Archive for the ‘Retirement’ Category

It’s Money Smart Week – April 5-12, 2014

April 8th, 2014

images msw 2014

Money Smart Week, started 12 years ago by the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, is designed as a public awareness campaign to help consumers better manage their personal finances. Here in Iowa, more than 200 partner organizations have joined in the fun to promote financial education and a chance to learn too.  All Money Smart Week programs are free, and strictly educational (no marketing allowed).

ISU Extension and Outreach has been a MSW partner for many years.  Programs are offered for audiences from preschoolers to seniors.  From scout nights to shred days, essay contests, poster contests and chances to win a prize makes the learning fun.  Educational program topics include: establishing a budget, protecting financial information, raising money-smart kids, and more.

Here is the website for more details about activities in your communities.  Check out your local libraries for a display as well as programming.  Spread the knowledge!


Consumer Knowledge, Credit, Insurance, Retirement, Saving, Spending plans

What Does Your Spouse Know About Finances…

January 14th, 2014

imagesMoneyIn most couples, one spouse manages the bills and the assets.   But both spouses need a baseline understanding of the family’s finances.  Only 28% of couples were “completely confident” that either spouse alone was prepared to steer their joint retirement finances (from a recent study from Fidelity Investments). 

Several years ago, I met a couple who had been married 45 years.  From day one, they sat down, opened their bills, and wrote out the checks each month together.  This was a healthy way to approach the couple’s finances.

As we know, things happen: Disability, Divorce or Death can place new responsibilities on spouses – even when they are unprepared.  The result can range from difficult to disastrous.  My aunt’s mother had never written a check, or driven a car in fifty-plus years of marriage, and had many struggles when she was widowed.These situations are out there and do happen.

Considering the “what-ifs” can open uncomfortable questions for couples who are not accustomed to sharing financial information.  We think it can wait until tomorrow, but talking about these issues helps us to plan ahead – and prevent those difficult or disastrous results.  

A key item of information to share is an inventory of assets. This includes the following items and more:

  1. Retirement accounts, checking accounts, whose name is on what account and remember to share the log-ins and passwords for the online assets; 
  2. Insurance policies and their status and the beneficiary for each account;
  3. Where the emergency fund is located and how to access it;
  4. Each parnter should understand both partners’ current and future income sources, including stock options and deferred compensation.

Other assets include: House, car, boat, airline miles, hotel points and vacation timeshares. There may be a collection that is valuable over time.  (Example: my aunt’s brother collected coins all over the world and when he died suddenly, his spouse did not have a clue of the value of the collection.)

Create a list in the order the assets should be tapped either in retirement or in case of emergency, with an eye toward maximizing the asset’s value and avoiding taxes or penalties for early withdrawal.  Put the list in a safe place after you have discussed it with your spouse.


Goals, Insurance, Retirement, Saving, Uncategorized

Secure Your Social Security Account

September 12th, 2013

my-ssaWhether you realize it or not, you have an on-line account with social security.  If you’ve never checked it out, I recommend that you log in today, and set a user name and password.  Here’s why:

1) The “My Social Security” account is useful: it includes a record of your earnings for each year of your working life, and offers a tool that estimates what your retirement benefit will be if you claimn social security at different ages. Brenda wrote a post about it a while back.  It’s useful after you start receiving benefits, as well.

2) Just recently, however, something more alarming was brought to my attention by a social security staff member.  Until you log in, there’s a chance someone else could log in as you if they know several key facts about you.  If a malicious person did that, it would be illegal; I have no doubt it could be fixed, but it certainly would be a hassle, and it might cause more serious problems.  As a result, it is definitely wise to log in and set up your account as soon as possible — do it today!


Retirement, Smart shopping

Aging In Place

September 10th, 2013

AgeInPlaceTwo years ago on a very cold winter night, the water pipes to the upstairs bathroom broke, ruining the ceiling in the kitchen. We decided this was the perfect time to remodel the kitchen. We moved a door, made the kitchen/dining room an open floor plan (and planned for a future ramp) which would allow easy access and mobility should one of us need a walker or wheel chair.

