The fight against the financial exploitation of older Americans is about to get a whole lot easier.
The 50+ are prime targets of financial exploitation because they own 67 percent of U.S. bank deposits – and because factors including health status, cognitive ability, and social isolation can make them more vulnerable. Beginning February 5, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) will enact a pair of rules that will provide brokers with additional tools to protect their older clients and help stop financial exploitation.
The first rule tackles the threat by helping to ensure more older Americans have a trusted third-party who can be notified if problems arise or suspicious activities are observed with their financial accounts. Rule 4512 will require brokers to ask clients to designate a trusted contact the broker can contact in case of any problems, including financial exploitation. This designee will not be able to access any private information about the account, but the broker can alert the designee if something is potentially wrong. Clients will not be required to provide a trusted contact; under the rule, brokers are just required to ask.
The other rule slated to take effect, meanwhile, captures the benefits of brokers’ unique vantage point to spot dubious activity; the rule will allow brokers to delay payments from an account if something seems amiss. Specifically, Rule 2165, a “safe harbor rule,” gives a broker who suspects exploitation the ability to put a 15-day hold on any payments while the firm investigates. This hold can be extended another 10 days if necessary. Strengthening the ability to stop exploitation before it happens is crucial, particularly because it is nearly impossible to recover money once it leaves the account.
“These rules will provide firms with tools to respond more quickly and effectively to protect seniors from financial exploitation,” FINRA President and CEO Robert W. Cook said in a news release. “This project included input and support from both investor groups and industry representatives and it demonstrates a shared commitment to an important, common goal – protecting senior investors.”
The changes are built on the foundation of principles also central to BankSafe, AARP’s initiative to stop financial exploitation—that is, providing a trusted contact and enacting safe harbor rules. As such, they will better meet customers’ financial needs and safeguard their assets. This seemingly small step by FINRA to protect older Americans will make a huge dent in the fight.
In February, we are surrounded by hearts. They’re everywhere—in the grocery store, shopping malls and email inboxes. You may also hear more about heart health, because February is American Heart Month. Taking steps to strengthen your heart yields a bonus—you’ll be protecting your brain as well.
It turns out that heart and brain health are inexorably linked, according to a new Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH) report on brain health and nutrition.
With every beat, the heart pumps 20 to 25 percent of blood to the brain. That blood carries food and oxygen to brain cells to help them function normally. An unhealthy heart system can wreak havoc on your brain. High blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes all damage the arteries that carry oxygen to vital organs, including the brain, says Lawrence Appel, M.D., director of the Welch Center for Prevention at Johns Hopkins University and a GCBH panel member for the recent nutrition report.
“Damage to those vessels occurs gradually over decades, actually a lifetime,” Appel says. “Once there is damage to blood vessels, then damage to the heart and brain occur.” In addition to damage to the arteries, higher levels of blood pressure, cholesterol and blood sugar probably directly damage brain and heart tissues as well, he says.
So how can we protect our hearts and brains? Keep blood pressure and blood sugar under control, maintain a healthy weight and keep cholesterol low.
Considering this advice, it’s not surprising that the new report from the GCBH recommends a heart-healthy diet to help keep your brain strong. The expert panel recommends a diet high in vegetables, fruits, fish and healthy fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts and olive oil. It discourages eating processed foods, fried foods and unhealthy fats, such as transfats and butter. Appel and colleagues published a study in November 2017 in the Journal of American Cardiology that found one of the diets detailed in the report—the DASH diet—was as effective as medication for some adults with high blood pressure. Find out more details about heart healthy/brain healthy diets on page 7 and 8 of the report.
Need more motivation? A new AARP survey of more than 2,000 men and women age 40 and over found that the more fruits and vegetables people ate, the better they reported their brain health and mental well being. A full 90 percent of those surveyed said they would eat a healthy diet if they knew it would reduce their risk of cognitive decline, heart disease or diabetes. According to the experts on the Global Council nutrition panel, including Appel, a heart-healthy/brain-healthy diet does just that.
So next time you see those heart-shaped candy boxes or Valentine’s cards in the store, think about protecting your heart and your brain.
Many households are considering their financial future this time of year and making planning decisions that will ultimately impact retirement. Follow recent coverage on important resources and mistakes to avoid when planning for retirement.
