Category Archives: individual investor

Savers vs. Investors

The last two decades has been devastating for savers, especially retirees.

A Wall Street Journal article noted that retirees continue to get squeezed and are concerned about making their savings last. While the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) index has tripled since the trough of the financial crisis, the average one-year CD has not paid more than 1 percent since 2009.

The DJIA stood at 26,405 (as of 1/25/2018), a more than 20 percent increase since the 2016 election, and the value of the digital currency. As a result of a strong stock market performance, stocks may have become an outsized portion of investors’ portfolios, thereby necessitating some rebalancing.

This means that investors who have benefited from the stock markets rise may find themselves taking more risk than they realize.

If you are concerned about stock market risk, call us.

 

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Saving and Retirement

The Center for Retirement Research (CRR) at Boston College, found that 52 percent of working-age U.S. households are at risk of being unable to maintain their standard of living in retirement. Many recognize the possibility of a shortfall but 19 percent do not. Contributing factors include increased life expectancy, declining Social Security income replacement, and the shift from pensions to defined contribution savings plans. Older Americans are entering retirement carrying more debt. According to a paper by the Retirement Research Center at the University of Michigan, more Americans between ages 56 to 61 are carrying more debt than any time in recent history. Another retirement problem receiving increasing attention is the social isolation of retirees, which has been deemed a risk equal to or greater than major health problems such as obesity.

Studies about retirement savings plan contributions indicate a lack of participation by many American workers. A study by the PEW Charitable Trusts found that 25 percent of millennial adults participate in employer-sponsored defined contribution retirement plans versus 40 percent of Generation X and 43 percent of baby boomers. Stated another way, a large majority of millennials have no retirement savings plan.

If you are concerned about having the money to retire, call us.

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What are mutual fund share classes and why are they important

Mutual fund share classes are little understood by the investing public, but they are important because they determine how much the investor pays in fees.

Fund classes are identified by an alphabetical letter that follows a mutual fund’s name in most newspapers.

Mutual fund “A” share classes typically have a “front-end load,” a sales charge payable when you buy the fund. This fee is used to pay the brokerage firm and part of it goes to the broker who sells the fund.

The amount of the load depends on the kind of fund – bond funds generally have lower loads than stock funds – and the amount of money invested. The more money that’s invested, the lower the fee. Known as “break points,” they refer to points at which front-end charges go down. For example, the front-end load for the Growth Fund of America class A shares is 5.75% on investments up to $25,000. But if you invest $1 million dollars or more the front-end load is 0%.

Mutual fund “B” shares typically have a “back end load” payable when you redeem the shares. These decline over a period of years (usually 6 to 8 years) until they finally disappear.

Both “A” and “B” shares usually have an “12b-1” marketing fee, generally 0.25%, charged annually.

Class “C” shares have no front-end load, a small back end load, usually 1%, that goes away after 1 year. However, they have higher 12b-1 fees, typically 1%.

There are other share classes such as I, Y, F-1, F-1, F-2. In fact, some funds have as many as 18 share classes. They are all the same fund; the only difference is the fee charged to the investor.

Many fund families offer “institutional” share classes that are only available to certain investors. Institutional shares are purchased by businesses who are in the investing business such as banks, pension funds, insurance companies and registered investment advisors (RIAs) who buy them as agents for their clients. This is one of the benefits of working with an independent RIA who has access to lower cost funds, load waived funds and no-load funds that are often not offered by the major Wall Street firms.

Contact us for more information.

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What a Nobel Prize Winner tells us about Investor Behavior

University of Chicago’s  Richard H. Thaler, one of the founders of behavioral finance, was awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Economics for shedding light on how human weaknesses such as a lack of rationality and self-control can ultimately affect markets.

People who are not financial experts frequently turn to investment advisors to manage their portfolios.     But many smart people use advisors to overcome very common psychological obstacles to financial success.

The 72-year-old “has incorporated psychologically realistic assumptions into analyses of economic decision-making,” the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said in a statement on Monday.

“By exploring the consequences of limited rationality, social preferences, and lack of self-control, he has shown how these human traits systematically affect individual decisions as well as market outcomes,” it said.

Thaler developed the theory of “mental accounting,” explaining how people make financial decisions by creating separate accounts in their minds, focusing on the narrow impact rather than the overall effect.

….

He shed light on how people succumb to short-term temptations, which is why many people fail to plan and save for old age.

