By, Mitch and Cheryl Ekstrom

Half of all Boomers (and the upcoming Gen Xers) have done little-to-nothing to prepare for retirement. Many have given up on the hope of a reasonably comfortable retirement. Currently, around half of them begin taking Social Security at age 62. The current maximum Social Security benefit at age 62 is $2,209 (1) – or $26,508 per year. As an hourly wage, it would be $13.25.  Nationally, boomers estimate their average annual cost of living in retirement at about $46,000 a year (2). If they have the Social Security benefit listed above, where will they get the $19,492 needed to close the gap to $46,000? Working? Maybe.  But there are other steps you can take NOW for those who haven’t yet reached retirement age, and some ideas for everyone, even if they have.

Imagine if a few small changes, just different choices immediately, could add $175,000.00 to the nest egg. Let’s take the example of a 50 year old couple who decide to get a plan to remove all debt and start saving the money they could by making just a few different decisions until they are 67. What if they invested the money for those 17 years, with a good portfolio of mutual funds. They would:

1. Stop Eating Out all the Time. The average person will save about $37.00 per week by eating in. Our couple has saved $295 per month. If they invest this at a very reasonable 7% annual growth until age 67, they will have built $116,239.00!

2. Buy Nice Used Cars instead of New Cars. Let’s have them stop buying new cars every three years. The average new car loses at least 20% of its value in the first year and 10%-15% per year over the next four years. (3) Let’s also say our couple was only buying inexpensive new cars at $25,000. Applying the lowest loss rate on inexpensive new cars, their car would lose $10,000 in value in three years. If they cut that depreciation in half, with a gently used car 2-3 year old car, they could save $5,000 every three years. The resulting $1,667 per year, if invested at 7% until age 67, would produce another $60,311.

Just these two changes, eating in more and driving used cars, would add $176,550.00 in savings to their nest egg.

Next, Paying Off Debt is the biggest step Boomers and Gen Xers need to take to save for retirement.

3. Lose the Credit Cards. The interest charged by credit cards averages 19.24%. (4) The average boomer carries $7,041 in credit card debt (5) So let’s get a solid plan to pay them off and invest the annual $1,354 saved on interest payments at 7% until age 67 — adding another $48,971. That is just the interest! Think of the monthly payments that are no longer owed!

Three steps, and they’re at $225,521.

4. Get Rid of the Mortgage. Today’s Boomers are carrying the greatest amount of mortgage debt into their retirement in the history of our country. (5) We have a few ways to save here. If our sample couple has a 7% rate on an average mortgage and refinance to 4.125%, their payments drop about $6,000 per year. If invested over 17 years at 7% they will add another $216,947 to their nest egg. That is just interest savings. We haven’t discussed paying the mortgage off, and investing that former payment!

So, four steps. Small decision changes that can add $442,468.00 in total!

Let’s assume they did all the investing in a traditional IRA and it didn’t grow from age 67 to age 70 1/2. Their required minimum distribution at age 70 1/2 on that amount is $16,697 ($442,468 / 26.5). (f) This amount added to the maximum Social Security payout at age 62, puts their annual income at $43,205 — just $2,795 away from their estimated $46,000 of annual expenses in retirement.

Imagine how much more they would close the gap if they got serious enough to give up $5 lattes, stops at the local pub, took staycations instead of vacations, eliminated unnecessary drives, did serious meal planning, operated only one car — and any number of other cost cutting measures. And paid off their mortgage.

Of course we haven’t spoken about the increased expenses that come with aging. But we also haven’t addressed the myriad of ways our couple could have increased income over these 17 years. So it seems there is money to be saved, earned and invested; and even if they make only half of the adjustments cited above, they’ll be way ahead of the, “…done little-to nothing- to prepare…”, crowd. The reality is that once you give your money to another person, both it and it’s time value are gone forever.

Difficult? Yes! But not compared to waiting! Each month of delay makes it tougher. And doing these things of their own accord is highly preferable to spending 20 to 30 years living in poverty or relying on children or charity or some combination of the three.

So it’s time to get smart about our spending, saving and investing. Let’s get our money back and put it’s time value to work for us instead of the lenders!

