Tag Archives: education

The Retirement Dilemma Facing American Workers

illustrated-financial-roadmap-750

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

The guaranteed pension has been replaced by a defined contribution plan.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

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

Social Security and Medicare Concerns

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

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

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

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

Funding Your Own Retirement

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

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

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

Financial Education is Key

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

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

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

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Retirement Plan Contribution Limits for 2016

One of the most common questions we get from clients throughout the year has to do with retirement plan contribution limits.  We put together this quick-reference chart, which shows the limits for most people:

2016 IRS Retirement Plan Contribution Limits

Not much has changed from 2015, except that the income limits for Roth IRA contributions have increased by $1,000.

For the official IRS announcement, click this link to the IRS website.

If you want more clarification on what all of the above means for you, contact us.

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

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

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

IRA Contribution Month

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

Procrastination Penalty

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

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Oh No They Didn’t!

The big financial news of the moment is that the Fed decided not to raise interest rates, though 13 of 17 Federal Reserve officials say that they see a rate hike by the end of the year.  In their statement, they cited “recent global economic and financial developments” as their reason not to raise rates today.  However, Chairwoman Janet Yellen cautioned that people should not “overplay the implications of these recent developments,” saying that they “have not fundamentally altered” the Fed’s outlook on the economy.  All of this leads us to believe that we are likely to see a similar media build-up around the Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) December 15-16 meeting.  (There is another FOMC meeting scheduled for October 27-28, but at this point, there is no press briefing currently scheduled for that meeting.)

Whenever the Fed finally does raise rates, expect it to be a very SLOW process.  Ms. Yellen alluded to as much when she said, “the stance of monetary policy will likely remain highly accommodative for quite some time after the initial increase in the federal funds rate.”  Charles Schwab’s Liz Ann Sonders provided the following chart, which bodes well for the stock markets (unless we are all wrong and the Fed suddenly starts hiking rates quickly):

Interest Rates

As we wrote just the other day, we expect the Fed to increase rates and would have preferred to see them do it sooner rather than later.  The rate increase is widely expected to be in 0.25% increments, which should not have any significant effects on the economy.

Following the Fed’s stand-pat announcement, the stock market actually declined slightly (and futures are down as we write this morning), indicating that their position is being interpreted as an indication that the Fed does not have total confidence in the strength of the economy.

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Virginia Pre-Paid Tuition: What You Need to Know

Virginia offers a prepaid tuition program to residents looking to save for future college educational costs, called Virginia529 prePAID.  The plan allows you to prepay future tuition and mandatory fees for Virginia colleges or universities.  However, there are several catches that you must be aware of that make this college savings option somewhat tricky to plan around.

You can only open accounts during a limited enrollment period each year.  Either the account owner or beneficiary must be a Virginia resident when opening the account.  This is not a big hurdle, but it is something that you should know.

You purchase the credits in semester increments, and this is where things really start to get confusing.

  • First, you can only buy the credits from the child’s birth through the time they complete the ninth grade.  After the beneficiary has completed the ninth grade, you can no longer purchase any more prepaid tuition credits for them.
  • Next, when purchasing semester credits, you can purchase either Tier1 or Tier2 credits.  Tier1 credits cover one semester of tuition at a Virginia public four-year college, where Tier2 credits cover one semester of tuition at a Virginia two-year or community college.  Applying a Tier1 credit to a Tier2 school will cover more than a semester of tuition, while applying a Tier2 credit to a Tier1 school will cover less than a semester of tuition.
  • Furthermore, if you apply either Tier1 or Tier2 credits to an out-of-state college or a private college (even a Virginia private college), the credits do not necessarily transfer one-for-one and your pre-paid tuition might be worth less than what you thought it would be.

Those things, in our opinion, make planning around the Virginia pre-paid tuition plan very difficult.  Before the ninth grade, college planning is a distant goal.  Narrowing down college choices is something that probably very few people sit around and do with their 4th grader.  Knowing where that child will eventually decide to go to school, or even whether your family will still live in-state when that 4th grader eventually heads off to college, is a wild guess for most.  Even if your child loves one particular school, knowing whether they will eventually be able to make it into that school is a whole other issue.

