Once you sell out, when do you get back in?

I recently heard about a 62-year-old who was scared out of the market following the dot.com crash in 2000.  For the last 17 years his money has been in cash and CDs, earning a fraction of one percent.  Now, with the market reaching record highs, he wants to know if this is the right time to get back in.  Should he invest now or is it too late?

Here is what one advisor told him:

My first piece of advice to you is to fundamentally think about investing differently. Right now, it appears to me that you think of investing in terms of what you experience over a short period of time, say a few years. But investing is not about what returns we can generate in one, three, or even 10 years. It’s about what results we generate over 20+ years. What happens to your money within that 20-year period is sometimes exalting and sometimes downright scary. But frankly, that’s what investing is.

Real investing is about the long term, anything else is speculating.   If we constantly try to buy when the market is going up and going to cash when it goes down we playing a loser’s game.  It’s the classic mistake that people make.  It’s the reason that the average investor in a mutual fund does not get the same return as the fund does.   It leads to buying high and selling low.  No one can time the market consistently.  The only way to win is to stay the course.

But staying the course is psychologically difficult.  Emotions take over when we see our investments decline in value.  To avoid having our emotions control our actions we need a well-thought-out plan.   Knowing from the start that we can’t predict the short-term future, we need to know how much risk we are willing to take and stick to it.  Amateur investors generally lack the tools to do this properly.  This is where the real value is in working with a professional investment manager.

The most successful investors, in my view, are the ones who determine to establish a long-term plan and stick to it, through good times and bad. That means enduring down cycles like the dot com bust and the 2008 financial crisis, where you can sometimes see your portfolio decline.  But, it also means being invested during the recoveries, which have occurred in every instance! It means participating in the over 250%+ gains the S&P 500 has experience since the end of the financial crisis in March 2009.  

The answer to the question raised by the person who has been in cash since 2000 is to meet with a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA).  This is a fiduciary who is obligated to will evaluate his situation, his needs, his goals and his risk tolerance.  And RIA is someone who can prepare a financial plan that the client can agree to; one that he can follow into retirement and beyond.  By taking this step the investor will remove his emotions, fears and gut instincts from interfering with his financial future.

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Beware the Quirks of the TSP in retirement

The TSP (Thrift Savings Plan) is a retirement savings and investment plan for Federal employees. It offers the kind of retirement plan that private corporations offer with 401(k) plans.

Here is a little information about he investment options in the TSP.

The TSP funds are not the typical mutual fund even though the C, F, I, and S index funds are similar to mutual fund offerings.

The C Fund is designed to match the performance of the S&P 500

The F Fund’s investment objective is to match the performance of the Barclays Capital U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, a broad index representing the U.S. bond market.

The I Fund’s investment objective is to match the performance of the Morgan Stanley Capital International EAFE (Europe, Australasia, Far East) Index.

The Small Cap S Fund’s objective is to match the performance of the Dow Jones U.S. Completion Total Stock Market Index, a broad market index made up of stocks of U.S. companies not included in the S&P 500 Index.

The G Fund is invested in nonmarketable U.S. Treasury securities that are guaranteed by the U.S. Government and the G Fund will not lose money.

One advantage of the TSP is that the expenses of the funds are very low.  However, if you plan to keep your money in the TSP after you retire you need to understand your options because there are traps for the unwary.

The irrevocable annuity option.  

This option provides you with a monthly income.  You can choose an income for yourself or a beneficiary – such as your spouse – that lasts your lifetime or the lifetime of the beneficiary.  The payments stop at death.  Once your annuity starts, you cannot change your mind.

Limited withdrawal options. 

You can’t take money out of your TSP whenever you want.  When it comes to taking money out you have two options.

  1. One time only partial withdrawal. You have a one-time chance to take a specific dollar amount from your account before taking a full withdrawal.
  2. Full withdrawal.   You can choose between a combination of lump-sum, monthly payments or a Met-Life annuity.

Limited Monthly Payment Changes

If you take monthly payments from your TSP as part of your full withdrawal option you can change the amount you receive once a year, during the “annual change period” but it takes effect the next calendar year.  If you choose this option, make sure that you know how much you will need for the coming year.

Proportionate distribution of funds

When you take money out of your TSP you have no choice over which fund is liquidated to meet your income needs.  It comes out in proportion to which your money is invested.  This means you can’t manage your TSP and decide which of the funds you will access to get your distribution.

If you want to give yourself greater flexibility once you retire you have the option of rolling the TSP assets into a rollover IRA without incurring any income tax.

 

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What Makes Women’s Planning Needs Different?

While both men and women face challenges when it comes to planning for retirement, women often face greater obstacles.