So get after it, Boomers (and the rest of us) and let’s do it now! You don’t have to be broke in retirement. If you need help putting a complete plan together to get started and/or make up for lost time, consider hiring a Ramsey Preferred Financial Coach. These hi-octane professionals are loaded with information, tools, training and strategies to help you.

Eliminate debt. Build wealth. Gain financial speed going uphill.

Mitch and Cheryl Ekstrom are Ramsey Preferred Coaches and Financial Peace University Coordinators. They lead financial wellness courses to help people of all generations get debt free and save for retirement. Mitch and Cheryl turned their own finances around 10 years ago  and have witnessed first hand the financial knowledge now pass to five generations. They celebrated their 41st anniversary in December and their first great-grandbaby is on the way; due July 7th. Mitch spent more than 30 years of active duty in the U.S. Coast Guard and is now an IT professional on the largest financial system of its kind in the world. Cheryl manages money for the Physics Department at the University of Maryland. Prior to that, she managed multiple bank branches. They can be reached at:

Mitch and Cheryl Ekstrom, Dollar$ense, LLC, 301-466-7194, mecaekstrom@aim.com 

(1) https://www.fool.com/retirement/2018/10/21/heres-the-maximum-social-security-benefit-in-2019.aspx

(2) Bureau of Labor Statistics as cited by https://finance.zacks.com/average-cost-retirement-4951.html

(3) https://www.finance101.com/new-cars-lose-value/

(4) https://wallethub.com/edu/cc/average-credit-card-interest-rate/50841/

(5) The Stanford Center on Longevity report, Seeing Our Way to Financial Security in the Age of Increased Longevity, points to an increase in mortgage debt among older homeowners as a concern, noting that in 2012, one-third of homeowners over 65 were still paying off a mortgage – up from less than a quarter of homeowners in 1998. And, the amount owed on a mortgage has nearly doubled from $44,000 to $82,000 (as cited in https://www.housingwire.com/articles/47364-stanford-boomersare-entering-retirement-with-less-savings-greater-mortgage-debt).

(6) https://www.irs.gov/publications/p590b 

 

We are in spring! As we make the transition from winter into the new season, I want to invite you to take on a personal goal to find and save as much money as you can in April. Think of it as the “grown up” Easter Egg Hunt. We all tend to have several places we spend money without really counting the cost. Once we really pay attention to our money and write down where it goes often we are surprised on how much “runs away” after the bills are paid. So, for the savings challenge, there are three basic steps that if you commit to for 30 days, you will surprise yourself by how much you get to keep in your pocket.

Step One: Make a grocery budget and a list. Then take cash and leave the debit card at home

This can seem very scary if you don’t normally give yourself a budget. We start at the grocery store because those guys are the GREATEST marketers and woo money away from us on a consistent basis with “Red Hot Buys” or those end caps with items on sale that aren’t on the list. Even if you use the item on sale, if you aren’t out, and it isn’t on the list, you will pick it up later. Save that $2.99 now. Do that for three items, and you have saved just about nine bucks. Skip the sale items you don’t need and watch the savings grow!

Another tip: When you shop the sales and the “buy one, get one free” (BOGO), the bottom of the receipt will indicate what you have saved. That is money you would have spent if you had not been a super shopper. Transfer that amount to savings for additional motivation.

Step Two: Give yourself a weekly budget for gas, lunches, kiddo, etc., and withdraw exactly that amount of cash once a week. Again, leave the debit at home”

If you know your family has a drive through dinner on Wednesday between sports and scouts, budget for it and pay cash. You will not be as tempted to add on an item or “up-size” anything when you order. And if you don’t have the debit card with you and make a commitment to stick to your budget of cash for that one week, you are likely to be more aware when you must give up your paper money, and not overspend. Even better? The rest of your money stays in the bank!

Step Three: Save your change. When you are out spending only cash, you will get change as you purchase stuff. Save your change for the month.

I have a few mugs around the house to collect change. One is by the front door, so you take the keys out and see the mug, you put the change in there. The one that actually gets the most coin is on the washer (right?). Once a week, collect the mugs and empty them into a centralized place, perhaps a jar, or a piggy bank. At the end of the month, count the booty.

