The Independent Investor: The Suburban Dilemma
Over the last decade, the percentage of Baby Boomers, those aged 65 to 74, living in the suburbs increased by almost 50 percent. Over the next 20 years, that age group will double in size, and by 2040, 1 in every 5 Americans will be age 85 or older. The majority of them will continue to live in the suburbs.
Older adults, it appears, move less frequently than any other age group. Over the last 10 years, only 6 percent of persons over 65 years of age moved, according to AARP, compared to 17 percent of those under 65. It's called "aging in place," which is a standing trend that describes how older Americans prefer to stay in their homes and never move. They are attached to their dwelling, their neighborhoods, even to the corner deli (if it still exists).
These adults have lived in their homes for the greater portion of their lives. They are the result of an enormous and long-lasting American socioeconomic trend that began after World War II. It was an age when Americans abandoned the inner city. By the hundreds of thousands per year, they embraced the tract home, the white picket fence, and quarter-acre of lawn or back yard far from the busting crowds of the city.
And as they migrated to greener pastures, shopping malls, and garages, restaurants and other businesses followed, catering to this new suburban lifestyle. The good life in the suburbs became so much a part of our culture that it generated dozens of movies, television shows and novels celebrating this new America.
The problem is that times change. Back in the day, the American family may have selected their suburban dwelling because of a good school system or proximity to the train station or bus depot to their day jobs in the city. But in retirement, those reasons no longer exist.
Neighborhoods have changed as well. What may have been a middle-class subdivision when first purchased may have changed over the years. Many older adults now find themselves living in poor, high-crime neighborhoods. I recall that my neighborhood outside of Philadelphia had been all Irish-German Catholics when I was a kid. Today, it is a haven for Ethiopian refugees and their families. Crime is rampant and the streets, pavements and other infrastructure have fallen on bad times. As a result, older residents do not venture out as much, if at all, virtually becoming prisoners in their own homes.
It is a fact that most suburbs require the use of a car to accomplish the most basic of chores, things like grocery shopping, visiting the doctor, etc. However, it is also true that many of this current generation's women never learned to drive. Now that their husbands have passed, many need to rely on others for mobility. But it is not just women, older adults in general are often required to reduce or stop driving altogether because their eyesight or motor functions have deteriorated to the point where they are a danger to themselves and others on the highway. My suburban mother-in-law, at 90, is facing that problem today.
Suburbia has also fell victim to the internet. Strip and shopping malls are disappearing and with them the services that many older adults need to sustain their suburban lifestyles. As a result, driving distances have lengthened and public transportation is both costly and not easily obtainable.
From an income perspective, while many older suburban dwellers may have paid off their mortgages, they are still faced with large amounts of property taxes, insurance, and utility bills.
The Tax Reform Act of 2018, with its $10,000 cap on state income and property tax deductions, has made that situation much worse for older Americans. As it stands, seven out of 10 of the elderly occupy dwellings that were built at least 30 years ago. Ask any contractor to inspect that house and you will likely be handed a long list of
costly but necessary repairs and upgrades.
As we get older, the very items we will need the most — things like efficient and energy-saving lighting, electrical, air and heating systems, are sorely lacking in the older housing stock.
Enhancements such as handrails or grab bars, entrance/exit ramps, easy-access bathrooms and kitchens, widened doors or hallways and modified sinks, faucets or cabinets become critical, but few of us have the money to install them.
As time goes by and more and more of us age in place, the challenge of suburban living could gradually become more of a nightmare than a case of "living the dream." While there are some strategies, services and support groups that recognize the danger, for the most part, we are on our own. My advice is to plan accordingly when considering your move into retirement.
The Independent Investor: Long-Term Planning Is Crucial to Caregiving
The family is headed toward a crisis in caring for the elderly. It will impact all of us, so if you have aging parents, don't think you can just close your eyes and hope for the best. You are likely setting yourself up for a world of hurt.
