Category Archives: Culture

The Retirement Dilemma Facing American Workers

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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The guaranteed pension has been replaced by a defined contribution plan.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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The Financial Planner as a Healer

[This is the most popular post we have published; it’s worth posting again]

Money is a significant source of stress for most people.  In many studies, it ranks above issues such as work, children and family.  Chronic financial stress is often the leading cause of family break-ups.

Chronic stress is also associated with all sorts of health problems, psychological problems, marriage conflicts and behavior issues such as smoking, excessive drinking, depression and overeating.

Men and women under stress have often relied on medical and mental health professionals.  However, financial planners are uniquely positioned to help people address what is likely the number one source of stress in their lives – their relationship with money.  Dealing with these issues head-on with a financial planner can lead to improved emotional and physical health, an improvement of work-related problems and improved relationships with family and friends.

A competent and caring financial planner does a great deal more than manage investments or create a financial roadmap.  He listens and empathizes with the conflicting issues that people face when attempting to manage their personal finances.

Discussing the issues that cause worry with a financial planner can lead to setting realistic goals, analyzing alternatives, prioritizing actions and implementing an easy-to-follow plan.  Just as important, it allows the client and the planner to review progress on a regular basis.

As a result the client gets a sense of personal control over his or her finances.  Someone who is in control of their life has much lower stress than someone who feels that events and outside agents control them.

For a relationship between a client and a financial planner to work well together, they must have shared views and expectations of financial planning, financial markets, investment philosophy, and managing risk.  An initial meeting between a client and a financial planner should establish a comfort level and determine whether the planner is actually interested in the client, or just the client’s money.

The planner’s goal should be to help their clients organize their financial affairs, and to discuss the client’s past, present and future – including death.  The planner should create a level of trust that allows him to keep the client from self-injury, which often results from fear surrounding money.  The financial planner should provide a sort of reality check to the client, reducing both excessive pessimism and irrational optimism.  A client should feel able to discuss money honestly and openly with their planner without a fear of judgment.

In many ways, a financial advisor can be the confidant to whom you can take your financial concerns … and make it all better.

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Economic Growth Does Not Kill People – The Opposite is the Case

Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist at First Trust, noted that members of the elite press are telling the people that they had better get used to slow growth.  That economic growth actually kills people.

Two weekend articles, in major US newspapers, left us shaking our heads. The Washington Post wrote that “economic growth actually kills people,” while The Wall Street Journal published a piece saying, ironically, we should get used to slow growth – it’s normal.

Both are ridiculous.

First, The Washington Post cited statistical studies that blame premature death on economic growth (more pollution, more work and more risk).

The statisticians found that pollution and alcohol were the #1 and #2 causes of death as economic growth accelerated. We couldn’t help but think about the Soviet Union, where pollution and alcoholism were rampant in the 1970s and 1980s, but economic growth was non-existent. Economic growth does not cause pollution; to say it does is a red herring. The air in Boston was much worse in the 1800s when wood-burning fireplaces were used to heat homes. Public health was a serious problem before sewage systems and water purification.

 

 The articles in the Post and the Wall Street Journal try to make the case that Americans need to forget about growth.  Rather, the government should focus on making the social safety net bigger, on rule-making, and making everyone more “equal.”  In fact, we are told that growth is a killer.

Evidence of the opposite exists.  Stagnating wages and loss of jobs in this country has been followed by alcoholism and rampant use of heavy-duty drugs like heroin, leading to an increase in premature deaths in America’s heartland.

There is no reason why the American economic engine cannot be revved up to the benefit of all.

Roughly 70% of the US economy depends on consumer spending.  The return of good paying jobs to communities thoroughly the country would result in a significant surge of economic growth.  And by good paying jobs we are not referring to the jobs created by the internet economy on the East or West Coasts.  The jobs produced by companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter and other Internet based “infotainment” companies produce great wealth for their creators but no actual consumer product.  What has surprised many economists – but should not have – is that they have not produced nearly the number of jobs that were predicted.  Meanwhile, industries that produce actual goods that people need to live – food, clothing, housing, fuel, medicine, cars – industries that once produced good paying jobs – are being outsourced or automated.

