Day: June 28, 2019

Retirement Weekly: News and analysis for those planning for or living in retirement

This post was originally published on this site

From MarketWatch:

If your student debt disappeared, would you save more for retirement?: Sen. Bernie Sanders proposed a bill this week that would cancel all student debt, an obstacle millennials often cite for why they can’t save for retirement. So does that mean more people would put extra cash in their retirement accounts?

Judi Dench has stopped driving: How to know when you should, too: The actress is one of 196 million people around the world to be living with age-related macular degeneration by 2020, but she’s stepped down from a task many older people can’t part with.

10 tips for starting your own business when you’re over 50: One myth about entrepreneurship later in life is that it is especially risky, but it doesn’t have to be. Here are a few ways to start that business you want but also ensure your retirement security isn’t derailed.

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Chick-fil-A remains America’s favorite fast food restaurant, despite donating to anti-LGBT groups

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Chick-Fil-A has been named the nation’s favorite fast-food restaurant for the fourth year in a row, despite contributing to organizations that have campaigned against marriage equality.

The American Customer Service Index polled 23,000 consumers and scored fast-food restaurants on a 100-point scale. They ranked them on quality of food, variety of menu items, customer service and cleanliness.

The Georgia-based chicken sandwich chain scored the highest with an 86, a point off from its score last year. Second place was given to an “all other restaurants” category, or various quick-service eateries that weren’t big enough to be ranked individually. Panera Bread came in third place with 81, and Arby’s, Chipotle, Pizza Hut and Papa John’s were tied for fourth place.

(Chick-fil-A did not immediately return a request for comment).

Meanwhile, Wendy’s (77); Burger King (76) QSR, +0.33%  ; Sonic (76); Jack in the Box (75); and Mcdonald’s (69) MCD, +0.48%  ranked the lowest on the ACSI list.

Don’t miss: I support gay rights, but I really want to eat at Chick-fil-A

Chick-fil-A’s sales increased 13.5% in 2018 to $10.18 billion up from $8.97 billion in 2017, despite opening only six days a week, according to a ranking of the top 500 restaurant chains by Technomic. It surpassed Taco Bell, Subway, Wendy’s, Burger King and Domino’s in sales.

Stil, the ACSI survey results were met with backlash on Facebook FB, +1.23%   and Twitter TWTR, -0.61%   amid Pride Month, with some pointing out the chain’s reported donations to anti-LGBTQ groups and calling out the chain on Twitter for its “homophobic bigotry.”

In March, ThinkProgress, a public policy research and advocacy organization, published a report revealing that in 2017, the Chick-fil-A Foundation donated more than $1.8 million to a number of groups that ThinkProgress said discriminate against LGBTQ individuals.

The chain donated $1,653,416 to the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, a religious organization that preaches anti-LGBTQ messages to college athletes and mandates a “sexual purity” policy for employees that bans “homosexual acts.” It also gave $6,000 to the Paul Anderson Youth Home, a Georgia-based Christian home for troubled youth that teaches teens that homosexuality and gay marriage is wrong.

In 2012, the chain’s CEO Dan Cathy said he was “guilty as charged” for supporting anti-same-sex marriage efforts. The comments sparked boycotts and petitions. Cathy said he regretted his involvement in the gay marriage debate in 2014, but never apologized for what he said.

In April, the chain, with more than 2,300 locations around the country, was banned from opening a location at the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in New York when the airport’s food vendor alerted Democratic assemblyman Sean Ryan, who refused to support the chain because of its history funding anti-LGBTQ organizations. In March, the San Antonio City Council voted against a Chick-fil-A outlet at San Antonio International Airport for the same reasons.

Shares of Burger King, Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell QSR, +0.33%   were up 32.4% for the year to date, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average, DJIA, +0.24%  is up 14.5% and the S&P 500 SPX, +0.38%  is up 17.24%.

People are outraged about the Border Patrol rejecting diaper donations — but there are better ways to help immigrant children

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Reports of the U.S. Border Patrol refusing donations of diapers for detained migrant children struck a nerve with many Americans, but there are plenty of more effective ways to help, experts say.

A Texas man said U.S. Border Patrol agents ignored him when he and some friends brought $340 worth of diapers, soap, wipes and toys to a detention facility in Clint, Texas, after lawyers reported children were being held in filthy conditions with no medical care, soap or toothbrushes, the Texas Tribune reported.

The thwarted donations come as national attention is focused again on the U.S.-Mexico border, where officials say they’re overwhelmed by an influx of migrants and don’t have the resources to quickly process them. CBP officials have said they’re supplying children basic necessities, but they’ve also admitted that the children are in less-than ideal conditions, because they’re being held in facilities designed to handle adults for very short periods.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the Senate version of an emergency funding bill to send $4.6 billion to the border.

The Border Patrol said it couldn’t legally accept the donated items (more on that below) and many observers, including Chelsea Clinton, were outraged. But the story was also a reminder that donating tangible goods is sometimes not the most effective way to help people in dire circumstances.