All too often, the adult children of aging parents are blind-sided when presented with the realities of taking care of parents in need. This is usually precipitated by some sort of health crisis. In my own business, I see it time and time again. What follows is pure chaos, anxiety and hard feelings. There is no way to stop the inevitable, because aging and declining health are part of living, so what can you do?
"It is critical that families begin the conversation now to create a long-term care plan. Do not wait for it to become an immediate crisis," says Annalee Kruger, president of Care Right, a Florida-based expert in the area.
The crisis in caregiving has grown exponentially in this country. So much so that Kruger and others like her have been able to establish thriving businesses by providing solutions for families caught up in a care crisis. Her line of work ranges from providing solutions in caring for aging loved ones to acting as a third-party facilitator in family meetings. She coaches family caregivers (who may be dealing with dementia or are just plain burnt out), but her most satisfying work is developing a plan for the future in order to avoid most of the pitfalls ahead.
Unfortunately, crisis management is still a large part of her business. In order to deal with that event, she first needs to understand the actual care needs of your family member going forward. In today's economy, there are innumerable options and choices to make ranging from private sector solutions (if you have the money) to public options. In any given state, there are a myriad of organizations that provide help and assistance to a family in need.
Just knowing the lay of the land in this area requires a great deal of expertise, while matching your family care giving needs with resources available can be a full-time job. Chief among them may be the financial implications of your choices.
If your family is like mine, everyone will have a different opinion of what direction to take and why. Some members of the family may already be at odds from past disagreements. In the best of cases, developing an aging plan that all can agree upon usually requires an outside mediator. As I mentioned in last week's column, many family members today live far apart, and just communicating with a California brother or sister in Maine on an on-going basis is sometimes impossible without help.
As you might imagine, all of the above would be easier on all of us if we didn't wait for an immediate crisis, like Dad falling on his head while cleaning the roof gutters, or Mom's fall in the garage. Logic dictates that we do not wait for an immediate crisis. Your first step is a family meeting.
Krueger suggests a serious meeting should be arranged with the family where three questions are agreed upon: "If mom or dad becomes incapacitated, where will they live? Who will take care of mom or dad? And if they need custodial care, how will the family pay for this care?"
"The answers will form the basis for a long-term care plan," Kruger explains. "If family members disagree regarding the answers, compromise must be made. The entire family must come to a consensus that everyone can live with or risk the disintegration of the family."
As I wrote last week, it is a serious issue that is only going to get worse in the future as more elderly 80-plus family members need help and less and less caregivers (45-64 years old) are around to provide it. Nearly 10 million caregivers are now over 50 years of age. That number is going to explode upward in the next decade. Over 86 percent of these caregivers saw a tremendous impact on their lifestyle. Sixty-four percent of them are funding their parent in some way; accounting for 33 percent of their monthly budget, according to AARP.
If those statistics don't convince you then nothing will. My advice: call that family meeting as soon as possible before it is too late and get some help.
The Independent Investor: Cost of Caregiving Keeps Climbing
If you thought the nation has problems with Social Security and Medicare, you ain't seen nothing yet. Today, more than two-thirds of Americans assume they will be able to rely on a family member to meet their long-term care needs if needed. My advice: don't count on it, and here's why.
As it stands today, one-third of all U.S. families provide long-term care for a disabled or elderly family member. You may have guessed that two-thirds of those caregivers are women, although why it should be deemed a woman's task alone is beyond me.
If you want to look at the upside to care-giving, you could say that caring for a loved one who needs our help, is a chance to pay back all the love and support we received when growing up. On a good day of care-giving, there may be an immense satisfaction in helping to preserve an individual's quality of life, whom you love, while lifting their increasingly difficult burden of completing daily tasks.
The downside of care-giving is well-documented. The economic, emotional and mental strain of care-giving is, at times, overwhelming. And it snowballs. Family relationships often suffer and tension among spouses is commonplace. care-giving also takes a toll on your health and plays havoc with your work-life balance.
