This “Misunderstood” Financial Tool Could Rescue Your Retirement

There’s a crisis looming in America when it comes to retirement. No doubt you’ve read the articles and heard the news stories about this oncoming tidal wave of challenges for retirees, especially aging boomers. We’ve written about this issue several times on the AgingOptions Blog. As baby boomers retire – now at the rate of about 10,000 every day – they simply don’t have enough money set aside. “Many of them,” say the experts, “are woefully underfunded for their future retirement needs.”

So is it possible that one of the most misunderstood financial tools in America could be the very thing that saves retirement for a growing number of aging boomers? According to this article from Yahoo News, reprinted from US News & World Report, the answer is a definite yes. And what is this mystery tool? It’s none other than the reverse mortgage, which one expert, Jamie Hopkins, professor of finance at the John E. Simon School of Business, calls “one of the most misunderstood financial products in existence.”

The Yahoo News article points out, as most people know, that reverse mortgages (known as Home Equity Conversion Mortgages, or HECM) have gotten a “bad rap” over the past decade or two because of the way these instruments were designed and marketed when they first appeared. Reverse mortgages were associated with late night television ads featuring endorsements by aging celebrities. As a result, many financial planners were skeptical of the HECM at best. But unbeknownst to many uninformed Americans who still view these financial instruments with disdain and suspicion, the reverse mortgage has changed dramatically in recent years, with a host of new regulations and safeguards. As a result, says the article, “Reverse mortgages are now gaining a lot of attention as a viable option for retirement income.” Most of the skeptics have now become enthusiastic advocates. One expert quoted in the Yahoo News article stated flatly, “Reverse mortgages deserve a second look today.”

This fresh new look at the HECM couldn’t come at a better time for retiring boomers, the majority of whom are moving into their “golden years” with far fewer resources than they’ll need. This lack of savings is compounded by an anticipated longer lifespan, which means today’s boomers will probably be facing an increasing number of age-related health issues. According to Professor Hopkins, “This retirement income shortfall is nothing less than a crisis facing the United States.”  But the crisis could be averted for many by the power of a reverse mortgage which will allow homeowners to stay securely in their homes while tapping into the largest single “cash reserve” most of them possess – their home equity.

How might an HECM benefit a retiree? There are several ways. One popular option is to take out a line of credit, which allows the homeowner to supplement his or her income when needed. Not only is this a protected source of ready funds, but the available credit amount grows the longer the HECM is in force. Another option is to use the proceeds from the reverse mortgage to pay off the original loan, leaving a retiree with no house payment – a saving which would make a dramatic difference in retirement lifestyle for most of us.

Some retirees use income from their reverse mortgage to allow them to delay claiming Social Security benefits, a tactic which can boost monthly payments by more than 30% if, for instance, a retiree can hold off until age 70 instead of drawing benefits at 66. Other retirees have found that drawing on their HECM during times when the stock market is down and the value of their stock-based assets is depressed gives those balances time to recover. The HECM provides an excellent cushion, protecting retirees from having to sell when prices are low.

So we encourage you to read the Yahoo News article for yourself. You can also search the AgingOptions Blog for past articles on reverse mortgages. But without a doubt the most important step you can take is to talk with an expert to get all your questions answered and to find out if a reverse mortgage is right for you. We are well acquainted with several highly qualified professionals in the reverse mortgage field, people like Laura Kiel of Kiel Mortgage, and can recommend them with complete confidence. Don’t let your preconceived notions and other people’s opinions keep you from discovering the power of a reverse mortgage! You just may find, as others are discovering, that a Home Equity Conversion Mortgage could save your retirement.

When it comes to all aspects of retirement planning, we at AgingOptions stand ready to assist you with a full range of strategic services designed to help you enjoy a secure and fruitful retirement. Our approach, called LifePlanning, encompasses all aspects of retirement – finances, medical care, housing options, legal protection and family communications – weaving these into a well-crafted plan that protects your assets while helping you avoid becoming a burden to those you love. To learn more about this powerful approach to planning for your future, we invite you to join Rajiv Nagaich – without obligation or cost – at a future LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll find all current dates, times and seminar locations on the Upcoming Events tab by simply clicking on this link. You can register online, or contact us during the week, and we’ll gladly assist you.

It will be our pleasure to help guide you into the retirement you’ve always hoped for! We’ll look forward to meeting you soon.

(originally reported at http://finance.yahoo.com)

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Deciding When and Why to Retire: it’s Emotional, not just Financial

Retirement planning is our professional focus here at AgingOptions, and that means we read a great number of articles and studies that flood the internet every week. Since the baby boomer generation has begun to retire, the sheer volume of information about retirement planning has exploded. In fact, out of curiosity, we just tried entering the words “retirement planning” into our Internet search engine and immediately came up with almost 2.5 million hits!

It does seem to us that the majority of articles about retirement focus chiefly on finances. When will you know that you have enough money to retire? How can you maximize Social Security? How much income will you need ten or twenty years from now? How should you handle Required Minimum Distribution from your 401(k)? These are all important questions, it’s true, but as we’ve said here a thousand times, money alone is not a guarantee of retirement bliss – in fact, the opposite can often be true.

For that reason we were drawn to a recent pair of articles that seemed to us to raise important questions about retirement, questions that have little to do with money. One deals with the question of when – when do you know that it’s time to retire? The other deals with the question of why – why retire in the first place? What’s the point? Let’s take a look at these and see what light they shed on the non-financial considerations surrounding retirement.

The first article is this one from the Kiplinger financial website.  “How do you know when it’s time to retire?” asks author Janet Bodnar. “The decision to retire is a personal one that’s as much psychological as financial.”  The article describes some conversations the recently-retired author had with a group of her high school classmates celebrating their 50th reunion. One classmate had retired from her job as a school psychologist, while another who had been laid off from a corporate h.r. position had started a new part-time career as an executive consultant.  The third was hoping to ease into retirement by staying on the job while cutting back on her administrative responsibilities.  In other words, these women were representative of many boomers facing the decision of when to retire.