The country needs to focus on this issue or face increasing unrest among people who feel disrespected and marginalized.  Reviving American industries – in America – can be the spark that leads to a better future for everyone.

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Retirement Lessons from Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder

Gene Wilder

Unlike many movie stars, Gene Wilder did retirement right.

Gene Wilder’s glory years came too late for the Golden Age of Hollywood and too early for the modern era of $50 million superstars, but he did well enough to walk away after a couple of decades.

In an industry where performers in their 80s and 90s outlive their savings and need to keep working into the grave to pay the bills, that’s an achievement.

While the details of his estate have not been made public, there are a number if things we do know.

Gene Wilder died somewhere between filthy rich and flat broke, spending down his cash while remaining comfortable to the end, which came last week from Alzheimer’s complications…

Wilder retired at 58 to do what he enjoyed, writing his memoirs while living in a relatively modest home in Connecticut with his wife.  While he was active in ovarian cancer charities, it’s unclear how much he gave to them other than lending his celebrity to the charities he favored.

After all, the spouse is the only estate planning goal retirees really need to consider. Everything else — from philanthropy to dynastic heirs — comes second.

The lessons here are simple, yet unusual in the entertainment business – whether we’re talking about movies or sports.  Too often highly paid entertainers adopt a lifestyle that absorbs all of their income.  That means that if their careers end after a few years they need to begin a new career.  The alternative is to end up broke.

Wilder put enough aside while he was working to allow him to live in the style he enjoyed for 25 years after retiring and leave his wife in comfort after he passed away.  It’s a lesson for all of us who are not movie stars.  Know what we want, save so that we can afford it, and retire when we’re ready to walk away and leave it all behind.

Getting Financial Help

When people have financial questions, what do they look for?  According to a recent survey most people are looking for someone with experience.  We want to take advice from people who are familiar with the issues we face and know what to do about them.  We all know people with experience, but financial problems, like medical problems, are personal.  Most people we know would rather not go into detail about their personal finances with family or friends.  They are more comfortable sitting down with a financial professional to discuss their finances, their debts, their financial concerns, and their financial goals in both the short and long term. Professionals will provide advice without being judgmental and are required by their code of ethics to keep your information confidential.

Once people find someone who has a track record of giving good, professional advice, they want personalized advice and “holistic” planning.

No two people have exactly the same problems.  A good financial advisor listens attentively to learn the goals, the concerns and personal history of the people who come to him for advice.

People have specific issues and questions.  For example: a couple, aged 39, is seeking advice about their path to retirement.  They give their financial advisor a laundry list of their assets, their investments, their savings rate, their debts, and the ages of their children and ask if they should be doing something different or are they on the right path.  That’s a very specific question and the advisor’s response is going to be personalized for them.

The plan that the advisor comes up with is going to involve much more than money.  It’s going to take their personal characteristics into account.  This includes personal experience with investing, their risk tolerance, and their closely held beliefs and ethical values.  This is what is referred to as “holistic” planning; taking personal characteristics into consideration.

There is a fairly big difference in the advice sought by

  • “Millennials” (those born after 1980 and the first generation to come of age in the current century),
  • “Generation X” (the children of the Baby Boomers) and the
  • “Baby Boomers” (children of the soldiers returning from World War 2)

“Millenials” say that among their top three concerns are saving for a large expense such as a car or a wedding.  Too many are saddled by debt acquired to pay for higher education and are finding that their degrees are not necessarily an entry into high paying professional jobs.  Their next largest concerns are saving for their kids’ education and putting money aside for retirement.

“Generation X” is primarily focused on saving for retirement.  They are married, own their own home and may have children in college.  Concerns two and three are tax reduction and paying for their children’s education.

