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On Balance – Editorial Calendar

A Newsletter for Retirees and Pre-Retirees

September 2017

Trillion-Dollar Revolving Door

In December 2016, U.S. households’ outstanding revolving credit — primarily credit-card debt — reached $1 trillion for the first time since January 2009. Higher credit-card debt may be a product of continuing improvement in the broader economy. Accompanying chart presents revolving credit data over the past decade.

New Life for Your Old Insurance Policy

Later in life, some people might think they don’t need to keep a life insurance policy in force. They might think they no longer need the coverage or it has become too expensive. This article explores options that could be more beneficial than surrendering a policy or letting it lapse, such as exchanging the old policy for a new one, or exchanging it for a long-term care insurance policy or an immediate annuity.

The State of State Pensions

The median funded ratio of state pension funds fell from 75% in FY 2014 to 72% in FY 2015, with a total shortfall of almost $1.1 trillion. This article looks at some of the challenges facing state pension funds and steps that might help improve the long-term outlook.

Baby Boomer RMDs

In 2016, the first wave of baby boomers turned 70½ — the age when distributions from tax-deferred retirement accounts must begin — and many more reach that milestone in 2017. This article provides information on required minimum distributions, including deadlines for older baby boomers.

August 2017

Serious Thought

A surprising number of U.S. investors have given little or no thought about when they will retire. Accompanying infographic illustrates the most common steps taken by non-retired investors to help determine the “best” age to retire.

International Investing: Opportunity and Risk

Investing globally provides access to growth opportunities outside the United States while also helping to diversify a portfolio. This article considers the role of international and global mutual funds and ETFs, and explains some of the potential opportunities and risks of investing internationally.

New Math for Social Security

In 2017, Americans born in 1955 will become eligible to claim Social Security benefits at the earliest claiming age of 62. This is the first group of eligible beneficiaries affected by the gradual increase of the full retirement age from 65 to 67, which changes the benefits paid at different claiming ages.

Finding Unclaimed Property

In 2015, more than $3.2 billion in unclaimed property was returned to rightful owners by government agencies. This article provides information about how to look for lost assets and guard against potential scams.

July 2017

Different Generations, Different Concerns

Having enough money for a comfortable retirement is the greatest financial concern for baby boomers under age 65, and one of the greatest concerns for other generations. The accompanying chart illustrates the top financial concerns by age group.

Breaking Down Social Security Spousal Benefits

A recent survey focusing on knowledge of Social Security rules found widespread confusion over many aspects of the program. This article explains basic spousal benefits for currently married and divorced spouses, and how spousal and worker benefits work together. It also explains how some older married baby boomers may still be eligible to file a restricted application to enhance their lifetime benefits.

ETFs or Mutual Funds: What’s the Difference?

Mutual funds are still king of the investment world, but ETFs have become increasingly popular over the last few years. This article explains the differences between the two types of investment vehicles, with an emphasis on the potential cost and risk factors of ETFs.

Beware of Imposters

The Federal Trade Commission reported that imposter scams passed identity theft as the second most common category of consumer complaints in 2016. This article offers tips to help consumers protect themselves from imposters.

June 2017

The National Mood

In early 2017, Americans were asked to rate their level of satisfaction with various aspects of life in the United States. Accompanying chart shows the percentages who were “very or somewhat” satisfied with such issues as the economy, overall quality of life, availability of affordable health care, and the federal tax burden.

Surprise! It’s Retirement Time

In 2016, 46% of retirees said they retired earlier than they had planned. This article offers suggestions that might ease the transition, as well as tips to be prepared to retire earlier than planned.

In the Red: Federal Budget Deficit

In FY 2016, the U.S. budget deficit increased as a percentage of GDP for the first time since 2009. This article looks at some of the factors contributing to the deficit that also make it challenging to balance the federal budget. Accompanying chart plots actual and projected annual deficits from 1967 to 2027.