“Retirement is really a lifestyle change triggered by some event,” says Brian Sykes, a financial planner quoted by Bodnar in Kiplinger. Those “triggers” can vary from individual to individual: a layoff, a health crisis, or the demands of family. “Many people simply want to be closer to relatives or spend more time with grandchildren,” Bodnar writes. Some grow restless in their careers, facing “the desire to do something different, make more of an impact or just have more flexibility.”  For some, the desire to retire is spurred on by a reminder of mortality, such as the death of a close friend or family member. “People realize that time is their one fixed resource, and how they spend it becomes more important as time shrinks,” says Sykes. “People make decisions emotionally and then use the numbers to justify those decisions.”

Baby boomers, says Bodnar, “are the first generation to face the challenge of how to plan for a retirement lasting 25 to 30 years.”  That makes the why of retirement just about as important as the when. And that in turn brings us to the second article, this one from USNews called simply “What’s the Point of Retirement?”  Unlike in the past, when retirement represented little more than “a brief period of well-deserved rest after a lifetime of backbreaking work,” the outlook for today’s retirees is completely different.  “Today’s retirement offers a chance for a whole new life,” the USNews article says, “to reinvent yourself for your next couple of decades.”  So how can you find the why in your new life as a retiree? The article lists six suggestions to help you discover the point in retirement:

  • Enjoy your freedom. As you escape the pressures of work, “you can begin to relax and enjoy the feeling of not being exhausted all the time. You will probably find your anxiety slowly slipping away and may start to sleep better. Without so much stress in your life, you might find that your health and energy levels start to improve.”
  • Rediscover yourself. Once the “vacation stage” of retirement begins to pass, it’s time to “think about what you really want to do – rather than what you’ve always felt obligated to do.” Go back to school, start a business, volunteer, travel – dive into some of the things you’ve always dreamed of doing.
  • Make some plans. “Some dreams expand,” says the article, “while others become more realistic. Maybe instead of walking the entire Appalachian Trail, you walk a section of it, or instead of going back to school to earn a law degree, you attend classes at a community college.” By getting started with realistic plans you may find yourself discovering a niche for yourself that you never knew existed before.
  • Develop new routines. “You may miss that [former work] routine at first. So develop a new one.” Begin to rebuild your week around an exercise class, a part-time job, a regular volunteer position or involvement in a church. “These routines,” says the article, “provide structure for retirees who might otherwise feel as though they are drifting along with no purpose.”
  • Make new friends. “You might begin to miss seeing your old work colleagues every day,” says USNews. “Loneliness can creep up on you as you lose old friends, and it’s sometimes hard to make new ones.” So don’t be afraid to reach out at your volunteer job, your college classes, or the local senior center in town. Another great idea is to get a pet: not only will a pet bring companionship, but “you’re likely to meet like-minded friends down at the dog park.”
  • Recalculate. Here’s how the article puts it: “No matter how much you plan ahead, you may find that you’ve made a false start. Some people have trouble adjusting to retirement, and end up taking on a new job for another year or two before they are truly ready for retirement. Or you might move into a retirement community, seduced by its pretty landscaping and built-in activities, only to realize the place isn’t your style. So try things out, and then reassess your needs. You might not find your ideal retirement lifestyle on the first try.”

If these articles provide answers to when and why to retire, let AgingOptions help you understand how to retire. How can you protect your assets and avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones? How can you make certain your finances, legal affairs, housing choices, medical protection and family communications are all woven into a blueprint for your retirement future? An AgingOptions LifePlan is the answer. We invite you to bring all your retirement questions and join Rajiv Nagaich at a free LifePlanning Seminar near you. It could be the most important few hours of your retirement life! For details and online registration, click here – then select the seminar of your choice and register online.

Getting ready to retire? We’re ready to help guide you. Age on!

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The RAISE Act: Bipartisan Legislation will Aid Family Caregivers

Last week on our AgingOptions blog we posted this article describing how serving as a family caregiver while holding down a regular job is “a recipe for stress.” But now we’re pleased – and a bit surprised – to be able to report some good news on the caregiving front: the successful passage of bi-partisan legislation, all too rare these days, designed to provide what experts in the field call a “national strategy to support family caregivers.”

The newly passed bill, now on the way to the President’s desk for signature, is called the RAISE Act, or more formally the “Recognize, Assist, Include, Support and Engage (RAISE) Family Caregivers Act.” (This is not to be confused with another proposed piece of legislation, also called the RAISE Act, which deals with immigration law. In Washington, D.C., nothing is ever simple.)  We found this article from the aging website NextAvenue, written by aging expert Richard Eisenberg, describing the RAISE Act and what it would do for the estimated 40 million family caregivers in America, those relatives and partners who provide medical, household and financial assistance to loved ones, often without pay. Nancy LeaMond of the AARP calls family caregivers “the backbone of our care system in America,” and says that as a nation “We need to make it easier for them to coordinate care for their loved ones, get information and resources, and take a break so they can rest and recharge.” This new law, for which AARP has been advocating for years, may be a significant step in the right direction.

Writing in NextAvenue, Eisenberg says that it’s common for family caregivers to experience a great deal of emotional strain and mental health problems, especially depression. Their physical health also tends to suffer compared with their peers. This leads to stress and isolation. And on top of that there’s the often-hidden financial cost which affects about 8 out of 10 caregivers to the tune of almost $7,000 average out of pocket costs per year, according to AARP studies.

