Fill in the Blank: The Biggest Expense of Your Life Is ...
IT CAN COST 2.5 TIMES MORE THAN THE AVERAGE HOME —and more than the average amount you’ll spend to purchase that house, raise your child and pay for his or her college education, combined. Yet few people think of it that way. Nor are they well prepared for the expense. At an average cost of $738,400, it’s “the purchase of a lifetime.” What is it? Retirement.
That’s a key finding of Finances in Retirement: New Challenges, New Solutions, a study just released by Merrill Lynch in partnership with Age Wave. Fully 81% of Americans have no idea how much they’ll need to save for their life after work, according to the study. And many don’t seem to know where—or how—to begin. In fact, one third of adult Americans, including 42% of millennials, have nothing at all saved or invested for retirement.
“Most people—and the young in particular—have a tough time imagining their financial situation years from now,” says Michael Liersch, head of behavioral finance at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. Immediate priorities—like buying a home or saving for your child’s college—get in the way. “Yet understanding your future needs is key to preparing for a financially secure retirement.”
The study highlights many actionable strategies, course corrections and tradeoffs that can help you prepare for and deal with the financial challenges you may face as you age. Be among the first to download it here today. Then talk with your financial advisor about how you can prepare.
Writing a Will Won’t Jinx You
HERE’S A SHOCKER: More than half of Americans don’t have a will, including nearly a third of those 65 and older, according to a 2016 Gallup research poll.1 One possible reason, beyond lingering bad-luck superstitions: “People don’t like to plan for their own mortality,” says Jean Kim-Wall, a director in the Strategic Wealth Advisory Group at Merrill Lynch.
But estate plans (which include wills) are less about your own future than they are about protecting your family—from discord, avoidable taxes and legal fees. Most important, a will gives you control. "If you don’t have a will, the state will decide how your estate is handled," says Kim-Wall.
“Whether you’re nearing retirement or just starting a family, it’s a good idea to put your wishes down in writing,” she adds. "Talk to your financial advisor about your goals. An estate planning attorney will fine tune your initial thoughts and make everything official by drafting the necessary documents." And bring your family into the conversation.
Below, Kim-Wall offers three things here that every will should address.
Name your beneficiaries and your terms. Who inherits what from your estate is the first step, but you should also consider how your assets are passed on. For some ideas, read "Is a Trust Right for You?" and "Remarried—with Children? An Estate Plan for You."
Pick an executor and a guardian. “The executor will take inventory of your assets, make sure your mandatory filings are done, and pay any estate taxes,” says Kim-Wall. And if you have minor children, you’ll need to name the person who will look after them. For a first-person account of why this is so important, read "The Things They Never Tell First-Time Parents."
Plan for contingencies. Wills can become outdated quickly, so spell out how you want to account for major life events like births, deaths, marriages and divorces.
For more tips on getting started, check out “What You Need to Know About Your Will.” And if you want to see your kids enjoy their inheritance while you’re still alive, read "Why Make Your Heirs Wait?"
Please keep in mind Merrill Lynch does not provide Estate Planning, tax or legal advice.
Would Job Sharing Work for You?
FRAZZLED FROM JUGGLING WORK AND FAMILY every day? Job sharing—where two employees split a full-time role, with one generally working the first half of the week and the other covering the rest of the week—could be for you. “This often overlooked arrangement can be attractive to parents with young children, and to baby boomers who want to cut back on their hours and still be engaged in meaningful work,” says Pat Katepoo, founder of advisory service WorkOptions.com. "Yet few employees think to ask for it."
If you’re tempted, here’s how to get started.
First, take a financial reality check.
Sharing a job not only alters your base salary, which will most likely be pro-rated to reflect the hours you work. It can also affect other benefits, such as paid time off, health insurance and retirement plans. “Your financial advisor can help you think through major life changes, like a career switch,” says Thomas Carter, vice president of Personal Retirement Strategy & Solutions at Merrill Lynch. “Discuss the near- and long-term financial implications of cutting back your hours and decide whether the tradeoff to achieve better work-life balance is do-able.”
Ask if your employer is open to it.
Twenty-nine percent of employers offer job-sharing programs, according to the Council of Economic Advisors. Most large companies describe their job-sharing policy on their human resources intranet or in their employee handbook, says global career expert Dana Manciagli. If your company doesn’t…
Start the conversation.
Research job-share structures at other companies, Manciagli advises. Then develop a proposal, including a description of the job you wish to share, to present to HR. If you find a job share partner before you present, even better! And if that goes well, discuss the proposal with your manager.
