The Retirement Challenge

For most people, retiring means the end of a paycheck, but not the end of an active life.  The typical retiree spends 20 to 30 years in retirement and running out of money is their biggest fear.  When you retire, how will your lifestyle be affected?  Here are some of the things to take into consideration.

Retirement age – Modern retirees face lots of choices that their parents did not have.  There is no longer a mandatory retirement age, so the question “when should I retire” gets more complicated.

Social Security – The age at which you apply for Social Security benefits has a big effect on your retirement income.  Apply early and you reduce your monthly benefits by 25% – 30%, depending on your age.  Wait until you’re 70 and you increase your monthly benefit by up to 32% (8% per year), depending on your age.  If you are married, the decisions get even more complicated.

Pension – If you are entitled to a pension, the amounts you receive usually depend on your length of service.  The formula used to calculate the pension benefit can get quite complicated.  Those who work for employers whose finances are questionable may want to consider whether they will get the benefits they are promised.  If you are married, you will need to decide how much of your pension will go to your spouse if you die first.

Second career – More and more people go back to work after retirement.  Many don’t want to stop working, but do something different.  Others use their skills to become consultants, or turn a hobby into a business.  A second career makes a big difference in your retirement lifestyle and how much income you will have in retirement.

Investment accounts – These are the funds you have saved for retirement: in IRAs, 401(k)s, 403(b)s, 457s, and individual accounts.  These funds are under your control.  Most retirees use them to supplement Social Security and pension income.  They are the key to determining how well people live in retirement.

Combine these issue with the effects of inflation, market volatility, investment returns and health care costs and it becomes apparent that retirees need to plan.  If your retirement is years away, a plan allows you to make mid-course corrections.  If you’re already retired a plan will allow you to sleep soundly, knowing that a lot of the uncertainty has been removed.

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Baby Boomers are Getting Richer

According to Bloomberg writer Ben Steverman, Baby Boomers – “part of the wealthiest generation in U.S. history” – just keep getting richer.   The Boomers started turning 65 in 2011 and since then the S&P 500 Index is up 91 percent.

That’s fortunate because the worst thing that can happen to a retiree is for his retirement investment portfolio to decline just as he retires and begins dipping into his savings.  If  the market declines as he retires, with no income to replenish his losses, the retiree find himself in a financial hole he may not be able to climb out of.

Older boomers have experienced what is arguably the best-case scenario: The S&P 500 has returned 269 percent since its March 2009 low. As a recent study in the Journal of Financial Planning shows, wealthy retirees can be very cautious about spending down their savings. This instinct, along with the stock market’s new record, suggests that many boomers are likely to end up with far more money than they know what to do with.

Researchers followed the spending and investing behavior of 65- to 70-year-olds from 2000 to 2008. The poorest 40 percent of the survey respondents generally spent more than they earned, according to the study, which was funded by Texas Tech University. Those in the middle were able to keep their spending at about 8 percent below what they could have safely spent from pensions, investments, and Social Security.

The wealthiest fifth, meanwhile, had a gap of as much as 53 percent between their spending and what they could have spent.

For individuals, broad statistical averages like these are not very useful.  As retirement looms, everyone should have a plan that will help them determine what happens if they get lucky and the market goes up, and what they can safely plan to spend if the market goes down.

Contact us for more information.

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Negative Interest Rates – Searching for Meaning

We have mentioned negative interest rates in the past.  Let’s take a look at what it means to you.

Central banks lower interest rates to encourage economic activity.  The theory is that low interest rates allow companies to borrow money at lower costs, encouraging them to expand, invest in and grow their business.  It also encourages consumers to borrow money for things like new homes, cars, furniture and all the other things for which people borrow money.

It’s the reason the Federal Reserve has lowered rates to practically zero and kept them there for years.  It’s also why the Fed has not raised rates; they’re afraid that doing so will reduce the current slow rate of growth even more.

But if low rates are good for the economy, would negative interest rates be even better?  Some governments seem to think so.

Negative interest rates in Japan mean that if you buy a Japanese government bond due in 10 years you will lose 0.275% per year.  If you buy a 10 year German government bond today  your interest rate is negative 0.16%.   Why would you lend your money to someone if they guaranteed you that you would get less than the full amount back?  Good question.  Perhaps the answer is that you have little choice or are even more afraid of the alternative.