Many Americans households have virtually no retirement savings and many rely exclusively on Social Security. This shortfall is especially critical for people who are just a few years away from retirement. Over 45 percent of all working-age households — or more than 39 million — have no retirement assets1. Cultural and demographic shifts have contributed to this crisis:
- Retirement often used to mean counting on a company pension, but now it often means counting on your own savings. Many people in their 40s and 50s are caught in this transition.
- Additionally, a retirement “nest egg” needs to last longer than ever before.
Here are ten retirement planning tips to help you achieve retirement peace of mind from Jean Setzfand, AARP Senior Vice President of Programs:
- Start saving today. The earlier you start, the longer you have to save and invest, and the less you need to save each month. AARP and the Ad Council developed a new interactive online resource, AceYourRetirement.org that will provide you with customized action items after you respond to some simple questions.
- Save more, if you are getting a late start. Find ways to free up more money to save from AARP’s latest list of 99 great ways to save, and get a handle on credit card debt. Make a payment plan and stick to it, then dedicate those monthly payments to saving once you’re paid up.
- Use your 401(k) or similar retirement savings plan at work, and save as much as you can through it. You may get an employer match to boot – try to save at least as much as your employer match. Consider a target date fund for your investments, since they offer a mix of assets that adjust based on your expected retirement date. And, if you don’t have access to workplace 401(k) or retirement plan, open an IRA through a bank or other financial institution. Sock away as much as you can, up to IRS limits and consider target date funds.
- Increase your contribution to your 401(k) or IRA, every time you get a raise. And while it may be tempting to spend your tax refund or annual bonus, try treating yourself to something small and use the rest toward your retirement goal.
- Take advantage of “catch-up contributions” of an extra $1,000 in IRAs and an extra $6,000 in 401(k)s if you are age 50 or older.
- Know your goal. There are many free tools online, including AARP’s retirement calculator, which can help you define a specific retirement savings goal.
- Work as long as possible — even part-time gigs in retirement. While many people will not be able to work longer, it’s an important consideration for those who don’t have enough savings or a pension to rely on. Working longer gives you more time to save and invest, and less time to fund in retirement.
- Understand that the average annual Social Security benefit is a little less than $17,000 — so saving and investing is very important. If you are able to, consider delaying your benefit, which grows 8% a year between your full retirement age and age 70.
- Consider affordability and livability when thinking about where to retire. You might even consider settling down internationally, in a country where couples can live comfortably on as little as $1,500 a month. To find your community’s livability score (“livability index”) and resources to proactively make your community more livable visit, aarp.org/livable.
- Consider seeking help from a financial professional. For people who want help from a financial advisor, AARP has just launched a free online tips tool called Interview an Advisor that walks the user through questions to ask an advisor before hiring one. We developed it with the North American Securities Administrators Association. The tool functions like an app and is accessible on smartphones, tablets and computers.
Visit aarp.org/money for more on saving, investing and taxes.
Keep current with AARP Media Relations:
- Source: NIRS analysis of 2015 Survey of Consumer Finance
As the executive director of the Global Council on Brain Health (GCBH), I am always on the lookout for brain-healthy foods. I scan grocery aisles for chocolate bars with more than 70 percent cocoa, feel that I’m stimulating my brain when I down my morning coffee and even feel virtuous when drinking a glass or two of red wine. Turns out all my assumptions have been wrong.
The GCBH recently released a major report on how nutrition affects the brain. Brain Food: GCBH Recommendations on Nourishing Your Brain Health details how eating a healthy diet can strengthen your brain and reduce dementia risk.
When I attended the September 2017 meeting of GCBH experts in Baltimore, Maryland, I found to my surprise that although there are some studies that find brain benefits from coffee, chocolate and red wine, there isn’t enough reliable scientific evidence to recommend these foods to help keep your brain healthy. (Darn it!) Instead, the international group of experts recommended a heart-healthy diet with plenty of fish, fruits, vegetables, nuts and healthy fats and limited amounts of red meat, fried food and processed food. Rather than red wine and chocolate, the standouts were berries and leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach and kale. Although there was some disagreement among the group, it was fascinating to see that experts from Greece, Italy, China, Israel and the United States generally agreed on the type of diet that would benefit aging brains. The group strongly agreed, for example, that brain health and heart health are closely connected. They said many foods that keep your cardiovascular system healthy also help keep the brain healthy.