If you are already doing the steps above to your money, here are a few additional tips that you may try for 30 days and get in to the savings challenge as well!

Challenge yourself to save a specific amount each week

Mike and I try to squeeze at least $8.00 off the budget each week, just on various things. Seems silly, but when we are successful, we are saving a little over $30.00/month, $360.00/year. We aren’t always able to do it, but we have a goal for that money.

Withdraw your cash for envelopes only once a week, instead of per paycheck

Withdrawing money only once a week means more stays in the bank, and if we have money left over from the previous week, we can take out less. Also, this ensures we don’t keep a lot of cash around for temptation. If it’s in the bank, we are less likely to use it mindlessly!

Save your singles

The next step after saving your change is to save your singles. Mike will break a five before he gives up his dollar. It adds up! Doing that each week for the month of April may accelerate your savings!

Calculate your savings weekly to really see the impact of implementing a few changes this month. Every dime you save is a win. No amount too big or too small. I’m in. If you want to see how we are doing, and let me know what YOU have saved, just like my Facebook page: dawnkennedylaw. Game on!!!

It’s close enough to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, and Cyber Monday to talk a bit about online shopping. Some very scary statistics from 2017 showed a marked increase in online shopping fraud, using stolen credit and debit card numbers. This is not necessarily surprising because consumers are starting to trust online ordering, and the total number of “eCommerce” transactions were up by 19% over 2016 numbers. Sadly, the number of fraudulent transactions during the 2017 holiday season also increased, to 22% over 2016. And a staggering 1 in 85 transactions online was an attempted fraud. GAH!

Online retailers are taking steps to prevent fraud such as collecting IP addresses and requiring the “CVV” or verification code on the back of the card used for a purchase. But, while they do their part to protect their businesses from fraud (yes, they sustain incredible losses from fraud, it isn’t only the consumer), there are easy steps you can take to minimize the risk of being a victim of credit or debit card fraud:

1. Use Unique Usernames and Passwords for Each Merchant

Never reuse usernames and passwords for multiple merchants. If the retailer is compromised, and your login is stolen, thieves can log in to other sites using your information and make unauthorized purchases. This time of year, shipping and billing addresses often differ, so that delivery address discrepancy may not trigger a “potential fraud” flag on the merchant side. Yes, it can be a pain, but so can losing all of your holiday money temporarily until the bank refunds your fraudulent losses.

2. Check the HTTP (S)

The “s” at the end of the hypertext transfer protocol (you bet I had to look that one up) means, https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/281633 “secure.” The security includes data encryption. When you are on a site with only, “http” the data sent to the site can be intercepted by a third party.

3. Use the Code on the Back of the Card

The three or four digit verification number on your credit or debit card is requested to prove that you have the physical card in your possession when making a purchase. In addition to a billing address and card number match, the code can help reduce fraud by requiring a third data point for a purchase.

4. Limit the Potential Financial Loss

This is particularly important for debit card users who shop online this holiday season. Have a second (free) checking account with a debit card for online purchases, and only put enough in the account to cover your shopping budget. This limits the potential loss if the card used online is compromised. And always use the same card, tied to the dedicated account, when shopping online, or traveling.

5. Keep Copies of Everything and Watch Your Accounts and Statements

Print out copies of invoices and receipts. This way you have confirmation of what you ordered, and the total amount paid. If your card is compromised, you will be able to flag unauthorized purchases, while confirming the ones you actually made. And watch your statements and account carefully. Some financial institutions have a feature where you can receive an alert (we get a text) if there is a purchase made over a specific threshold. One word of caution, however, my husband was alerted to his holiday gift by this feature. The bank let him know when I purchased his gift.

There is a real emotional toll on consumers who have lost money and had to file fraud reports over the holidays. Nobody needs that stress and frustration while trying to buy gifts or make travel arrangements. There is one other layer of protection available you should consider: make sure you take advantage of the FREE credit freeze to limit access to your personal information, reducing the risk of a fraudster opening a new account using your identity.