Cash is king

People are often moved to act after a natural disaster or other crisis, but sometimes that impulse isn’t as helpful as it seems, said Ashley Post, spokeswoman for the charity rating website CharityNavigator. Throwing clothes and other supplies in a box and sending it to people who’ve just lost their house may feel like the right thing to do, but such donations can go to waste and actually put a burden on organizations.

‘It’s always best to donate cash in a situation following a disaster or any type of crisis. It allows the charities to be more flexible in their response and adapt to changing needs.’

—Ashley Post, CharityNavigator

Officials in California had to ask do-gooders to stop sending donations after devastating wildfires last year because they were “inundated” with generous but ultimately useless clothes and other supplies. Sometimes charities are even forced to throw out donations that they can’t quickly distribute — clothes intended for victims of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami had to be burned.

“You see a child and you’re like, that could be my kid,” Post said. “You personalize it and think, if that were me, what would I want?” While donating a tangible item may feel good, it can be tricky for people who aren’t experienced in disaster relief to collect and ship those items to the right place, Post said.

Sending money may feel a little “cold,” but it’s usually the best way to help, she said. “It’s always best to donate cash in a situation following a disaster or any type of crisis. It allows the charities to be more flexible in their response and adapt to changing needs.”

However, that doesn’t mean that donating supplies is always a fruitless gesture. Many seasoned nonprofits are in fact equipped to do this. To find reputable ones, check CharityNavigator’s list of highly-rated charities working with immigrants and refugees. The Texas Tribune and New York Times also published lists of groups.

Immigrant children will need help long after they get released

The children detained in deplorable conditions are in a painful, but relatively brief, chapter in their experiences as immigrants, said Kali Cohn, community education and advocacy director at Human Rights Initiative of North Texas in Dallas.

They’re only supposed to be in custody for a short period, but that doesn’t appear to be the case at facilities like the one in Clint, Texas, Cohn said. When a child arrives at the border, the Border Patrol has 48 hours to figure out whether they’re an unaccompanied minor. They then have 72 hours to get them into an Office of Refugee Resettlement shelter. Children are supposed to be released to an adult sponsor in the U.S. as quickly as possible, after officials conduct security checks to make sure the adult is a suitable guardian. Nationwide, children have been spending an average of about 48 days in ORR shelters, Cohn said.

The children face “tremendous needs” after they’re released, Cohn said. She likened the experience to losing one’s house in a fire. First you need firefighters to put out the flames, then you need help rebuilding the actual house.

“Although there certainly is a need for people to put pressure on our government to end these awful conditions, there is also a need for people to donate to providers who will assist these kids with their legal representation, their medical needs and their mental health needs when they are released from the Border Patrol to their sponsors,” Cohn said.

Posting bail can help

One quick way to help families separated at the border is to pay their bail so they can get out of custody prior to their immigration hearing. But the children detained in substandard conditions at Border Patrol facilities like the one in Clint, Texas, cannot be bonded out — they’re at the mercy of the system that’s processing them, Cohn noted. However, in some cases, their parents or adult guardians could be released on bond. Nonprofits including RAICES — the group that received more than $16 million in donations from a Facebook FB, +1.24%  fundraiser last year — and Immigrant Families Together take donations to pay detained immigrants’ bail. Average bail amounts have increased from about $1,500 to $20,000, according to Immigrant Families Together’s website.

Actually, the government can accept donations

A federal statute bars the government from accepting donations, but there are exceptions, said Kristie De Peña, director of immigration and senior counsel at the Niskanen Center, a center right think tank.

She researched the issue in 2016 on behalf of people who wanted to pay for the government to resettle refugees. She found that the government can in fact take donations — for example, the U.S. Treasury Department accepts donations from people who want to help pay off America’s debt. Some of the agencies that oversee immigration, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Health and Human Services, are allowed to accept contributions as well.

‘[W]e’re not running low on those things. We’re using operational funding to provide those things, but those things are available now and they have been continuously.’

—Unnamed Border Patrol official on whether children have toothbrushes and other basics

Under U.S. law, De Peña noted, the secretary of Homeland Security can accept any gift if it benefits in some way a school, hospital, museum or an institution under DHS jurisdiction. “I would imagine that someone looking at that would say DHS could accept donations and use them to benefit an institution like a Border Patrol facility that’s under its jurisdiction,” De Peña said. “Theoretically they could potentially accept toothbrushes.”

After the donations of diapers, soap and toothbrushes were turned away, a Border Patrol spokeswoman said the agency would talk to its lawyers “to determine how we can accept donations from the public, in compliance with law and policy.” A Border Patrol official also noted that the agency isn’t running low on supplies — and disputed reports of children not being provided with soap, toothbrushes and adequate food.

“[W]e’re not running low on those things,” an unnamed Border Patrol official said during a press call. “We’re using operational funding to provide those things, but those things are available now and they have been continuously.”

50 years after the Stonewall riots, LGBT Americans still grapple with these financial struggles

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Fifty years after the riot at the Stonewall Inn in New York helped to kick start the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement, LGBTQ Americans continue to face significant financial challenges.