In mid-2017, Eisenberg writes, the Society for Human Resource Management released a study called “Daughters in the Workplace” (described in this blog post) which surveyed 1,001 working women aged 45-60 who are also caregivers. Some of the findings were both disturbing and sobering and provide some tangible evidence of the problems these women face. For example:

  • Half the respondents said they “have to choose between being a good employee and being a good daughter”
  • One-quarter of the women described “a stigma attached with taking time off to care for a parent or parent-in-law” at their workplace, and a similar number described their supervisor as “unsympathetic when it comes to their balancing work and caregiver responsibilities”
  • About one in eight report they have been “passed over for a promotion or raise, or have been penalized at work due to caregiving” and almost 10 percent say their jobs are “currently at risk due to their caregiving responsibilities”
  • The average caregiver daughter uses 29 percent of her paid time off to meet her caregiving responsibilities, which consume an average of 14 hours per week.

“So much of caregiving goes underreported because of the stigma,” said one analyst. “It’s fun to talk about children at work, but it’s not fun to talk about our declining parents.”  No wonder caregivers can often feel so isolated and misunderstood.

So what will this new legislation, the RAISE Act, actually accomplish?  According to the article in NextAvenue, the new law requires the Secretary of Health and Human Services to “develop, maintain and update an integrated national strategy to support family caregivers” – support that experts agree is sorely needed. “Under the RAISE Act,” Eisenberg explains, “HHS will create a national family caregiver strategy by bringing together federal agencies and representatives from the private and public sectors (like family caregivers, health care providers, employers and state and local officials) in public advisory council meetings designed to make recommendations. The agency will have 18 months to develop its initial strategy and then must provide annual updates.”

Besides providing caregiver training, the new law will hopefully expand respite options for caregivers, improve their financial security, strengthen workplace protection and enhance federal programs that might provide caregivers with more support. “America’s beleaguered, loving family caregivers are eagerly waiting” for these improvements, says Eisenberg.  Here at AgingOptions we hope the new law is signed quickly by President Trump and that it brings about some of these long-overdue benefits; however, as it always the case with government programs, the devil is in the details. We’ll keep you posted as new policies to benefit family caregivers become more widespread, hopefully as a result of the new legislation.

Helping you live out your retirement years with dignity, security and purpose is our passion at AgingOptions, which is why we’ve developed the most comprehensive form of retirement planning we know of. It’s called LifePlanning, and unlike most one-dimensional plans, it combines the key elements you need to consider to have a retirement plan that will help you protect your assets in retirement while preventing you from becoming a burden to those you love. This relates directly to the caregiver predicament described in the NextAvenue article! But when you have a LifePlan in place, your housing and medical needs are meshed with your financial and legal needs to create a seamless plan, one your family will support.

How do you take the next step and find out about this breakthrough in retirement planning? Join Rajiv Nagaich at an upcoming free LifePlanning Seminar. You’ll find all the details here on our Upcoming Events page, where you can register online or contact us for assistance. It will be our pleasure to meet you and to demonstrate the power of a LifePlan for your retirement.

(originally reported at www.nextavenue.org)

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Getting Your Flu Shot Over Multiple Years Brings Unexpected Benefits

The news stories seem to come every year at about this time. The flu season is in full swing, but once again, say the headlines, the officials in charge of our national health care have made the wrong guess about the particular strain of the flu virus that is most prevalent. One article that appeared online last week quoted estimates that “the flu vaccine may only be 10 percent effective against this year’s most common strains.” The Newsweek article went on to explain why the news about flu is so dire. “Every year, scientists must make an educated guess about what virus is likely to be the one that makes people sick,” the article said. “This approach has obvious downsides.”  In the words of one expert on infectious diseases, “We’re constantly trying to play a catch-up game.”

So does that mean getting a flu shot is pointless? Absolutely not, according to this article from the website HealthDay – in fact, quite the opposite is true. Even if this year’s vaccine is a mismatch with this year’s virus, there is strong, new evidence that annual flu shots repeated over multiple consecutive years definitely help keep vulnerable seniors out of the hospital.

“The current flu season is shaping up to be a nasty one,” says the HealthDay article, “but there’s good news for American seniors who’ve gotten their flu shot. New research shows that for older adults, faithfully getting the vaccine each year greatly reduces the odds of catching a flu so severe that it lands you in the hospital.”  The article describes a Spanish research study which revealed that those seniors who get their flu shot year after year reduce their risk of dying from influenza by an amazing 70 percent, and they are also 74 percent less likely to wind up in intensive care due to effects from the flu bug.  According to Dr. Jesus Castilla, the Spanish research physician who authored the study, “The findings bolster the notion that although getting a flu shot doesn’t always prevent the flu, it can make it milder for those who do catch it.”

While for most people catching the flu is a relatively minor annoyance, for many of the most vulnerable it can prove deadly. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that influenza accounts for hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations every year, and depending on the severity of a particular flu season the number of deaths in the U.S. has ranged between 12,000 and 56,000 each year since 2010. Older adults are particularly susceptible to severe complications from influenza because their immune systems aren’t as robust.

Dr. Castilla’s research concentrated on several hundred adults 65 years old and older. What the doctor and his colleagues discovered was that the positive benefits from the flu shot appear to be cumulative: in fact, the study found that those who had gotten a flu vaccination in the current and three previous flu seasons were half as likely to develop a severe case of the illness than their less-vaccinated counterparts. In Dr. Castilla’s words, “Annual vaccination acts as a booster for [the patient’s] immune response. In other words, the protection increases as compared to the effect of vaccination in a single season.”

As the HealthDay article explains, developing each year’s flu vaccine is “a tricky business.” In order to predict what vaccine to produce for patients in the Northern Hemisphere, health officials examine which strains of the virus had been most prevalent in Southern Hemisphere in the previous months. Then they adapt the vaccine to those expectations. “They have to do a little bit of guesswork,” said one immunologist, “and don’t always guess correctly.”  But the good news from this new research, and the biggest take-away of all for seniors and their families, is that the quality of that “guesswork” from one year to the next may not matter so much.

As one doctor put it, “The most important take-home message is to get your flu shot and not worry about how effective it is this year.” She adds that “People might be more inclined to skip [the vaccine],” but they definitely should not, because “this study really emphasizes that a primary benefit is year after year of consistently getting that flu shot helps keep people out of the hospital and ICU.”