The group discussed the foods and nutrition that many of us wonder about when it comes to our diets including gluten, grains, fats, dairy—and, yes, chocolate and wine. They examined the evidence for brain health for diets from the Mediterranean, Scandinavia and Japan, as well as the MIND diet (Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay) developed by epidemiologist Martha Clare Morris and her colleagues at Rush University in Chicago. (Check out pages 7 and 8 of the report to learn more about each of these diets.) The diet that lost out was the Western diet. It seems the typical Western diet that’s high in salt, sugar and saturated fats can wreak havoc on both your heart and your brain. The experts detailed some foods that you should eat regularly, some that you should include in your diet and others that you should limit.
Graphic from pg. 4 of Brain Food: GCBH Recommendations on Nourishing Your Brain Health
“The group agreed that the evidence points to green, leafy vegetables, fish, nuts, fruits and other healthy foods as helping foster good brain health. And we also agreed that fried foods, foods high in salt and processed foods are probably not good for our brains,” said Morris, a GCBH governance committee member who attended the September meeting in Baltimore.
Eating a brain-healthy diet does make a difference in preserving memory and thinking skills as we age. The 2017 AARP Brain Health and Nutrition Survey of more than 2,000 Americans over age 40 found that adults who eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables report healthier brains and better mental well-being than those who don’t eat those healthy foods. And the more fruits and veggies they ate, the better their brain health and mental well-being scores. Seems that I may need to get out of the chocolate aisle and into the produce section.
To find out more about how different foods protect—and harm—your brain, check out the full report and recommendations here. And we’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.
Sarah Lenz Lock is Senior Vice President for Policy in AARP’s Policy, Research and International Affairs (PRI) where she helps position AARP as a thought leader addressing the major issues facing older Americans. She leads AARP’s policy initiatives on brain health and care for people living with dementia, including serving as the Executive Director of the Global Council on Brain Health, an independent collaborative of scientists, doctors and policy experts convened by AARP to provide trusted information on brain health.
Simmering issues important to all older Americans and their families, like health and financial security, may escalate to a full boil in many state Capitols in 2018.
Facing these challenges and opportunities head-on, AARP is already exhaustively at work throughout the country, fighting for the issues that matter and driving an innovative agenda focused on commonsense solutions without the clutter of partisanship.
Last year, AARP State Offices achieved huge successes, including new supports for family caregivers, greater access to home and community based services, and new ways to save for retirement. This year, we will continue to find ways to better enable more people to live and age as they choose.
Among our top priorities:
Supporting Family Caregivers
About 40 million family caregivers represent the backbone of our country’s care system, providing hours of unpaid care to their loved ones every day. Over the past two years, AARP state offices have worked with state legislators and governors to enact more than 150 new laws that support these unsung heroes.
In 2018, AARP will continue to support family caregivers and their loved ones by advancing laws and policies that:
- Provide information about the medical or nursing tasks that family caregivers will be asked to perform when their loved ones are discharged from the hospital. The Caregiver Advise, Record and Enable (CARE) Act promotes family caregiver involvement, notification and instruction, and has been enacted in nearly 40 states already.
- Reduce the financial burden for family caregivers through a tax credit.
- Ensure Advanced Practice Registered Nurses can use the full extent of their education and training, and allow nurses to delegate certain medical tasks to home care workers.
- Provide family caregivers with a much-needed break through greater access to respite care services.
- Help family caregivers manage personal or property decisions through comprehensive adult guardianship and power of attorney improvements.
- Encourage employers to offer workplace flexibility options, such as extending paid leave and allowing employees to use sick leave for caregiving responsibilities.
- Create or modify a home care provider registry to enable public access to home care information and availability.
- Remove barriers to telehealth services such as outdated regulations and policies, in order to expand access to care, improve the quality and reduce the cost of care, and create greater convenience for patients and their family caregivers.
Strengthening Home and Community Based Services
AARP knows that an overwhelming majority of Americans want to stay in their homes and communities. That’s why AARP is urging state policymakers to improve home and community based support for older adults and Americans living with disabilities by:
- Lowering costs and improving access.
- Providing greater choice of settings, providers and services.
- Enhancing quality of life and quality of care.
