Top Financial Trends and Tips for Aging Americans

Changing views on aging, longevity, and retirement are creating opportunities and lifestyle choices.

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News events skew to the negative. Stories are not written about bright, sunny days but about Hurricane Sandy. We read about the unbelievably tragic child murders in Newtown, Conn., not the hundreds of normal days at thousands of other schools throughout the country. Ditto for politics, terrorism, climate change, and you name it.

Portrait of a happy older woman sitting comfortably in her living-room
Portrait of a happy older woman sitting comfortably in her living-room

Likewise, retirement news tends to be about worrisome issues of insufficient savings, poor investment returns, and punishing healthcare costs. Aging and longevity are often portrayed as problems, as if we've forgotten that tacking on an extra 10 or 20 years to life could be a very welcome thing.

[Read: 10 Inspirational Senior Entrepreneurs.]

In fact, 2012 contained much continued good news for older Americans as well as the emergence of positive trends. Here are 10 Best Life columns from last year that reflect new ways of looking at things and also help explain why many of us are still looking forward to enriching retirements and longer lifespans.

1. Healthy Seniors Found to Retain Financial IQ. New research sponsored by MetLife finds that healthy seniors (and that's 7 out of 8 of us) are as competent and often even better at making financial decisions at age 80 as they were at 50.

2. Social Security Tax Breaks Drive New Retirement Strategy. In an era of higher taxes and uncertain investment returns, Social Security has powerful tax benefits and built-in payment escalators that argue for changing conventional thinking about retirement-investment and benefit-timing decisions.

3. The Big Downside of Raising the Retirement Age. It's true that people are living longer on average, but these averages obscure troubling longevity reversals for many Americans. Individuals and policymakers need to understand that there could be an enormous cost to raising retirement and senior-entitlement ages.

4. Preparing Your Home for an Older You. People overwhelmingly want to stay in their homes in their later years, but being able to successfully age in place can be much easier with a range of largely affordable home modifications.

[Read: Get-Out-of-Debt Resolutions for 2013.]

5. Redefining Aging: What It Means to Grow Old. As millions of Americans turn 65 every year, they trigger new and healthier attitudes toward aging and broader social roles for older people.

6. Education: A Predictor of Longer Life. Social scientists have produced dramatic and compelling evidence that longevity gains are being driven by education, which in turn is associated with making more money, healthier lifestyles, and the ability to make better and more-informed decisions across a range of issues that affect mortality.

7. Tips on Social Security Spousal Benefits. Women continue to outlive men, turning aging and retirement into women's issues, and creating renewed emphasis on smart ways women should take advantage of Social Security benefits.

8. Seniors Win Big in Court's Obamacare Ruling. Health reform includes lower costs for Medicare prescription drugs, an expanded menu of free wellness care, and, for older Americans not yet eligible for Medicare, guaranteed access to health insurance, the end of lifetime insurance payment limits, and price protection against age-related premium hikes.

[Read: 50 Smart Money Moves.]

9. Why Annuities Can Be a Strong Retirement Tool. Long shunned because of high costs and product complexities, annuities are being rediscovered as a source of retirement income that is guaranteed during a period of rising uncertainty about returns on other retirement investments.

10. Is Retirement Advice Biased Against You?. Developing solid retirement income and spending plans may also involve discarding some of the most commonly provided advice from retirement experts.