In 2013, according to the AARP, about 40 million families provided 37 billion hours of care, which was worth an estimated $470 billion. That nearly equaled the yearly revenues of the country's four largest tech companies combined. In 2016, AARP estimated that, in addition to the physical care-giving, the average out-of-pocket expense per family was almost $7,000 a year. That can amount to 20 percent of an average family's income per year.
The economic impact can be devastating. To cover the additional expense, many families have to cut back on their own spending. They usually do this by short-changing their retirement savings and contributions. Since it is the woman (who also happens to be a wage earner) that most of the burden falls upon, there is a higher chance that she will be forced to give up full-time work in order to become a caregiver.
It is estimated that 17 percent of caregivers dealing with a parent with dementia will quit their jobs. The majority of caregivers who maintain employment, arrive late to work or leave early. About 15 percent of them are forced to take a leave of absence and 7 percent lose job-related benefits.
More than 10 million caregivers, over 50 years old, lose $3 trillion in wages, pensions, retirement funds and other benefits. Of that, women lose an estimated $324,044, while men lose much less ($124,693).
If that sounds pretty grim, just wait. Digging deeper, we find that the caregiver support ratio back in 2010, was more than 7 potential caregivers for every person in the high-risk years of age 80-plus, according to AARP. By 2030, that ratio will fall to 4 to 1, and by 2050, it will drop to 3 to 1.
As such, the decade between the 2010s and 2020s will be a transition period when Baby Boomers age out of their peak care-giving years and the oldest Boomers transition into the 80-plus high-risk years. Now, here's the zinger:
"The departure of the boomers from the peak care-giving years will mean that the population aged 45-64 is projected to increase by only one percent between 2010-2030. During the same period, the 80-plus population is projected to increase by a whopping 79 percent," according to Annalee Kruger, the founder and president of Care Right, a Florida-based firm that provides advice and aging planning for caregivers and their families.
Kruger, an expert in the landscape of health care, (the subject of her master's thesis), fears that a real crisis is brewing in America. As the family unit in America continues to shrink while living further and further apart, seniors should not simply assume that a family member will take care of them when the time comes.
In my next column, I will provide more of Annalee Kruger's insights in how to plan and prepare for this coming crisis.
The Independent Investor: Don't Take Loans From Your Tax-Deferred Accounts
It sounds too good to be true. Why borrow from a bank when you can take a loan out from your 401(k) or 403(b) and pay yourself back in both interest and principal? If that sounds like a great deal, it's not.
Money purchase plans, profit-sharing plans, 457(b) plans and both 401(k) and 403(b) plans may offer loans, but IRAs, SEP IRAs, and SIMPLE IRAs do not. The IRS does have some restrictions on the borrowing. It limits how much you can borrow at any one time. In general, you are limited to the smaller of 50 percent of your vested account balance, or $50,000. However, there is one exception (hardship) that allows you to borrow up to $10,000 even if it exceeds 50 percent of the balance. It also requires you to pay yourself a reasonable rate of interest on your loan. Generally, you have five years to repay the loan, although you are required to pay at least quarterly payments.
Recently a thirtysomething-year-old client told me he had taken out a $7,000 loan from his $50,000 403 (b) tax-deferred retirement plan years ago. He was surprised to find that it was not an interest-free loan and that he was required to pay off the loan in its entirety before he could draw from the account in retirement. What's worse, if he quit his job, his company required that he pay off the amount in 60 days. He thought it was the IRS that laid down the rule provisions, but that is not the case.
It is the company you work for that offers the plan. Some companies won't let you borrow. Others have limitations on how much much you can borrow and how much you pay in interest. What happens if you fail to repay the loan? The IRS will consider the loan a distribution from your plan. You will then need to pay income tax on the amount, plus a 10 percent penalty if you are not age 59 1/2 or older.