Translation, Please: 3 Terms Worth Knowing This Year
THIS TIME OF YEAR, INVESTMENT STRATEGISTS everywhere are busy forecasting the trends that could shape the markets in 2017. Translating complex market analyses (and the often technical terms they’re expressed in) into strategies that can help you reach your goals is the job of your financial advisor. And it’s a safe bet that the following three terms will enter into your conversations as you begin to discuss risks and opportunities in 2017. They’re worth understanding—and might just help you define your approach to investing in the year ahead.
BARBELL APPROACH. No, it’s not a move your personal trainer might recommend. It’s a strategy that focuses on creating a balance of high-risk and low-risk investments, avoiding the safer middle. By doing so, the thinking goes, you’ll expose yourself to higher potential returns, while limiting risk, than you otherwise might. Although this approach is a useful fixed income strategy when interest rates are rising, our analysts favor it for equities as well this year, as a hedge against volatility.
CORE INFLATION. A measure of long-term inflation that excludes products that can spike in the short term, such as food and energy. Worth knowing because it’s one of the factors that the Fed will consider as it decides how often to raise interest rates in 2017.
CYCLICALS. Stocks of companies, such as car manufacturers, hotels and airlines, that tend to do well when the economy does well (and people have money to spend)—and poorly when it doesn’t. Our experts think that financial and consumer discretionary cyclical stocks may benefit from the incoming administration’s proposed policies.
For more insights on investment opportunities and risks in 2017, visit www.ml.com/outlook. Then schedule some time with your advisor.
The Retirement Cost You Won’t See Coming
QUICK—WHAT’S YOUR BIGGEST EXPENSE IN RETIREMENT? Health costs, you might say. But you’d be wrong. Housing is the correct answer, making up about a third of expenses for people aged 65 and older, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The even bigger surprise may be the costs that rank second: transportation. Getting around accounts for over 15% of a retiree’s expenses, on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. You no longer have to fund a daily commute, so what gives?
“The expense of keeping a car doesn’t disappear just because you drive less,” says Cynthia Hutchins, director of Financial Gerontology for Merrill Lynch. And older Americans often find themselves turning to expensive transportation alternatives, such as high-priced car services, as they age. “Luckily, there are things you can do to limit transportation costs in your later years,” says Hutchins. She offers the following tips:
Shrink your fleet. Owning a car costs an average of $8,698 annually, according to estimates from the AAA. If you live with a spouse or partner, slimming down to one car could save you a substantial amount.
Relocate. If you can’t drive, consider moving to an area with affordable public transportation, or closer to friends and family who can give you a lift.
Drive now, ride later. The Independent Transportation Network of America is a community-based non-profit network that aims to help retirees get around. Volunteering your time is a great way to give back—and it earns you credits that can be used for rides later in life.
3 Questions to Ask Your Financial Advisor Now
THINK OF IT AS A PHYSICAL for your finances. Conducting an annual portfolio review is a great way to take the pulse of your investments and measure your progress toward your financial goals, says Mary Ann Bartels, head of Portfolio Strategy at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. And what better time than the start of a new year to get that financial checkup? Bartels recommends asking the following three questions to help you get the conversation started.
1. Is my portfolio aligned with what’s going on in my life—and the markets—now?
Ask in particular what the Federal Reserve’s December 2016 interest rate hike (and possible increases in 2017) might mean for your fixed income portfolio, as well as for your broader financial plans, suggests Bartels. And discuss what investment opportunities (and risks) the incoming administration’s policies might create.
To prep for your conversation, read "The Year Ahead: A World of Change."
2. Does my portfolio still reflect my long-term strategies and risk tolerance?
Last year’s market surprises may have created an imbalance in your current asset allocation, notes Bartels, overweighting certain sectors and underweighting others. And because the global economic outlook in 2017 is for accelerated growth and continuing volatility, your asset allocation may continue to shift unintentionally. Regularly rebalancing your portfolio to adjust for the effects of such change is a good practice.
Before meeting with your advisor, review two strategies for rebalancing your portfolio.
3. Do I have enough cash on hand to cover short-term needs and opportunities?
Whether it’s for the purchase of a new home or taking advantage of a new investment opportunity, having readily accessible cash on hand is important. Bank deposits and certificates of deposit (CDs) aren’t the only ways to invest your cash for short-term needs in today’s rising interest rate environment, says Bartels. Talk to your advisor about the full range of options available and what makes the most sense for you.