The benefit to the plan, and its allure, is that you can lock in the future tuition and fee payments now so that you will not have to worry about whether tuition prices continue their rapid increase.  However, you should at least be aware of some of the potential pitfalls involved with the plan before jumping in.  For more information, visit the Virginia prePAID plan website, or feel free to contact us.

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8 Things Every Parent Should Know About 529 College Savings Plans

We often are asked by parents (or grandparents) of young children about college savings plans.  529 college savings plans offer tax-advantaged ways to save for the various costs of higher education.  While these plans have a lot of name recognition, many people still have questions about the details.  Since it is the first day of school for most kids here in Virginia, it seemed an appropriate time for us to share these eight things you should know about 529 college savings plans:

  1. Earnings on 529s are tax-free, as are withdrawals, as long as you use the money for qualified educational expenses.  Qualified expenses include tuition and fees, books, room and board, supplies, and even computer-related expenses.
  2. There are no income restrictions to open and contribute to a 529 account.  Even high-income earners can open and fund college savings plans.
  3. The money in a 529 account can be used towards in-state or out-of-state schools, both public and private.
  4. The contribution amounts are very high: you can contribute up to $350,000 per beneficiary into a 529 account.  (Keep in mind that you will need to get a little deeper into gift tax rules if you intend to contribute more than $14,000 to a 529 account in any one calendar year.  You can do it, but you should know the rules first.)
  5. The beneficiary is portable.  If your child decides they want to do something else instead of going to college, you can name someone else the beneficiary (sibling, first cousin, grandparent, aunt, uncle, or yourself).  You do not need to decide on a new beneficiary the moment that your child decides not to go to college.  For instance, you could hold onto it and eventually name your grandchildren the beneficiaries.
  6. Charitable family members can contribute to an existing 529 account that you own or set up their own 529 and name your child as beneficiary.
  7. In Virginia, putting money into a 529 plan has the added bonus of providing a state tax deduction for contributions up to $4,000.  Thirty-three other states also offer state tax deductions for contributing to a 529.
  8. If your child gets a scholarship, you will not lose the money.  You can use the plan to cover expenses that the scholarship does not, such as books, room and board, or other supplies.  You can keep the plan open in case your child goes on to graduate school.  You can change the beneficiary and name another college-bound relative.  A final option would be to simply cash out the plan.  Doing so would subject you to income tax and a 10% penalty on the earnings.  If you were feeling generous, you could name your child the owner and let them cash it out at their (presumably) lower tax rate.

If you have questions, or are interested in finding out how to start a 529 plan, please let us know!

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On Recent Market Volatility. An Open Letter to Our Clients.

And you thought we saw volatility last Thursday and Friday?…

It is normal to for you to wonder how all of this volatility affects your wealth.  As we are hearing it, China seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s market’s back.  Other forces added to the weight, including uncertainty over the timing of the Fed raising interest rates and the Greek debacle.  However, we do not think that any of these things are cause for long-term concern regarding your portfolios.  If you are feeling some stress because of the recent market volatility, remember:

Stock markets are supposed to go up and down

There have been over a dozen market pullbacks of at least 5% since March 2009, so this isn’t unprecedented.  We all realize that stocks are inherently volatile investments, and we must accept the fact in order to earn the expected higher long-term returns.  You have all undoubtedly heard us preach asset allocation and the importance of having a long-term, strategic view.  Your portfolio is invested in a model based on your unique financial and personal circumstances.  It is important to take the long view and realize that it is typical for bull markets to have corrections of 5% – 10%.

Market timing is a sucker’s game

None of us has a crystal ball.  Not even the traders and speculators on TV that want you to think that they do.  Luckily, you do not need a crystal ball to be a successful investor.  In times like these, it is best to keep your cool and stay invested.  Studies consistently show that missing just a few days of strong returns can affect your performance dramatically.  It is important to stay disciplined and not make short-term trading decisions based on fear and emotion.

Your portfolios are properly diversified

This is our most important point.  As we mentioned, we have invested your money in an appropriate allocation for you, so those investments that have not done as well as the stock indices the past couple of years (looking at you, bonds) should help cushion the blow from this market correction.  That is exactly why they are in there.  Having a mix of different types of investments is like having shocks and struts on your car – these things provide a smoother and more stable ride for your portfolio.  When the stock markets are going great, these other investments do cause drag, but we do not invest to beat an arbitrary benchmark, rather we invest to help you achieve your financial goals with the least amount of risk possible.

