Being There

Anyone who has been in a long-term committed relationship understands what “being there” means.

One of the benefits of a stable relationship is that you have someone you can rely in when you need help.  Couples support each other.  Even as traditional roles have evolved, most families still have a division of labor when it comes to certain chores and tasks.  The fact is that some people are good at one thing and not so good at others.  What’s great about compatible couples is that they complement each other and, as a result, they are stronger, smarter and wiser together.

This is why the loss of a companion is such a traumatic experience.

All of a sudden, the person you have relied on is no longer there.  There is a big void in your life.  You may find yourself wondering what you are going to do.

While we don’t promote ourselves as the substitute spouse, in a financial sense we quite often find ourselves in that role.

When a spouse or long-time companion dies, our surviving clients often call on us to provide financial guidance.  Having dealt with hundreds of these transitions, we know the ins and outs of the estate settlement process.  We know the common pitfalls and things that can go wrong and are there to provide advice and guidance to help lift the burden and take care of things correctly and efficiently.

We relieve people from having to do it themselves.

We’ve written a set of books on this issue to help people plan ahead before their time comes, called BEFORE I GO.  The book and workbook are a wonderful compliment to traditional estate planning documents and help to fill in the missing information that those documents tend to leave out.

For a copy of these guides, you can contact us or you can buy them on Amazon.com.  Click HERE for a link.

Let us know if you have any questions or if you or anyone you’re close to needs an experienced and helpful hand working through one of these situations.

 

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Market reacts to French election, tax cuts and earnings

The stock market had two back-to-back days with the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) up over 200 points.  On Monday the market was reacting to the first round of elections in France.

The French election for President is often a two step process.  If a candidate gets over 50% of the vote in the first round of voting he or she is declared the winner and becomes President.  If no one gets to 50%, the two top vote getters face a run-off election which decides the Presidency.

In the first round that just ended, the candidates of the major French parties that had run the country for decades did not make it to the run-off.  Instead, Marine Le Pen (usually described as “Far Right”) and Emmanuel Macron (usually described as a “centrist”) were the two top vote getters.  They will face off on May 7th with the winner becoming President of France.

Macron, age 39, received 23.8% of the vote while Le Pen scooped up 21.4%.  Macron formed his own party, splitting off from the Socialists.  Macron is best known for marrying his teacher, a woman 25 years his senior.

It is generally assumed that Macron will win the next round with the French establishment uniting against Le Pen who wants to stop immigration and wants France to pull out of the EU.  The results of the balloting caused a relief rally in expectation that France will stay the current course and remain in the EU.

The Tuesday market action was driven by exuberance over the Trump administration announcement that they were proposing a reduction in the corporate tax rate from 35% to 15%.  If this passes, next year’s corporate earnings would be higher.

On the earnings front some of the big names in the DJIA reported better-than-expected earnings.  Caterpillar, McDonald, Du Pont and Goldman Sachs were the biggest beneficiaries.

Stay tuned.

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The Trump Trade after three months.

The election of Donald Trump was followed by what many called “The Trump Trade.”  Based on the promises made by Trump during the campaign: to lower taxes and reduce regulations – two factors that inhibit economic growth – the stock market rose sharply.  But it’s going to take time and a lot of hard bargaining to actually get to the point where real economic benefits result.

Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist at First Trust:

As we wrote three months ago, it’s going to take much more than animal spirits to lift economic growth from the sluggish pace of the past several years. Measures of consumer and business confidence continue to perform much better than before the election. But where the economic rubber hits the road, in terms of actual production not so much.  It looks like real GDP growth will clock in at a 1.3% annual rate in the first quarter.

He says that we still have a “Plow Horse Economy” and it will take time to unhitch the plow and saddle up the “Racehorse.”

Trump has signed a number of executive orders that will have an impact on regulation, but the bureaucracy is still staffed with the last administration’s appointees and the pace of approving new appointments is glacially slow.

Waiting is the hardest part.

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Consolidating your assets

In 1945, two brothers, Jacob and Samuel, were rescued from the Nazi extermination camp of Buchenwald. The rest of their family had been killed. The brothers joined other refugees that left Europe after World War II. Jacob came to the United States, became an engineer, and worked many years for a major corporation. Samuel immigrated to Australia and became an accountant.

Several years ago, Jacob died. He had never married. Samuel — by now quite elderly —came to the United States to settle Jacob’s affairs. What he found was financial chaos. Jacob had always lived frugally and invested widely. Unfortunately, he kept very poor records. Samuel spent several weeks rummaging through files, boxes, drawers, and even under couch pillows trying to gather together all the certificates, statements, and even uncashed dividend checks that Jacob had left behind. We will never be certain that all of Jacobs’s assets have been located.

Few people leave behind as chaotic a financial tangle as Jacob did, but I find that more than half of the people I advise after a death are not certain that they can identify all of a deceased’s investment assets.

The first lesson from this example is this: DO NOT KEEP STOCK OR BOND CERTIFICATES AT HOME OR IN A SAFE DEPOSIT BOX. KEEP ALL FINANCIAL ASSETS IN BROKERAGE ACCOUNTS.