 

flickr.com

The Fair Issacs Corporation, the creators of the mysteriously calculated FICO Credit Score, are changing the scoring method using new criteria, again. In early 2019, a new scoring method will allow consumers to contribute their banking information to a third party, Finicity, which, “allows Americans to benefit from positive financial behaviors.” The idea is that if you are newer to credit, or have a lower score, the credit bureau can have a look at your checking, savings, and money market accounts to check your credit worthiness. One argument in support of this new approach is that consumers do not currently have any input into their credit scores, because the FICO is calculated only on debt account data submitted by creditors and lenders.

Fair enough. What could possibly go wrong?

From my lowly perch, a lot. First of all, while the consumer will have a choice of accounts to include, they will not have any control over how it is collected, and whether the information is kept by the credit bureau. The process, as published in the Wall Street Journal, is as follows,“Experian will compile consumers’ banking information with help from financial-technology firm Finicity and will distribute the new score to lenders.” Yeah, read that again, Experian will send a summary of consumer bank accounts to lenders. FICO won’t keep any of that information after the score is calculated, but the credit bureau will have your banking Information.

Anyone hear about the hack on Equifax? Anyone? Of course, you have. Well, have you heard about the Experian hack? 15 Million T-Mobile customers personal data was hacked via Experian, including social security and passport numbers. Lovely. Since I don’t use T-Mobile, I am already standing in line to provide my banking info. Eyeroll. It’s already happened once, and they will not be less of a target if they are the bureau with your bank accounts.

Cybersecurity aside, who here believes that when the UltraFICO is available, creditors will accept the FICO? Lenders know the consumer can opt in banking information, so why not rely on the UltraFICO for lending decisions? This is the plot from the classic children’s book by Laura Joffe Numeroff, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie. The lesson? If you give a mouse a cookie, he will want a glass of milk, then a straw, then a napkin, and on and on.

So, why the change? Benevolent Credit Bureaus? Hardly. Since the housing melt down, the pool of traditionally “highly qualified” borrowers shrunk. The change is due to lenders requesting, “credit-reporting firms and FICO to figure out a way to help them boost lending without taking on significantly more risk.” Oh.

As a consumer law advocate, I see danger ahead. Who would be “at fault” if banking information is compromised? Any hack could mean consumer’s accounts are cleaned out until the necessary fraud investigations are completed, and the money is returned by the bank. Missed or late mortgage, car payments, or utility bills can have consequences and mean financial insecurity for the most basic needs of a family. Will your mortgage company waive the late fee if it isn’t your fault? Will the electric company leave the lights on? If not, late fees on every bill owed by the American family could add up to hundreds of dollars. And over 75% of families already live paycheck to paycheck. In my humble opinion, a “free” 12-month credit monitoring product is not going to repair that mess. Or, maybe I am just a cynic and Fair Isaacs is looking out for consumers.

 

photo:credit.org

 

Around this time last year, the three credit reporting agencies had to change their rules (due to an agreement with several state’s attorney generals in 2015) surrounding reporting of a consumer’s medical debt in collections. Now, they basically have to give consumers a standard 180 day “grace period” before reporting medical collections on the consumer credit report. Another reporting change requires the bureaus to remove a past due medical bill that is later paid by insurance.

For many Americans, the increase in medical debt is due to higher deductibles and out of pocket costs for healthcare, timely payment by insurance to providers, and the decision by insurers that a provider was “out of network” resulting in a lower reimbursement and the outstanding costs passed on to the consumer. A fun little statistic related to the rules change is that up to 80% of bills submitted by providers to insurers are incorrect the first time. So insurance doesn’t pay them, the bills must be corrected and resubmitted for payment. This results in delays in settling medical bills. Sometimes for months.

The 180-day reporting delay is good for consumers with medical debt because these bills are often passed to collections quickly, within 30-60 days after the payment was due. Faster than many creditors will pass off non-medical debt accounts. This allows time for consumers to deal with insurance, pay their medical bills, and work on billing disputes even if the account is with collectors.

It is important to note that, while it is true that it will no longer have as big an impact on the “FICO” and VantageScore credit scoring models for 180 days, other credit scoring models that lenders use have not adopted this approach. So, you still need to watch your credit report if you are facing medical debts in collections.