In the intervening years, the community of people who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer has certainly made great strides. They have successfully campaigned for marriage equality, culminating in the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision that made marriage a right for any American regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

LGBTQ representation in film and media has grown leaps and bounds — and celebrities like Ellen Degeneres have gone from being ostracized in the industry for their identity to being the stars of long-running, popular TV shows. Currently in its 16th season, Degeneres recently signed another three-year contract for her chat show. Movies like “Booksmart” and “Love, Simon” with leading LGBTQ characters have also found mainstream appeal.

Four years after marriage equality became the law across the land, Pete Buttigieg has captured national attention for his campaign to become the Democrat nominee for the 2020 U.S. presidential election. On the campaign trail, he is often accompanied by his husband, Chasten. Voters on both sides of the political spectrum judge him on his policies rather than his sexual orientation.

Read more: How Pete Buttigieg’s marriage is inspiring more gay men to find love online

Despite these accomplishments, the LGBT community is still far from achieving full equality with their straight, cisgender peers.

In 2017, more than 1,400 LGBT Americans were the victims of hate crimes, a 3% increase over the previous year. Transgender people, particularly transgender women of color, are at an especially high risk of violence. Police are currently investigating the 11th murder of a black transgender woman this year alone.

These struggles extends to LGBT Americans’ financial lives. “There are many places in this country where LGBTQ people are still at risk of being fired from their jobs, being denied services such as credit and facing other forms of discrimination,” said Beck Bailey, director of the Human Rights Campaign’s Workplace Equality Program. “That’s why passing the Equality Act, a federal bill that would add LGBTQ people to existing civil rights laws and strengthen protections for all people, is so important.”

Here are some of the financial challenges LGBT people continue to face:

Wage gap persists between LGBTQ and heterosexual workers

People in the LGBTQ community typically make less money compared to their heterosexual counterparts, research shows.

A 2018 Prudential Financial survey said LGBTQ participants reported a median annual household income of $50,000. That’s compared with the $70,000 earned by non-LGBTQ indidivudals, the survey noted.

The differences are especially pronounced for LGBTQ women, Prudential added. Though almost one quarter of the non-LGBTQ men and women made less than $30,000, 40% of LGBTQ women earned less than $30,000, the survey said. Thirty-five percent of LGBTQ men made less than that amount, while only 24% of heterosexual men and women made less than $30,000

—Andrew Keshner

Despite low jobless rates, LGBT unemployment rates are far higher

Nationally, the unemployment rate has dropped to 3.6%, a 49-year low. But the LGBTQ unemployment rate far exceeds the national average: 9% of the LGBTQ community was unemployed as of January 2019, according to the UCLA School of Law’s Williams Institute.

State unemployment rates are even more disproportionate. For example, LGBTQ residents account for 3.3% of Wyoming’s population, but they have a 17% unemployment rate, the Williams Institute said.


Read more: Scoring 10.2 million viewers, ‘Will & Grace’ reboot takes aim at Trump’s White House

Transgender people, in particular, experience discrimination at work

Jobless rates in the transgender community are especially high. There was a 15% transgender unemployment rate, according to 2015 estimates from the National Center for Transgender Equality. More than three quarters (77%) of survey participants told the advocacy group they’ve hidden or delayed their gender transition to avoid workplace mistreatment, or just quit altogether.

“Too many transgender people know what it’s like to have their job applications ignored, their reports of harassment silenced, and their accomplishments denied and dismissed,” said Gillian Branstetter, media relations manager at the National Center for Transgender Equality. “While many large employers have taken great strides to improve their workplace policies, we still have a long way to go to address the deep and unjustifiable inequities faced by transgender people every day.”

In a speech earlier this week, John Williams, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said “we are not where we need to be.” The work has to continue, Williams added. “Creating an inclusive culture has no end date. Like so many aspects of culture and values, it’s not a project with a deadline, where we can say, ‘OK, we’re done now.’”


In most states, you can still be fired for being LGBTQ

Like the divide between LGBTQ jobless rates and the national average, there’s a gap between the workplace protection laws for gay, bisexual, lesbian and transgender workers and many other people.

The Civil Right Act of 1964 outlawed worker discrimination because of their sex, race, color, national origin or religious belief. But decades later, it’s still an open legal question if the landmark federal law guards against unfair treatment because of one’s sexual orientation.

The Supreme Court will hear cases in the next term asking to finally answer the question.

State laws in more than half of the country are silent on critical issue. The Human Rights Campaign says 28 states lack laws barring discimination because of sexual orientation. Likewise, 30 states have no laws forbidding discrimination on the basis of someone’s gender identity.


Advocates fear ‘religious freedom laws’ will be used to discriminate against LGBTQ individuals

President Trump has moved to protect “religious liberty” in a series of actions applauded by some conservative Christians, including a May 2017 executive order that relaxed constraints on churches’ political activity and told federal agencies they could exempt some religious organizations from having to include contraception coverage in their health-insurance plans. Many LGBTQ advocates at the time feared such directives could lead to discrimination against LGBTQ individuals on the basis of religion.

“For too long, the federal government has used the power of the state as a weapon against people of faith — bullying and even punishing Americans for following their religious beliefs,” Trump said. “No American should be forced to choose between the dictates of the federal government and the tenets of their faith.”