Modern brokerage accounts now allow access via checkbook, electronic funds transfer (EFT) and charge cards. Have all dividends and interest payments deposited in your account; and, if you need cash, you may write a check. There is no reason for your heirs to search through your papers to find uncashed dividend checks.

As people get older, financial advisors and estate planning attorneys often advise clients to consolidate their assets. This is sound advice and greatly simplifies the job of managing an estate at death.

It is often possible to consolidate assets — even mutual funds that you have bought outside of a brokerage account — with a single financial advisor or team of advisors. This has the advantage of giving your financial advisor a better view of your assets and thus providing more comprehensive plans and advice. It also makes it easier for the surviving spouse or heirs to identify your investment assets.

Investment accounts with brokerage firms, money managers, and mutual funds typically make up the bulk of the assets of most families. It is not unusual for a family to have multiple accounts.

Be sure to make a list of your investment accounts. You may use that investment section of the workbook to do so.

From BEFORE I GO by Arie Korving.  Available at Amazon.

 

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Aunt Jennie’s Talents

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The Parable of the Talents is known to everyone who ever attended Sunday school.  A man prepares for a long journey by entrusting three servants with heavy bags of silver (talents) while he is gone.  In those days coins were weighed and a “talent” was about 75 pounds.  He gave 10 talents to one, five to the second and one talent to the third.  The first two servants invested the silver.  The third, being fearful. dug a hole and hid the money for safekeeping.  When the man returned, the first two gave the man twice what had been entrusted to them.  But the third just gave the man his money back.  For this poor stewardship the third servant was cast out.

I was reminded of this story when a lady came to us after receiving an inheritance from her Aunt Jennie.  After being grateful for her good fortune she wondered what to do.  Banks today are paying a pittance on deposits, so putting it in the bank was not all that much different from digging a hole to hide the money from thieves.  She wanted to be a good steward of her inheritance.

She wanted to honor Aunt Jennie by taking care of her money wisely and not squander it.  Aunt Jennie worked hard for her company, spent a lifetime being frugal and made wise investments.  My future client knew her own limitations. She was not an experienced investor.  She had to decide if she wanted to spend her time learning investing from the ground up.  With all the information out there, which expert or school of thought do you listen to?  Did she want to spend her time reading fine print, studying balance sheets or did she want to continue doing those things she enjoyed by finding an experienced professional she could trust to shepherd the money for her.

She chose us because of our caring professionalism.  We listened carefully to her objectives.  We explained the risks and rewards involved in the investing process.  We explained our investment process with the key focus on risk control and wide diversification.  We believe in wise investing, steady growth, and the assurance that your money will keep working for you. With over 30 years’ experience we have weathered all kinds of markets successfully.  Our knowledge and experience allows our clients to focus on those things they enjoy.  They know that their investments will be there for as long as they need them and beyond to help their children and grandchildren.

Aunt Jennie’s talents have grown and our client is happy.  Aunt Jennie would be proud.

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Are you taking more risk than you should?

 

We often take risks without knowing it.  There are some risks that are well known; things like texting while driving or not fastening your seat belt.  But there are other risks that are less well publicized and that can hurt you.

As financial professionals we often meet people who are not aware of the financial risks they are taking.  While there are countless books written about investing, most people don’t bother studying the subject.  As a result, they get their information from articles in the press, advertising, or chatting with their friends.

Many people have told us they are “conservative” investors and then show us investments that have sky-high risks.  This is because investment risks are either hiding in the fine print or not provided at all.  No one tells you how much risk you are taking when you buy a stock, even of a major company like General Electric.  GE is a huge, diversified global company, yet lost 90% of its value between 2000 and 2009.  Norfolk Southern is another popular stock in this area.  Do you know its “risk number?”   You may be surprised.

We have analytical tools that can accurately quantify your risk tolerance and give you your personal “Risk Number.”  We can then measure the risk you are taking with your investments.  They should be similar.  If not, you may find yourself unpleasantly surprised if the investment you thought was “safe” loses its value because you took too much risk.

We have no objection to daredevils who know the risk they are taking by jumping over the Grand Canyon on a motorcycle.  But we would caution the weekend cyclist not to try the same thing.  Contact us to find your personal “Risk Number” and then determine how much risk there is in your portfolio.

 

 

 

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Even the “rich” can’t afford retirement.

Investment Approach

Registered Investment Advisors (RIAs) deal with people at all wealth levels but most are upper income even if they are not billionaires.  There is a retirement crisis and it’s not just hitting the working class.

The typical median wage earner making $50,000 a year and retiring at 67 can expect Social Security to pay him and his wife about $2400 per month.  To maintain their previous spending levels this leaves a gap of about $1000 a month that has to be made up from savings. But many of these middle income people have not saved for their retirement.  Which means working longer or reducing their lifestyle.

This problem is also hitting the higher income people.  How well is the person earning over $200,000 a year going to do in retirement?  The issues that even these so-called “rich” face are the same:  increased longevity, medical care, debts and an expensive lifestyle are all issues that have to be considered.

