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3 Things That Aren’t Keeping Up Financially

By Motley Fool Staff – Apr 30, 2019 at 5:44PM

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Public pensions, the "non-CFO” spouse, and you with the Joneses (if you’re wise).

It's a tricky business, this task of getting your financial house in order for the long term. For darn near all of us, the combination of our expenses and desires can easily exceed our incomes and resources -- even if we try in good faith to plan for the future. But if you're having trouble on that score, you're not alone.

As Motley Fool Answers co-hosts Alison Southwick and Robert Brokamp discuss in the "What's Up, Bro?" segment of this podcast, cities, counties, and states are familiar with your pain: Public pensions, many of which had been underfunded for years, have enjoyed the fruits of Wall Street's decade-long bull market to reach the point today where they are... still seriously underfunded.

In other money news, a new study warns that the way couples divide up the financial chores may be making one partner financially stupider. But they end on a more upbeat note, with the story of an NFL player teaching his fellow football players -- and some Ivy Leaguers -- the fundamentals of personal finance.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on April 16, 2019.

Alison Southwick: So, Bro, what's up?

Robert Brokamp: Well, Alison, guess what? I've got three things for you. First one -- and this is a headline straight from The Wall Street Journal -- The Long Bull Market Has Failed to Fix Public Pensions.

We know we've been in this great bull market for stocks. You'd think that all these underfunded pensions, particularly public pensions -- meaning those offered by states, counties, and cities -- would be better off. It turns out that's not quite the case.

Here's a quote from the article: "Liabilities of major U.S. public pensions are up 64% since 2007 while assets are up only 30%." Why is that?

First of all, pensions are a mix of stocks and bonds. Stocks have done very well. Bonds have not. Bonds have underperformed their long-term average by about two percentage points over the last decade. Also, back before the last 20 years or so, assets grew much faster than liabilities, which made states, cities, and counties feel very generous, so they increased the benefits. Then what happened? Then came the .com crash and the Great Recession, so things have changed.

[In addition], nowadays there are more retirees -- people who need the benefits. [The number of retirees has grown] while the number of people paying into it -- that is the employees -- has stayed about flat. They used the example of Maine. They have had about the same number of employees since 2007, but the number of their retirees has grown 32%.

Also, because of the economic difficulties of the last 15 to 20 years or so, some states haven't been putting in the [recommended] amount of money. One example they gave was New Jersey, which from 2009 to 2012 only put in about 15% of what they were supposed to put in. Now they have only about one-third of the assets they need to cover, future liabilities.

Some states have tried to change the benefits, but that got shut down either in the courts or by protests. Maine, which has been doing a better job than many plans in terms of fixing things, was able to change the formula for benefits -- basically the cost-of- living adjustment -- which is, by the way, unique to public pensions. Most private pensions do not adjust for inflation. Most public pensions do, which increases your costs. But even that only cut down their deficit by about $2 billion and they're still $3 billion short of where they need to be.

It's a real problem for these governments and the taxpayers in these cities. Earlier last month Warren Buffett told CNBC in an interview that public pensions are "a disaster," and he said, "If I were relocating into some state that had a huge unfunded pension plan, I'm walking into liabilities." I say to myself, "Why do I want to build a plan that has to sit there for 30 or 40 years, because I'll be here for the life of the pension plan and they will come after corporations. They'll come after individuals. They'll have to raise a lot of money."

He's basically saying that if you see a state that is significantly underfunded in their pension don't go there, because the only way they're going to solve that is by raising taxes. The bottom line, here, is even if you're not a beneficiary of one of these pensions, but you live in one of these states, cities, or counties, you've got to know the situation and you've got to factor that into your long-term plan because they have to make up that money.

Southwick: And where do you learn about the situation of your individual state?

Brokamp: It depends on the municipality you live in. It could be a city or it could be a county, but each of these has some sort of department of treasury or something like that. Every state's different, but somewhere you'll be able to find the funding status of the local pensions. And if you are planning to retire when you're a teacher, a cop, or a fireman and you were hoping to rely on these, you've got to know that status because if it's significantly underfunded, you have to count on the fact that you're not going to get all that you're promised.

Southwick: No. 2.

Brokamp: No. 2 is couples and the divvying up of financial chores. This comes from a recent study by Professors Adrian Ward and John Lynch. They looked at how couples decide who does the financial tasks and what the future outcomes are due to those decisions.