In October 2017, then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a guidance to federal agencies stating that the “principles of religious liberty” should be accommodated to the greatest extent possible “in all government activity, including employment, contracting, and programming.” The Justice Department later created the Religious Liberty Task Force, which the Human Rights Campaign blasted as part of the Trump administration’s “ongoing campaign to license discrimination against LGBTQ people in the public square.”

The Department of Health and Human Services last year also launched a new “Division of Conscience and Religious Freedom,” and this month finalized a regulation to protect health-care entities and individuals who refuse to participate in medical procedures (like abortion) or provide services due to religious or moral objections. The new rule faced criticism from the LGBTQ community and multiple legal challenges by cities and states, including San Francisco.

“At its core, this rule is about denying people medical care,” City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “This administration is willing to sacrifice patients’ health and lives — particularly those of women, members of the LGBTQ community, and low-income families — to score right-wing political points. It’s reprehensible. People’s health should not be a political football.”

—Meera Jagannathan

Don’t miss: Nearly 50% of LGBT Americans are in the closet at work

Access to housing remains one of the biggest challenges facing LGBTQ Americans

Finding safe, affordable housing is still a challenge even for those who weren’t pushed into homelessness in their adolescence. Only 21 states and the District of Columbia have laws that prohibit housing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, according to the Human Rights Campaign. (One additional state, Wisconsin, has a law that only prohibits discrimination related to sexual orientation.)

In states without these laws, LGBTQ people have little recourse when they encounter discrimination. Having a law on the books doesn’t actively prevent discrimination from occurring of course. The Urban Institute conducted a study in which people identified themselves as transgender when contacting housing agents in Washington, D.C. Transgender testers were less likely to be told if units were available for rent.

Indeed, young Americans who identify as part of the LGBTQ community are vastly more likely to become homeless than their straight, cisgender peers. A 2017 report from Chapin Hall at the University of Chicago, a policy research institution that focuses on child welfare and family well-being, found that LGBTQ youth have a 120% higher risk of reporting homelessness relative to young adults overall.

Previous research has estimated that up to 40% of homeless youth identify as LGBTQ. Additionally, one in five people who are transgender or gender-nonconforming have experienced homelessness at some point.

Many of these people are homeless explicitly because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Roughly a quarter of homeless LGBTQ youth were forced to live on the streets or in shelters because they were kicked out of their homes for the sheer fact that they identified as LGBTQ.

Being homeless as a young adult can have a ripple effect in the lives of LGBTQ Americans, said Cait Howerton, a financial coach at SmartPath Financial in Atlanta, Ga., and the 2019 Financial Planning Association diversity scholar. “That starts a downward spiral towards not being able to reach economic security and achieve prosperity because you’re having to hustle just to put a roof over your head,” she said.

—Jacob Passy

It’s extremely expensive to become a parent for LGBTQ people

Depending on the route they take, LGBTQ people can expect to spend tens of thousands of dollars to become parents.

An adoption from a licensed private agency can cost anywhere from $5,000 to more than $40,000, although adopting from foster care can cost less than $2,500.

People who choose child birth don’t avoid all of these costs. Intrauterine insemination costs between $300 and $1,000 without insurance, according to Planned Parenthood. In-vitro fertilization is even more expensive, costing $10,000 on average per cycle. In many cases though, it takes multiple cycles for someone to become pregnant. And in many states, insurance is not required to cover the cost of these procedures.

The expenses don’t end there. “After a child is conceived and born, you still have to go through second parent adoption,” said Howerton, who identifies as lesbian. “You don’t have legal claims over that child until you go through adoption.”

Second-parent adoptions, on average, cost anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000.


Also see: How LGBT Americans have fared since Trump’s election

Retirement is the chief financial concern among LGBTQ people

About 23% of the LGBTQ population is aged 50 and up, according to the Williams Institute.

And saving for retirement is the chief financial concern among LGBTQ people, according to a 2018 Experian survey of 1,000 Americans, cited by 29% of respondents. (Half of the survey’s respondents identified as LGBTQ, while the other half were heterosexual and cisgender.) Accordingly, 44% of LGBTQ people reported difficulty maintaining adequate savings, compared to 38% of the general population.

Those findings track with a 2017 Prudential survey, which found that LGBTQ respondents were less likely than those in the general population to save in retirement accounts (20% versus 25%). LGBTQ survey participants, moreover, were more likely than their general-population counterparts to regard themselves as “spenders.”

That survey also found that LGBTQ respondents polled in 2016 were less likely than those polled for Prudential’s 2012 report (and less likely than general-population participants) to have an estate plan, to have begun saving or investing for retirement, or to have insurance.


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The Moneyist: My dying friend wants to marry me so I can have his Social Security — should I do it?

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Dear Moneyist,

Please do not hammer me for presenting this idea. I understand many people feel strongly about the meaning of marriage. I dated a guy for a couple of months, but we agreed to just be friends. He wanted to continue to date, but respected my choice.

Over a couple of years, we have gotten together monthly for dinner and have enjoyed a great friendship. He is a major introvert, has a long career at the National Security Agency, has few friends and has never been married (no kids).

