Paying them down and managing their financial impact.
Total student loan debt in America is now around $1.6 trillion. Since 2008, it has more than doubled. Federal Reserve data states that 44.7 million Americans are dealing with lingering education loans. The average indebted college graduate leaves campus owing nearly $30,000, and the mean monthly student loan payment is about $400.1
Economically, the country is feeling the impact. The National Association of Realtors says that 25% of recent homebuyers have outstanding student loans, including 41% of first-time buyers. A 2018 study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College concludes that under-30 employees carrying education debt typically have just half as much saved in their workplace retirement plan accounts as other workers their age.2,3
If you carry sizable education debt, how can you plan to pay it off? If you are young (or not so young), budgeting is key. Even if you get a second job, a promotion, or an inheritance, you won’t be able to erase any debt if your expenses consistently exceed your income. Smartphone apps and other online budget tools can help you live within your budget day to day or even at the point of purchase for goods and services.
After that first step, you can use a few different strategies to whittle away at college loans.
*The local economy permitting, a couple can live on one salary and use the wages of the other earner to pay off the loan balance(s).
*You could use your tax refund to attack the debt.
*You can hold off on a major purchase or two. (Yes, this is a sad effect of college debt, but it could also help you reduce it by freeing up more cash to apply to the loan.)
*You can sell something of significant value – a car or truck, a motorbike, jewelry, collectibles – and use the cash for paying down the debt.
Now, in the big picture of your budget, you could try the “snowball method” where you focus on paying off your smallest debt first, then the next smallest, etc., on to the largest. Or, you could try the “debt ladder” tactic, where you attack the debt(s) with the highest interest rate(s) to start. That will permit you to gradually devote more and more money toward the goal of wiping out that existing student loan balance.
Even just paying more than the minimum each month on your loan will help. Making payments every two weeks rather than every month can also have a positive impact.
If a lender presents you with a choice of repayment plans, weigh the one you currently use against the others; the others might be better. Signing up for automatic payments can help, too. You avoid the risk of penalty for late payment, and student loan issuers commonly reward the move by lowering the interest rate on a loan by a quarter point.4
What if you have multiple outstanding college loans? If one of them has a variable interest rate, try addressing that one first. Why? The interest rate on it may rise with time.
Also, how about combining multiple federal student loan balances into one? That is another option. While this requires a consolidation fee, it also leaves you with one payment, perhaps at a lower interest rate than some of the old loans had. If you have multiple private-sector loans, refinancing is an option. Refinancing could lower the interest rate and trim the monthly payment. The downside is that you may end up with variable interest rates.5
Maybe your boss could help you pay down the loan. Some companies are doing just that for their workers, simply to be competitive today. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, 8% of employers offer this perk. A 2018 Employee Benefit Research Institute poll of 250 firms revealed that 13% planned to offer such assistance in the future.6
To reduce your student debt, live within your means and use your financial creativity. It may disappear faster than you think.
This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note - investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.
1 - fool.com/the-ascent/research/student-loan-debt-statistics/ [9/23/19]
2 - nar.realtor/student-loan-debt [11/12/19]
3 - washingtonpost.com/business/2019/06/25/heres-what-trillion-student-loan-debt-is-doing-us-economy/ [6/25/19]
4 - nerdwallet.com/article/loans/student-loans/how-to-lower-student-loan-interest-rate [8/7/19]
5 - nerdwallet.com/blog/loans/student-loans/consolidate-student-loans-2/ [10/8/19]
6 - tinyurl.com/uzedpg2 [10/10/19]
One study asserts that these relationships can make a difference for investors.
What is a relationship with a financial advisor worth to an investor? A 2019 study by Vanguard, one of the world’s largest money managers, attempts to answer that question.
Vanguard’s whitepaper concludes that when an investor works with an advisor and receives professional investment advice, they may see a net portfolio return about 3% higher over time.1
How did this study arrive at that conclusion? By comparing self-directed investor accounts to an advisor model, Vanguard found that the potential return relative to the average investor experience was higher for individuals who had financial advisors.1
Vanguard analyzed three key services that an advisor may provide: portfolio construction, wealth management, and behavioral coaching. It estimated that portfolio construction advice (e.g., asset allocation, asset location) could add up to 1.2% in additional return, while wealth management (e.g., rebalancing, drawdown strategies) may contribute over 1% in additional return.