Before your annual portfolio review, read "A Strategic Approach to Short-Term Fixed Income Investing" to learn about investing for short-term needs.
An Easy Way to Keep Your Financial New Year’s Resolutions—All Year Long
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS—most of us make them, few of us keep them. In fact, research1 tells us that by July only about 40% of us are still keeping the promises we’ve made to ourselves—to lose weight, save money, be happier—at the beginning of the year.
Turns out there’s an easy mind game that can help. “Instead of just resolving to do something, turn your resolution or statement of intent into a question," says Stacy Allred, managing director at the Merrill Lynch Wealth Management Center for Family Wealth Dynamics and Governance™. She credits Warren Berger, author of the book (and blog) "A More Beautiful Question: The Power of Inquiry to Spark Breakthrough Ideas," with the concept of the “quest-olution."
Why does this simple trick work? “A statement can feel overwhelming—where do you start?” says Michael Liersch, head of behavioral finance at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. “When you frame it as a question, it makes you want to find creative ways to accomplish it.” With that simple shift, “your resolution becomes actionable,” adds Allred.
Watch this video—then try turning your resolutions into quest-olutions. Share them with a friend or family member, suggests Allred. “And start working on the answers together.” Keep us posted on your progress on Merrill Lynch’s Twitter handle, using the hashtag #MyResolution.
For more tips to help you keep your financial resolutions, visit bettermoneyhabits.com. And check out our "Financial Education Handbook" for ideas on how to help your children get smarter about money.
1 Journal of Clinical Psychology, Vol. 58 (2002)
Merrill Lynch and any of its affiliates do not monitor or maintain the information available on the external web sites/third party publication mentioned nor represent or guarantee that such web sites/publication are accurate or complete, and they should not be relied upon as such.
New Year, New Job(s), New You? Rethinking Work in 2017
THE NOVEMBER JOBS REPORT counted up 178,000 new (non-farm) jobs. What’s not easily captured is the increasing number of people who are choosing to work on demand in the "gig economy" for, among other things, the flexibility it offers. An October study by McKinsey Global Institute estimates that "up to 162 million people in Europe and the United States—or 20 to 30 percent of the working-age population—engage in some form of independent work."
One thing most of these people have in common is technology—it’s transforming not just the way people do their jobs, but how they find work, charge for it and market themselves. Below are a few resources that can help you run a one-person business if you decide to make the break from corporate America in 2017—or merely want to add a freelance gig to your current work schedule.
For insights on how to manage your finances as a member of the gig economy—plus useful tips from three people who’ve made it work for them—check out "A Guide to the Gig Economy."
HOPE for Alzheimer’s Patients & Their Caregivers
A DIAGNOSIS OF ALZHEIMER’S upends family routines and expectations, striking fear and confusion in all concerned—and playing havoc with a family’s finances. “It’s the most expensive condition in America today,” says Robert Egge, chief public policy officer at the Alzheimer’s Association. A new Medicare benefit, which developed out of the Health Outcomes, Planning and Education (HOPE) for Alzheimer’s Act, will go a long way toward helping families cope.
The decision expands Medicare coverage to include care planning sessions that provide information about medical and non-medical treatments, clinical trials and support services available in the community. "Increasing access to cognitive assessment and care planning sessions can make an enormous difference," says Egge. "The result is fewer hospitalizations and better management of medication—all of which improve the quality of life for both patients and caregivers, and help manage costs," he explains.
Because of the high cost of care and the progressive nature of Alzheimer’s, "early-stage financial planning is critical," adds Cynthia Hutchins, director of Financial Gerontology at Merrill Lynch. “Understanding the long-term implications and treatment options is the first step to finding the right path forward for you and your family."
In "The Caregiver's Financial Guide" and "Checklist: Must-Reading for the Alzheimer’s Caregiver," Hutchins offers practical suggestions for managing the emotional and financial aspects of caring for a loved one who’s been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. For more insights, watch “Alzheimer’s and Your Family," below.
How the Wage Gap Hurts Women—in Retirement
DID YOU KNOW: Women’s retirement income is, on average, just 58% that of men’s? A new series of reports from Merrill Lynch explores some of the reasons—including the wage gap—for this disparity. Read "Women and Life-Defining Financial Decisions" and "Financial Security for the Caregiver" for insights that can help women prepare for a more secure retirement.