Women, on average, live longer than men.  However, women’s average earnings are lower than men, according to a recent article in “Investment News,”  in part because of time taken off to raise children.  What this means is that on average, women tend to receive 42% less retirement income from Social Security and savings than men.

The combination of longer lives and lower expected retirement income means that women have a greater need for creative financial advice and planning.  The problem is finding the right advisor, one who understands the special needs and challenges women face.

A majority of women who participated in a recent study said they prefer a financial advisor who coordinates services with their other service professionals, such as accountants and attorneys.  They want explanations and guidance on employee benefits and social security claiming strategies.  They want advisors who take time to educate them on their options and why certain ones make more sense.  Yet many advisors do not offer these services.

Men tend to focus on investment returns and talk about beating an index.  Women tend to focus more on quality of life issues and experiences, on children and grandchildren, on meeting their goals without taking undue risk.

If your financial advisor doesn’t understand you and what’s important to you, it’s time you look for someone who does.

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How to lose $150 million

Boris Becker

We have written a lot about planning and investing.  But there’s nothing quite as instructive as learning from mistakes.  Learning from others’ mistakes is less painful than making our own mistakes.

This sets up an example of financial mistakes I learned about recently.

Sometimes the most surreal things happen. For example, anyone who remembers the 1980s’ tennis prodigy Boris Becker may be shocked to learn that last month, in a London courtroom, Becker was declared bankrupt.

After winning Wimbledon and countless other tournaments, Becker’s personal fortune was estimated to have reached $150 million. So how could this have happened? How could he have gone from $150 million to zero, and what can we learn from it?

Sports figures often find that they have developed “posses,” hangers-on who encourage extravagant lifestyles.  Fame and fortune at an early age lead to a number of personal mistakes.  These are often combined with poor investment decisions.  In the case of Becker they include things like Nigerian oil companies, and “… a sports website, an organic food business, and more notably, a planned 19-story high-rise in Dubai called the Boris Becker Business Tower, whose backers went bust in 2011.”

This is a special problem for people who become wealthy in sports and entertainment.  Too often they turn their financial lives over to agents who get them involved in complicated schemes that go sour.

The key to gaining wealth and – most especially – for keeping it is: keep it simple.  During 30 plus years of investing the biggest mistakes I have seen made is people getting involved in complex deals, partnerships, and relationships that they don’t really understand.

We provide education for our clients on investment strategy and develop portfolios that allow people to keep what they have earned.  Don’t be like Boris Becker.

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The Fate of Social Security for Younger Workers – And Three Things You Should Do Right Now

We constantly hear people wonder whether Social Security will still be there when they retire.  The question comes not just from people in their 20’s, but also from people in their 40’s and 50’s as they begin to think more about retirement.  It’s a fair question.

Some estimates show that the Social Security Trust Fund will run out of money by 2034.  Medicare is in even worse shape, projected to run out of money by 2029.  That’s not all that far down the road.

So how do we plan for this?

The reality is that Social Security and Medicare benefits have been paid out of the U.S. Treasury’s “general fund” for decades.  The taxes collected for Social Security and Medicare all go into the general fund.  The idea that there is a special, separate fund for those programs is accounting fiction.  What is true is that the taxes collected for Social Security and Medicare are less than the amount being paid out.

What this inevitably means is that at some point the government may be forced to choose between increasing taxes for Social Security and Medicaid, reducing or altering benefits payments, or going broke.

Another question is whether the benefits provided to retirees under these programs will cover the cost living.  Older people spend much more on medical expenses than the young, and medical costs are increasing much faster than the cost of living adjustments in Social Security payments.  If a larger percentage of a retiree’s income from Social Security is spent on medical expenses, they will obviously have to make cuts in other expenses – be they food, clothing, or shelter – negatively impacting the lifestyle they envisioned for retirement.

The wise response to these issues is to save as much of your own money for retirement as possible while you are working.  There is little you can do about Social Security or Medicare benefits – outside of voting or running for public office – but you are in control over the amount you save and how you invest those savings.

As we face an uncertain future, we advocate that you take these three steps:

  1. Increase your savings rate.
  2. Prepare a retirement plan.
  3. Invest your retirement assets wisely.

If you need help with these steps, give us a call.  It’s what we do.

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Three Ways to Stay Financially Healthy Well into Your 90s

Image result for living to old age picture

According to government statistics, the average 65-year-old American is reasonably expected to live another 19 years.  However, that’s just an average.  The Social Security administration estimates that about 25% of those 65-year-olds will live past their 90th birthday.  We were reminded of these statistics when we recently received the unfortunate notice that a long-time client had passed away.  He and his wife were both in their 90s and living independently.