He asked me to marry him, so I would receive his Social Security in addition to his health-care benefits. He has made the case to me over several meetings.

This past November he was diagnosed with Stage IV lung disease, which has metastasized throughout his body. He has been told the median time frame for him to live is 6 months. I have helped him with doctors, went to an appointment with him, and remain as a close support.

He has asked me to be his estate trustee and I agreed to that. He is upset that the portion of his pension that the government contributed to over the last 30-plus years will be “lost.” He asked me to marry him, so I would receive this, in addition to his health-care benefits. He is clear-eyed about this and has made the case to me over several meetings.

Also see: I’m 65, my mortgage is paid off and I have $370,000 in savings, so why I am still worried about money?

I am 62, work hard at a modest career with a huge commute, put away 30% each paycheck into retirement, and have been divorced and have never intended to remarry for any reason. My financial independence has been hard fought. I have job security for at least five more years, but my retirement will be quite simple and a bit of a struggle.

He has always tried to help me, but I have not wanted to muddy the waters of our relationship. I continue to date other men, and he has dated other women, some of whom I have met, but I do not have a boyfriend.

Recommended: My husband asked me to file a joint tax return without telling me he owes back taxes

Is this ethical receiving government benefits in an arranged marriage? What if he recovers ? If I were to accept, is this money-grabbing on my part? Is this just his way to bring me closer? What other parts of this dilemma am I missing?

I have shared this with a couple of close friends and they have made strong arguments for both sides. The proponents feel that this is just a financial decision. Those against feel it is unethical to essentially marry for money.

I am leaning towards not doing this.


Dear Unsure,

You wouldn’t be the first person to marry for money, and you won’t be the last. When people do marry for money, they tend to keep it to themselves. People marry for all kinds of reasons, for companionship, passion, children, or because they just don’t want to be alone. Some people marry even when they don’t love the person, maybe because he or she is beautiful or well connected, the person would make a good mother or father or — I’m clearly exaggerating here — has a low 18-hole handicap and would be a good partner to win the coveted prize at the country club’s “husband and wife” golf competition.

People marry for all kinds of reasons, for companionship, passion, children, or because they just don’t want to be alone.

Other people marry for love and end up hating each other, and remain tied together because of money — perhaps because one person has health insurance with their job, or because they share a home and neither wants to give it up, or they simply can’t afford to split it. Maybe they just got used to having each other around. Many couples who no longer live together or love each other — they may even loathe each other! — remain married “for the sake of the children.” That may or may not be a good idea, depending on how well they get along. Some people, of course, even end up living happily ever after. Just like in the movies.

Don’t miss: Before I give my fiancée a $7,000 diamond engagement ring, I want her to promise to bequeath it to my daughter

And so to you: You both dated and now share a valuable friendship. There are all kinds of love. You can dislike a person and still love their humanity. You can love a friend who used to be a boyfriend or girlfriend, but in a different way. You can love the idea of making someone financially secure and giving them a gift that will ensure their peace of mind or bring financial stability after they’re gone. There are complications to his plan: You would, however, have to be married for nine months and/orhe would have “reasonably expected to live for 9 months” to legally claim widow’s benefits. Here are the other conditions. Ask a lawyer about any exceptions for federal employees.

See also: My brother borrowed $50,000 from my dad and never paid it back — what can we do?

I tend not to listen to the Greek Chorus of friends, frenemies or family when making important personal decisions. Sure, I have my trusted sources, but everyone brings their own political, personal and ideological views to your predicament. I don’t see this arrangement as unethical. On the contrary, it’s an act of love for a dying man to make this his last wish. Maybe it’s not an act of romantic love, but it’s an act of love nonetheless. Many arranged marriages are very successful. In fact, all marriages are — in one way or another — arranged. If anything, there are more accounts that you, if you were his widow, could benefit from.

You can love the idea of making someone financially secure and giving them a gift that will ensure their own peace of mind or financial stability after they’re gone.

Some of your friends may even feel resentful that you would also be his beneficiary to (I’m guessing) a very healthy pension, retirement plan, thrift savings plan (similar to a 401(k) or 403 (b)) and/or civil servant retirement system (if you were designated a surviving beneficiary). You may, if you were his widow, benefit from his health insurance even after he dies. This goes far beyond just Social Security, and it could help you have a retirement free from worry and financial instability. Think carefully about all of these possibilities and talk them through with your friend.

You are the very opposite of money grabbing. I’ve received a lot of letters from people who have indulged in all sorts of shenanigans over money, some legal, some involving stolen money and altered wills; some letter writers have even accused family members of murder. All for money, money and more money. Sometimes, there is a difficult moral problem where the social contract has been irrevocably broken — and for what? To settle an old score that goes all the way back to childhood or cut a sibling out of a will. You are the last person I would want to “hammer,” even if it was my style, which it’s not. Please, be kind to yourself.