As we at AgingOptions read this article it brings to mind the critical importance of getting good, solid, age-appropriate medical advice. For seniors, we strongly advise that you seek out the services of a geriatrician, someone trained in the unique health needs of older adults. In our professional experience, a geriatrician will take the time to get to know you, answer your questions, and give you medical advice that is right for your age and circumstances – the exact opposite of the “cookie cutter medicine” all too common today. If you’ll contact us at AgingOptions we will gladly refer you to a geriatrician in your area. (And if you haven’t yet gotten your flu shot this year, experts say it’s not too late. Better safe than sorry, we say.)

What about your retirement planning? Here, too, it’s vital that you work with someone who will take the time to listen to you and get to know your circumstances – not someone who will suggest a one-size-fits-all approach that may seem suitable today but is sure to prove dangerously inadequate in the future when health concerns loom and housing plans become unsustainable. At AgingOptions we call our comprehensive retirement planning approach LifePlanning, and we invite you to join Rajiv Nagaich at a free seminar where you can get the facts about this retirement breakthrough for yourself. We offer these LifePlanning Seminars at locations throughout the Puget Sound region, and we would love to have you with us. For dates, times and locations, click here to visit our Upcoming Events page. Then register online or call us during the week.

LifePlanning Seminars do fill up fast, so why not register today? It will be our pleasure to meet you.

(originally reported at https://consumer/healthday.com)

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Hidden Financial Deals Cause Nursing Home Care to Suffer

It’s every family’s worst nightmare. You place a loved one in a nursing home, trusting that the facility you’ve chosen will provide the kind of quality care they need. But after a few months, you realize that, instead of providing excellent care, the nursing home is plagued with neglect, chronically understaffed, and filled with residents whose needs are barely being met. What’s going on here?

According to this eye-opening report in a recent New York Times issue, part of this crisis in care almost appears intentional. A growing number of nursing home owners have set up an opaque network of financial dealings in which the homes they own contract out many critical services to companies that are actually owned (or controlled) by the very same owners. In the words of the New York Times, “In what has become an increasingly common business arrangement, owners of nursing homes outsource a wide variety of goods and services to companies in which they have a financial interest or that they control.” These tidy in-house relationships, known as “related party transactions,” now involve more than 11,000 nursing homes, about three-quarters of U.S. nursing care facilities.  (This is based on an analysis of financial records by Kaiser Health News.)

The New York Times article says that the owners claim this kind of outsourcing – which can even extend to a nursing home renting their own building from a sister corporation – is efficient and helps reduce tax liability. But it seems like the practice has gotten out of hand: “Contracts with related companies accounted for $11 billion of nursing home spending in 2015,” says the article. According to Medicare analysis, that represents one-tenth of their earnings

These related party transactions, which are typically hidden behind a web of shell corporations and holding companies, represent a gold mine for nursing home owners. As the New York Times puts it, “Owners can arrange highly favorable contracts in which their nursing homes pay more than they might in a competitive market. Owners then siphon off higher profits, which are not recorded on the nursing home’s accounts.” In one example citing a California-based chain, the nursing homes owned by the company were paying rents to another related company, rents that were one-third higher than comparable rates in the same counties.  This firm, called Brius Healthcare Services, is currently being audited by the State of California.

Besides being fiscally lucrative, these related party transactions also bring legal benefits to the nursing home owners. “When a nursing home is sued,” says the Times, “injured residents and their families have a much harder time collecting money from the related companies — the ones with the full coffers.” Many aggrieved residents and their families give up in frustration. No wonder nursing home owners like these arrangements so much.

These legal and financial arrangements are not illegal, but they definitely have a negative impact on care, according to the Times article.  Kaiser Health News reported that “nursing homes that outsource to related organizations…have fewer nurses and aides per patient, they have higher rates of patient injuries and unsafe practices, and they are the subject of complaints almost twice as often as independent homes.” One nursing professor familiar with the set-up said, “Almost every single one of these chains is doing the same thing. They’re just pulling money away from staffing.”  The statistics uncovered by Kaiser were damning:

  • Homes that outsource to sister companies employed 8 percent fewer nurses and aides.
  • These homes were 9 percent more likely to have hurt or jeopardized residents.
  • These homes racked up 53 substantiated complaints for every 1,000 beds, 65 percent more than their financially independent counterparts.
  • Homes practicing related party transactions were fined 22 percent more often for serious health violations than independent homes, and penalties averaged $24,441 — 7 percent higher.

At AgingOptions, we have heard more horror stories than we can count about family members receiving poor, overpriced care at nursing homes. Does that mean all these facilities are substandard? Definitely not – but it does mean that families have to do their homework before they make any sort of commitment to long-term nursing care. We know that most seniors dream of aging in their own homes, but the vast majority will not be able to achieve that goal and will end up in some other type of housing. According to some statistics, about 25 percent of all seniors age 65-plus will someday spend time in a nursing home. If you’re blessed with real longevity – reaching age 95 – the odds that you’ll live in a nursing home are close to 50 percent.  That means many of our AgingOptions radio listeners and blog readers will be faced with the challenge of evaluating a care facility for themselves, a spouse or a loved one.  If you’ll contact us, we can put you in touch with excellent resources such as our recommended partner Better Care Management who can guide you through the evaluation and selection process.

When it comes to needing a guide, the professionals at AgingOptions are standing by to guide you into the type of retirement you’ve always hoped for. You’ll find that there’s much more to planning for retirement than making the right housing choices: a comprehensive plan also means your finances, legal affairs, medical protection and family communication all need to be included as well. There’s only one type of plan that encompasses all these: a LifePlan from AgingOptions. If you’d like to learn more, please accept this invitation to join Rajiv Nagaich at an upcoming LifePlanning Seminar, an information-packed few hours that will change your view of retirement forever. There’s no cost, and no obligation.

