A stack of $100 bills is why you need to read about these money facts
Posted by: Howard Dvorkin, CPA
Date of post: October 16, 2017

Recent research is both encouraging and depressing, but sadly more of the latter.

Every month or two, I cobble together some under-reported research projects and draw informed conclusions about how Americans are spending their money. I did this in March, June, and July. It’s time once again.

Impressions about recessions

When I first used the “R word” back in January, some readers expressed shock. Wasn’t I being just a little hyperbolic? Then in May, I wrote about CNBC reporting about the possibility of another recession.

Now comes Zillow, the real estate research and marketplace website, with this stunning headline: “Recession Could Hit by Late 2019, Experts Say.”

While I’ve publicly wondered if an auto bubble will be the tipping point, Zillow quizzed real estate economists and experts who “expect a geopolitical crisis will trigger the next recession.” Other causes could be a stock market correction or a trade war, but whatever it is, the experts Zillow consulted believe a recession has a 52 percent probability of happening by 2019.

When you extend that timeline to 2020, “The probability jumps to 73 percent.”

This is one time I’ll hate being right.

Venting about renting

Last month, Debt.com advised, Renters: Get Away from California. Rents are literally going through the roof there. Would you expect New York City to be any different?

A New York City real estate firm called StreetEasy crunched some numbers and found “rents are increasing twice as fast as wages.” Rents are climbing 3.9 there annually, while wages are rising only 1.8 percent.

It gets worse.

“The lowest-priced rents increased the most,” StreetEasy found. “Homes with the lowest rents in NYC grew 4.9 percent annually, while the highest-price rentals grew just 3 percent per year.”

If you don’t live in LA or NYC, why should you care? Because many trends (good and bad) start in those two places. Then they quickly spread around the country. Home prices are already out of reach for many, and if rentals go the same way, then we may have yet another real estate-inspired recession, when combined with other factors I mentioned above.

Intent on retirement

When it comes to retirement research, the news is usually depressing. Debt.com recently reported, “The world is running out of retirement money,” and it wasn’t an exaggeration.

So I’m pleased Fidelity released this bit of good news: “Retirement account balances reached all-time highs for the third consecutive quarter.” It seems the the average 401(k) balance is now $97,700, while five years ago it was $73,300. The average IRA balance is now $100,200, while five years ago it was $73,100.

Of course, this being about retirement, there was some bad news.

“One in five workers still aren’t taking full advantage of their 401(k) company match,” Fidelity says.

That’s tragic because those workers are literally giving up free money. There are two explanations, and neither bodes well:

  • No money. These workers are stretched so thin because they simply don’t make enough to cover expenses, because an emergency or illness has consumed all their cash, or because they’re being irresponsible with their spending.
  • No knowledge. These workers might not be aware that their employee will actually contribute to their retirement if they do.

Here’s a sad conclusion from Fidelity’s research: If 4 of 5 employees are saving for retirement, and only 1 in 5 isn’t, that’s all it takes to send us into a recession. If a quarter of the country retires without enough money (or any money) to survive, it will drag down the economy even for those who did.

We’re all connected in this economy. That’s why it’s so important that personal finance become not just a personal topic. It’s actually a national story.