Interested in Interest Rates?

Interest rates are expected to keep rising. This short quiz offers readers an opportunity to test their interest rate knowledge.

May 2017

Employment Recovery

In 2016, the unemployment rate ranged from 4.6% to 5.0%, which is similar to pre-recession 2007 levels. The accompanying graph shows the unemployment rate since 2007.

Will You Outlive Your Money?

In a recent survey of workers age 50 and older, the biggest retirement concern was the fear of outliving their savings and investments. This article explains how fixed and variable annuities could be used to provide income that could last throughout a long retirement.

Student Loans Meet Retirement

The number of consumers age 60 and older with student loan debt quadrupled from 2005 to 2015. This article covers some factors that older Americans should keep in mind if they already have student loan debt or are considering a higher-education loan for themselves, their children, or grandchildren.

Moving to Medicare? Four Facts to Consider

Transitioning from employer-sponsored health coverage or other private insurance to Medicare could involve some surprises. This article explores four key differences with Medicare compared to other types of insurance, including out-of-pocket annual maximums and late-enrollment penalties.

April 2017

Boomer Debt

More than three out of four middle-income baby boomers carry debt into retirement, and the percentage with debt is even higher for those who are still working. Accompanying chart shows the percentage of retired and working boomers who carry various types of debt.

Bond Funds and Rising Interest Rates

Falling bond prices due to rising interest rates can adversely affect a bond fund’s performance. Even so, there are good reasons to own bond funds during almost any market cycle. This article offers ideas to help investors evaluate bond funds within a rising interest rate environment.

Advance Medical and Legal Directives

Expressing wishes in advance could help loved ones feel more confident making medical or legal decisions. This article outlines three legal documents to consider: a durable power of attorney for health care, a living will, and a durable power of attorney for finances.

Measuring Inflation

Although consumers don’t look forward to higher prices, moderate inflation is a sign of a healthy, growing economy. This article explains two common measures of inflation: the Consumer Price Index and the Price Index for Personal Consumption Expenditures.

March 2017

Top Tax Breaks

Individual tax liability might be higher if not for almost 200 provisions that benefit certain taxpayers. The accompanying chart shows the five biggest tax breaks for fiscal year 2017, with the estimated value in billions.

Is It Wise to Trade Your Pension for a Lump Sum?

The prospect of a large check might be tempting, but cashing in a pension could have costly repercussions for retirement. This article examines the pros and cons of keeping a pension versus accepting a lump-sum payout.

Social Security COLA and Medicare Premiums

The Social Security cost-of-living adjustment for 2017 was just 0.3%, the lowest percentage increase in history except for years when there was no COLA at all. This article explains how the COLA is determined and impact of the COLA on Medicare Part B premiums.

Why IPOs Faded in 2016

The number of U.S. companies raising capital through initial public offerings dropped significantly in 2016. This article offers some possible reasons for this decline and explains why 2017 may be a strong year for IPOs.

February 2017

No Savings

A Federal Reserve study found that 27% of U.S. pre-retirees age 60 and older had no retirement savings or pension, with similar statistics across other age groups. The accompanying chart shows the percentage of Americans without retirement savings or a pension, by age group.

Chasing Performance vs. Diversification

Chasing performance can lead to disappointing returns, while holding long-term investments in a variety of categories may be a helpful diversification strategy that also helps manage risk. This article also describes three S&P indexes that are often used as benchmarks for many mutual funds and ETFs.

Tax Tips on Capital Gains

Tax season offers an opportunity to look at the tax implications of investment strategies and plan for the year ahead. This article explains the tax treatment of short-term and long-term capital gains, and suggests two strategies that could help reduce tax liability.

Time to Update Your Beneficiaries?

Updating account beneficiaries is especially important when someone experiences life changes such as divorce, remarriage, or a death in the family. Even if that’s not the case, it’s a good idea to review account beneficiaries on a regular basis. This article outlines some key issues to consider.

