Particularly with the combined effects of a multi-year pandemic and historically high inflation, media coverage of economic news has focused an increasing level of attention on the plight of older Americans in uncertain financial times. CBS News, for instance, issued a report noting that even a cost-of-living bump in Social Security benefits would not keep pace with inflation-fueled expenses for many seniors. This is significant because about 50 million seniors rely on Social Security for monthly retirement income, and approximately 25% of them draw roughly 90 cents out of every $1 of their income from the program (according to the Social Security Administration). The CBS report observed that even before inflation spiked in 2022, census data showed more seniors were falling into poverty, swelling the ranks of poor seniors by nearly one million.
The more well off are not completely spared. According to an analysis in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), the typical stocks-bonds investment mix many older Americans maintain to fund their retirement was on track “for its worst year since 1937,” and “the declines weigh especially on baby boomers.”
Colorado Numbers – the 2nd fastest aging population
About a third of Colorado residents are age 50 and older. While this is one of the lower senior population proportion rates in the country, Colorado also has the seventh-highest life expectancy, which serves to nudge that proportion up. Colorado is also known as the 2nd fastest aging (over age 65) state in the country. The median household income in Colorado for those 65 and older—reported to be more than $50,000—puts the state near the top 10 when it comes to older adults’ income levels. A slightly higher-than-average percentage of 55-and-older residents remain in the workforce. It goes without saying that volatile financial trends can impact a lot of seniors to varying degrees.
So how are older Coloradans doing? Do they need assistance? If so, where can they get it? Here we’ll review one snapshot of the financial status of our state’s seniors and discuss some key sources of assistance.
Colorado survey by ElderWatch
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, AARP ElderWatch Colorado conducted a survey of older Coloradans (age 50+) to assess their financial situation and look at key influences on their finances. AARP additionally sought to understand how comfortable seniors are with their financial decisions, how they see the status of their debt and savings, what retirement savings plans they have, and the degree to which they feel prepared for the unexpected. (AARP is an AgeWise Colorado Provider. ElderWatch is a program with the Colorado attorney general’s office with a mission is to fight financial exploitation of older Coloradans and their families and connect them to assistance programs.)
Here are some of the key findings of the AARP survey:
- Two-thirds of older Coloradans began learning about personal finances at a young age—before turning 20. Parents and spouses were key influencers in their financial decisions. A majority feel good about the financial decisions they have made over their lives, particularly with home ownership. About two-thirds say their financial decisions have been “all good” or “mostly good.”
- The COVID pandemic did not significantly worsen financial circumstances for the great majority of well-off Coloradans, but those with lower incomes were especially likely to say that their overall situation worsened.
- Although about 85% of Coloradans ages 50+ have saved for retirement, many wish they had started saving earlier than they actually did. Only one in four started saving before age 25. The Coloradans who did begin saving earlier for retirement were those who are now in the 50-59 age bracket, men more than women, and those with household income of $50,000 or more. Of note is that those aged 50-59 today were close to twice as likely as today’s 70+-year-olds to have begun saving for retirement before turning 25. Just 15% of those with incomes today of less than $50,000 began saving for retirement in their 20s. One result is that roughly six in 10 of the earlier retirement savers with $50,000+ income believe they are likely to be able to cover their needs in retirement. By comparison, only 44% of those with incomes under $50,000 feel such a confidence.
- Workplace retirement savings plans are the predominant vehicle that Coloradans ages 50+ have used to save for retirement. Three in four have contributed to such plans,while just over half have contributed to a retirement savings account outside of work. About a fourth of employed Coloradans with incomes under $75,000 say their current employer does not offer a way to save for retirement. By contrast, nearly 90% of those with incomes of $75,000 or more can access employer retirement savings plans.
- More than two in five retired Coloradans left the workforce earlier than planned, with about the same number retiring when they planned to. Topping the list for reasons to retire earlier than planned were health problems/disability, lost jobs, and also the affirmative reason of simply being able to afford retiring early.
- About 85% of Coloradans ages 50+ have money set aside for emergencies, and 75% are confident in their ability to cover an unexpected expense of $2,000 without dipping into retirement savings. Not surprisingly, those with incomes under $50,000 are less likely to have such financial cushions.
- Just six in 10 Coloradans ages 50+ have prepared a last will and testament, a living will, or appointed a financial power of attorney to make financial decisions on their behalf if they are unable to.
One conclusion to be drawn from this picture of financial security for older Coloradans is that despite fluctuations in the value of retirement investments, those who are well off are still doing okay while the less well-off feel more uncertain about their situation. Members of this latter group often need help to maintain financial stability and security. We turn now to sources of such help.
Help for Colorado’s most needy
For Coloradans of significantly lesser means who are really living “on the edge” — that is, they are unable to consistently make ends meet financially or are severely strained — the state has a number of programs in place to give assistance.
Colorado Works – Colorado’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
“Colorado Works” (https://cdhs.colorado.gov/colorado-works) is Colorado’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Through the program, participants receive help becoming self-sufficient by strengthening their family’s economic and social stability. Colorado Works operates in all 64 counties and is delivered locally through each county’s department of human or social services.