I’m not telling you to marry him, and I’m not telling you not to marry him. If you are not comfortable with marrying him, maybe you have your answer. If you feel like it puts you in a spot, proceed cautiously. If it would make you feel like you’re not a good person, think twice. If this offer is made in good faith based on a loving friendship, however, give it some thought. If he wants a beloved friend to benefit from his Social Security after he dies, money that he has earned during his lifetime, that’s actually a beautiful thing. You don’t seem sure that you will live comfortably on your existing income. He is your friend and he may have found a way to help.

Whatever you decide, it’s a thoughtful and generous offer. If you go ahead with this, you could always get a second opinion from a doctor and, of course, a lawyer regarding his medical bills and other financial details, and hope that your friend has more time than six months or a year, for his sake. If he or she says your friend can only expect to live six months or he only lives six months, of course the ethical and moral quandary you find yourself in may be moot, given the nine-month rule. Marriage may deepen your friendship and enrich your life in ways you did not expect. Are you saying no for the wrong reasons? Sometimes, it’s hard for people to ask or receive help.

One final thought: Your friend has both the luxury and difficulty of knowing when he is likely to leave this planet. It’s rare that we have the ability to choose how we die. If you look at it that way, you would be doing him a great service too.

Also see: My fiancé’s father is custodian of his IRA — how can I get him to relinquish control?

Do you have questions about inheritance, tipping, weddings, family feuds, friends or any tricky issues relating to manners and money? Send them to MarketWatch’s Moneyist and please include the state where you live (no full names will be used).

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Buy all the coffee and avocado toast you want — but skimp on your house and car

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I’m bouncing off Kashana Cauley’s mini-rant in GQ about Suze Orman and the personal-finance “industry” in general.

The key paragraph is here:

“This past weekend, CNBC reminded us of Orman’s distaste for coffee: ‘If you waste money on coffee, it’s like peeing one million down the drain.’ Man, personal-finance experts do love shaming people for buying coffee. And avocado toast. If only we’d just stop paying for haircuts — as USA Today recently recommended — the dollars we’d save would also destroy our crushing student debt and sink the effects of years of wage stagnation, income inequality and de-unionization with it, allowing us to buy those houses we’re too broke to buy right now five minutes before we kick the bucket. And we’d also end up with completely professional, hacked-off-ourselves hair.”

GQ leans a bit left so I will ignore the unionization comment. But these are legitimate points.

Personal-finance experts often like to preach austerity. It is a little disingenuous for a rich person to preach austerity, even if that person legitimately got rich through austerity. Cutting back on coffee, food and haircuts is ludicrous.

And it is also true that the economy has changed. Stuff costs more (even if it doesn’t show up in the inflation statistics), and wages have pretty much stayed put. The student-loan problem is intractable, and health-care expenses can easily bankrupt you.

But asking people to give up coffee is dumb.

I have some answers.

Not everyone can be rich

The popular finance literature seems to imply that everyone can be a millionaire if you’re enough of a saver.

This approach makes people have an unhealthy relationship with money. Under this framework, money is to be hoarded, and not to be shared or enjoyed — not good.

A better goal is to be free from financial stress. That will involve some austerity, for sure, but you don’t need to give up coffee.

I’m not saying you can have it all, because you can’t. There are trade-offs. You can have coffee, toast and haircuts, but with a slightly smaller retirement. And if that’s what makes you happy, then great.

There is a lot of focus on becoming a millionaire. Being a millionaire will not solve all your problems. It didn’t solve mine. Some people become millionaires and still aren’t happy. So the goal isn’t to be a millionaire. The goal is to be happy.

Are you happy?

Take a quiz.

Let’s do a 10-question quiz to see if you are happy with your financial situation and whether you have a healthy relationship with money.

1. Do I have enough cash on hand to cover any emergencies?

2. Do I have enough for a reasonable standard of living in retirement?

3. Can I easily afford small luxuries?

4. Can I give 2% of my income to charity (excluding church) without trepidation?

5. Is my marriage free from fights over money?

6. Do my friends think I am a generous person?

7. Do I wear clothes I want to wear?

8. Do I derive pleasure from using the money I earn to buy material things?

9. Am I debt-free, or close to it?

10. Do I invest in tax-advantaged retirement accounts to the best of my ability?

I could actually go on, but you get the picture. If you can answer “yes” to most or all of those questions, then money is your friend. It works for you — you don’t work for money.

This is a much better yardstick of success than being a millionaire.

The correlation between money and happiness is weaker than you might assume. More money generally makes people happy.

The research shows that for most people, happiness tapers off once people start making “enough” money. I have known some unhappy rich people. I have known some deliriously happy poor people.

I can tell you what makes people miserable …

… debt

And this is where the personal-finance experts like me come into play. When people get themselves in trouble, it is always with debt.

Walking into a car dealership is one of the most dangerous things you can do. Unless you understand how debt works, and are assertive enough to say no, you are going to walk out of there with more car than you need, and lots and lots of crippling debt.

Car salesmen are responsible for spreading a lot of misery in this world.

The bank does it, too, even after the financial crisis. If you go to a bank to get pre-approved for a loan, they calculate the size of the loan based on the payment being 40% of your income. And then you go house-shopping from there, for the biggest house you can afford.

This is the key to personal finance. Not skipping coffee and toast, but smaller houses and cheaper cars.