Here are a few other things to consider if you or someone you know is facing medical debt:

• You are not alone. Around 43 million Americans had medical debt on their credit reports last year. The average amount of medical debt in collections was $579.00 last year. With 78% of Americans living paycheck to paycheck, this is a large enough number to cause financial hardship.

• While medical debt should NOT be ignored, if you are struggling with debt, it should be given a lower priority than other consumer debt, such as credit cards and personal loans. To do this, the medical debt must remain a “medical-debt,” meaning do not borrow or pay these debts with a credit card.

• Collectors will often try to push you to pay the bill, even suggesting you just put the balance on a card. But if you pay the medical debt with a credit card, you can limit your ability to settle the debt, or seek financial assistance from the hospital or other agency. You can stop collectors from calling by making your request in writing. You just need to send a letter.

• There are statutes that protect consumers who owe medical debt from being turned away from the emergency room for medical care. And, according to the National Consumer Law Center:

“If you request financial assistance from a nonprofit hospital, the hospital cannot deny you care in any part of the hospital because of an old bill until it determines whether you are eligible for financial assistance. You usually have about eight months (240 days) from when you first received the old bill to request such financial assistance.”

• Medical debt is a big reason for bankruptcy, but not why you think. When people are too ill to work, income plummets, savings can be exhausted and often medical debt was transferred to credit cards.

Remember, you now have 180 days to get medical bills handled before they hit your Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion credit report. You can dispute anything erroneously reported and have the records of medical bills that were paid by insurance removed.

Many consumers have become wise to the ways of internet scammers, no longer falling for phishing attacks or clicking fraudulent links to their accounts. Many hackers and scammers are going after companies that hold the consumer data “secure.” With all of the recent data breaches on financial institutions,credit bureaus,and email companies everywhere, it’s natural to be a little wary of identity theft. The Equifax breach was particularly awful for consumers because particularly sensitive personal data was stolen such as where you grew up and your mother’s maiden name, the info for those two layer “security questions.”

To make matters worse, in my humble opinion, the guardians of your credit report (and mysteriously calculated “score”) actually charge consumers hard earned dollars for access to their OWN information. The nerve! But my feelings aside, checking your credit report is an important part of taking control of your money. The Fair Credit Reporting Act, FCRA, authorizes one free credit report each year from each of the three credit reporting bureaus. There is only one link that is “federally certified” so do not click into any of the 34 ads on the way to annualcreditreport.com

I do not generally recommend anyone order all of them at once. You get one a year from each bureau, so ordering one from one of the three bureaus every four months provides a continuous look throughout the year. You can look for unauthorized accounts, errors in reporting, suspicious activity and even addresses that are not yours. If you find something that shouldn’t be there, or there are balance issues, or additional addresses, you can file a “dispute” with the credit bureau so the issue can be investigated.

CAUTION: you can only file a dispute if something on your report is incorrect. There are a ton of “cure your credit report” scams out there, so beware. If your credit report has taken a hit due to debt issues, bankruptcy, or just poor money management, such as forgetting to mail the payment on time, it will take time to rebuild. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

If you are a victim of identity theft, you MUST take action as soon as you detect it. This includes filing a police report, contacting the lenders (who are also victims of the thief), putting a fraud alert or freezing your credit report. A step-by-step process is available from the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft website. Yup, sadly that’s a thing.

The federal government stopped mailing annual Social Security statements to everyone back in 2011. They are still available, but you have to use the internet.  I don’t mention this earnings statement because I believe the Social Security program is solvent, or have a prediction whether it will be fixed, or even necessarily believe any “projected benefits” will ever be received by the time I am ready to retire. What the statement will tell you is how much you have earned each year, as reported to the Social Security Administration, since you started working and reporting income to the SSA.

We can go back (waaaay back) to 1990 and look at the average net income earned by average Americans over the last 26 years. The SSA reports $20,172.11 in 1990 and $46,640.94 in 2016. Meaning that for average Americans, we take home more than double each year now than we did in 1990. On the bottom of the SSA statement there is a number- your total earnings to date. In other words what you have earned over your working life.

If you worked and earned an average income from 1990-1999 you would have brought home about $209,056.00. From 2000-2009 about $351,192.00. And from 2010-2016 about $304,037.00.  So, if we added the average net income earned and taken home by average Americans from 1990-2016, we get a mind blowing $864,289.00.  Well over three quarters of a million dollars. And many people earn well above that annual average.

