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Although millions of Americans have not yet recognized it, the unusual and uncomfortable economic conditions of the past six years have led to the presence of an often life-changing elephant within households across the United States! That is the consistent theme woven throughout the report that resulted from an ambitious survey of over 5,400 folks (completed in August of 2013) commissioned by Merrill Lynch.[1] The report (“Family & Retirement: The Elephant in the Room”) outlines many ways in which the life and economic wellbeing of Americans over age 50 (we’ll lump them in the category “Boomers”) have been impacted by the hardships and exigencies that have befallen extended members of their family.

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For example, during the past five years 62% of Boomers have extended financial assistance to family members – even though, in some cases, such support has required them to postpone retirement and/or drawdown upon assets intended to support them in retirement.

Cynics among us might suspect that such support comes “with strings attached” or with the expectation of some “Quid pro quo”. However, this Merrill Lynch study establishes that such is far from the case! The elemental (and noble) trait of generosity is clearly the driving force behind Boomer support for family members in need (80% said “it is the right thing to do” vs. just 4% who said “family members will help me in the future”). An additional motive at work has been a preference (60%) to transfer some assets to heirs before death, providing the satisfaction of witnessing how such assets can bless loved ones!

The study confirmed what was already known – “boomerang” children (adult children returning home because of job loss) have become widespread, with 19% of Boomers reporting they have had at least one such child return to live in their home.

With regard to more direct financial assistance to family in need, the study reveals that (on average) the level of assistance provided during the past five years has been about $15,000 (a lot higher amounts are reported by Boomers who enjoy the highest incomes). For those parents who are aware of how their proffered support has been used, here is a breakout by category: a) Rent or mortgage (20%); cell phone bills (18%), car payments (17%), health care (15%), student loans (11%).

See the "Slideshow" for graphs/images related to the Merrill Lynch Survey.

[1] The study was conducted in partnership with Age Wave and executed online through Harris Interactive.



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