They’re the first two titles in a series of reports on women and money, co-authored by women’s retirement expert Anna Rappaport, a member of the board of the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, and Nevenka Vrdoljak, a director in Bank of America Global Wealth and Investment Management’s CIO Office.
What’s their advice? Because women tend to live longer and often earn less, "every financial decision becomes important," says Rappaport. "Think about employee benefits. Start saving. Don’t go into credit card debt. Pay off college loans. Be conservative when you buy a house. Most of all, pay attention to the longer term—not just tomorrow."
What 250+ Vets Are Thankful For This Thanksgiving
CLARISSA BLACK HAD A SIMPLE IDEA: rescue a dog, help a veteran adjust to life back home. As the founder of the nonprofit Pets for Vets, Black has matched more than 250 veterans with rescue dogs since she founded the organization in 2009. Each animal is selected and trained with a specific veteran’s needs in mind.
For example, Black says, one veteran needed to feel like somebody had her back—literally. "I found her dog at the shelter, and we taught him a behavior called 'check my six.'" It’s an expression soldiers use to refer to their “6 o’clock position”—or what’s behind them, she explains. “When the dog hears that command, he knows to keep watch behind her."
What advice does Black have for others who want to make a difference by starting a nonprofit? "Have a good team in place and harness the power of social media," she says. "We’ve been very lucky to have veterans who are willing to share their success stories on social media. Sharing the impact you’ve had on one person—that’s what really touches people’s hearts and inspires them to donate or volunteer."
It's Getting Near That Dreaded Time of Year: Tax Season. These Resources Can Help.
ENJOY THE UPCOMING HOLIDAYS, because tax season will soon be upon us. And the December 31 deadline for making several key moves is just a little more than a month away.
Have you maxed out your 401(k) contributions for the year? Could it be time to sell some underperforming stocks and use those losses to help reduce your taxable income? For a handy refresher on some moves you can consider now, see "8 Year-End Tax Tips That Could Save You Money." If you're an entrepreneur, check out "5 End-of-Year Tax Tips for Small Business Owners."
Since it's also the giving season, you might want to take some time over the holidays to talk with your family about the charities you may want to donate to.
Be sure to discuss everything—including the ideas featured in the guide below—with your tax advisor before making any financial decisions.
Paying for Your Kids' Extracurricular Activities—It's Not Rocket Science
YOUR SON OR DAUGHTER wants to take horseback-riding lessons—or study piano. "Why not?" you think. Fast-forward a few years and you're shopping for show saddles. Or purchasing a Steinway. Of course, you want to give your kids every chance to learn and grow, but the cost of extracurricular activities can put a dent in your ability to save for their college. What's a parent to do?
"It's all part of the cost of raising a child. You just have to plan for them," says Richard Polimeni, director of Education Savings Programs at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. You could fund a trust under the Uniform Gifts/Transfer to Minors Act to help pay for extra educational expenses, like piano lessons, that a 529 College Savings Plan won't cover. But your best bet may be to simply start a savings account to earmark funds for such activities, he suggests. And don't forget that those extracurricular activities could give your kids an edge in college admissions—they might even help them obtain a scholarship.
Above, Richard and Alex Polimeni visit NASA's Control Center at Wallops Flight Facility, Wallops, VA.
Polimeni speaks from experience. His 16-year-old son Alex's passion for photographing space launches has gotten him a gig as a launch photographer with a leading spaceflight news organization. Combined, the photographic equipment and related expenses can run upwards of thousands of dollars a year. "I view it is an investment for his future, though," says Polimeni. Alex regularly publishes his photos and is already looking at colleges that specialize in careers in the space industry. "Besides, his mom and I get to see a lot of rocket launches."
For more insights on how to plan for your children's educational expenses—and what 529 College Savings Plans will and won't cover—read "The Basics Q&A: Saving for College" and "Help for Rising College Costs."
Photo of space launch: Alexander Polimeni/Spaceflight Now
Vote for… Me! How to Plan an Encore Career in Politics
NO MATTER WHO WINS THE ELECTION, one lasting effect may be that more Americans decide to take the energy they’ve poured into attending rallies and debating the role of government into a first or second career in politics.
If you’ve been inspired to run for office, there are plenty of opportunities, starting at the local level. “Retirees, in particular, may find that local politics offers a chance to stay engaged and give back to their communities,” says Cynthia Hutchins, director of Financial Gerontology for Bank of America Merrill Lynch. “Many Americans, as they reach traditional retirement age, say, ‘You know what? I don’t want to work in finance anymore. I don’t want to work in healthcare, but I’d love to apply some of what I learned to a non-profit or to government,” noted Nora Super, Chief of Programs & Services for the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging, speaking at the Museum of American Finance earlier this year.