Among Colorado Works stated goals are:
- Guarantee that county departments and program partners can successfully implement financial assistance programs
- Provide job opportunities for low-income Coloradans
- Support low-income Coloradans in both preparation for and retention of job opportunities
- Identify and promote strategies to increase household income and economic stability
- Serve as a financial safety net for older adults, people with disabilities, children and parents who are participating in work-related activities
Adult Financial Programs (https://cdhs.colorado.gov/benefits-assistance/cash-assistance/adult-financial-programs)
Colorado’s Adult Financial Programs include the following:
Aid to Needy Disabled—Colorado Supplement
This program provides a supplemental payment for clients up to age 59, who are receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) due to a disability or blindness, and are not receiving the full SSI benefit.
Aid to Needy Disabled—Colorado Only
This program provides a cash assistance benefit to low-income Colorado residents who have a disability that precludes them from working. The program provides interim financial assistance while the client pursues Supplemental Security Income benefits (SSI).
(Clients for both of the above programs must have very limited financial resources to qualify for assistance.)
Burial Assistance Program
As the name implies, provides payments to handlers of burial and cremation services for low-income Coloradans.
Old Age Pension
This program provides cash benefits to eligible individuals aged 60 years and older. Qualifying clients must have very limited financial resources and are typically ineligible for Social Security.
Home Care Allowance
Provides cash assistance to individuals with a disability to pay a home care provider to help clients remain in their homes (such as bathing, dressing, meal preparation, and shopping).
Personal Needs Allowance
This program provides a cash payment to a client living in a facility to cover hygiene and personal care costs not usually supplied by the provider.
EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) Cards (https://cdhs.colorado.gov/colorado-ebt)
With EBT cards clients can access cash assistance. The EBT program, in partnership with a third-party vendor, is responsible for ensuring that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Cash Assistance payments authorized by each county department of human services are issued to approved recipients.
Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS)
Colorado Works and Adult Financial Programs are part of the Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS). Main telephone contact is 303-866-5700. Many of CDHS’s programs, benefits and services are administered by county human services departments. Use this clickable map to find county contact information.
Another good source of information on our state’s assistance programs is the Colorado Gerontological Society (CGS) at https://www.senioranswers.org/financial-resources/. Additional areas CGS covers include energy assistance, property tax relief, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). CGS is an AgeWise Colorado Provider.
Colorado’s Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs), which are also AgeWise Providers, can help guide you to helpful resources as well. Find them on our website under the Provider Directory tab, submenu “Aging Advocacy and Resources.” Also on our website see the “Medical Savings Programs” article under the Articles tab, submenu “Finance, Legal, and Insurance.”
Lastly, you can learn more about the above programs and apply for assistance at Colorado PEAK (https://peak–coloradopeak.force.com/peak/s/peak-landing-page?language=en_US.)
Other forms of help with financial security
No matter what overall level of financial security older Coloradans currently have, monitoring and managing one’s finances is key to achieving and maintaining that security.
AgeWise Colorado Provider AARP has developed a number of initiatives designed to help seniors build financial security. “One of AARP’s most important goals is to help older Americans secure the resources they need to live the life they choose,” the advocacy organization states. When inflation, high interest rates and a chaotic stock market present serious challenges, AARP says it’s working to help by designing programs “that can steer you through turbulent economic waters.” We’ll describe six of those programs here.
- MoneyMap (www.aarp.org/moneymap)
This is a free online resource to help with budgeting, paying down debt, and addressing other financial goals. It encompasses the following distinct components:
Unplanned expenses and can be especially difficult to manage and can knock you off your financial stability. With a few simple steps, AARP Money Map™ tools provide a clear plan of action and resources to help—all for free. You’ll get an action plan to get you back on track, with references to financial aid programs, payment options and people who can help. Some of the specific areas covered are medical, home, and car expenses, plus others.
AARP says “With a few steps, we’ll help you make a plan—based on strategies used by trusted advisers—that answers which debts to pay first and how much to pay.”
Here is help to reach your savings goal with a step-by-step plan that works for you.
Creating a budget is vital step to building financial security. Here an interactive budgeting tool allows you to see where your money goes today and to create your own spending plan for tomorrow. Find money to put toward your financial goals, from getting out of debt to buying a home.
Financial Goal Tracker
One of the greater incentives to reaching your financial goals is to have a way to track your progress. This tool helps you do that.
- Ace Your Retirement Assessment (www.AceYourRetirement.org)
This free assessment tool offers you a personalized plan for boosting your retirement savings.
- Protecting Your Money (www.aarp.org/ppi/banksafe/)
AARP’s Public Policy Institute launched the BankSafe initiative in 2019. It focuses on training various individuals in the financial industry to better meet consumers’ needs and also safeguard their assets. Key areas given attention are: preventing financial exploitation, empowering family caregivers, helping those with dementia, and making banking tools and environments easier to access. Each year a typical victim loses tens of thousands of dollars to financial trickery, so preventing this kind of exploitation is critical. BankSafe conducts research into consumer insights, facilitates partnerships between the aging services network and the financial industry, and develops a training platform to help financial professionals identify and stop suspected exploitation.