People often guesstimate their own life expectancy based on the age that their parents passed.  Genetics obviously has a bearing on longevity.  Modern medicine has also become a big factor in how long we can expect to live.  Diseases that were considered fatal 50 years ago are treatable or curable today.  For many people facing retirement and the end of a paycheck, the thought of someday running out of money is their biggest fear.  And there is no question that living longer increases the risk to your financial well-being.

The elderly typically incur costs that the young do not.  As we get older, visits to the doctor – or the hospital – become more frequent.  There’s also the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s that so many suffer from.  And, as our bodies and minds age, we may not be able to continue living independently and may have to move to a long-term care facility.

As we approach retirement, we should face these issues squarely.  Too many people refuse to face these possibilities, and instead just hope things will work out.  As a wise man once said, hope is not a plan.

So here is a three step plan to help you remain financially healthy even if you live to be 100:

  1. Create a formal retirement plan. Most Financial Planners will prepare a comprehensive retirement plan for you for a modest fee.  We recommend that you choose to work with an independent Registered Investment Advisor who is also a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP®).  Registered Investment Advisors are individuals are fiduciaries who are legally bound to put your interests ahead of their own and work solely for their clients, not a large Wall Street firm. CFP® practitioners have had to pass a strenuous series of examinations to obtain their credentials and must complete continuing education courses in order to maintain them.
  2. Save. Save as much of your income as possible, creating a retirement nest-egg.  Some accounts may be tax exempt (Roth IRA) or tax deferred (regular IRA, 401k, etc.), but you should also try to save and invest in taxable accounts once you have reached the annual savings limit in tax advantaged accounts.
  3. Invest wisely. This means diversifying your investments to take advantage of the superior long-term returns of stocks as well as the lower risk provided by bonds.  While it’s possible to do this on your own, most people don’t have the education, training or discipline to create, monitor and periodically adjust an investment strategy that has the appropriate risk profile to last a lifetime.  We suggest finding a fee-only independent Registered Investment Advisor to manage your investments.  They will, for a modest fee, create and manage a diversified portfolio of stocks, bonds, mutual funds and/or exchange traded funds designed to meet your objectives.

The idea of saving for long retirement should not be avoided or feared.  With the proper planning and preparation, retirement gives us the opportunity to enjoy the things that we never had time for while we were working, and, can indeed be your Golden Years.

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Our Government Needs to Start Doing its Job

It’s probably not news to anyone that our country faces some serious problems.  However, members of Congress don’t seem to care enough to do anything but grandstand and argue.  The U.S. government is running a $700 billion deficit this year, but the last time Congress sent a real budget to the President’s desk was 2002.  That was 15 years ago!  Since that time Federal spending has largely been on autopilot via a mechanism called a Continuing Resolution (“CR” in Washington-speak).

The role of Congress is to make laws and decide how tax revenues should be spent.  Instead, they act as if they think their role is pretending to act as detectives.  This is not a commentary solely on the current kerfluffle in Washington.  As we noted, Congress has been abdicating its responsibility for 15 years.  Our elected officials would rather posture in front of the cameras than actually do the jobs we sent them to Washington to do.

 Brian S. Wesbury, Chief Economist at First Trust, commented:

 

At eight years, the current economic recovery is the third longest on record. Personal income, consumer spending, household assets, and net worth, are all at record highs. Stock markets are at record highs. Corporate profits are within striking distance of their all-time highs. Federal tax receipts are at record highs.

So, how is it possible that the federal budget, along with some state and local budgets, still look like they’re in the middle of a nasty recession?

The answer: Government fiscal management is completely out of control. Politicians find time to fret about Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods and won’t stop bashing banks, but they’ve lost their ability to deal with their own fiscal reality.

… Illinois and the City of Chicago are running chronic deficits, while New Jersey and New York are fiscal basket cases.
Businesses and entrepreneurs create new things and build wealth. Politicians redistribute that wealth. And while some of what government does can help the economy, like providing defense or supporting property rights, the U.S. government has expanded well beyond that point. Politicians have never been this reckless or fiscally irresponsible.

Whenever we say this, people ask; “what would you cut from the budget?” And then, if you are actually brave enough to answer, you get attacked for “not caring.”

This needs to stop. Illinois is in a death spiral. Tax rate increases will chase more productive people out of the state, while ratchetting spending higher. And just like Detroit and Puerto Rico, the state will go bankrupt.

The U.S. government is on this path, but, because it has the ability to fund itself with the best debt in the world, a true fiscal day of reckoning is still 15-20 years away.

Government spending needs to be peeled back everywhere. It’s no longer a case of picking and choosing. And until that happens, the fiscal irresponsibility of the government is the number one threat to not only America, but the world.