For dates, times and locations, click here where you can register online for the seminar of your choice (or call us for assistance during the week). We’ll look forward to meeting you!

(Originally reported at www.nytimes.com)

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Good Health: Not Just Treating Illness, but Taking Steps to Prevent It

When it comes to health care, most of us tend to focus on what happens to us when we’re sick. Is the doctor’s visit covered? What about hospitalization? Does my prescription drug benefit cover the new pills my doctor is prescribing?

These are important questions, it’s true – but good health means far more than what happens to us when we’re sick and need a doctor’s care. Good health is really about prevention. Nevertheless, too often it seems as if the medical and pharmaceutical industries, abetted by the insurance companies, rule the health care landscape, causing us patients to consume more expensive, traditional health care than we need while failing to help us adopt the kind of personal habits and lifestyle changes that might really cause us to live longer, healthier lives.

In researching this topic, we read about a study from some years ago, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which showed that about half of all deaths in the United States in 2000 were due to preventable behaviors and exposures.  This same study estimates that 400,000 people die each year in the United States due to poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. Since this study appeared more than a decade ago, we suspect that the situation has only gotten worse – a suspicion that was corroborated as we scrutinized this set of data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The website offers a table of statistics that paint a disturbing picture of just how bad the lifestyle choices of the average American actually are!

Let’s consider a few examples:

  • Exercise: Only half of all adults say they exercise three times per week as recommended. More than half of all adults 75 years old and older are physically inactive, in spite of the high correlation between physical activity and overall physical and cognitive health.
  • Nutrition: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that 90 percent of Americans continue to eat too much salt, and that reducing salt intake by 1,200 milligrams per day could cut U.S. health care costs by $20 billion. Unfortunately, the average daily calorie intake in the American marketplace rose by 600 calories per person between 1970 and 2008, and the number of fast food restaurants more than doubled during that same period. Sugar intake has also skyrocketed, leading to a host of sugar-related healthcare problems including diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, even cancer.
  • Obesity: As a result of poor diet and increasing inactivity, obesity has become a well-publicized national epidemic. One British study predicted that, by 2030, fully half of all U.S. adults will be clinically obese. In 1970 about 15 percent of American adults could be classified as obese, but by 2008 that figure had more than doubled, and continues to climb. The National Academies of Science peg the cost of obesity-related health problems in the U.S. at more than $190 billion.

Some groups have tried using a reward system to get people to improve their health habits. One such program, described in this article that appeared last month on the website of Kaiser Health News, cited an initiative for Medicaid patients that provided, for example, a $25 Target gift card as an incentive for a women to get a mammogram. Do these reward-based programs work? “Overall, research on the effectiveness of financial incentives for the Medicaid population has been mixed,” says the Kaiser analysis. Researchers said some incentives “can induce people to keep an appointment or attend a class but are less likely to yield long-term behavior changes, such as weight loss.”  Our take-away from this idea is simple: you as a consumer need to take charge of your own health care, for your own sake and for the sake of those you love. No gift card or other reward is going to motivate you to change, and the traditional medical establishment likely won’t be of much help.

Our philosophy at AgingOptions is explained by Rajiv Nagaich. “Health planning is more than simply having an insurance policy that will allow you to access medical care when you are ill,” says Rajiv.  “Our view is that you should have an insurance policy that will allow you to take better care of yourself – one that allows you to self-refer to a nutritionist, for example, or other preventive care specialist. We think true insurance should provide access to a personal trainer, or at the very least provide free gym membership along the lines of the Silver Sneakers program.”  As important as it will be to have access to acute care, says Rajiv, true preventive care could be more important to most of us in the long run.

“We spend more time trying to patch up bodies that are broken due to preventable illness,” says Rajiv, “but precious little time making sure the body does not break in the first place!” He adds, “While we at AgingOptions can’t change the current reality of American medical care, we can advise our clients and friends to demand more from the health care system. It’s up to you and me to shift the focus of health care away from curing sickness toward preventing it. That’s the key to a longer, healthier life.”

Are you going to hear words like this from your traditional doctor? Odds are the answer is no – which is why we encourage you to join Rajiv Nagaich at an AgingOptions LifePlanning seminar soon. Rajiv will show you how medical, financial, legal, housing and family plans all have to work together as you plan for your retirement future. There are some things that the medical industry would rather you did not know, just as there are “dark corners” in many industries: in real estate, where some realtors provide poor advice to those looking for a retirement home; in finance, where financial planners often seek to keep fees and commissions secret; and in the legal profession, where attorneys can too frequently behave unscrupulously.

The bottom line is simple: you need an advocate and a guide. Come to a free LifePlanning Seminar and see this fresh new approach to retirement planning for yourself. For a complete list of currently scheduled seminars, click here for details and online registration  or give us a call so we can help you take charge of all aspects of your retirement.  Age on!

 

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Caring for Elders While Holding a Job: the Prescription for Stress

Some months ago we read a report on the blog of the AARP that revealed a problem too often overlooked, but one that will sound familiar to a significant number of Americans. The problem is the growing number of people, estimated at nearly 24 million workers, who are holding down paying jobs while at the same time serving as family caregivers. That’s a sure prescription for stress, fatigue and uncertainty, not only for employees but also for employers. “For employers big and small,” says AARP, “the need to support workers who also provide unpaid care for a family member is a growing reality.”

You can read the AARP article by clicking here. Even though the article first appeared in mid-2016, the information – and the predicament of working caregivers that it describes – are all too relevant today. For a more recent look at this issue, we suggest this more recent article just published in the popular magazine Consumer Reports.