January 2017

Unexpected Expenses

Almost four out of 10 retirees found that their actual retirement expenses were higher than they expected when they first retired. The accompanying chart shows the percentage of retirees who found expenses to be higher, lower, or about the same as they anticipated.

Inheriting an IRA

IRS rules and regulations for inheriting retirement accounts are complex, and an uninformed decision could result in unexpected taxes and penalties. This article outlines the basic rules and distribution options for designated spouse and nonspouse beneficiaries, including special spousal options.

Taxing Social Security Benefits

A recent study by the Social Security Administration projected that about 56% of households receiving Social Security benefits will owe federal income tax on some or all of their benefits during the period from 2015 to 2050. This article explains how benefits are taxed and why the current system may lead to higher tax liabilities.

Junk or Gem? Understanding Bond Ratings

Bond ratings are an essential tool for fixed-income investors. This article explains the analyses and ratings used by major credit-rating agencies to judge a bond’s financial condition and creditworthiness.

December 2016

Are You Confident for the Long Run?

Only about three out of 10 middle-income Americans between the ages of 52 and 70 are confident they will have enough money to live comfortably to age 85. The accompanying chart shows respondents’ financial security outlook if they were to live to age 85 or 95.

Real Estate for Income and Diversification

About 70 million Americans own shares of REITs, and interest may increase with the creation of a new Real Estate market sector in the Global Industry Classification Standard. This article provides an overview of equity REITs, including potential benefits and risks.

In or Out of the Nest? Helping Adult Children

Almost a third of young adults ages 18 to 34 were living with their parents in 2014, up from one out of five in 1960. This article offers suggestions for helping young people transition to adult financial responsibilities without making it difficult for parents to pursue their own financial goals.

Ready, Set, Shop!

The winter holidays are the biggest shopping season of the year. This quiz lets readers test their knowledge of the importance of seasonal retail sales to the U.S. economy.

November 2016

Early Adopters

Twenty-eight percent of U.S. adults have a strong preference for adopting new technology as opposed to using older, more familiar products. The accompanying chart shows how early adopters break down by age groups.

Index Funds: Investing in the Market

In 2015, index funds represented more than 30% of the total assets invested in mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. This article provides an overview of index funds, why they appeal to many investors, and how index fund assets are invested (based on type of index).

Why You Need a Will… Even If You’re Not a Prince

The unexpected death of famed musician Prince put the importance of having a will in the national spotlight. This article outlines the benefits of having a will, as well as a personal property memorandum to give heirs a clear indication of specific assets you want to bequeath.

Could the AMT Boost Your Taxes?

The alternative minimum tax is expected to affect about 4.3 million taxpayers in 2016. This article explains how the AMT works, describes situations that may trigger AMT liability, and offers strategies that may help reduce exposure to the tax.

October 2016

Social Security Claiming Ages

Almost 2.8 million Americans began receiving Social Security retirement benefits in 2014. An accompanying chart shows percentages of Social Security beneficiaries, by gender, who claimed benefits at various ages (62 up to 70).

Balancing Medicare and Work-Based Insurance

Almost 20% of Americans 65 and older are still working. Workers who are eligible for both Medicare and employer-based health insurance face an array of rules and other considerations regarding costs and coverage, which are described in the article.

Step Up to Help Reduce Taxes on Inherited Assets

Assets that have appreciated in value could be subject to substantial capital gains taxes when they are sold. But if assets are left to heirs, any gain accrued before the original owner’s death would not be taxed because of the step-up in basis. This article outlines the fundamental concepts of basis, capital gains, and step-up in basis on inherited assets and how they differ from gifts, which are subject to carryover basis rules.

Do You Speak Greek? Alpha, Beta, and Investing

This article defines measures of investment return (alpha) and volatility (beta) and explains how they can be useful metrics to compare the performance of investments or an entire portfolio.