“Baby Boomers” have finally reached retirement age.  More than a quarter million turn 65 each month.  As a group they are a large and wealthy generation, but a vast number have not saved enough for a comfortable retirement.  Many are forced to continue to work to supplement Social Security income.  Their number one concern is the cost of health care.  Concerns two and three are protecting their assets and having enough income for retirement.  The three concerns for Baby Boomers are inter-connected.  For many Boomers, Medicare helps them with the costs associated with most medical issues.  However, as people live longer, there comes a time when they are unable to care for themselves and live independently.  Long-term-care insurance was once believed to be the answer but insurance companies found that costs were much greater than anticipated.  The result is that many insurers have stopped offering the policies and those remaining have hiked premiums beyond the ability of many to pay.  The cost of long term care is so high that many Boomers are afraid that their savings will soon be exhausted if they are forced into assisted living facilities or nursing homes.

Each generation has its own problems and at a time when the world has gotten much more complicated.  Getting experienced, personalized and holistic financial advice is more important than ever.

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The View on Brexit

Britains will soon be voting on whether to stay in the EU (the European Union) or leave.   Polls are divided on exiting the EU, or “Brexit” for short.  The British establishment is all for remaining in the EU but a lot of people are for getting out.  Voters are being deluged by scare stories about what will happen if they exit the EU, everything from loss of jobs to depression.  There has even been a claim that Britain leaving the EU will cause the climate to change even faster.  Some have labeled the tactics “Project Fear.”

The issue driving Brexit is that people are fed up with an unelected European bureaucracy making important political decisions for them.  People are seeing many of the decisions that were once made through Parliamentary democracy delegated to strangers in foreign capitals.

People are also becoming wary about a massive influx of refugees what under EU rules can move freely throughout Europe.  People who do not share the cultural or political beliefs of the British and who have no wish to assimilate.  We will undoubtedly be hearing more about this as the vote nears.

Brian Wesbury of First Trust has this take:

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.

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Keeping the Family Together With a Private Foundation

A private foundation has many advantages for the high net worth (HNW) individual. Along with the tax benefits, the foundation also provides a way of keeping families together.

Private foundations sound like they are only appropriate for the ultra-rich; but that’s not the case.  There are over 90,000 private foundations in the U.S. and 98% are under $50 million.  In fact you can start a private foundation with as little as $250,000 according to Foundation Source.

Of course the immediate advantage of a private foundation is the tax benefit you get from funding it.  It sets you apart in the world of philanthropy and allows you to leave a legacy that can outlive you.  It also provides protection from unsolicited requests for donations; you can always tell people that it’s a wonderful cause but you’ll have to check with your board.

But one of the major benefits of a family foundation is that it can act in many ways like a family business.  It can create the glue to keeps a dispersed family together working toward a common purpose.  It creates a way of instilling family values and transmitting those to a younger generation.

A large proportion of family foundations have two or more generations on the board.  Most are set up as family affairs with membership limited to immediate members of the family.

Contact us for more information.

 

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Keeping Your Eye on the Ball

Investors face a fire-hose torrent of information every day.  Determining what’s important and what’s irrelevant is critical.  Projections of doom and gloom are interspersed with promises of fabulous wealth if only we invest in a certain way.  99% of it is useless or even counter-productive, meant to entice the unwary investor to chase after chimeras that are simply not real.

Today’s issue of First Trust’s Monday Morning Outlook:

Honest question: How much time does the Apple Inc. Board of Directors spend debating whether the Federal Reserve will hike rates once or twice more in 2016?  We don’t really know the answer, but we would guess the best answer is zero.

Now, how much time does CNBC spend debating this question, along with potential actions of the Japanese and European Central Bank?  Answer: Way, way too much.

Business news should cover business, not government, but somehow, over the years, people have been led astray and many now think actions by the government are more important than actions of businesses and entrepreneurs.  Nothing could be further from the truth…

So, while the TV debates between day traders rage on, it doesn’t really matter whether the Fed lifts rates in June, or not.  The difference between a 0.5% and 0.75% federal funds rate matters little to corporate America and entrepreneurs.  In fact, higher rates will most likely make money more available, not less.  If the Fed really wanted to tighten policy, it would get rid of all excess reserves, but it won’t.  So, we suspect a symbolic rate hike in June, no matter what the talking heads’ endless debates about the matter suggest.