These days, says AARP, serving as a caregiver to an adult relative (especially an aging parent) is growing more and more complex than it may have been in the past. Caregivers today often have to navigate a fiendishly complicated health care delivery system while performing more intense and complex care in the home, all while coping with the demands of work. Research suggests that employed caregivers feel a growing sense of stress and performance anxiety at work, with more and more pressure and less and less job security. Research also reveals that parents who are caring for young children at home often enjoy far more workplace flexibility than workers who are caring for older family members. Some caregivers even suggest they have experienced workplace discrimination, which according to an AARP research report from 2012, is not prohibited by most federal and state employment laws.

In a study entitled Caregiving in the United States 2015, cited by AARP, about 60 percent of family caregivers report they are also employed outside the home, and most of these “working caregivers” (nearly two-thirds) are caring for a relative 65 years old or older. According to the Consumer Reports story, “Providing care for a friend or family member is a labor of love for the 40 million people who are coping with that challenge. But taking on caregiving responsibilities can be costly.” The article quotes a 2016 AARP survey which found that unpaid caregivers spend an average of almost $7,000 a year on out-of-pocket expenses.  But that’s only part of the financial burden on caregivers. “An earlier AARP study estimated that missed wages and Social Security benefits totaled $234,000 for male caregivers and $324,000 for women, who are more likely to drop out of the workforce.” This loss has a lifetime effect on their retirement future.

As if this weren’t enough of a recipe for stress, the caregivers are also aging: half of these employed caregivers are themselves 50 years old or older, which means they are already experiencing the challenges of being an older worker in today’s high-stress, increasingly insecure workplace.

There are two chief take-aways from these articles. The first, in the words of the AARP blog: “As the U.S. population rapidly ages, the need to support workers with family caregiving responsibilities will grow.” In other words, AARP favors more generous family leave and paid sick day policies, along with greater work flexibility for caregivers. The organization advocates legislation to give caregivers increased measures of employment security and, when necessary, paid time off. Above all, we need a “culture of understanding about eldercare needs” especially as they affect those in the workplace.

The second point is more concerning: as the population ages, “we’re facing a caregiving cliff,” said Dr. Susan Reinhard, AARP Public Policy expert. “By mid-century, there will only be three caregivers available for each person requiring care.” As today’s baby boomers age, there may not be enough people able to care for them. “That means,” says AARP’s Reinhard, “we need to provide support for existing caregivers who are underserved” by current services. In other words, we had better be planning now for the caregiving needs of the not-too-distant future.

Planning for the future is the centerpiece of our activities here at AgingOptions, and that includes planning for your future care needs. This will most probably involve your family members, because aging is a family affair. Have you sat down and talked with your adult children about your expectations and wishes for the future? Have you and your family members had an honest conversation about the fears and concerns each of you is experiencing as you contemplate your aging years? Far too many families leave these issues unaddressed and unresolved until it’s too late. Here at AgingOptions, we frequently conduct family conferences in which all these issues are laid out on the table for open, constructive discussion. We would be glad to do that for you. Through planning and preparation, you can successfully avoid becoming a burden to your loved ones as you age, and also avoid being forced into unplanned institutional care.

The key is to have your own personalized AgingOptions LifePlan – our name for a fully-developed, individualized retirement plan that takes all your needs into account: financial plans, legal protection, medical coverage, housing options and family communication. If you’re ready to start creating your own LifePlan, we can help. The best way to start is to join Rajiv Nagaich at one of our free LifePlanning Seminars – popular, information-packed sessions held in various locations throughout the area. These seminars fill up fast, however, so we encourage you not to wait. Instead you can click here for dates, and free online registration. It will be a pleasure working with you as together we plan your ideal future.

(originally reported at http://blog.aarp.org)

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Bloomberg: Future of Retirement is Bright, Despite Negative Press

No doubt you’ve read articles in recent years lamenting the demise of the traditional pension system and claiming that the economic outlook for today’s retirees is grim. But at least one expert says, “Not so fast!” The future of retirement, he writes in this Bloomberg article, is actually brighter than ever. We thought we would share his views with you to see how you react: are we or are we not in a “retirement crisis”?

The author is Ramesh Ponnuru, who not only writes for Bloomberg but is also seni0r editor of National Review. It’s long past time, says Ponnuru, for Americans to “stop mourning the loss of traditional pensions” as evidence for retirement pessimism.  In the Bloomberg piece he cites one recent article in the Washington Post that tracked a group of retirees in Oklahoma whose pensions had disappeared in 1994. For this group of nearly 1,000 retirees, the outcome turned out to be grim.  The Washington Post story, according to Ponnuru, “features bankruptcies, lost homes and long-deferred retirements. It’s compelling [and] it’s sad.”  But is it “a useful guide to the future of American retirement?” Definitely not: instead, says Ponnuru, articles like this one – and there have been many – are part of a chorus of negative journalism “that laments the decline of the traditional defined-benefit pension and the rise of defined-contribution plans such as 401(k)s.”

The reason Ponnuru takes issue with this notion that the “good old days” of retirement pensions were so rosy, and the newer model of 401(k)-style plans so dangerous for retirees, is that he believes journalists who makes these claims overlook the facts – and in some ways he may have a valid point. Writing in Bloomberg, Ponnuru cites four specific areas in which negative stories about loss of pensions miss the mark.

First, he writes, these articles “gloss over how rare defined-benefit pensions really were.” We tend to think that a generation or so ago every worker enjoyed pension benefits, but that’s far from the truth. “Even at the mid-1970s peak of defined-benefit plans,” writes Ponnuru, “fewer than 40 percent of private-sector workers had them.” By contrast, he says, more than 60 percent of private-sector workers are now participating in a retirement plan, and among all workers the percentage vested in any retirement plan has risen by 80 percent since 1979.

Second, the articles that lament the loss of pensions tend to misrepresent the advantages of 401(k)-style plans. Under the old system, says Ponnuru, benefits were dependent on total years worked and the worker’s final salary. If a worker lost his or her job in their 40s, they were actually at a permanent disadvantage.  Ponnuru speculates that some of the Oklahoma workers written about in the Washington Post article “might well have been better off if the shift toward 401(k)s had happened decades earlier” because those savings would have lasted longer and continued to grow over time.