This past winter, the upstairs heat-run pipe broke, ruining the ceiling in the downstairs bathroom. My husband wonders if I did that on purpose, since I proposed another remodeling project.  This time we knocked out a wall between two bedrooms and created a master bedroom, walk-in closet and bath that included a shower that was wheel chair accessible.

Most Americans, according to AARP, plan to remain in their home as long as possible.  Home modifications can be costly, but when weighed against the cost of residential care, chances are high the modifications will seem cheap, particularly when the happiness of staying home is factored into the equation.  I am glad we are making these modifications to our home now, while we are both employed, able to do some of the work ourselves and able to do a little each year (spreading out the cost) rather than waiting till we are retired, on a fixed income and have to remodel everything all at once because of a sudden change in our health or mobility.  What are your plans for Aging in Place?  ~Brenda

Retirement, Smart shopping, Spending plans

my Social Security

June 4th, 2013

signin1A couple of months before each birthday, I would receive a Social Security statement in the mail. It provided estimates of benefits I would receive if I became disabled, or retired early…at full retirement age…or at the age of 70. It also provided a table with my yearly income which was always good to look over for errors.

Social Security stopped mailing these statements to individuals who had July 2011 birthdays, but anticipated resuming the mailings to workers when they reached 60.

Now, anyone age 18 and older can sign up for a my Social Security account to get a personalized online Social Security Statement – the same information that came on the statement in the mail.  In addition, the portal also includes links to information about other online services, such as applications for retirement, disability and Medicare.

Social Security beneficiaries and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients can now access their benefit verification letter, payment history, and earnings record instantly using their online account.  The benefit verification letter serves as proof of income to secure loans, mortgages and other housing, and state or local benefits.  I also proves current Medicare health insurance coverage, retirement or disability status, and age.  People can print or save a customized letter.

This new online service allows people to conduct business with Social Security without having to visit an office or make a phone call. Beneficiaries also can change their address and start or change direct deposit information online. For more information, visit  ~Brenda


Give your money time to grow!

May 28th, 2013

grow moneyGetting motivated to save for retirement can be a challenge, especially when you’re young.  It’s much easier to prioritize immediate needs or wants than it is to stash money away for the distant future.  Yet it is the early saving we do that has the most impact.  Why?  Because that money has more time to grow.


  • Saving just $1,000/year (at 8%) will yield well over $250,000 after 40 years.   You invest $40,000 over time and gain more than $210,000 in investment earnings.
  • By contrast, if someone wanted to save $250,000, but waited till the last 15 years to start saving, they would need to save more than $9,200/year (earning an 8% return).    In this scenario you invest over $138,000 and gain less than $115,000  in investment earnings.

Which is more realistic?  Wouldn’t you rather scrape together $1,000 a year now  (that’s $83/month) instead of waiting till late in your career and then panicking about how to catch up?

There are lots of examples showing the benefit of starting early in saving for retirement.  Check out ISU Extension’s publication “Begin By Planning Today” for more ideas on this subject

If you haven’t been saving for retirement, now is the time to start!  If you have been saving, but want to save more, now is also a great time to boost your monthly savings. 

Here’s one idea for “finding” money to save:  Challenge yourself to MATCH every dollar you spend on “fun” this summer (going to the fair, buying ice cream, watching movies,…) with a dollar saved for retirement.  After all, if you can afford to spend money on something fun, then you can probably also afford to put money away for retirement necessities.

What are your ideas for finding money to save for retirement?  Remember, even small amounts can grow and provide big yields, especially if you start now!


Retirement, Saving

Financial Check-up

April 22nd, 2013

medicalSince this is Money Smart Week, there’s no better time to do a personal financial check-up!  Extension specialists at Rutgers University (New Jersey) have developed a “Financial Fitness Quiz” to help you do exactly that.