The biggest opportunity to add value was in behavioral coaching, which was estimated to be worth about 1.5% in additional return. Financial advisors can use their insight to guide clients away from poor decisions, such as panic selling or accepting excessive risk in a portfolio. Indeed, the greatest value of a financial advisor may be in helping individuals adhere to an agreed-upon financial and investment strategy.1
Of course, financial advisors can account for additional value not studied by Vanguard, such as helping clients implement wealth protection strategies, which protect against the financial consequences of loss of income, and coordinating with other financial professionals on tax management and estate planning.
You could argue that a financial advisor’s independence adds qualitative value. It should be noted that not all financial advisors are independent. Some are basically employees of brokerages, and they may be encouraged to promote and recommend certain investments of those brokerages to their clients.2
Both types of financial advisors may receive their compensation in two ways: through transaction fees and through ongoing fees. Financial advisory firms are required to disclose how their professionals are compensated with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).2
After years of working with a financial advisor, the value of a relationship may be measured in both tangible and intangible ways. Many such investors are grateful they are not “going it alone.”
1 - advisors.vanguard.com/iwe/pdf/ISGQVAA.pdf [2/19]
2 - cnbc.com/2019/10/23/guide-to-choosing-the-right-financial-professional-for-you.html [10/23/19]
You will want to replace your income; you will also want to stay socially engaged.
About 6% of Americans 65 and older have never married. That statistic comes from a 2018 Census Bureau report, which also found that 22% of Americans aged 65-74 live alone.1
If you think you will retire alone and unmarried, you will want to pay special attention to both your financial and social qualities of life. Whether you perceive a solo retirement as liberating or challenging, it helps to be aware of how your future might differ from your present.1
Be aware that your retirement income needs may change. They can be affected by unplanned events and changes in your outlook or goals. Perhaps, a new dream or ambition emerges; you decide you want to start a business, or maybe, see more of the world. You could also end up retiring sooner than you anticipated. Developments like these could alter the “big picture” of your retirement distributions.
You may need to reinvent your social circle. Once retired, you may lose touch with the people who were a big part of your day-to-day life – the people that your business or career connected you with, including your co-workers. If you happen to retire to another community, the connections between you and your best friends or relatives might also weaken, even with social media on your side.
Ask yourself what you can do to try and strengthen your existing relationships and friendships – not just through the Internet, but in real life. Also, keep yourself open to new experiences through which you can build new friendships. Returning to a past hobby or pursuing a new one could also connect you to a new community.
An estate strategy should be a priority. Even if you have no heirs, you still have an estate, and you should have a say in how you are treated as an elder. Consider having powers of attorney in place. These are the legal forms that let you appoint another individual to act on your behalf, in case you cannot make short- or long-term financial or health care decisions.
There are four kinds of power of attorney. A general power of attorney can be written to give another person legal authority to handle a range of financial affairs for you. A special power of attorney puts limits on that legal authority. A durable power of attorney is not revocable; it stays in effect if you become incapacitated or mentally incompetent. Lastly, a health care power of attorney (which is usually durable) authorizes another person to make medical treatment decisions for you.2
In addition to powers of attorney, a will, and possibly other legal forms, you will also want to think about extended care. Not everyone ends up needing extended care, but you should consider its potential cost.
All this being said, you may find a degree of freedom that your fellow retirees envy. If you remain reasonably healthy and active, you may marvel at how many opportunities you can pursue and how many adventures you can readily have. Retiring single can be a challenge, but it can also be an open door to a new intellectually and emotionally rewarding phase of life.
1 - census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2018/acs/ACS-38.pdf [10/18]
2 - notarize.com/blog/types-of-power-of-attorney [9/12/18]
Are you prepared for the possibility – and expense – of eldercare?