Just remember that some local government positions may not pay much, or anything at all, Hutchins cautions. And consider how you’ll pay for your campaign. One retiree estimates that his first run for a seat in Vermont’s House of Representatives cost him $7,000 or $8,000.
“Be sure you have at least a year’s income to live on while you’re getting started in your new career. You may also need to return to school to acquire new skills,” says Hutchins. Read “An Encore Education for Your Encore Career” for tips on managing your finances during this—or any career switch. As for help funding your campaign, check out CrowdPac.com, described as “a Kickstarter for politics.”
What Makes People Vulnerable to Elder Fraud? New Research Provides Some Unexpected Clues.
THOMAS BLOMBERG FOUND MORE THAN HE BARGAINED FOR when he visited a Florida retirement community to conduct ground-breaking research on the causes of elder fraud this past summer. He came away with plenty of data. What he didn't expect was how deeply moved he'd be.
"Talking with the victims was emotionally charged," says Blomberg, dean of the College of Criminology & Criminal Justice at Florida State University. In particular, he recalls one man who confessed, with tears in his eyes, to losing $3,500 on the false promise of unlimited cruises. "It's not the money," the man said. "I just feel so stupid." That sense of embarrassment, says Blomberg, can cause people to isolate themselves from those who could help them avoid becoming a victim again.
Blomberg's research, conducted by Florida State University with support from Merrill Lynch, uncovered the most common perpetrators of fraud, as well as triggers that can make people susceptible. The findings have been used to identify strategies that friends, family—even financial advisors—can use to help protect those most vulnerable, says Michael Liersch, head of behavioral finance and goals-based consulting for Merrill Lynch Wealth Management.
For starters, Liersch recommends families hold regular meetings to discuss financial concerns and decision-making. It can also help to connect trusted financial professionals with those who are watching out for an elderly relative, he says. That way everyone can work together to help spot and prevent problems.
Retirement's Newest Challenge: Low Interest Rates
MAYBE THEY'VE LEARNED SOMETHING from watching their parents: 58% of today's 18- to 21-year-olds have already started saving up for the future, says the recently released Young Americans & Money Bank of America/USA Today Better Money Habits Report. Even better, more than a quarter of 22- to 26-year-olds have opened 401(k)s. That's the good news as we mark National Retirement Security Week.
With interest rates at historic lows, on the other hand, making that money go the distance is getting to be a challenge. "Those just starting out can look forward to rates slowly rising. But today's retirees are feeling the pinch of lower rates", says Karin Kimbrough, head of Macro and Economic Policy at Merrill Lynch Wealth Management. Watch "Are You Meeting Your Need for Investment Income" for some helpful suggestions.
For more retirement advice, tune in to our webcast, "Social Security, Medicare & More: Understanding Your Retirement Choices," on October 25 at 7 p.m. (ET). In addition to Kimbrough, panelists include Kirstin Hill, head of Personal Retirement Solutions at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, and financial journalist Philip Moeller, author of the recently released Get What's Yours for Medicare: Maximize Your Coverage, Minimize Your Costs and co-author of the best-selling Get What's Yours: The Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security. Merrill Lynch New England Division Executive Linda Houston moderates. Send us your toughest retirement questions—our panelists will address as many as they can.
Picking a College Major That Matters (and Pays)
HERE'S THE DEAL: YOU'RE A FRESHMAN or sophomore on campus, looking forward to exploring new skills and interests, and you're supposed to decide, right now, what you're going to do with the rest of your life. It's that high-stakes college quiz called, "Choosing a Major!" Ready or not, most colleges want you to select a main area of study.
Your choice will be easier if you answer a few basic questions first: What professions are most likely to have jobs waiting to be filled when you graduate? Will you be proud of that job? And will it pay a decent salary?
The following slides, which show the top 3 majors in each area, contain a surprise or two. For instance, why is there such a demand for operations research analysts? (Hint: think big data.) And have you ever considered a career as a cartographer? One thing the slides make clear: When it comes to job satisfaction, money isn't everything.
There's another concern at least as important as picking a major, and that's paying for it. For excellent tips on pulling off that trick, see Paying Off Student Loans and The Basics Q&A: Paying Off Grad School Debt.
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