- Increasing effective transitions to avoid unnecessary hospitalizations and institutionalizations.
Accessing Retirement Plans at Work
Half of all U.S. families have zero saved for retirement, and 55 million Americans do not have access to retirement saving plans at work. That’s why AARP will continue advocating for Work and Save plans to increase access to workplace savings options and remove barriers for small businesses that want to offer retirement savings plans to their employees.
Ensuring Utility Services are Affordable
All across the country, families count on utility services to warm and cool their homes, keep their lights on, and access the technology to connect with loved ones—as well as police and fire in case of emergency. AARP strives to save utility customers money by fighting for affordable, reliable, and safe energy and telecommunications services.
In addition, this year, AARP will also continue fighting to: extend Medicaid coverage; lower the costs of prescription drugs; protect pension benefits and retirement income; strengthen communities for all ages; and combat financial exploitation and elder abuse.
To stay up to date on our work in your state, and nationwide, sign up for our e-alerts AARP Advocates e-newsletter, follow me on Twitter @roamthedomes, or visit your state Web page.
Elaine Ryan is the vice president of state advocacy and strategy integration (SASI) for AARP. She leads a team of dedicated legislative staff members who work with AARP state offices to advance advocacy with governors and state legislators, helping people 50-plus attain and maintain their health and financial security.
Photo Credit: iStock/wutwhanfoto
Your credit score is the one constant used to determine whether you’re approved for a loan – and to set interest and premium rates for credit cards, homeowners and auto insurance, even deposits for new utility service. But that three-digit score itself may frequently change.
It’s typical for your score to fluctuate by a few points, based on spending and payment at any given time, information in your credit report (which is constantly being updated), even the passage of time.
But a larger, unexpected drop can signal identity theft – and identity theft can certainly devastate a score, at least in the short term. Although there are many credit scoring providers, each using a slightly different formula (just as your credit report may vary depending on the credit reporting bureau), here are some general guidelines on how ID theft can impact your credit score:
- New credit inquiries. Each time new credit is applied for in your name – by you or an identity thief – lenders check your credit report. One additional credit inquiry should have little impact – typically, less than 5 points (but more for those with few accounts or a short credit history), reports FICO, whose scores are used by most lenders. The drop deepens with more inquiries that result when ID thieves apply for multiple account in victims’ names, as they often do.
- New accounts. These represent only 10 percent of a FICO score, so the problem isn’t with new credit and loans issued in your name – again, expect a drop of only a few points, and likely more for credit-seeking newbies. But a bigger hit occurs when many new accounts are issued over a short period (say, three new credit cards within one month) to decrease the length of your credit history, which represents about 15 percent of your score. Even worse is when those accounts become delinquent because the ID thief isn’t paying the bills.
- Late payments. The two biggest factors in scoring: Payment history typically accounts for about 35 percent, and amount(s) owed are another 30 percent. So when an ID thief opens one or more accounts in your name, then racks up charges but doesn’t pay, your score will suffer. Just one, even small, late payment can drop a credit score roughly 100 points, taking up to three years to rebound. Further black marks occur when unpaid bills are turned over to a collection agency.
- Higher balances on existing accounts. If a thief gets access to an existing account – say, maxes out your credit card – you won’t be liable for fraudulent charges, but your score could suffer. That change in your so-called credit utilization (the difference between your existing balance and the spending limit) could drop your credit score as much as 45 points. The good news: When fraudulent charges are successfully disputed, the ding is erased.
So along with getting those free credit reports that detail your credit history at annualcreditreport.com, it’s wise to keep tabs on your credit score – even if you have no plans to apply for new loans or plastic. (Credit scores are not included in the free reports, which are available from each of the three major reporting agencies once per 12-month period.)
Banks and credit card companies may provide customers with free scores on request, often each month. You can also try websites such as creditkarma.com, mint.com, creditsesame.com and quizzle.com; the trade-off is that you’ll receive promotional emails for products such as credit cards and loans that generate those websites a revenue share for customer enrollment. (So don’t use your primary email account unless you want a lot of spam.) But beware of “free” credit score scams. If a huge drop in your score raises your fraud antenna or you discover bogus accounts in your name, follow this recovery plan from the Federal Trade Commission.
For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and gain access to a network of experts, law enforcement and people in your community who will keep you up to date on the latest scams in your area.