Tag Archives: 401(k)

Avoid These Common Retirement Account Rollover Mistakes

If you are one of the people who are uncertain of the basic financial steps to take when you retire, you are not alone. Author and public speaker Ed Slott recently recounted how little most people really know about what to do with their 401(k)s, IRAs and other retirement assets when it comes time to leave work.

Most people do not know what to do with their retirement plans (commonly referred to with obscure names like 401(k), 403(b), 457, and TSP) once they retire. Many people simply leave the plan with their former employer because they don’t know what else to do. But that could end up being a mistake. Others know they can roll their plan into a Rollover IRA, but are not aware that if they don’t do it exactly right, they could be faced with a big tax bill.

Handling IRAs is often fraught with danger. There is a big difference between a rollover and a direct transfer. Rollovers are distributions from a retirement plan. Sometimes they are paid directly to you via check. You then have 60 days to move the assets into a new IRA or you will be taxed. If the rollover is paid directly to you, it is customary to have 20% automatically withheld for taxes. Counter-intuitively, you have to replace the 20% withholding when you fund the new IRA or that amount will be considered a taxable distribution and you will owe tax on the amount withheld. You can only make one rollover per 12 month period. If you make more than one rollover per year, you will be taxed.

A direct transfer is one where your IRA assets are moved from one custodian to another without passing through your hands. Under current law you can make as many direct transfers per year without triggering a tax penalty and there is no withholding.

When you are retired and reach the age of 70 ½, you will encounter Required Minimum Distributions. If these are not handled correctly, they can trigger huge tax consequences. If an individual fails to take out the Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) from a retirement plan, there is a 50 percent penalty tax on the shortfall.

Even many people in the investment industry do not understand the rules well. Slott notes that many financial companies do not provide advice on these topics because they are so focused on accumulating assets that they do not train their advisors on “decumulation.” Decumulation is a term that applies to retirees once they begin to take money from their retirement plans to supplement their other income sources.

“Every time the IRA or 401(k) money is touched, it’s like an eggshell; you break it and it’s over…. You mess up with a rollover and you can lose an IRA.”

Retirement is a time when people want to relax and pursue their leisure activities. Unfortunately, the rules actually get even more complicated. Make sure that you take time to learn the rules, or find a professional that does, before you move money from a retirement account.

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Why roll your 401(k) over when you retire?

According to an article in 401(k) Specialist Magazine, 401(k) providers favor proprietary products. What does this mean to the typical worker? Here’s the bottom line:

“Mutual fund companies that are trustees of 401(k) plans must serve plan participants’ needs, but they also have an incentive to promote their own funds.
The analysis suggests that these trustees tend to favor their own funds, especially the poor-quality funds.”

The article goes on to say that these fund companies often make decisions that appear to have an adverse affect on employees’ retirement security.

The investment industry is, unfortunately, rife with conflicts of interest and bad apples. That is why a prudent investor should work with a trusted investment professional who is a fiduciary. A fiduciary has an obligation to place the client’s interests ahead of his own. As a rule of thumb, a fee-only, independent, Registered Investment Advisor, who does not work for one of the large investment firms that have to answer to public shareholders, and who has access to virtually all investment vehicles, has fewer conflicts.

As we mentioned in a recent article:

A fee-only RIA works for you. Stockbrokers, insurance agents, even mutual fund managers, work for the companies that pay them. They are legally required to work in the best interest of their employers, not their clients. Some of them do try to work in their clients’ best interests, but there can be large financial incentives to do otherwise. A fee-only RIA works only for you. We act in your best interest and use our expertise to allow you to take advantage of opportunities in good markets and weather the bad ones.

This gets back to the original question. Rolling your 401(k) into an IRA with someone who isn’t trying to get you to invest in “poor quality funds,” does not have a conflict of interest, and is legally obligated to put your interests ahead of his own is a good reason to roll your 401(k) into an IRA.