People have a tough time giving up small luxuries, but can easily give up big luxuries. Not really sure why that is, but it’s human nature.

Instead of talking about the million dollars you’ll save by not drinking coffee, let’s talk about the million dollars you’ll save by getting a $10,000 car instead of a $40,000 car, and a $200,000 house instead of a $300,000 house. Those interest payments add up.

At least if you are drinking coffee, you are enjoying it. Nobody derives any enjoyment out of paying interest. It is completely unproductive.

Yes, the personal finance industry is a scam. Because it misunderstands human nature. Sure, money makes people happy — but mostly because it eliminates stress. All people want is not to worry about it. That is something personal finance folks can help with.

Jared Dillian is an investment strategist at Mauldin Economics and a former head of ETF trading at Lehman Brothers. Subscribe to his weekly investment newsletter, The 10th Man.

Retire Better: You better plan for a smaller Social Security check

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The numbers are getting worse.

Social Security checks could be cut 23% by fiscal year 2034—14 years from now—unless steps are taken to shore up the program.

That’s according to the latest report from the venerable program’s trustees, including lead trustee—and Treasury Secretary—Steven Mnuchin. Last year, the forecast was a 21% cut by 2034.

We’re at a tipping point. The report says that starting in fiscal year 2020—which begins Oct. 1—the Social Security Trust Funds (which also includes the Disability Insurance Trust Fund) will spend more than then it takes in, something that hasn’t happened since 1982. The cash burn will accelerate until reserves are depleted in 2034—and that’s when checks start getting smaller.

Read: These are the best new ideas in retirement

Funding your retirement is often compared with a three-legged stool. One leg is Social Security. Another is pensions, and the third is personal savings. But this is really a farce. Half of all private sector workers, for example, have no private pension coverage, and 36% of workers report that they and/or their spouse have not personally saved any money for retirement.

Read: This hybrid Social Security plan could help more people save enough for retirement

A deeper dive shows how perilous this is for older Americans. Even among households that are in their 60s, median retirement savings, says a study by Synchrony Bank, is $172,000. Median means half have less than that. Using the 4% rule—financial advisers generally say you can withdraw about 4% of your assets each year—this implies about $6,880 in annual income. How far will that get you?

So if Americans had these things—pensions and personal savings, possible cuts to Social Security would be a mere nuisance, rather than an outright threat. But that’s not the case.

And keep in mind that Social Security isn’t much to begin with. Last year it paid out nearly $989 billion to some 63 million beneficiaries. That works out to $1,308 per person, a month. Remember, Social Security is meant to be a supplement for retirees, but given the above data, it’s clear that for millions of Americans, it’s all they have. Among elderly Social Security beneficiaries, 21% of married couples rely on it for 90% or more of their income. The problem is even worse for unmarried retirees: 44% depend on it for 90% or more of their income. So warnings that these payouts could be slashed in the not-too-distant future is a very big deal.

So a year has passed and the situation has deteriorated. You might think this is no big deal because 2034, that’s a long way off, right? They’ll (Congress) fix it by then, right? Perhaps, but we are talking about Congress here—need I say more?

Read: How to check your Social Security statement for accuracy

This is a problem that is easy, in theory, to solve. We know what the fixes are. But in reality it’s difficult for this reason: politicians don’t like inflicting pain upon voters. But that is what is going to have to happen one way or another. Social Security can be bolstered through tax hikes, benefit cuts, or a higher Social Security retirement age—or some combination of all three. So pick your poison(s).

Meantime, if you’re one of the millions of Americans who doesn’t have enough saved, you’re probably aware of this terrible Catch-22. But it’s worth mentioning again. If you want to start receiving Social Security as soon as you can because you need the money, you can do so at 62. But your monthly checks will be smaller. If you can afford to wait a few years, you get more—a lot more. Here’s what the Social Security Administration says:

• If you were born in 1960 your full retirement age is 67.

• If you begin taking Social Security at age 62, you’ll get 70% of the monthly benefit—because you retired five years before your full retirement age.

• If you begin taking Social Security at age 65, you’ll get 86.7% of the monthly benefit—because you retired two years before your full retirement age.

• If you wait until age 67—the full retirement age—you’ll get 100% of the monthly benefit.

Does it pay to wait? Consider this: If you hold off on collecting, your payout will grow by approximately 8% a year until age 70. So if you can wait until that age to claim benefits you could theoretically earn up to 76% more a month than the someone who claims as early as possible, which is age 62. In other words, if you really need or want the money, you’ll get less, but you’ll get it earlier. If you really don’t need the money, you’ll get more, but get it later. Too bad it can’t be the other way around.

Try AARP’s Social Security calculator

• If you’re married, there’s another set of numbers to consider, which you can read here.

Weekend Sip: A boozy drink that will help you avoid any hangovers

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The bottle: Haus Citrus & Flower aperitif, $35

The back story: When it comes to imbibing, Americans are increasingly opting for lower-alcohol options these days, if not forgoing the booze altogether. Last year, Ketel One rolled out a Botanical line that was just 30% alcohol by volume (or 60 proof) versus the more standard 40%. And in New York City, alcohol-free “bars” are suddenly all the rage.

