Category Archives: compound interest

The Retirement Dilemma Facing American Workers

illustrated-financial-roadmap-750

The way Americans fund their retirement has undergone a fundamental transformation in the last 30 years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the percentage of private-sector employees with a traditional defined benefit pension plan has dropped from about 45% in 1980 to a little over 20% in 2011. A defined benefit pension plan is one that provides the retiree with a guaranteed income for the rest of his or her life.

The guaranteed pension has been replaced by a defined contribution plan. Today, about 50% of the private workforce participates in one of these plans, which include 401(k) plans and 403(b) plans and allow the worker to set money from their paycheck aside to grow tax-deferred until they retire, at which point they can start pulling from it to fund their retirement. However, there is no guarantee that the amount saved will be adequate to meet their income needs once they retire.

Most government workers still have access to traditional defined benefit pension plans. However, most of these plans are severely underfunded and questions are being raised about cities and states being able to pay the benefits that were promised. A recent poll of people 25 years and older concluded that “Americans are united in their anxiety about their economic security in retirement.” Over 75% of those surveyed worry that economic conditions might hurt their chances for a secure retirement. (For related reading from this author, see: How Retirees Should Think About Retirement Income.)

Social Security and Medicare Concerns

The federal government provides a basic level of retirement income via Social Security, and provides a basic level of health insurance via Medicare and Medicaid. However, these programs are on shaky ground according to most actuaries. The Social Security Trust Fund will run out of money around 2034 unless it is reformed. That does not mean that checks will not go out to retirees, but it does mean that the amount going out will decrease.

Medicare is in even worse shape and, with the continued rapid rise in medical costs, may face a crisis even sooner. The costs of health care and increasing life spans are major issues for retirees, which explains the reason that so many Americans think they are facing a retirement crisis in the first place. Given the level of debt at the federal level and the rhetoric of the current administration, we do not see the government jumping in to fund the American worker’s retirement at levels above what it does now.

Even Denmark, an icon of the Welfare State, is proposing tax cuts, reducing welfare benefits and raising the retirement age.

“We want to promote a society in which it is easier to support yourself and your family before you hand over a large share of your income to fund the costs of society.”

Funding Your Own Retirement

If the government is not going to come to the rescue, and if corporations are going to continue to unload the financial risks and burdens associated with pension plans, what is the answer? Look to the old saying, “If you want something done, do it yourself.” Going forward, it’s increasingly going to be up to the individual American worker to fund his or her own retirement.

If people begin saving early, a large part of the retirement problem will be solved. The most valuable asset that people have when they are young is time. If workers begin putting money aside at an early age, it will grow and compound for 40 to 50 years until retirement, solving a large part of the problem. The compounding of returns is what makes so much of the difference.

Here is a little math exercise: assume you begin by saving $25 per month—much less than the cost of having one decent dinner at a restaurant—and invest it conservatively so that it grows at 5% per year. At the end of 45 years you will have $50,000. Now assume that you increase your savings by 10% each year—so that in year two you save $27.50 per month (still far less than the cost of just one dinner out)—at the end of 45 years you have $400,000 to use in retirement. These examples go to show that saving a modest sum for retirement does not require much cost or effort, just discipline, time and patience.

Financial Education is Key

The greatest asset that young workers have is time. Unfortunately, people rarely enter the workforce knowing much about saving or investing. That is one reason so many people live paycheck to paycheck. The solution to the retirement crisis is achievable by educating young people and raising awareness. Until schools and colleges begin having mandatory courses for our young people about managing money, parents should be doing this. If they are unsure, they can put their children in touch with a financial planner who will spend time to provide the education. Many financial planners are beginning to offer hourly rates to help people learn to plan and budget.

For most people, the retirement problem is the result of a lack of information. The solution is right in front of us, if we realize that times have changed and people must change with it.

(For more from this author, see: Are You Ready for the Retirement Challenge?)

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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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Slow and steady wins the race

Tortoise-and-the-Hare

 

We have all heard Aesop’s Fable about the race between the tortoise and the hare.  The hare, convinced that he was much faster than the tortoise, took time out for a meal and a nap.   When he woke up he realized his mistake but the tortoise crossed the finish line first.

It seems that this fable is especially true about how people grow rich when investing.   There are some spectacularly wealth people who got that way virtually over night – we have all read about them – but the vast majority of the “High Net Worth” (HNW) people –  those with at least $3 million in investable assets – did it the tortoise way.

The interesting thing about these HNW people is that they rose from the poor and the middle class; they did not inherit their wealth.

A study by Bank of America and U.S. Trust found that 77% – more than three quarters – of their clients grew their wealth slowly.  83% said that they grew rich by making small wins rather than taking large risks.  They grew their wealth by careful investing and avoiding major losses.