Do you have an extra $33,000 to $100,000 to spare this year? How about next year, and the year after that? Your answer to these questions is probably “no.”
What could possibly cost so much? Eldercare.
According to the AARP Public Policy Institute, a year of in-home care for a senior costs roughly $33,000. A year at an assisted living facility? About $45,000. A year in a nursing home? Approximately $100,000.1
Medicare has limitations. Generally speaking, it will pay for no more than 35 hours per week of home health care and only up to 100 days of nursing home care, following a hospitalization. It may pay for up to six months of hospice care. If you or someone you love happens to develop Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia, Medicare will not pay for any degree of room and board for them at an assisted living facility.2
Medicaid is another resource entirely. For seniors who are eligible, Medicaid can pick up assisted living facility or nursing home expenses, and even in-home eldercare, in some instances. Qualifying for Medicaid is the hard part. Normally, you only qualify for it when you have spent down your assets to the point where you can no longer pay for eldercare out of pocket or with insurance.2
An extended care strategy may factor into a thoughtful retirement strategy. After all, your retirement may be lengthy, and you may need such care. The Social Security Administration projects that a quarter of today’s 65-year-olds will live past age 90, with a tenth making it to age 100.1
Insurance companies have modified extended care policies over the years. Some have chosen to bundle extended care features into other policies, which can make the product more accessible. An insurance professional familiar with industry trends may be able to provide you more information about policies and policy choices.
Waiting for federal or state lawmakers to pass a new program to help with the costs of eldercare is not much of a strategy. It is up to you, the individual, to determine how to face this potential financial challenge.2
If you lead a healthy and active life, you may need such care only at the very end. Assuming you do require it at some point, you may consider living in an area where you can join a continuing-care-at-home program (there are currently more than 30 of these, essentially operating as remote care programs of assisted living communities) or a “village network” that offers you some in-home help (not skilled nursing care, however).1
Those rare and nice options aside, retirement saving also needs to be about saving for potential extended care expenses. If insurance addressing extended care is not easy to obtain, then a Health Savings Account (HSA) might be an option. These accounts have emerged as another solution to extended care needs. An HSA is not a form of insurance, but it does provide a tax-advantaged savings account to which you (and potentially, your employer) can make contributions. You can use these funds to pay for most medical expenses, including prescription drugs, dental care, and vision care. You can look into this choice right away, to take advantage of savings over time.3
Once you reach age 65, you are required to stop making contributions to an HSA. Remember, if you withdraw money from your HSA for a nonmedical reason, that money becomes taxable income, and you face an additional 20% penalty. After age 65, you can take money out without the 20% penalty, but it still becomes taxable income.3
An HSA works a bit like your workplace retirement account. Your employer can make contributions alongside you. However, the money that you contribute comes from your pretax income and can be invested for you over time, so it may grow as your contributions accumulate.3
There are also some HSA rules and limitations to consider. You are limited to a $3,500 contribution for 2019, if you are single; $7,000, if you have a spouse or family. Those limits jump by a $1,000 “catch-up” limit for each person in the household over age 55. Your employer can contribute, but the ceiling is cumulative between your contributions and theirs. For example, say you are lucky enough to have your employer put a hypothetical $1,000 into your account in 2019; you may only contribute as much as the rest of your limit, minus that $1,000. If you go over that limit, you will incur a 6% tax penalty, so it is smart to watch how much you contribute.3
Alternately, you could do without an HSA and simply earmark a portion of your retirement savings for possible extended care costs.
One thing is for certain: any retiree or retirement saver needs to keep the possibility of extended care expenses in mind. Today is not too soon to explore the financial options to try and meet this challenge.
1 - marketwatch.com/story/long-term-care-insurance-has-a-shaky-future-here-are-new-ways-to-tackle-the-high-cost-of-aging-2019-05-22 [8/4/19]
2 - health.usnews.com/health-care/patient-advice/articles/dementia-care-in-assisted-living-homes [8/21/19]
3 - investors.com/etfs-and-funds/personal-finance/hsa-contribution-limits-hsa-rules/ [3/13/19]