There are only a few cases where borrowing from your tax-deferred account makes economic sense: If you have an immediate emergency, say a medical issue, that cannot be financed any other way, an immediate cash obligation and your credit score prevents you from borrowing in any other way, or an extremely high interest debt that is threatening to send you into bankruptcy, or worse, may require you to take out a loan.
Nearly 3 out of 10 Americans borrow from their retirement plans. The problem is that they erroneously view them as their own personal piggy bank, until something goes wrong. If you lose your job, for example, you not only have no income coming in, but the loan is due in 2-3 months. If you can't pay it back, you get slapped with additional taxes (as a distribution), which, unless you have a new job lined up, has to be paid out of whatever you have in your checking account.
Since these loans are paid back with your after-tax dollars, you end up paying taxes on the money twice. Once, out of your paycheck, to repay the loan and a second time, when you start withdrawing money in retirement.
Finally, these plans were established to provide you a winning combination of tax breaks, company matches, and the compounding of gains from your contributions, so that you can save for retirement. None of that occurs while you have a loan outstanding. Instead of a contribution each quarter, the loan repayment is taken out of your paycheck each quarter.
If you take the full five years to repay the loan, not only are you missing out on five years of savings and compounding, but also the opportunity costs that the markets provide you.
The Independent Investor: Epidemic Pulls Pork Prices Higher
The African swine fever could cause prices in China to spike 70 percent or more this year. The highly infectious disease is spreading throughout Asia and could lead to a large increase in the price of pork here at home as well.
Before you ask, this highly infectious virus, while deadly to pigs, is not harmful to humans. The problem is that when even one pig is tested positive, the entire herd needs to be slaughtered as quickly as possible. There is no cure.
The government is taking this epidemic seriously, and well it should. Tough new government rules have been implemented this month in Chinese slaughterhouses and processing plants to identify and test for the virus.
The Chinese are the world's largest consumers of pork, accounting for 49 percent of all pork consumed. Domestic hog production, prior to the epidemic, was roughly 700 million pigs. To date, only about a million pigs have been infected, but those figures may be understated. A Shanghai-based consultant company, JCI, is forecasting that pork production will fall by almost 16 percent this year to 8.5 million metric tons. That would leave roughly a 7 million metric ton shortfall in supply.
The government's inspection efforts have slowed down business and reigned in demand, at least temporarily. But given the popularity of pork in China, most producers are believed to have large stockpiles of pork supplies, most of which are in cold storage. As such, Chinese producers are dipping into their cold storage supply to satisfy demand and keep prices somewhat reasonable, at least until the second half of the year.
Given the severity of the epidemic and the wrath of the government, if the present guidelines and restrictions are ignored, producers and distributors don't dare to buy fresh pigs, kill them, or sell the meat until the government gives them an all-clear. In the meantime, the epidemic has spread to Vietnam and Cambodia, which are also big pork consumers, as well as other nations in Asia.
In order to fill China's shortfalls in supply, pork producers in Europe and the U.S. are starting to increase shipments to China. That is despite the fact that U.S. pork exports are subject to a 62 percent tariff, thanks to the tariff war between the U.S. and China.
There are also other side effects to the pork crisis. Soybeans are the major source of pig feed. Less pigs means less demand for soybeans. That also hurts U.S. producers. China had already cut imports from American soybean farmers and the virus simply reduces demand for our exports even further.
Chinese consumers may also be forced to substitute beef and other proteins for pork. That could send prices of beef higher since China already represents 28 percent of the world's meat consumption.
While there have been no known cases of the African virus here, the U.S. is already taking precautions. The National Pork Producers Council recently canceled its 2019 World Pork Expo in Des Moines. Our government also announced increased safety measures to prevent the virus from entering our livestock supply. Most of their effort is focusing on what is called additional attention to "farm biosecurity."
About the only silver lining for America in this stormy situation is the present tariff war. As we plan to levy even higher tariffs on just about all Chinese imports, the risk of importing infected pigs has been dramatically reduced.