 

It does not take a Nobel Prize to understand that people often make decisions based on emotion.  We do it all the time.  We judge people based on first impressions.  We buy things not because we need them but because of how they make us feel.  We go along with the crowd because we seek the approval of the people around us.  When markets rise we persuade ourselves to take risks we should not take.  When markets decline and our investments go down we allow fear to overcome our judgment and we sell out, afraid that we’ll lose all of our money.

Professional investment managers have systems in place that allow them to overcome the emotional barriers to successful investing.  It begins by creating portfolios that are appropriate for their clients.  Then, in times of stress, they use their discipline and stick to their models, often selling what others are buying or buying what others are selling.  This is the secret to the old Wall Street adage that the way to make money is to “buy low and sell high.”  By taking emotion out of investment decisions professional managers take a lot of the risk out of investing.

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What is the right amount to save when aiming for a certain retirement goal?

Question from middle-aged worker to Investopedia:

I am 58 years old earning $100,000 per year and have investments in multiple retirement accounts totaling $686,250. I’m retiring at the age of 65. I am currently investing $16,000 per year in my accounts. I project to have $848,819 in my retirement accounts at the age of 65. I will be collecting $2,200 in Social Security when I retire. I also do not own my home due to my divorce. How much money will I need to hit my projection? Should I be saving more?

My answer:

I believe that you may be asking the wrong question. For most people, a retirement goal is the ability to live in a certain lifestyle. To afford a nice place to live, travel; buy a new car from time to time, etc. By viewing retirement goals from that perspective you can “back into” the amount of money you need to have at retirement.

To do that correctly you need a retirement plan that takes all those factors into consideration. At age 65 you probably have 20 to 30 years of retirement ahead of you. During that time inflation will affect the amount of income it takes to maintain your lifestyle. You will also have to estimate the return on your investment assets. As you can see, there are lots of moving parts in your decision making process. You need the guidance of an experienced financial planner who has access to a sophisticated financial planning program. Check out his or her credentials and ask if, at the end of the process, you will get just a written plan or have access to the program so that you can play “what if” and see if there are any hidden surprises in your future.

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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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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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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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FIVE FACTS THAT PROVE AMERICANS ARE TERRIBLE AT MANAGING MONEY

I read this headline recently and wanted to share it with you.  Here’s the short version.

  1. About 1 in 4 literally have no emergency savings.
  2. We are more worried about paying for our next vacation than about saving enough for retirement.
  3. Millions of us hide money from our spouses and partners.
  4. We prioritize paying the wrong bills first.
  5. We’ve racked up $1 trillion in credit card debt — and that’s just a fraction of what we owe.

That’s troubling.

Very few of our clients suffer from these five issues, but we have had people coming through our doors who are searching for help to get out of debt and on the path to financial stability.

But even people who save and invest and have given serious though to retirement are not necessarily good at making investment decisions.

Having the right instincts and putting money in an investment account doesn’t mean that you are making the best decisions.  Navigating the complex world of modern investing is both a skill and an art that most people do not have the time or patience to learn.

That’s why more and more people are turning from brokers to independent Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs), fiduciaries who manage portfolios for a fee.  Turning the selection of investments over to an RIA, receiving regular reports of progress toward their financial goals, makes sense to people who understand the benefits of using professionals to accomplish complex tasks.

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Don’t believe the doom and gloom about the economy.

The invaluable Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist of First Trust, recently made some interesting comments about the economy.

First, there are the employment statistics:

The best news for the consumer is that the labor market continues to heal. At 4.4%, the unemployment rate is the lowest since 2007. Some watch what they call the “true” unemployment rate, which includes discouraged workers as well as part-timers who claim they’d prefer full-time jobs – that’s 8.6%, also the lowest since 2007. Meanwhile, wages and salaries are up 5.5% in the past year, outstripping inflation.

Meanwhile the average American has reduced his debt burden to levels not seen since the early 1980s.  While student loans have reached record levels and auto loans delinquencies have grown, consumer debt has dropped by 50% since the end of 2009.

Finally, consumers have changed their buying patterns.  They are shifting their buying to the Internet and away from brick-and-mortar stores.  Some of the old-line retailers are experiencing sales and profitability problems even as a company like Amazon is building physical stores.

We remain in the midst of a technological revolution.  Stay alert and very nimble.

If you want to learn how to navigate your way through the shoals and rapids of the investment river, give us a call and we’ll be happy to help.

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