“The $200,000+ executive expects a fine house, two cars, two holidays a year, private schools, to pay for his kid’s university tuition, and so it goes on. And this is not to mention the tax bill he’s paying on his earned income. A bunch of all this was really debt-funded, so effectively the executive spent chunks of his retirement money during his working days.”

When high income people are working, they usually don’t watch their pennies or budget.  But once retired, that salary stops.  That’s when savings are required to bridge the gap between their lifestyle and income from Social Security and (if they’re lucky) pension payments.  At that point the need for advance planning becomes important.

Before the retirement date is set, the affluent need to create a retirement plan.  He or she needs to know what their basic income needs are; the cost of utilities, food, clothing, insurance, transportation and other basic needs.  Once the basics are determined, they can plan for their “wants.”  This includes things such as replacing cars, the cost of vacation travel, charitable gifts, club dues, and all the other expenses that are lifestyle issues.  Finally, there are “wishes” which may include a vacation home, a boat, a wedding, a legacy.  The list can be a long one but it should be part of a financial plan.

If the plan tells us that the chances of success are low, we can move out our retirement date, increase our savings rate or reduce our retirement spending plans.

This kind of planning will reduce the anxiety that is typically associated with the retirement decision making.

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Why Your Home is a Poor Investment

Image result for homes

A couple we know moved to a new house recently.  They sold their old for a little more than twice the price they originally paid.  Doubling your money sounds like a great deal, right?

Not so fast.

To determine if the house was a good investment we need to make some calculations.  They originally bought their old home about 33 years ago.  That means that the return on their investment was just 2.4% per year.  To put it in perspective, 33 years ago CD rates were around 10%.  Viewed strictly from an investment perspective, they could have made a better return on their money if they had bought a CD.  And that’s to say nothing of maintenance and upkeep, costs not associated with CDs.

On the other hand, you can’t live in a CD.

How about investing that money in the stock market?  Over that same period the S&P 500 grew 8.5% annually.  That means that every $100 invested in the market 33 years ago would have grown to $1476!

The reason that so many people think that their home is their best investment is that they don’t sell their home very often.  As a result, they look at what they paid and what they sold it for.  If they held it for many years, it usually looks like a big number, and it is. But when viewed strictly as an investment, the annual growth rate is small compared to the alternatives.

As we alluded to earlier, home ownership also involves many other expenses.  There are property taxes and insurance.  Homeowners know that repairs and maintenance are expensive and never ending.  After all of the expenses are taken into account, the real return on home ownership may be even less that our earlier calculation.

But a home is much more than an investment.  It’s a place to live, a place to raise a family, a place to call your own.  A home is a refuge from the rest of the world.  The alternative is renting, wherein you often have more flexibility and are not on the hook for all of the repairs and maintenance.  But it also means that your monthly payment to your landlord is not going into equity that home ownership provides.

We are homeowners and advocates of home ownership.  The point of evaluating the true value of the home as an investment is to bring reality to the financial aspects of home ownership. It’s also a warning against investing too much of our resources in the family home, making many people “home poor.”

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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 most common investment mistake made by financial advisors

Bill Miller beat the S&P 500 index 15 years in a row as portfolio manager of Legg Mason Capital Management Value Trust (1991-2005), a record for diversified mutual fund managers.  He was interviewed by WealthManagement.com about active vs. passive management.

We have written a number of articles about the mistakes individual investors make.  But what about mistakes that financial advisors make?  We are, after all, fallible and make errors of judgment.  And like all mortals we cannot predict the future.

Here’s Bill Miller’s assessment about traps that financial advisors fall into:

One problem is how they deal with risk. There is a lot more action on perceived risks, exposing clients to risks they aren’t aware of. For example, since the financial crisis people have overweighted bonds and underweighted stocks. People react to market prices rather than understanding that’s a bad thing to do.

Most importantly, most advisors are too short-term oriented, because their clients are too short-term oriented. There’s a focus on market timing, and all of that is mostly useless. The equity market is all about time, not timing. It’s about staying at the table.

Think of the equity market like a casino, except you own it: You’re the house. You get an 8-9 percent annual return. Casinos operate on a lower margin than that and make money. Bad periods are to be expected. If anything, that’s when you want more tables.

We agree.  That’s one of the reasons we are choosy about the clients we accept. One of the foremost regrets we have is taking on clients who hired us for the wrong reasons.  One substantial client came to us as the tech market was heating up in the late 1990s.  He asked us to create a portfolio of tech stocks so that he could participate in the growth of that sector.  We accepted that challenge, but it was a mistake.  When the tech bubble burst and his portfolio went down and we lost a client.  But it taught us a valuable lesson: say no to clients who focus strictly on short-term portfolio performance.  Our role is to invest our clients’ serious money for long term goals.

Like Bill Miller, we want to have the odds on our side.  We want to be the “house,” not the gambler.  The first rule of making money is not to lose it.  The second rule is to always observe the first rule.

To determine client and portfolio risk we use sophisticated analytical programs for insight into prospective clients actual risk tolerance.  That allows us to match our portfolios to a client’s individual risk tolerance.  In times of market exuberance we remind our clients that trees don’t grow to the sky.  And in times of market declines we encourage our clients to stay the course, knowing that time in the market is more important than timing the market.

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