All this sets the stage for Haus, a new American company, backed with $1 million in startup money, that says it is “focused on making products for how people drink today.” And that indeed means low-alcohol — in the case of its first product, dubbed Citrus & Flower, it is an aperitif (that is, a before-meal drink) that clocks in at a mere 15% alcohol by volume.

On top of that, the company, which produces its spirits in California, says it is aiming to create products that use all-nature ingredients — Chardonnay grapes, juice from fresh lemons, etc. — with a limited amount of sugar. And yes, other products are planned beyond the initial aperitif.

That said, the company stops short of calling Haus a health drink. “We’re still a vice, but a moderated one. We’re for people who want to put something better in their body, but still enjoy dessert every once in a while,” said Haus co-founder and co-CEO Helena Price Hambrecht.

What we think about it: Haus is clearly about a branding style and sensibility — the bottle’s sleek design makes a statement unto itself. But the actual liquid is quite good — a slightly fruity, slightly herbaceous sip characterized by a remarkably clean, pure taste. The Haus team says you should pick up notes of lemon, grapefruit and elderflower.

How to enjoy it: This can be had like any aperitif — chilled or on the rocks (think a good vermouth enjoyed on its own). But it also lends itself to cocktails and can be mixed, in Spritz-like fashion, with sparkling wine or fizzy mineral water.

More Weekend Sip

Want to get what you’re owed from Social Security? Do this

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Everyone should check their Social Security statements, even if they don’t plan to retire for a few more decades.

Social Security statements list important information, including birth dates and earnings history, and any inaccuracy could result in a reduction of benefits. Only Americans 60 and older, with no online account with the Social Security Administration, receive Social Security statements, but everyone else can sign up for an account on My SSA.

How much retirees receive in Social Security depends on numerous factors, including how old they are when they begin claiming benefits — and how early or delayed it is in relation to their Full Retirement Age (or FRA). The FRA for people born in 1960 and after is 67 years old, whereas those born before that may have a FRA of 65 or 66 and a few months.

See: Don’t make this one Social Security blunder

Retirees can begin claiming at 62, but will get a fraction of the benefit they’d receive if they were to delay their benefits, when they’d get more than what they’re owed. For example, if a person’s full retirement age is 67, she would get 70% of her monthly benefit, but if she delayed her check until she turned 70, she would get 124% of her benefit, according to the Social Security Administration. Once a claiming decision has been made it cannot be changed.

Checking statements is crucial, but can be confusing. Here’s a breakdown of what to look for if you receive a statement or check your My SSA account. If using the web portal to find your statement, create an account, log in and click on estimated benefits to the right. You can see all the pertinent information on the page, but you can also see the full statement as it is below by scrolling down and clicking “Print/Save Your Full Statement.” There are typically five pages in a statement, and they incorporate personal information as well as frequently asked questions and answers.

Page 1

The introduction page will have your name and mailing address, as well as your estimated payment at full retirement age — just in case you just want to quickly check how much you should expect to receive at full retirement age.

And although that number is helpful for planning your retirement finances, you should look further to ensure it is accurate, advisers say. Linda Erickson, a financial adviser and founding partner at Erickson Advisors in Greensboro, N.C., advisers her clients to check their statements once every one or two years for inaccuracies.

Page 2

The second page includes all the numbers you may need for financial planning, including what you would receive in benefits if you began claiming at full retirement age, age 70 or age 62. It will provide your specific FRA, which may be 66 and a few months. Any claiming done before or after will adjust the anticipated benefit slightly.

The statement also includes what benefits you would receive if you became disabled, or what your survivors (a spouse, child, or in some cases a dependent parent) would receive in the case of death. The document also states if the account holder has enough credits to qualify for Medicare.

The last item to check before moving on to the next page is your date of birth — this date determines your full retirement age, and your estimated benefit will be incorrect if this information is wrong.

Also see: Don’t believe this myth about Social Security

Page 3

This page is also critical to determining if the estimated benefit is correct, and lists your wage history. Although it can be tedious, it’s important to comb through these figures to verify your earnings history is correct.

Social Security is based on lifetime earnings. The administration indexes actual earnings, then calculates that average indexed monthly earnings for the 35 top-earning years. The numbers are punched into a formula, which results in the basic benefit one would receive at full retirement age.

Checking this history as soon as possible will help avoid any headaches, said Mark Smith, president of Vision Wealth Planning in Glen Allen, Va. “Someone who is 50 or in their 50s has potentially 30 years of earnings listed, and won’t be able to verify some of that because it’s too far back,” he said. “It is important to do it early and every year.”

If there is an error

Sometimes errors occur, either by missing earnings years or a miscalculation. If an error occurred on your statement, contact the Social Security Administration, which has an automated phone service available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at 1-800-772-1213. Calls are answered between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, though wait times may be long.

Those with incorrect or missing earnings history should collect proof of those wages in the form of a W-2, tax return, wage stub or other relative documents. In a worst-case scenario where that information isn’t readily available, gather information including the name of the employer, the dates of employment and how much was earned, the SSA said.

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