So, what do we KEEP? According to the latest statistics? Not much. Some of us have a 401k with auto withdrawal and a match at work. But, around 20% of those with a 401k have loans against the accounts taken to cover financial emergencies!  Savings accounts are in bad shape as well, in 2017 about 57% of Americans have less than $1,000.00 in savings.

Where is it all going? To service debt. At various interest rates, for various reasons. Average Americans are paying their dollars to cars, homes, student loans, credit cards and personal loans. Excluding a mortgage payment, we send creditors a whopping $1181.00 per MONTH or $14,172.00 a year. Many Americans send much more than that to others.

It’s eye-opening, or at least it was for us. Debt is taking our income, payments that we can do other things with. Like save. Or pay cash for cool things. Or support organizations we feel strongly about. If you are ready to take back your income, you can start anytime. Even if you are still paying oodles of interest and have $1.87 in an IRA right now, its never too late to start. Its never too late to grab a hold of your hard-earned income with a plan to take back your earnings from the current situation.

If your income is flying away the moment after payday, it’s time to make it behave. Make a monthly budget and write down where each dollar goes. Give it a job. Be the smart boss over your hard-working money. Your money likes to have a job. “This month you little dollar, yes YOU, will pay the water bill! YAY!”. If you want an easy to use, free online budgeting tool, I recommend Every Dollar.  Money stress really begins when you run out of dollars before you run out of jobs for them to do. Run out of jobs and reassign your money where you want it to work!

graphic from www.indianapublicmedia.org

 

The second definition for “Price” in the Oxford dictionary online is, “an unwelcome experience, event, or action involved as a condition of achieving a desired end,” and the usage example given is, “the price of their success was an entire day spent in discussion.” For many Americans, the price of their credit cards, or driving a car with high payments, or a mortgage payment that is keeping them “house poor” is that unwelcome experience. And a result of that unwelcome experience is debt. And the price of that debt is stress.

Americans are stressed about their financial condition. The price of such worry is costing money in healthcare related to stress, relationship issues related to fights over money, and job productivity decline. A very recent and startling statistic, published by CNBC in March 2018, reveals 30% of Americans are stressed about money, “constantly.” And a whopping 85% reported being stressed “sometimes.” Here is the top reason from the article:

   “Why? Well, 66 percent of adults, including 71 percent of millennials, say it’s because they don’t have a three- month  emergency fund, and 46 percent say it’s because they don’t have any savings set aside in one to cover an unexpected expense like a job loss or medical problem.”

This is not a new phenomenon that all of the sudden Americans are stressed about money. A 2014 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau found that seven out of ten American workers say financial stress is their most common cause of stress, and almost half (48%) say they find dealing with their financial situation stressful.

Why am quoting stats when you may be visiting this article for ANSWERS because you are up at night unable to sleep due to money worries? Because you need to realize up front that are not alone. CNBC’s report translates to almost 3 out of 10 Americans are stressed constantly, over 8 out of 10 are stressed sometimes. I know, I know, “my situation is different…” and I know that it is! Everyone’s situation is uniquely theirs.

What I am on a mission to change is the shame, guilt, hopelessness and embarrassment people feel when they are deep in money problems. I think that is so important. Debt is hiding in the households of the American family and it is killing the livelihood of many of us. We need to throw open the curtains and look around and understand we are not alone. You CAN take control of your money and regain your peace of mind. You CAN find people to walk with you. You CAN create the plan that is right for you and your unique situation. And you can get back that good night’s sleep.

The information in this blog post (“post”) is provided for general informational purposes only and may not reflect the current law in your jurisdiction. No information contained in this post should be construed as legal advice from The Law Office of Dawn K. Kennedy or the individual author, nor is it intended to be a substitute for legal counsel on any subject matter. No reader of this post should act or refrain from acting on the basis of any information included in, or accessible through, this Post without seeking the appropriate legal or other professional advice on the particular facts and circumstances at issue from a lawyer licensed in the recipient’s state, country or other appropriate licensing jurisdiction.