Per the Wall Street Journal:

There is now $13 trillion of global negative-yielding debt, according to Bank of America Merrill Lynch. That compares with $11 trillion before the
Brexit vote, and barely none with a negative yield in mid-2014.

In Switzerland, government bonds through the longest maturity, a bond due in nearly half a century, are now yielding below zero. Nearly 80% of Japanese and German government bonds have negative yields, according to Citigroup.

This leaves investors are searching the world for securities that have a positive yield.  That includes stocks that pay dividends and bonds like U.S. Treasuries that still have a positive yield: currently 1.4% for ten years.  However, the search for yield also leads investors to more risky investments like emerging market debt and junk bonds.  The effect is that all of these alternatives are being bid up in price, which has the effect of reducing their yield.

The yield on Lithuania’s 10-year government debt has more than halved this year to around 0.5%, according to Tradeweb. The yield on Taiwan’s 10-year bonds has fallen to about 0.7% from about 1% this year, according to Thomson Reuters.

Elsewhere in the developed world, New Zealand’s 10-year-bond yields have fallen to about 2.3% from 3.6% as investors cast their nets across the globe.

Rashique Rahman, head of emerging markets at Invesco, said his firm has been getting consistent inflows from institutional clients in Western Europe and Asia interested in buying investment-grade emerging-market debt to “mimic the yield they used to get” from their home markets.

Clients don’t care if it is Mexico or Poland or South Korea, he said, “they just want a higher yield.” ….

Ricky Liu, a high-yield-bond portfolio manager at HSBC Global Asset Management, said his firm has clients from Asia who are willing for the first time to invest in portfolios that include the highest-rated junk bonds.

How and where this will end is anybody’s guess.  In our view, negative interest rates are an indication that central bankers are wandering into uncharted territory.  We’re not convinced that they really know how things will turn out.  We remain cautiously optimistic about the U.S. economy and are staying the course, but we are not chasing yield.

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Making Smart Decisions About Social Security

Social Security CardDeciding when to start collecting your Social Security retirement benefits is an important choice that will impact the income you receive for the rest of your life.  The decision can also affect the income and lifestyle of a surviving spouse.

When it comes to Social Security, you may be wondering whether you should: 

  • Start collecting early but receive a reduced benefit?
  • Wait until Full Retirement Age to start collecting your full benefit?
  • Delay past Full Retirement Age to maximize your benefit?

To help make an informed decision, you’ll want to consider a number of key factors, including your marital status, your health, your plans for retirement and your retirement income sources…just to name few.

Your Full Retirement Age (FRA) is the age at which you qualify for 100% of your Social Security benefits (known as your Primary Insurance Amount).  Your FRA is based on your year of birth.

When you’re ready to start collecting benefits, you should apply for Social Security no more than four months before the date you want your benefits to start.

If you start collecting Social Security benefits and then change your mind about your choice of start date, you may be able to withdraw your claim and re-apply at a future date, provided you do so within 12 months of your original application for benefits.  All benefits (including spousal and dependent benefits) must be repaid and you may only withdraw your application for benefits once in your lifetime.

You generally have three main options when it comes to choosing when to start collecting your benefits—often referred to as your Social Security “filing strategy.”

  • Start collecting early
  • Start collecting at Full Retirement Age
  • Start collecting after Full Retirement Age

Each filing strategy has advantages and disadvantages.

Order our white paper on Social Security claiming strategies by calling our office or going to our website.

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Would You Prefer to Have $1 Million Cash Right Now or a Penny that Doubles Every Day for 30 Days?

Albert Einstein is credited with saying “compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world.”

To get back to the original question, would you prefer to have $1 million today or one cent that will double every day for 30 days?  If you chose the million dollars, you would leave millions on the table.

If you chose the penny and passed up the million dollars, on the second day your penny would be worth two cents, on day three it would be four cents, on the fourth day it would be 8 cents.  By day 18 the penny will have grown to $1,310.72.  By day 28 it will be worth over a million dollars:  $1,342,177.  On the 30th day it would be worth an astounding $5,368,709!

If the penny were to be allowed to double for another 30 days, the penny would grow to over $5 quadrillion (five thousand trillion!) dollars.

One of the things this illustrates is that compound growth takes time to make a dramatic difference.  For the person who wants to have enough money to retire in comfort, starting early is the key to success, even if the starting amount is small.