- Help with Student Loan Debt (www.aarp.org/studentloans)
Over 20% of America’s student loan debt is owed by persons over age 50. It totals nearly $400 billion. In Colorado alone, the average federal student loan debt for those age 50 and older is about $47,000, roughly $5,000 higher than the national average for the age group. The student loan burden on seniors is the reason AARP offers the Savi Student Loan Repayment Tool. This tool gives you a personalized assessment of your eligibility for national and state repayment programs and loan forgiveness options. Through Savi you can also get in touch with student loan experts and access a free, instant estimate of any savings and broad student loan resources. You’ll find help with filing student loan paperwork and getting status updates on applications. There are customer support lines too, including via chat and email and/or scheduling one-on-one phone calls with Savi student loan experts. Student loan webinars answer questions and inform attendees about relevant policy changes including the latest legislative updates. There is even support available for borrowers facing loan default to help them avoid default or get out of it.
- Video Guides (www.aarp.org/jeanchatzky)
Jean Chatzky, often referred to as AARP’s “financial ambassador,” is a podcast host on money matters and is an award-winning personal finance journalist and best-selling author. She has made it her mission to help simplify money matters and increase financial literacy. The financial insights and advice she presents cover a wide range of topics—things such as reverse mortgages, long-term care insurance, managing money after divorce or death of a spouse, charitable giving, how to survive a bear market if you’re over 50, and more.
- Managing Your Social Security (www.aarp.org/socialsecurity)
In its Social Security Resource Center, AARP covers a broad range of topics in how to maximize your benefits and handle other details of this government retirement program. You’ll find information on handling Social Security in situations such as being divorced, still working and earning income, needing disability benefits, surviving death of a spouse, and more. You’ll also find online calculators to do the math on the dollars involved and webinars to explain selected details of managing your Social Security rights and benefits for maximum advantage.
Help with managing bills
Paying bills on time can pose a problem for older persons, regardless of their financial status. A related issue is being able to spot mistakes in bills. So if you (or a senior member of your family) are having a problem with bill paying, you may want to consider hiring a professional company to help, much like you might do for handling tax preparation. This type of bill paying service is sometimes referred to as “concierge bill management.”
One such service is Silver Bills, an AgeWise Colorado Provider, which assists senior clients across Colorado in managing payment of their bills, looking for errors and fraud, and budgeting money. SilverBills can relieve work and stress for any senior but is particularly useful for older Coloradans who:
- may find it difficult to deal with paperwork and feel overwhelmed
- may have trouble managing their finances
- may be unable to properly balance their checkbooks
- suffer from poor eyesight or other ailments due to aging which might hinder them from doing these tasks
- may be uncomfortable using the computer and other technological devices
- want to spend quality time with their family during visits instead of taking care of financial “housekeeping”
Simple for Coloradans to use
Utilizing Silver Bills is not complicated. You or your power of attorney executes an enrollment agreement, which is then submitted to SilverBills along with the accumulated bills and a voided check from your bank account. The agreement and bills can be submitted using a postage prepaid business reply envelope, email, text, secure upload or fax. Once the documents and bills are reviewed, a SilverBills Account Manager will schedule an enrollment session with you which will take place over the phone, email, or text based on your preference. The company will set up a billing system and appoint a dedicated customer service representative to assist you. The bills will then be downloaded and stored in a secure portal.
SilverBills will pay bills on your behalf and will provide you a monthly statement showing budgeted spending vs. actual spending amounts, dates, and the amount and manner of each payment. The bills are always reviewed for accuracy and if approved, the payments will be deducted from your bank account.
All along in the process, you are paired with a U.S.-based professionally trained Account Manager. You may call this person on the phone or you may communicate with them through email, text or snail mail.
This person will receive and review your bills, compare new charges to previous charges and contact you if any charge seems questionable. You can choose to have your Account Manager take care of one bill, several bills, or all of your bills. It is completely up to you. You can add bills at any time and you can send any one-off bills whenever you want. The types of bills you choose to have SilverBills manage is virtually endless, running the gamut from insurance premiums, mortgage payments, and utilities to assisted living or home health fees, credit card charges, magazine subscriptions, groceries, housecleaning, car maintenance, even charitable donations.
Important: SilverBills does not have actual access to your bank account. It has access only to your debts: what you owe your vendors. SilverBills instructs the vendors to debit your approved payments from the bank account. SilverBills checks for any errors in the bills and takes the necessary actions to rectify identified issues on your behalf.
A bill paying service company like Silver Bills can be the answer for seniors who are struggling with bill payment and financial management. For more information, link to Silver Bills here or on our website under the Provider Directory tab, submenu item “Finance, Legal and Insurance.” Or make contact at 866 653 4427 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The overall financial status of older Coloradans appears to be better than the national average. But there are clearly seniors in our state who find themselves financially insecure. And especially in uncertain times, anyone’s status can change. Colorado has programs to assist seniors who need it. They are here for you, so don’t hesitate to make contact with these programs when the need arises.