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Senate Aging Committee: Seniors urged to prepare for making financial decisions – Herb Weiss

By Herb Weiss, contributing writer on aging issues

Over two weeks ago, U.S. Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Tim Scott (R-SC), Chairman and Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, urged seniors and people with disabilities to make a New Year’s resolution to prepare for anticipated financial decisions.

The hearing highlighted the importance of President Joseph Biden’s Dec. 2021 executive order to enhance customer experiences across federal agencies and align services to support people at critical decision points in their lives, like turning 65. This executive order expands retirees’ ability to claim Social Security benefits online, receive updates on their application status and access personalized online tools for Medicare enrollment and coverage options.

At this Senate Aging Committee hearing held on Jan. 13, the Senators released a bipartisan report entitled, “Financial Literacy in Retirement: Providing Just-in-Time Information and Assistance to Older Americans and People with Disabilities” along with a brochure for consumers to help them navigate these decisions.

This Senate Aging Committee report examines the real-time information and help older Americans and people with disabilities need as they face changes in their lives, known as “just-in-time” financial literacy.

“This year, more than 10,000 Americans will turn 65 every day. Around kitchen tables all across the country, retirees and seniors are asking: ‘Should I take my Social Security or should I wait?’ and ‘Do I need to sign up for Medicare, or can I wait?’ These are not simple decisions,” said Casey. “As we begin 2022, I urge seniors to make a New Year’s resolution: take stock of your finances and get prepared for these upcoming decisions, says the Pennsylvania Senator in a statement.

Adds Scott, “Financial literacy is key to making the most out of the financial opportunities our country has to offer. And much like education, it never loses its power — no matter your stage of life,” noting that the report will empower seniors to make wise financial decisions, laying the groundwork for security and peace of mind in their golden years.

The 26-page report identifies the six common decisions that require, and can benefit from, this kind of financial literacy: claiming Social Security, enrolling in Medicare, annuitizing a 401(k), giving to charity, downsizing a home, and responding to a natural disaster.

Putting the spotlight on Financial Literacy in Retirement

Four witnesses testified at the one hour and 18-minute hearing.

In her testimony, Gerri Walsh, President of the Washington, DC-based Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, applauded the timeliness of the hearing because “financial literacy in America is low and has declined over time.”  She cited a 2009 study that found 42 percent of American adults demonstrated high levels of financial literacy, this figure deceasing to 34 percent in 2018. “Despite increasing low levels of financial literacy, 71 precent of Americans believe they have a high level of financial knowledge, suggesting widespread over confidence,” she told the attending Senators.

According to Cindy Hounsell, JD, President of the Washington, DC-based Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, many workers are not knowledgeable about issues they will face during their retirement.  The impact of future inflation and taxes is not known by most and is not included in financial planning for retirement. This can have an impact on retirement income. Individuals also are oftentimes confused about how much income they will need to cover their expenses in retirement.  Many retirees struggle to plan how they will draw down assets.  Longevity risk is poorly understood and not widely planning for.  Finally, women assume they will keep working beyond age 65 but will end up retiring earlier than expected due to job loss due to health issues, or caregiving.

“As a nation with an aging population, we need to educate the public on strengthening existing retirement programs wherever possible,” said Hounsell, “That means focusing especially on the links to both Social Security and Medicare, employer-sponsored retirement programs and emergency saving initiatives, and educating average workers about how these systems work to prevent penalties and loss of benefits,” she added.

Workers Not Knowledgeable About Retirement Issues

According to Hounsell, many workers are not knowledgeable about issues they will face during their retirement.  The impact of future inflation and taxes is not known by most and is not included in financial planning for retirement.  This can have an impact on retirement income. Individuals also are oftentimes confused about how much income they will need to cover their expenses in retirement. Many retirees struggle to plan how they will draw down assets.  Longevity risk is poorly understood and not widely planning for. Finally, women assume they will keep working beyond age 65 but will end up retiring earlier than expected due to job loss, health issues, or caregiving.

Dorothea Bernique, founder and executive director of North Charleston, South Carolina-based Increasing H.O.P.E. a financial training center, reported that 14.9 percent of the South Carolina households have income below the federal poverty threshold and have a lack of basic financial knowledge, this resulting in a very low well-being score of 18 percent in the state.

Bernique noted that lack of basic financial knowledge can result in seniors not having the ability to make choices during retirement. “Hence this is how our seniors end up as greeters at the nearest Walmart when they should be enjoying the golden years of their lives,” she said.

Finally,  Patti Szarowicz, a certified Aging and Disability Resource Connection (ADRC) Counselor at the Atlanta Regional Commission Area on Aging,  stated that she plays a critical role in assisting seniors navigate complex systems.  She helps callers to locate the nearest senior center and to find rides to medical appointments, to identify financial assistance in paying bills, securing home and community-based services and respite support groups for caregivers.

“I can hear the pain and despair in the voices of callers, who say things like, ‘I’m in trouble, and I don’t know what to do. Please call me back, I’m going to be homeless,’” she says.

Szarowicz called on Congress to support ADRCs to hire additional councilors, allocate more funding to enhance user-friendly technology for documenting client data and better integration across technology systems used, which includes telephone, resource database and client management systems. Public awareness of the national network of Area Agencies on Aging is also key to directing people to unbiased guidance for resources.

Take advantage of the Senate Aging Committee’s resources to make financial decisions, in your retirement years. You won’t regret it. 

To obtain a copy of the Senate Aging Committee report, go to https://www.aging.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Financial%20Literacy%20Booklet.pdf.

To obtain a copy of the brochure, go to https://www.aging.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/Financial%20Literacy%20Brochure.pdf

Contact financial_literacy@aging.senate.gov to request printed copies of the brochure.

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To read all article by Herb Weiss for RINewsToday, go to: https://rinewstoday.com/herb-weiss/

RINewsToday

Herb Weiss, LRI’12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues. To purchase Taking Charge: Collected Stories on Aging Boldly, a collection of 79 of his weekly commentaries, go to herbweiss.com.

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