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The Real vs. the Ideal (Sometimes Life Happens)

The latest issue of Investment News reminded me of an article I saw recently about Marco Rubio, a Senator seeking the Republican Presidential nomination. It seems that he cashed in a 401k to buy a refrigerator, an air conditioner, pay some college costs for his children and cover some campaign expenses.

Financial planners always tell their clients that they need to put money aside for retirement and to never, ever take money out of retirement plans before age 59 ½ because the taxes and penalties can take nearly half of the money that you withdraw.

The article goes on to say that:

“Unfortunately, many middle-class Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement and some, like Mr. Rubio, even pull money out of their retirement plans prematurely.”

Our advice regarding the timing of withdrawals from retirement accounts is, of course, exactly right. And it will be followed if you are rich enough. Unfortunately, as John Lennon once said, “life is what happens when you’re making other plans.”

Most people have finite resources. Not everyone has the money to fully fund their IRA, 401k, 529 college savings plan, health savings account, life insurance and long-term care insurance policies. Life is about making choices between have-to-have and nice-to-have.

We realize that, and provide our clients with the trade-offs they often need to make. Some goals are achievable and others may not be. And sometimes it’s worthwhile cashing in a 401k if it means that later on you can become President.

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Are You an “Affluent Worker?”

Forbes magazine recently had an article about some of our favorite clients. They call them the “High Net Worker.” These are people who are successful mid-level executives in major businesses. They range in age from 40 to the early 60s. They earn from $200,000 per year and often more than $500,000. They work long hours and are good at their jobs.

According to the Forbes article, many have no plans to retire. Our experience is different; retirement is definitely an objective. But many have valuable skills and plan to begin a second career or consult after retiring from their current company.

At this time in their lives they have accumulated a fair amount of wealth, own a nice home in a good neighborhood, and may be getting stock options or deferred bonuses. That means that at this critical time in their lives, when they are focused on career and have little time for anything else, they have not done much in the way of financial planning.

When it comes to investing, most view themselves as conservative. But because of their compensation their investments are actually much riskier than they think. It is not unusual for executives of large corporations to have well over 50% of their net worth tied to their company’s stock. Few people realize the risks they are taking until something bad happens. For example, the industrial giant General Electric’s stock lost over 90% of its value over a nine year period ending in 2009. The stock of financial giant UBS dropped nearly 90% between May 2007 and February 2009. These companies survived. There are many household names, like General Motors and K-Mart whose shareholders lost everything.

The affluent worker’s family usually includes one or more children who are expected to go to college. Many of these families have a 529 college savings plan for their children. Most have IRAs and contribute to their company’s 401k plan, but because many don’t have a financial planner they do not have a well thought out strategy for this part of their portfolio.

At a time when many less affluent families are downsizing, many families in this category are either looking to upgrade their homes, buy a bigger home, or buy a second – vacation – home. They may even help their adult children with down-payments.

If you are an Affluent Worker, give us a call and see what we can do for you. If you already have a financial advisor, it may be time to get a second opinion.

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A wise young couple

A wise young couple came to see us yesterday. They were wise because they took the advice of their wise grandmother who told them they needed the services of a financial planner.

Too often, couples starting out in life take a do-it-yourself approach. There are any number of reasons. But what this means is that they make all the mistakes that amateurs make. And while there is no bill attached, those mistakes are very expensive.

Young couples have lots of financial questions. Questions about spending and saving, about whether to rent or buy a home, how to invest their 401k, what kind of IRA is best, how to create a budget, and how to create a long-term financial plan.

The wise grandmother told the couple that they should find a fee-only financial planner; someone who did more than simply manage money but could help answer the questions that arise from day to day. A financial planner who they could call any time they had a question involving finances. One who would meet with them whenever they wanted. One who had experience in the issues that affected them as they begin building their future.

If you know a young couple like this, you can be like the wise grandmother and tell them to contact us at Korving & Company. We are just the kind advisor they need.

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What Rich People Need to Know

I ran across an article at Market Watch titled “Ten things rich people know that you don’t.”  It listed the usual things:

  • Start saving early
  • Automate your savings
  • Maximize contributions to 401(k)s
  • Don’t carry credit card debt
  • Live below your means
  • Educate yourself about investing
  • Diversify
  • Hire a qualified financial advisor

All of that is something to take to heart when you’re young and just starting in life.  But what do people who are already rich need to know?