No matter what politicians tell us, any pain caused by private sector greed will pale in comparison to the mayhem that collapsing governments can create. Just look at Venezuela or Greece! It’s time to reset America’s fiscal reality. And if that means debt ceiling brinksmanship, shutting down the government, or moving to a simple majority on spending decisions, so be it. It’s time to get serious!

 

We agree.  We should all tell Congress that it’s time to get serious.

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Will you be able to retire? Good Question!

Imagine yourself as a 46-year-old woman married to a 48-year-old-man.  Both of you have a career.

  • Your combined income is around $250,000.
  • Savings in retirement plans totals about $400,000.
  • You would like to retire when he is 62 and you are 60.

Can you?

Unless you have prepared a retirement plan you don’t know.

There are a lot of moving parts that affect your retirement.  One of the biggest questions is how much it will cost you to live when you retire.  Each person is different; expectations for your retirement lifestyle are different than your neighbor’s.  Here are just a few of the things that factor into how much it will cost to live once you retire:

  • Your basic living expenses; your “needs.”
  • The cost of your “wants” and “wishes” above your basic expenses (travel, cars, weddings, education, gifts, etc.).
  • Life, disability, health and long term care insurance.

Then there are the other factors that determine what it will cost you to retire.

  • The age at which you want to retire.
  • The number of years in retirement.
  • What happens when one of you passes on?

What are your income sources in retirement?

  • Spousal income and, in two income families, the age at which each spouse retires.
  • Your pension benefits.
  • The age at which you apply for Social Security.

What are your personal investment assets to supplement your income sources?

  • The value of your investment assets at retirement.
  • The estimated return on your investment assets.
  • Your risk tolerance.
  • The rate of inflation during retirement.

The good news for this couple is that they have a decade or more to adjust their savings or their retirement goals.  Unfortunately, too many people leave the planning until too late.

The time to start planning is now.

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The Importance of 401(k)s.

Pensions are fading fast.  If you work for a private company the chances are good that your retirement plan is a 401(k), not a pension plan.   Even if you work for the government, the chances are that the entity you work for will resemble Illinois eventually.

That leaves you with the responsibility for your retirement.  There are two problems with the 401(k).

The first is that too many people do not participate.  Even when employers match their employee’s contribution, not everyone takes advantage of this “free money.”

The second problem is that most people don’t have enough information on the investment choices they are given in their 401(k).    Investing is complicated.  Most plans offer dozens of choices and few people know enough about investing to use them to create an appropriate portfolio.

Employers are not equipped to provide the information.  Most do not want to assume the liability that giving investment advice exposes them to.  An RIA (Registered Investment Advisor) who is also a CFP™ can provide the guidance people need to make sense of the investment option in a 401(k).   Find a CFP™ in your area.

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Fixing the Public Employees’ pension crisis

Public employee pensions are time bombs set to explode.  The State of Illinois finances are in such a state of crisis that its comptroller, Susana Mendoza, has told the legislature that over 90% of its monthly revenue is now being commandeered for court-ordered payments, primarily to pay current pensioners.  If Illinois does not pass a new budget within a few days there will be a financial crisis.

According to Forbes:

Public employee pension plans around the country are facing a shortfall of at least $1 trillion, and some of the largest plans are beginning to radically cut promised benefits because they have not stashed away enough to meet their obligations.

There is only so much money to go around.  Promises that can’t be kept won’t be kept … and that includes pensions.

One sign of things to come is a bill signed by Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf.  It reforms the state pension system that makes it more sustainable.

 “Let’s be clear: This plan addresses our liability in the only real and responsible way possible, by changing the structure of pension benefits,” said Mr. Wolf. “The fact is, we cannot accelerate the shrinking of our liability on the backs of our current employees, and this bill recognizes this in a real, concrete way.”

The bill moves new workers not in high-risk jobs such as state police and corrections officers into a hybrid retirement system.   Half of their retirement benefits will come from pensions paid for by the taxpayer and the other half will come from a 401(a) defined contribution plan.  A 401(a) is similar to a 401(k) but for public employees.  There are differences, but both transfer responsibility for retirement income to the employee and away from the employer.

The law is projected to save more than $5 billion and shield taxpayers from $20 billion or more in additional liabilities if state investments fail to meet projections, said a news release issued from the office of Republican Sen. Jake Corman, the bill’s chief sponsor.

We suspect that Pennsylvania is just the first state to adopt a system that transfers the responsibility for public employees’ retirement income away from the taxpayer and toward the employee.  It levels the playing field between public and private employees.

It will also make financial planning increasingly important for everyone.

Click HERE for questions about financial planning.

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