It’s called a “quiz” but it’s not about how much you know.  Instead it is a check-up of your financial status – your habits and the protections you have in place.  It takes less than 10 minutes, and gives you a score in when you are finished.  I encourage you to check it out!

Assessing where your finances are already strong, and what areas need improvement is the first step to improving your financial well-being!


P.S. At Rutgers has posted a few other financial assessment tools, as well, if you want to look deeper into a certain aspect of your finances.

Credit, Goals, Insurance, Retirement, Saving, Spending plans

Filling Your Pot of Gold

March 7th, 2013

Saving money is hard.  There may be a few ways to help you fill your “Pot of Gold.”

I’m not a coffee drinker but I have many friends who are difficult to be around without their cup of Joe – instead of going to the brand name coffee concern, shop around and support local cafes for a less expensive version and save thirty cents per cup. That equates to $100 per year – or even more if you make the coffee at home.

If you have filed your income taxes and you are receiving a tax refund – you may want to direct part of the refund towards your pot of gold.  These are long-term goals – vacation and or college, house or retirement funds.

Saving when you receive a pay increase – the difference can go straight to savings.

Another way to fill your pot is by washing your hands – you will avoid virus and bacteria and need for medical treatment and medicine and lost work days. This equates to $4000 saved.

Drinking water is a healthy benefit by eliminating over-eating and skips the expensive beverages.

Apply the 30 Day Rule by waiting 30 days before you make a purchase. Ask yourself before making a decision whether to buy a gadget or not. This can save you money too.

Hopefully your pot of gold will grow.  – Susan

Goals, Retirement, Saving

Fitness For Your Finances

January 7th, 2013

Many of you have included your health fitness in your New Year’s Resolutions.  Did you ever think that you may need to do the same for your finances?  Each year when we prepare to file our taxes we may look at our net worth and say: “I wish I would spend some time on this so I could make some progress.”  When we say that, we’re basically saying “I need to get financially fit.”

Looking at financial fitness means looking at: debt, (yes the credit card bills are coming in); and at progress toward goals (such as education funds for children, funds for a new vehicle, retirement planning, …).

Take one of the items mentioned above and spend a little time examining your situation and your options.  It may lead you to set up a 529 Education Plan for your child, or to meet with a financial planner to discuss plans for retirement – again it is never too soon to start.  Finding ways to reduce your debt is also important, since that will free up funds to work on your other goals.  A website called can help with debt management and located at the same place is Power Save.   Fitness for Your Finances is just as important as for your health.


Credit, Goals, Retirement, Saving

Silver Linings

October 15th, 2012

It is surprising how many dark clouds can turn out to have silver linings.  Even in a job loss, some good can be derived from the situation.

One way you can gain a “silver lining” benefit from reduced income is through income taxes.  In a year where your income is notably lower than normal (especially if it is low enough to have zero taxable income) you may be able to transfer funds from a “traditional” IRA or 401k to a “Roth” IRA — without paying the income tax you would normally pay on that conversion.

The only drawback to putting retirement funds into a Roth account is the fact that you pay income tax on the amount you deposit.  In every other way, Roth accounts are advantageous, since you don’t pay any income tax on qualified withdrawals, and you have complete flexibility about whether and when to withdraw funds in retirement.

Consider a married couple family of 4 in 2011: if their income was below $26,400, then they would have ZERO taxable income.   If their adjusted gross income was $22,000, then they could roll $4,400 from a traditional account into a Roth account and owe NO tax at all on the rollover.  They get all the benefits and none of the cost of that Roth.

No one seeks a reduction in income.  But if it happens, you might as well take advantage of that silver lining, right?  ~Barb

Note: even if you are not in a situation where you’ll owe zero tax, any reduced tax bracket may make it advantageous to convert a portion of a traditional account into a Roth account.