider the following hypothetical: “If someone cannot explain his economic concepts to you in several simple paragraphs, then you should view those concepts as probably being dangerous to your financial health.”

STICK TO YOUR SELLING PLANS: The most memorable tale in Mr. Spooner’s book is about his failure to sell his seven-figure holding in Citigroup stock before the economic collapse in 2008.

As an investment adviser with the firm, he thought he knew it well enough. He had made plans to sell after any change in leadership. But the new chief executive liked him. “We can be blinded by flattery from the seats of power,” he wrote to his grandchildren. “Be aware of this in your business lives.”

Selling something that is still valuable is the hardest part of any trade, he added. So if you can’t name three good reasons to continue owning something, he warned his grandchildren, then it’s time to sell. In retrospect, he did not have three good ones, but he kept the stock anyway as it fell to $1 a share. (It had been above $55.) He held on to it as the stock rebounded and made some money buying shares of other blue-chip companies during the downturn.

Another idea that I’ll include in my own letter someday: You could just follow Ms. Shearer’s lead and invest in a variety of index funds that own every stock in a particular market, thus avoiding this sort of concentrated stock risk.

BUDGETS ARE ABOUT VALUES It may be tempting for any of Ms. Shearer’s daughters to gloss over Lesson No. 8, where she exhorts them to keep track of their spending. How boring, right? But almost in passing, she seizes on one of the least understood, yet most essential, pieces of money wisdom.

The Healing Power of Pets for Elderly People

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Via agingcare.com

For elderly pet owners, who often live alone or in group facilities, pets can help reduce stress, lower blood pressure, increase social interaction and physical activity and help them learn.

“A new pet can stimulate someone to read up on an animal or breed, which can be very mentally stimulating and important at that age,” says Dr. Katharine Hillestad, a veterinarian with the office of Doctors Foster and Smith in Rhinelander, Wis., which provides online advice and retails pet supplies and pharmaceuticals.

Pets provide other intangibles. “Dogs—and other pets—live very much in the here and now. They don’t worry about tomorrow. And tomorrow can be very scary for an older person. By having an animal with that sense of now, it tends to rub off on people,” says Dr. Jay P. Granat, a New Jersey psychotherapist.

And pets can reduce depression and lessen loneliness. “Older pet owners have often told us how incredibly barren and lonely their lives were without their pet’s companionship, even when there were some downsides to owning an active pet,” says Linda Anderson, who with husband Allen founded the Angel Animals Network in Minneapolis. The couple speaks about the joys of pet ownership and has authored books.

In Angel Dogs: Divine Messengers of Love (New World Library, 2005), the Andersons tell about Bonnie, a golden retriever Marjorie and Richard Douse adopted, which became an indispensable family member. “We never felt alone when Bonnie was in the house. As we aged and tended to go out less, she provided us with loving companionship,” the Douses say in the Anderson’s book.

Psychologist Penny B. Donnenfeld, who brings her golden retriever mix Sandee to her New York City office, has even witnessed her ability to rev up elder owners’ memories. “I’ve seen those with memory loss interact and access memories from long ago,” she says. “Having a pet helps the senior focus on something other than physical problems and negative preoccupations about loss or aging.”

Pets benefit, too, particularly when older folks adopt older pets. “These lucky pets go from the pound to paradise. Since most of the adopters are retired, they have lots of time to devote to a previously unwanted pet,” says Chicago veterinarian Tony Kremer, who with his wife Meg operates Help Save Pets—Humane Society, which operates adoption centers.

Here are some things caregiver’s should consider when purchasing a pet for their senior mom or dad.

  • Right pet for the right owner. But because people age so differently, the decision needs to be made carefully—and not just by grown loving children who think it sounds like a way to provide camaraderie. Because there’s no single right pet, ask the following questions to help narrow the field, says Dr. Donnenfeld.
  • Are you set in your ways? If you don’t like change, you may not be a good candidate, say the Andersons.
  • Have you had a pet before? Amy Sherman, a licensed therapist and author of Distress-Free Aging: A Boomer’s Guide to Creating a Fulfilled and Purposeful Life thinks it’s best if the elderly person is an experienced owner.
  • Do you have disabilities? Dogs can be wonderful companions who encourage a senior with no major physical limitations to walk and interact with others, Dr. Donnenfeld says. For those who are physically challenged, cats often need less care than dogs, she says. A small dog that’s paper-trained or an indoor bird is also sometimes preferable, she says.
  • Do you need a therapy pet? If the person is very infirm or impaired, they may be a candidate for an assistance or therapy dog to help them function or interact.
  • Is the pet the right age? A puppy or kitten may not be the best choice for elderly owners because of the care they require. A young pet may outlive its owner. Birds especially have long life spans. Yet, it’s also important that the pet isn’t too old since it may start to have physical limitations and get sick, Dr. Donnenfeld cautions.
  • Does the pet have a good temperament? Although some older owners may think a Great Pyrenees would be too big to handle, Daffron found one mixed two-year old so mellow that it would have been a good pet for a senior. “Many older people might think they’d do better with a Jack Russell terrier because it’s small but they are very, very, very high energy and require more effort and commitment. So much depends on personality,” she says.
  • Is the pet healthy? It’s important that any pet be examined by a professional. “You don’t want to compromise an older person’s immune system since some pets carry diseases,” says Dr. Hillestad.
  • One pet or two? While multiple pets can keep each other company, that may not be a good idea for an older person, says Dr. Hillestad. “Two puppies may bond with each other rather than with the owner,” she says.
  • Are finances an issue? Pets cost money. A small puppy can run more than $810 its first year for food, medical care, toys and grooming while a fish is less expensive–about $235, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. If the pet takes ill, dollars snowball. Groups are available to help allay costs.

Susan Daffron, author of Happy Hound: Develop a Great Relationship with Your Adopted Dog or Puppy (Logical Expressions, 2006), has taken pets to nursing homes through shelter outreach programs. “I go down halls and people will say, ‘Oh, this looks just like my dog,'” she says. She has also helped elderly folks adopt the right animal. One woman, 86, wanted to be able to walk a dog but didn’t want a hyper pet. “She was good at judging her limitations,” Daffron says.

Angie Jones became interested in training therapy dogs after bringing her dog Hunter to visit her late father in a retirement home. “It took us half hour to get to my dad’s room because everyone stopped us along the way and wanted to pet the dog and tell me about their dog,” she says. “Hunter brought my father great joy and opened the door of communication since he was more of a recluse,” says Jones who started Central Ohio Good Shepherds, a chapter of Therapy Dogs International Inc.

Where to find the pet. While breeders are a good source, some shelters also provide a pet for less and offer the advantage of rescuing it from euthanasia. Purina Pets for Seniors partners with 200 shelters nationwide to provide seniors pet adoptions at a reduced cost (www.petsforpeople.com). Local services also exist such as Paws/LA in Los Angeles (www.pawsla.org).

Shelter employees often know the pet’s personality well and can make a good match, says Daffron. Online pet shopping is also possible, thanks to sites like www.petfinder.com, which pairs owners with 250,000 adoptable pets from 11,000 animal and rescue groups nationwide.

How to provide care long-term for a pet. Because an older owner may take ill or die, it’s important that the pet is provided for in a will and a caregiver named, says Dr. Hillestad. Even more basic is that someone knows that an elderly person has a pet. “If the person is rushed to the hospital, it could be left alone if nobody knows,” says Allen Anderson.

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