Third, Ponnuru’s Bloomberg article says many of the doomsayers are guilty of using misleading statistics to prove that America is in a “retirement crisis” because so many families have lost their pension benefits. In fact, he says, this pessimism is unwarranted because more workers participate in retirement savings today than in the past. “Count all retirement plans” – pension and 401(k) – “and nearly three-quarters of near-retirees have them,” Ponnuru writes.

Fourth, he criticizes the retirement nay-sayers who fail to look at how much the lifestyle for today’s retirees has actually improved.  If the loss of pensions were really driving retirees to the brink of poverty, statistics would show it, but the opposite seems to be happening, suggests Ponnuru. One telling fact: if you compare the median income of senior households between 1989 and 2013 – even after adjusting for inflation – you would find today’s seniors enjoying an income that is one-third higher than their predecessors.

Is Ponnuru suggesting that everything is rosy in Retirement Land? No, he does acknowledge some major issues: people aren’t saving enough, and, despite improvements, not all workers have access to retirement saving plans. He also has a few other suggestions to make things better for retirees such as adjusting payroll taxes on older workers and making changes to Social Security. But on balance, the tone of the Bloomberg article is positive, maybe a bit too positive, we think. While it may be true that old-style pensions were never the panacea some claim they were, here at AgingOptions we are dismayed to read of the paltry rate of retirement savings that continues to plague many workers, even older ones.  For example, this Time magazine article from a few years ago reported that more than one-fourth of financial survey respondents over 55 had no retirement savings at all, and another 26 percent had balances of $50,000 or less. This may not represent what Ponnuru calls a “retirement crisis” but it sounds like one to us.

However, the real retirement crisis is not merely the failure to save, but the failure to plan. In our experience at AgingOptions, even setting aside plenty of savings is no guarantee of a secure retirement, because few financial plans can survive a true retirement emergency. Instead you need a truly comprehensive plan in which finances, legal protection, medical coverage, housing choices and family communication are all working together interdependently. We call that an AgingOptions LifePlan.

If you’re intrigued and ready to find out more, there’s a simple way to do just that: accept our invitation to attend a free LifePlanning Seminar with Rajiv Nagaich, at a location that’s convenient for you. This could well be the most important few hours you’ll ever spend when it comes to securing your retirement future. Click here for our Upcoming Events page where you can register for the seminar of your choice, or call us for assistance.  It will be our pleasure to help guide you into a secure and fruitful retirement – and there’s no time like the present to get started. Age on!

(originally reported at www.bloomberg.com)

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Peak, Trough, Rebound: the Best Time of Day to Get Things Done

Is there anyone out there who wants to be happier, healthier and more productive in the New Year? We suspect the unanimous response is, “Of course.” Well, apparently the secret is all in the timing – or at least that’s the conclusion from this fascinating article from the Wall Street Journal.   Written by author and behaviorist Daniel Pink, the article is called “How to Be Healthier, Happier and More Productive: It’s All in the Timing.” Author Pink asks, “When is the best time to exercise or do creative work? Research on the science of timing has answers.”

While this article is not written specifically to retirees and other boomers approaching retirement age, we think it has strong applicability. Most of us know from our experience at home or in the workplace that we have those times of day when we can really get things done – as well as those other times when our brain is in a fog and our body lacks the energy for big tasks. The news from this article, based on extensive research which Daniel Pink is highlighting in an upcoming book on the subject, is that the so-called “science of timing” isn’t imaginary – it’s very real. Knowing this, and how it affects you as an individual, will help you make the most of your day, no matter what stage of life you’re presently in.

“You’re probably getting ready to make a few New Year’s resolutions, solemn promises to yourself to behave better in 2018,” writes Pink. “You might have pondered how you’re going to accomplish those goals, who could help you and why you need to change. But if you’re like most people—and social science suggests that you and I are like most people—you’ve neglected a question that could help you actually stick to those resolutions: ‘When?’” He adds that most of us think the question of what time of day is the best time is more gut-level, when in fact “timing is really a science.”  While the ways we measure time – seconds, minutes and hours – are basically a human invention, there’s one inescapable measurement of time that affects every human being: the 24-hour day.  “We inhabit a planet that turns on its axis at a steady speed in a regular pattern, exposing us to consistent periods of light and dark,” says Pink in the Wall Street Journal. “The day is perhaps the most important way that we divide, configure and evaluate our time.”  By understanding that fact, and making better timing decisions, we can improve our overall effectiveness and happiness.

Science has confirmed what most of us suspect: our cognitive abilities change, sometimes dramatically, over the course of a day. “We are smarter, faster and more creative in some parts of the day than others,” says Pink, adding that “these daily fluctuations can be extreme.” (One researcher said, “The performance change between the daily high point and the daily low point can be equivalent to the effect on performance of drinking the legal limit of alcohol.”) Most people experience what Daniel Pink calls “the day in three acts” – peak, trough and rebound. The peak is typically in the morning, cresting at about noon, and is generally “the best time to tackle work that requires heads-down attention and analysis, such as writing a legal brief or auditing financial statements.”  By contrast, the trough, typically in early to mid-afternoon, brings with it “a corresponding fall in our ability to remain focused and constrain our inhibitions.” This isn’t the best time to plan that important meeting or work on that project that demands concentration and creativity.

And here’s something else you should know about the trough, according to research. “The trough,” writes Daniel Pink, “is an especially dangerous time for health-care professionals and their patients. In a study published in 2006 in Quality and Safety in Health Care, researchers at Duke Medical Center reviewed about 90,000 surgeries at the hospital and found that harmful anesthesia errors were three times more likely in procedures that began at 3 p.m. than at 8 a.m.”  We advise you to schedule your medical appointments accordingly.