Lots of people get rich without following the rules.  They may start a successful business, enter a highly compensated profession, climb the corporate ladder, win the lottery, become a sports star or inherit a fortune.   Once you are rich, the number one objective for most people is to stay rich.  One very successful financial advisor with just 28 very wealthy clients said

“People don’t come to me to get rich, they come to me to stay rich.”

That’s the role of a good financial advisor.   Their job is to  do more than manage their client’s portfolios, it’s to take care that all of the other boxes are checked off:  to diversify the client portfolio, to educate the client about investing, to see to it that they live within their means.  In many cases they take care of family issues, lifestyle issues; the kinds of things that family offices do.

It’s what we do.  It’s what our clients expect.

Have a wealth maintenance question?   Contact us.


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Are you flunking the retirement readiness test?

A recent article in Financial Advisor proposed an interesting analogy: “Imagine boarding a jet and heading for your seat, only to be told you’re needed in the cockpit to fly the plane.”

That’s the situation many people are finding themselves in today.  Once upon a time, employers set up pension plans managed by investment professionals.  You worked and when you retired the pension checks began coming for the rest of your life.

That ended when 401(k) plans began replacing defined benefit pension plans.

Once, employers made the contributions, investment pros handled the investments and the income part was simple: You retired, the checks started arriving and continued until you died. Now, you decide how much to invest, where to invest it and how to draw it down. In other words, you fuel the plane, you pilot the plane and you land it.

It’s no surprise that many people, especially middle- and lower-income households, crash. The Federal Reserve’s latest Survey of Consumer Finances, released in September, found that ownership of retirement plans has fallen sharply in recent years, and that low-income households have almost no savings.

But it’s not only the low-income workers who lack basic financial wisdom.

Eighty percent of Americans with nest eggs of at least $100,000 got an “F” on a test about managing retirement savings put together recently by the American College of Financial Services. The college, which trains financial planners, asked over 1,000 60- to 75-year-olds about topics like safe retirement withdrawal rates, investment and longevity risk.

Seven in 10 had never heard of the “4 percent rule,” which holds that you can safely withdraw that amount annually in retirement.

Very few understood the risk of investing in bonds. Only 39 percent knew that a bond’s value falls when interest rates rise – a key risk for bondholders in this ultra-low-rate environment.

If you fall into this category and want to find out what help is available, contact us.  We’ll be glad to chat; no sales pitch and no pressure.

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The retirement savings crisis

Banker’s Life commissioned a survey that’s troubling for baby boomers, people aged 50 to 68. The survey says that middle income boomers have saved too little. Only 13 percent have investable assets of $500,000 or more. More than half (54 percent) have less than $100,000, and one-third (34 percent) have assets of less than $25,000.

What does this mean for boomers? Many will have only Social Security income after retirement. Some will also have pensions. And over half expect to continue working after age 65.

This should be a wake-up call for people younger than baby boomers. When boomers entered the work force many of the big companies offered pension plans. That number is fast dwindling. So younger workers will be even more dependent that their elders on their own savings.

Social security is also a problem. The number of workers contributing to the system has been declining relative to those receiving benefits. At some point in the future, benefits will have to be cut or taxes will have to go up to levels that will be politically unsustainable.

The lesson for the children and grandchildren of the baby boomers is to save more and invest wisely. And begin now.

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How do financial planners add value to workers seeking to retire?

The November 2014 issue of the Journal of Financial Planning published an article by two professors, Terrance K. Martin Jr., Ph.D.; and Michael Finke, Ph.D., CFP® “A Comparison of Retirement Strategies and Financial Planner Value”

They conducted a study to determine if – and how – financial planners made a difference in how well people retired.

Financial literacy and planning is much more important today than ever before.  The last two decades has seen a dramatic shift in how people prepare for retirement. A generation ago, most employees worked for companies that provided pensions as an employee benefit. The company took care of investing for their employees’ retirement. The employee was guaranteed a pension income when they retired.

