Online Update

December 1, 2006

HEALTH COSTS
Taking a toll on Americans' financial well-being

Rising healthcare costs are putting a crimp in Americans' ability to pay their other bills and save for retirement, according to the 2006 Health Confidence Survey (HSC). Thirty-six percent of respondents reported that they're saving less for retirement because of heftier healthcare bills, up from 25 percent just two years earlier. Moreover, 28 percent (up from 18 percent in 2004) say they now have trouble paying for even basic needs. Not surprisingly, patient dissatisfaction with the healthcare system in general is growing along with costs. The number of patients rating the system as poor has more than doubled since the inception of the HSC in 1998. The Employee Benefit Research Institute is a co-sponsor of the survey, which is conducted annually.

COLLEGE
Parents need wake-up call on college costs

The amount of money the typical parent plans to have saved for their college-bound student is likely to cover only 23 percent of undergraduate expenses at best, says a survey of parents and financial aid administrators. Parents with children ages 14 to 17 plan to have a median of $12,000 saved by the time he or she reaches college age. But the projected cost of a 17-year-old's college education is $54,882 for a public university and $131,361 for a private college, according to the survey released by AllianceBernstein Investments.

Instead of saving more, a lot of families are counting on financial aid. Eighty-seven percent of parents say they believe their children will receive scholarship or grant money, and more than two-thirds believe the schools will come up with an aid package that'll help make school affordable. But more than nine out of 10 college aid administrators say parents overestimate the amount of financial help they'll get.

CREDIT CARDS
Stash the plastic when snacking

Using your credit card at the soda machine is certainly convenient, but it's probably tempting you to spend more, too. Consumers spend an average of 32 percent more at vending machines when they're using a card instead of cash, says USA Technologies, which provides cashless vending services. People spend 35 percent more on beverages, 34 percent more on snacks, and 18 percent more on food when using a card.

RETIREMENT
Assisted living costs rise a bit

The average monthly price of staying at an independent living facility rose 2.2 percent over last year, to $2,968, says the MetLife Mature Market Institute. Monthly rates vary widely by region, from an average high of $5,197 in New Jersey to $1,742 in North Dakota. Assisted living facilities help residents with day-to-day living but don't offer the round-the-clock skilled care found in nursing homes. They're not covered by Medicare and most other medical insurance.