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Should you own real estate?

Old house Stock Photo

We visit Nerdwallet from time to time to answer questions from readers looking for financial advice.  One recent question was from a single mom who’s buying a new house and is thinking of keeping her old house as a rental property.  She wanted to know if it was a good idea to sell most of her stocks and use the proceeds to buy the new house rather than selling the old one.

This question is not uncommon.  We have a number of clients who have invested in rental real estate.  The answer is not clear-cut and depends to a large extent on the individual.  Are you are a handyman and love to work on carpentry projects?  Or are you a single mom who’s disappointed with her stock market investments?

In the run-up to the Great Recession, lots of people got into real estate, flipping houses for a quick profit.   For many people that experience ended in grief when housing prices collapsed.  However, many people view real estate as an investment rather than a place to live.

So what are the issues involved?  Here’s part of my answer (edited):

You have to take taxes, liquidity and return on equity into consideration.  First, when you sell your stocks you will have to pay capital gains taxes on any profit.

The second issue is the fact that while stocks are liquid (easy to sell) a house is not liquid in case you have to sell to meet a financial emergency.

The third thing to consider is what the return will be on the equity on your rental property.  The rent you receive is not all profit.  From this you have to deduct taxes and maintenance.  Then there’s the problem of actually collecting your rent: some tenants won’t pay on time – or at all – and how do you evict them?  And when people move you will have to repair and paint to get it ready for the next tenant.   Unless you’re handy you may have to pay a company to manage the property for you, which reduces your income.  Finally the return on real estate has actually been lower than the return on stocks over long periods of time.

On the plus side, you can view free cash flow from rents as similar to dividends from stocks.  And there are tax benefits from deprecation on rental property.

The bottom line, there are benefits to owning commercial real estate, but there are also drawbacks. Once you make a commitment to owning rental property, there’s no easy way out.  People should think long and hard before plunging into this market.

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BREXIT is a political crisis, not a financial crisis

We have a tendency to take a dispassionate view of world affairs.  It helps us avoid getting caught up in the hype that the media sells when things happen.  When the unexpected happens, as it so often does, the initial reports and the initial reactions are often the opposite of the truth and have little relationship to reality.

We have some insight into European affairs for personal reasons and have always felt that the EU was an artificial construct in a continent that is home to so many disparate cultures.  So we are not surprised that the whole rickety structure is showing signs of coming apart.  But Europe has been the home of little countries and big countries for millennia and has thrived over that time.  There’s no reason to think that the EU is either critical or even necessary.  It has its uses but it also has its failures and it’s the failures that have grown larger over time.  So finally, when put to a vote, the people on an island off the coast of Europe has decided it was time to declare its independence from the EU and reclaim their heritage.

We also found the commentary from  Jenna Barnard of Henderson Global Investors compelling and wanted to share it.

While the result of the referendum “Brexit” last week may be the biggest political crisis in the United Kingdom since the Second World War, this is not a financial crisis in our view.  Credit markets are not suggesting systemic risk at present as the banks are in a relatively healthy place due to rigorous regulation and stress testing over the last few years.

Clearly the result is a significant blow to confidence / “animal spirits” in the short term and will put a least a temporary break on growth in the UK and perhaps Europe. Bank share prices have also been hammered and their willingness to lend remains muted. European companies are therefore likely to remain relatively conservative – more about dividends and conservative balance sheets than share buybacks /M&A.

The Bank of England is planning to cut rates to 0% from 0.5% but the central bank doesn’t want to take them negative.  We expect further credit easing – free money to the banks for mortgage lending (“funding for lending”), more QE possibly.  We believe another central bank heading to the zero lower band fuels the global grab for yield.

The issue at stake as of today is HOW the UK exits. There are soft and hard version of exit with soft (maintaining access to the free trade area) being the preferable version for the economy. Today the leading “leave” politician in the UK (and likely the next Prime Minister), former Mayor of London Boris Johnson, has written his weekly column for a national newspaper that suggests a very soft form of exit; along the lines of Norway and Switzerland i.e. retain access to the free trade area. To do this the UK would have to agree to free movement of labor (to be clear, not people, but the labor market; new migrants would need a job to come to the UK).