That’s no longer the case. The responsibility for funding retirement has shifted from employers to employees. The (defined benefit) pension is out, the (defined contribution) 401(k) is in. But that’s a problem.

“Only 38 percent of all private workers participate in employer sponsored defined contribution plans, and just 14 percent of Americans are confident in their ability to retire comfortably.”

“Greater employee responsibility for funding retirement means that individuals, rather than pension professionals, must estimate how much saving is needed to provide an adequate retirement income … A lack of financial knowledge and sophistication among many American workers may contribute to inefficient retirement savings … Most American households cannot maintain a constant level of consumption in retirement with their current retirement savings … and one-third of retirees obtain 90 percent of their income from Social Security, according to 2012 data from the Social Security Administration.

The study was intended to determine what value financial planners brought to workers saving for retirement.  There were three main benefits.

  1. Professional financial planners can help households accurately estimate the amount of retirement income needed to fund household retirement goals.
    • Most people have heard the old adage that if you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there. Without a specific goal most people save too little. Studies have shown that young households aged 35 to 45 save 9% to 19% less than they should. Another study estimated that the median household needs to save 20% more than they do.
  2. A financial planner can provide a financial plan that provides the steps needed to meet a retirement goal, review progress regularly, and make appropriate adjustments.
    • Planning for retirement begins with an analysis of current assets, the mix of assets needed to achieve the retirement financial income, and the savings rate to meet the goal. The financial planner will use an investment strategy consistent with economic theory and “help reduce a client’s behavioral biases.” The professional financial adviser will help the client overcome the anxiety that comes from market volatility.
  3. Working with a financial planner helps the worker become aware of the consequences of low savings and help overcome the biases that many people have against participation in the financial markets.
    • Financial literacy surveys show that most American workers don’t have the investment knowledge to make effective retirement savings decisions. The simple process of process of calculating retirement income makes people realize that they have not been saving enough for retirement. A major value of working with a financial planner is to be shown the difference between current and optimal retirement saving.

To understand the value of a financial planner it is important to distinguish between types of financial advisors. Many who hold themselves out as advisors are stockbrokers or investment managers. The ones who have the biggest impact on retirement savings behavior take a holistic approach, making the plan and the goal the center of the relationship. They take the time to explain the complex choices involved in creating the appropriate portfolios.  They are typically RIAs.

Here’s the bottom line:

Results indicate consistent evidence that a retirement planning strategy and the use of a financial planner can have a sizable impact on retirement savings. Those who had calculated retirement needs and used a financial planner (which likely captures those who used a comprehensive planner who follows a more thorough planning process that includes retirement needs assessment) generated more than 50 percent greater savings than those who estimated retirement needs on their own without the help of a planner.

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Companies Offering “Financial Wellness” Benefits.

Companies offer benefits to their employees to attract better employees. It’s also a way to encourage good employees to stay. The range of benefits has expanded to include financial wellness.

Financial wellness is becoming an important priority for many companies. Money troubles can distract employees from their jobs. Merideth, Inc., publisher of such magazines as Better Homes and Gardens and Ladies Home Journal, does more than offer employees a 401(k). It reimburses eligible employees for the services of a financial counselor.

A number of companies help their top executives as well as their over-50 employees with their financial planning. They realize that they don’t want these experienced, highly paid employees to spend their time studying investment guides or wondering how to invest their retirement plan. Employees who suffer from money worries get sick more often, do not perform as well, and are apt to be absent. By offering to pay the fees of a financial advisor, these companies – for a relatively modest investment – reward their employees and boost productivity.

The typical company offers workshops for their employees, being careful that these meetings do not turn into a sales pitch.  If an employee decides that they wish to work with a particular financial advisor, they sign a separate form stating that they are entering an agreement separately, not as part of a company sponsored solicitation.

The advisor is almost always fee-only and often an independent RIA (Registered Investment Advisor).

If your company wants to offer financial wellness benefits, contact us.

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