First of all, the evidence is clear that most couples divvy up the tasks. One person is what these guys called the "family CFO." There's a CFO and non-CFO. How do you decide that?

They actually found out that most couples don't decide based on financial literacy or financial skills. It's basically other factors like who has the time to do it. But over time, the financial literacy of the two people in the couple changes, so the person who is the family CFO becomes smarter and smarter, and the person who's the non-CFO actually starts to lose financial intelligence to the point where the longer you've been together, it's a pretty significant gap.

Now as long as both partners are around, this is actually efficient. They used some very non-romantic language to discuss how members of a couple use each other as external hard drives, which they called "transactive memory systems." They said these systems involve both the individual memory systems of each partner and the interpersonal transactive processes that coordinate the encoding, storage, retrieval, and use of information between partners.

Southwick: Aw! Baby Schmoopy!

Brokamp: So put that on your profile and see how many dates you get. So they looked at the outcomes of this and said it makes a lot of sense. It falls apart when the CFO is no longer able to do the job either temporarily or eternally. That leaves the other person to try to figure out what to do. And what they found out is that not only do these people who have not scored very high on financial literacy not know how to make the decisions, but they don't even know enough to know where to go to get the information.

They often turn to financial advisors, but it takes a certain amount of financial literacy to choose a good financial advisor and not get scammed.

Obviously the lesson, here, is it's perfectly fine to divvy up the tasks -- actually very efficient -- but you've got to have a plan for what you're going to do when the family CFO can't do that job. And it's particularly important for women, according to the study, because they pointed out that in 75% of the times when some member of the couple dies, it's the husband who dies. Most widows are women and they're widowed for about nine years. They are not the family CFO. They're left in the lurch.

Southwick: This seems like a good time to once again plug the Letter From Your Dead Husband.

Brokamp: From our good friend, Bob Hassmiller, who did pass away, but before he passed away, every year he updated a Letter From Your Dead Husband which was a document that his wife could look at if something happened to him so she would know exactly where everything was and who to turn to for help.

Then finally No. 3, a linebacker tackles financial illiteracy.

Southwick: Fun!

Brokamp: Hey! You may have heard the stat from the 2009 Sports Illustrated article that said that 78% of former NFL players have gone bankrupt or are under financial stress because of joblessness or divorce within two years of retirement.

Southwick: Two years. Wow!

Brokamp: Well, one player who hopes to avoid that fate is linebacker Brandon Cope. He grew up in a middle class household in Baltimore. He played high school football. Fortunately his football coach was a hedge fund manager, so he was able to work for the hedge fund while in high school.

He goes to the University of Pennsylvania. Does some work as a nighttime stock boy at Walmart. He graduates, does not get drafted, but he is a walk-on free agent on the practice squad, I think starting with Baltimore. But over the next five years he plays for five teams, so he's a scrappy dude.

Last year he had a breakout season. Had five sacks and interestingly he's only the fifth player since 1982 to be an Ivy League grad and record five or more sacks in one season.

Southwick: There's a stat for everything.

Brokamp: There is.

Southwick: For everything.

Brokamp: So he just gets resigned by the Jets with a $1.75 million contract. What's he going to do with that money? He's going to invest 85-90% of it in stocks and real estate as he's been doing pretty much throughout his career.

And then it occurred to him -- a couple of years ago when he was playing for Detroit -- when he and a few players would drive around looking for real estate to buy. They're all talking about how they learned this stuff. No one taught them this stuff. It would have saved them a lot of hassle and a lot of lost money if they had known this stuff coming out of college. So he thought, "There should be a class for this and I can be the one who teaches it."

So now this off-season he's back at his college alma mater as the co-professor of URBS 140, An Equity and Empowerment Urban Financial Literacy, along with Dr. Brian Peterson, the director of Makuu, which is Penn's black cultural center. He's teaching what he calls, Life 101.

So he's starting with the basics -- budgeting, living below your means, good debt vs. bad debt, renting or buying, the magic of compound interest -- and he told ESPN, "You need to attack your financial health, your financial well-being, and get to work on creating a better future for yourself." It's pretty cool that this guy who's now a pretty good NFL football player spends his off-season teaching kids about money. He said the biggest financial lesson he's learned is that classic, "Don't keep up with the Joneses." He said, "If that's not something of value to you, then don't chase it." And that, Alison, is what's up!

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