We will continue to watch and advise you to events as they unfold.  As we write these comments on Tuesday morning the US stock markets are up over 1% and the European markets are up over 3%.  Reality is overtaking panic.  If you have questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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BREXIT! A Rational View

Today’s markets are roiled by the decision of voters in Great Britain to exit the European Union (EU), which has been dubbed “BREXIT.”  As with most events in the investment world, there are people out there who make a living scaring you.  Rather than panic, we recommend you step back and think rationally what this means.

KEEP CALM

First, why did the British people vote to leave the EU despite the unified opposition of both of Great Britain’s major political parties?  The answer is that more than half of their voting public was tired of being told what to do by un-elected bureaucrats in Brussels (the capitol of the EU).  The people wanted to have a say in how they were going to be governed.  In effect, BREXIT was a revolt of the masses against the classes.

Polls prior to the election indicated that the vote would be against BREXIT, opting to stay in the EU.  The result surprised much of the big money which led to today’s panicked selling at the open.

As we prepare these comments we see a small rebound from the opening bell but the day is young and we don’t know where we’ll be at the end.  But if we step back, we think that Brian Wesbury of First Trust has some worthwhile thoughts:

The bottom line is that investors should ignore scare stories about what would happen if BREXIT wins.  Great Britain runs consistent trade deficits with the rest of Europe. Regardless of what foreign leaders say before the vote, if the British vote to leave, the rest of the EU is going to chase them to the ends of the earth.  No way will they allow one of their biggest export markets to become more distant.  They will beg the UK to sign a free trade deal.  In addition, and this is actually great economic news, it would free the US and UK to sign a free trade deal that the EU is now holding up.

Any market volatility would be short-lived and any swing to the downside would be a buying opportunity.  BREXIT is not a reason to sell.  In fact, freedom is a good thing

Have questions?  Ask us.

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What’s the Difference Between an IRA and a Roth IRA

A questioner on Investopedia.com asks:

I contribute about 10% to my 401k. I want to know more about Roth IRAs. I have one with my company, but haven’t contributed any percentage yet as I am not sure how much I should contribute. What exactly is a Roth IRA? Additionally, what is the ideal contribution to a 401k for someone making $48K a year?

Here was my reply:

A Roth IRA is a retirement account.  It differs from a regular IRA in two important aspects.  First the negative: you do not get a tax deduction for contributing to a Roth IRA.  But there is a big positive: you do not have to pay taxes on money you take out during retirement.  And, like a regular IRA, your money grows sheltered from taxes.  There’s also another bonus to Roth IRAs: unlike regular IRAs, there are no rules requiring you to take annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your Roth IRA, even after you reach age 70 1/2.

In general, the tax benefits of being able to get money out of a Roth IRA outweigh the advantages of the immediate tax deduction you get from making a contribution to a regular IRA.  The younger you are and the lower your tax bracket, the bigger the benefit of a Roth IRA.

There is no “ideal” contribution to a 401k plan unless there is a company match.  You should always take full advantage of a company match because it is  essentially “free money” that the company gives you.

Have a question for us?  Ask away:

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How QB Mark Sanchez was sacked by a financial adviser

NFL quarterback Mark Sanchez was allegedly cheated out of about $33 million by Ash Narayan, who worked for RGT Capital Management for nearly 20 years. Image: Associated Press

This article from Financial Planning caught my eye:

NFL quarterback Mark Sanchez and major league baseball pitchers Jake Peavy and Roy Oswalt were allegedly cheated out of about $33 million by Ash Narayan, who worked for RGT Capital Management for nearly 20 years, the SEC has charged.

Narayan “secretly siphon[ed] millions of dollars from accounts he managed for professional athletes,” the SEC alleged.

When you hire someone to manage your money you trust that they will serve you honestly and ethically.  Unfortunately, that trust is sometimes betrayed, which gives the financial services industry a black eye.

One of the things that we can pass along to our friends and clients are lessons learned.  In this particular case, Narayan put a lot of his clients’ money into a struggling internet firm in which he had a financial stake.  That is a huge conflict of interest and should be a red flag for anyone who hires a financial advisor.

Sanchez hired Narayan partly because they attended the same church.  We have seen several instances where people entrusted their money with advisors who were part of the church, the club or another affinity group without checking further.  When hiring an advisor you cannot assume that people close to you have your best interest at heart.  Even family members will take advantage of other members of the family.

If you want a brochure that tells you how to choose a financial advisor, contact us.  We are fiduciaries.

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