By Glenn Ruffenach
I would like to hear about resources for continuing education. For instance, I would be interested in taking a college-level class on introductory Shakespeare or one on psychology, but finding all that is offered and distinguishing between the strengths and weaknesses of the offerings is a challenge.
The best place to start is institutions of higher education (two- and four-year colleges and universities) in your own backyard. But you might have to dig a bit: Programs for older learners aren’t always called the same thing or found in the same places.
For instance, some schools have programs that are clearly labeled for older adults: “Lifelong Learning” or “Senior Scholar” or “Project 60” (which is found at Cleveland State University in Ohio). In other cases, though, a program (if there is one) might fall under the broad heading of “department of continuing education.” Or there might not be a formal program at all, but older students might be able to attend (read: audit) the normal lineup of classes. The admissions office at most schools should be able to help.
Two great resources: Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes and Road Scholar. The former (osherfoundation.org) can be found, currently, on 120 university and college campuses across the country. The latter (roadscholar.org) has programs that combine education and travel in all 50 states (as well as 150 countries).
Also, don’t forget local libraries and museums, says Seth Matthew Fishman, an assistant professor at Villanova University, in suburban Philadelphia, who has studied lifelong learning. “They don’t always find a place in the conversation” about older students, he notes. But “they’re rich in programs involving the humanities and arts.”
You can, of course, go the online route. Organizations like the Kahn Academy, One Day University, Coursera.org, edX.org and Udacity.com offer hundreds of classes that you can screen at home. That said, many older students seem to prefer face-to-face classes, as opposed to online offerings. “It’s more engaging; you’re meeting people outside your immediate social groups,” Prof. Fishman says.
As for picking “better” or “best” courses and instructors…we haven’t come across any good rankings. Here again, some homework might be in order: Look online for instructors’ names and reviews of their classes; talk to others who have already taken a course; try sitting in on a single class (if you’re thinking about enrolling in, say, a semesterlong program).
And finally, a request of our own: Tell us about any educational programs for the 50-plus crowd that you think are especially valuable. Your thoughts may be used in a future column.
I am retiring soon and wondered if I can roll over both my 401(k) and cash-balance pension plan into the same individual retirement account. I would be opening a new IRA for this purpose.
Yes, you can do this—but keep three things in mind.
First, the best way to do this is a direct rollover of your funds to the new IRA, as opposed to a “60-day” rollover. In the latter case, your company gives you a check, which you, in turn, must deposit in the new IRA. That approach has too many potential pitfalls. Stick with the direct rollover.
Second, check to see if your retirement plan includes highly appreciated company stock, says Ed Slott, an IRA expert in Rockville Centre, N.Y. If so, you might benefit from a tax break for “net unrealized appreciation,” or NUA. In short, you would place the stock in a taxable brokerage account and the rest of the funds in the IRA. This could minimize your tax bite in the future. (Needless to say, talk with a good tax professional.)
Third and last: You might want to wait before you do anything. President Donald Trump is proposing tax cuts, which, in the long run, could affect the value of the NUA strategy, Mr. Slott says. “That’s what I’m telling people with any significant tax transactions now,” he adds. “It’s still early in the year, so there’s no rush.”
Can I contribute to my individual retirement account after age 70½?
Nope. The Internal Revenue Service, in publication 590-A(“Contributions to Individual Retirement Arrangements”), states: “Contributions cannot be made to your traditional IRA for the year in which you reach age 70.5 or for any later year.”
The key words in that sentence are “traditional IRA.” The rules are different for Roth IRAs. You can make contributions to a Roth IRA after turning 70½, as long as you have taxable compensation. (See pages 40-41 of the same publication.).
In a recent column, you stated that an ex-wife could claim Social Security benefits as a divorced spouse at her full retirement age and allow her own benefit (based on her work record) to grow. I’m married. Does the same advice apply to me?
It depends on your birthday. If you were born before Jan. 2, 1954—and if you first claim Social Security when you reach your full retirement age—then, yes, the same rule would apply to you. You could claim just a spousal benefit and switch to your benefit (based on your work record) at a later point in time. Again, Congress, in 2015, eliminated this claiming strategy for most people, but made an exception for people born before the above date.