As investors we want to follow the lead of Boards of Directors, not the lead of what passes for business journalism these days.  No matter what they say, it is the entrepreneurial class that drives economic activity, not the government.

After all, Greenspan, Bernanke and Yellen have never pulled all-nighters drinking Red Bull and writing Apps for the iPhone.  That’s what changes lives, not quarter point rate hikes.

Professional investors have learned the difference between meaningful information that has a real impact on portfolios and simple distractions.  If you are interested in seeing how this process works, contact us.

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Why do elderly Japanese want to go to prison?

I read an interesting comment by Art Cashin that bears considering.

Japan’s prison system is being driven to budgetary crisis by demographics, a welfare shortfall and a new, pernicious breed of villain: the recidivist retiree. And the silver-haired crooks, say academics, are desperate to be behind bars.

Crime figures show that about 35 per cent of shoplifting offenses are committed by people over 60. Within that age bracket, 40 per cent of repeat offenders have committed the same crime more than six times.

There is good reason, concludes a report, to suspect that the shoplifting crime wave in particular represents an attempt by those convicted to end up in prison — an institution that offers free food, accommodation and healthcare.

The mathematics of recidivism are gloomily compelling for the would-be convict. Even with a frugal diet and dirt-cheap accommodation, a single Japanese retiree with minimal savings has living costs more than 25 per cent higher than the meagre basic state pension of Y780,000 ($6,900) a year, according to a study on the economics of elderly crime by Michael Newman of Tokyo-based research house Custom Products Research.

Even the theft of a Y200 sandwich can earn a two-year prison sentence, say academics, at an Y8.4m cost to the state.  The geriatric crime wave is accelerating, and analysts note that the Japanese prison system — newly expanded and at about 70 per cent occupancy — is being prepared for decades of increases. Between 1991 and 2013, the latest year for which the Ministry of Justice publishes figures, the number of elderly inmates in jail for repeating the same offense six times has climbed 460 per cent.

If it weren’t so, so sad, it would be positively elegant. You are an elderly Japanese person who can’t get by. You are not aggressive so you want to commit a crime with no threat or hostility. So, you commit one of the most non-hostile crimes possible –shoplifting.  When the authorities insist you leave and return to poverty, your simple recourse it to repeat the same crime, may even in the same store.  Human adaptation is an absolute wonder to behold. Government planning, however, is prone to bring unintended consequences, usually of the worst order.

People adapt to incentives and the results are not necessarily what was anticipated.  It’s called the law of unintended consequences.

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How well do couples communicate on money? – Part 5

Most couples think they communicate well, but research indicates otherwise when it comes to finances. Communication on financial issues between couples is especially poor, as we have discovered in previous essays. Despite concerns about medical costs, running out of money, inflation and Social Security, most couples have not created a plan to deal with these worries.

The 20% of couples who have created a plan get the benefit of peace of mind, less stress, and a more cohesive relationship. Uncertainty and doubt around important financial issues creates stress within relationships.

Couples who have a retirement plan in place:

  • Are twice as likely to live a very comfortable retirement.
  • Are 50% more likely to be “completely confident” in assuming responsibility for retirement.
  • Are much more confident that their partner will be OK in retirement.
  • Are twice as likely to know how much they will need in retirement.
  • Are less concerned about unexpected health care costs.
  • Are much less likely to be concerned about outliving their savings.

Having a plan to reach your goals is much like going to the grocery store with a shopping list. You know what you need and are less likely to forget important items, nor are you as likely to buy things you don’t need.

Creating a plan forces couples to be open with each other about their goals, their finances, and the issues that may keep them from achieving those goals. Working with a Certified Financial Planner™ (CFP) to create a plan also brings an important measure of reality to the process. Professional guidance creates realistic assumptions about how much should be saved and the rate at which it should grow. A CFP can also help mediate differences between couples when issues arise.

Our next essay will focus on advice to young couples.

Korving & Company, the 2015 Suffolk Small Business of the Year is a family owned investment management and financial planning firm. We deliver a very personal level of service to guide, empower and assure our clients that their money is carefully managed to meet their long-term life goals.

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