In our practice we have met quite a few people who managed to turn modest incomes into multi-million dollar portfolios.  We have also spoken with people who took big investment risks only to fail, and have to continue to work long after they planned to retire.

It’s up to each one of us to decide what race we wish to run.  But keep in mind that the odds favor the tortoise over the hare.  And if you have a problem with the slow-but-steady approach to wealth, get a good RIA who will guide you.

 

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This Simple Tip Could Make a Big Difference in Your Retirement Account

You can make a 2016 contribution to your IRA or Roth IRA as early as January 1, 2016 and as late as April 15, 2017.  It would seem obvious that the sooner you contribute to your retirement account and invest the money, the more money you’ll have by the time you retire.

However, according to research from Vanguard, people are more than twice as likely to fund their IRAs at the last minute as opposed to the first opportunity!  When Vanguard looked back at the IRA contributions of its clients from 2007 to 2012, only 10% of the contributions were made at the optimum point in January, and over 20% were made at the very last month possible.

IRA Contribution Month

To demonstrate the type of real, monetary impact this can have on someone’s retirement savings, take the following hypothetical example.  On January 1 each year, “Early Bird” contributes $5,500, while “Last Minute” makes their $5,500 contribution on April 1 of the following year.  Assume that each investor does this for 30 years and earns 4% annually, after inflation.  Early Bird ends up with $15,500 more than Last Minute.  Put another way, Last Minute has incurred a $15,500 “procrastination penalty” by waiting to make his contribution until the last possible month.

Procrastination Penalty

At the beginning of every year, make fully funding your IRA contributions a habit. (And if you’re the type of person who works better when things are automated, look into setting up an automatic savings & investment plan from your paycheck or bank account to your IRA to save on a monthly or per-paycheck basis.)

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What the tortoise knows about financial security.

Remember the race between the tortoise and the hare? The tortoise won because he kept plugging along while the hare took a nap. Everyone would like to get rich quick; it’s the reason that people buy lottery tickets. But the chances of actually striking it rich are astronomical.

The way to get financially well-off is within the reach of almost anyone, even people who start out poor. What it takes is following a few simple rules.

  • Avoid destructive behavior.
  • Get an education and acquire a skill.
  • Spend less than you earn.
  • Start saving early.

The temptation to parlay a small bundle of cash into a fortune is what gets most people into trouble. Consistent saving over time is much more likely to pay off than strategies such as timing the market. Risk-the-farm investing strategies have a high probability of failure, but saving and prudent investing always wins.

Getting rich slowly is the primary way that most people achieve their financial dreams. The advantage of saving 10% or more of your income cannot be overemphasized. Do that and then let compounding go to work for you.

Compounding does a lot of the heavy lifting for investors. But it needs time to work. That means starting the process as early as possible and staying with it as long as possible. Waiting until you’re in your 40s or 50s means that you have given up twenty to thirty years of financial growth that you will never get back.

Want to have a million dollars by the time you’re 65? If you begin when you’re 25 with $25,000, save $3000 a year and invest the money to get a 7% return you’ll have $1 million when you’re 65. Of course as you get older and make more money you’ll be able to increase your savings rate, and end up with more than a million.

Finally, control your emotions or – better yet – hire an investment manager who will help control your emotions for you. Markets don’t go in one direction forever and that’s a good thing to keep in mind when the inevitable correction happens. An investment portfolio that lets you sleep well at night helps to cushion the blow of a decline and avoid the temptation to “bail out” at exactly the wrong time. In fact, investing more when the market’s “on sale” is a way to increase your wealth.

This is New Year‘s Eve; 2016 starts at midnight. It’s a great time to start if you have not done so already.

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The right time to invest?

time to invest

Is this the right time to invest?  Good question.

Here’s another good question:  when is the best time to plant a tree?
The answer:  “Now.”
Here’s a better answer:  “When you were a child.”

Time is our most precious resource.  A wasted moment is lost forever.  Trees take time to grow.  The same is true for wealth.

We are often asked “is this a good time to get into the market?”  The answer is that there is no better time.

Here’s why.

If you put your money in a savings account you might get about 1%.

At that interest rate it takes 70 years to turn $100 into $200.

If you could grow your money an average of 5% per year, that $100 would grow to $200 in 15 years.
If you can get 6%, it would take 12 years to grow to $200.
If you can get 7%, 11 years would get you to $200.
If you can get 8%, 10 years would get you to $200.

At 15% your money doubles every 5 years.

We are big advocates of people working hard for their money.  But we are just as insistent that money should work hard for them.  Why be a hard worker with lazy money?

Investing is one of those things that people put off.  But doing so wastes their most valuable resource:  time.

If you’re not happy with the way your money’s working for you, check out our website or give us a call.

No sales pitch, no pressure. Just good advice. That’s the reason we won the 2015 Suffolk Small Business of the Year award from the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.

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