What about the rebound? For most people this occurs in the late afternoon or early evening. During this time of day, “most people are somewhat less vigilant than during the peak, but more alert and in a better mood than during the trough. That combination has advantages.” The rebound period is a good time for “brainstorming sessions and other creative pursuits,” according to Daniel Pink. Oh, and here’s one more important bit of information for you night owls: you tend to experience these three phases differently from others, so we encourage you to read the Wall Street Journal article by Daniel Pink and learn how time of day affects you.

The article contains much more information about these phases of the day and how knowing this about ourselves can make us more productive, help us get more exercise, teach us when and how to relax, and improve our overall mood. It’s an insightful look at our human behavior, well worth the read (again for your convenience here’s the link to the article). We think it will help you experience a greater sense of satisfaction in how you spend your days.

Here at AgingOptions, there’s one thing we do know about timing: too many people tend to procrastinate when it comes to planning for retirement. There is no time like the present! That’s why we offer free seminars on our unique approach to retirement planning, called LifePlanning, showing you how all the essential aspects of retirement can and must work together: finances, housing, legal, medical and family. It really is possible to approach retirement with a plan that is comprehensive and powerful, allowing you to achieve your dreams for the safe, secure and fruitful retirement you’ve always wanted. Our LifePlanning Seminars are offered throughout the area, so for upcoming dates and locations, simply click here for our Upcoming Events page where you can register online. (If you prefer to register by phone, give us a call during the week.) Don’t put it off! Come join Rajiv Nagaich at an AgingOptions LifePlanning Seminar and start the New Year with a newfound sense of confidence and peace of mind.

It will be our pleasure to meet you!

(originally reported at www.wsj.com)

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Alarming Report: More and More Seniors Burdened by Student Loans

The start of a new year means that it won’t be long before today’s high school seniors start receiving acceptance letters from the colleges and universities to which they’ve applied. And along with those welcome letters will come a less welcome decision: how is the family going to afford the soaring costs of higher education? Because this question may involve grandparents helping with college expenses, possibly even by co-signing a student loan, we felt it was timely to present this article once again as a cautionary tale for our AgingOptions readers.

Last year we reported on an alarming statistic from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau stating that the number of older Americans burdened by student loans they assumed on behalf of their children and grandchildren has increased four-fold over the past ten years. Student loan debt owed by people 60 and older now amounts to nearly $67 billion – and climbing. This sobering article published in the Washington Post details this growing concern, describing a debt load on well-intentioned seniors that the article calls “staggering.”  There are now more than 2.8 million borrowers aged 60 and older affected by student loans, up from about 700,000 in 2005. “The skyrocketing cost of college has placed a particular burden on older Americans,” says the Post article. Many of these seniors are already “struggling to pay back growing debts in their retirement years, according to the (government) report. Nearly 40 percent of federal student loan borrowers over age 65 are in default, the highest rate for any age group.”  Borrowers over 65 represented more than one-third of all student loan defaults in 2015.

In other words, the crushing problem of student loan debt, which now totals nearly $1.4 trillion in the U.S., is not just a problem for younger workers and recent graduates. It is, says the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, “an intergenerational problem.”  The Washington Post article explains that “a slow job market recovery, growing income inequality and stagnant wages have made it difficult for younger Americans to be economically independent, and now there are signs that those financial struggles are dragging down their parents and grandparents as well.”

A growing number of seniors tell researchers that they have had to forego medical treatments and cut back on other essentials because of the pressures of student loan debt. Even more ominously, more and more seniors are reporting that their Social Security payments – the only source of retirement income for more than a third of older Americans – have been partially seized in order to satisfy demands for student loan repayments.

On top of the mortgages and other loans still carried by many seniors, student loans add a heavy load. The average borrower 60 and older with a student loan owes $23,500, about twice the average amount from a decade ago. Besides the slow economy, experts blame the debt hike on rapidly rising costs of college and the pressure to get an education.  The College Board estimates that a four-year degree from a public college or university now costs more than $80,000 – and for a private school the total is more than twice that amount. “Increasingly,” writes the Post, “older borrowers are being taken by surprise by student loan debt, according to financial advisers. Often parents and grandparents co-sign loans — the majority of student loans are co-signed by people age 55 and up — assuming they’ll be off the hook once the borrower graduates from school and lands a job. But increasingly, that’s not the case.”

If you’re facing pressure from your child or grandchild to co-sign a student loan, we strongly urge you to put the brakes on the conversation until you’ve met with a qualified retirement planner like those of us here at AgingOptions. If you’ll call our office we will be glad to suggest some strategies to help you make the right decision. It’s essential that you understand the huge problem represented by these burdensome debts! Instead of feeling obligated to co-sign, you may be able to suggest other options for your loved one to finance their education, including attending a less expensive school or working while they matriculate. No matter what, we urge you not to agree to take on the costs of someone else’s education until you’ve talked with an expert – because only then can you decide what to do, and make the decision with your eyes wide open.

Retirement planning is filled with important decisions. How can I protect my assets so I don’t outlive my funds? Where’s the best place for me to live as I age? What are the appropriate choices for my medical care needs? Are there certain legal preparations and processes I should pay attention to as I age? How can I make sure my family is knowledgeable and supportive of my wishes? In the past you may have had to consult several different professional services to get the right answers to these and other retirement-related questions, but no more. All these now are part of a breakthrough planning process we call LifePlanning. Your LifePlan, prepared with the supportive guidance of the AgingOptions team of experts, becomes your blueprint as you build the secure and fruitful retirement you’ve always hoped for.

Find out more about LifePlanning by attending a free LifePlanning Seminar soon. These seminars take just a few hours and are packed with valuable information – and they’re absolutely free. Find out for yourself! Click here to see a listing of upcoming LifePlanning Seminars and register online for the seminar of your choice. Or if you prefer, call us for information and registration during the week. No matter what your retirement questions, it will be our privilege to provide you with solid, no-nonsense answers. We’ll see you soon!

(originally reported at www.washingtonpost.com)

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