The things that are causing this correction are just noise

China is slowing.  So what?  To say that their growth rate is slowing is admitting that they are still growing, just at a slower pace.  Did anyone really expect them to grow at 20% per year forever?  Moreover, if you look at it from a numbers perspective, exports to China only account for 0.7% of U.S. GDP.

The Yuan is falling.  Just a few months ago weren’t the talking heads lamenting the thought of the Chinese yuan as the world’s new reserve currency?  Now that talking heads who brought you that idea are being proven wrong, they want you to believe that this is supposed to be bad, too?  Which is it that we are supposed to fear again?  We wrote a blog piece about this last week, so we won’t go into great detail rehashing it here, but our general reaction is, again: So what?

The Fed is going to raise interest rates. (Eventually.)  It was not that long ago that tapering was supposed to bring financial ruin to us all…  Look, we all know that the Fed is eventually going to raise rates.  We can argue about the timing, but whenever it finally happens and the federal funds rate increases by 0.25%, does anyone really think that will keep Apple from introducing the latest re-iteration of their products?  Or keep anyone from buying them?

We realize that we have been having some fun with things that may cause some of you serious concern.  What we do not take lightly as your advisors and financial fiduciaries is the amount of concern and care we place on your financial well-being.  In times like these, it is important to stay calm and avoid making hasty decisions that could harm you financially.  We will continue to monitor your portfolios with vigilance, and as always, please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions or concerns.

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Lifestyle and Financial Success – Some Examples

I read an article recently about a woman with a PhD from Harvard, held a high government position in the Treasury Department and worked at the Federal Reserve. You would think that this person would be smart about finances and investments.

You would be wrong. She messed up, but was able to recover.

Academic skills and executive level jobs – in or out of government – don’t automatically translate into wise lifestyle decisions and certainly not wise investment decisions. Having a high paying job provides you with the opportunity to save for retirement. But for too many people it provides for an extravagant lifestyle.

You may never have heard of Curtis James Jackson III, but if you are familiar with the current music scene you may have heard of “50 Cent.” He is reputed to have earned about $30 million a year but he just filed for bankruptcy claiming he owes between $10 and $50 million to his creditors.

How does this sort of thing happen? Some of it could be the result of poor investment decisions. But lifestyle is the primary reason that highly paid entertainment figures, athletes and the like go broke. They spend money on expensive things – homes, cars, planes – entertainment, and on “posses” (friends and hangers-on) who they support not realizing that their money is not literally endless.

Of course “50 Cent” is not typical, but the woman who we discussed at the beginning of this essay had the same problem,  on a smaller scale. She and her husband had a huge home that absorbed a lot of their income. There was a big mismatch between their current lifestyle and the savings that were supposed to support them in retirement. In addition, they kept too much of their savings in cash or cash-equivalents because, while they were educated, they were not investment experts.

We have met too many couples who are in their 50s, are earning $150,000 to $350,000 a year, and want to retire in about a decade. But they have not really focused enough on asset gathering. Their lifestyle absorbs most of their income and their investment decisions have lacked a plan.

Does this mean that retirement for them is bleak? No. But it requires facing some facts about lifestyle, savings and investing that will require some smart decisions. This is the point at which a good financial planner and advisor can help people get their financial life in order, before it’s too late.

If this sounds like someone you know, give us a call. We may be able to help.

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What are the least expensive cars to insure.

When you get ready to buy that new car one of the issues you should consider is: how much is it going to cost to insure? Insurance rates vary widely by state, the age of the driver, the driver’s accident history and the kind of car her or she drives. All things being equal, cars that are less expensive to repair and have fewer claims cost less to insure.

Below is a list compiled by “insure.com” for a 40 year-old male with a good driving record. The premium is the average of premiums throughout the country.

10.Ford Escape S 2WD
$1,190 average annual premium

9.Smart FORTWO Pure
$1,186 average annual premium

8.Ford Edge SE 2WD
$1,176 average annual premium

7.Subaru Outback 2.5i (tie with No. 8)
$1,176 average annual premium

6.Jeep Compass Sport 2WD
$1,164 average annual premium

5.Honda Odyssey LX
$1,163 average annual premium

4.Dodge Grand Caravan SE Plus
$1,162 average annual premium

3.Honda CR-V LX 4WD
$1,160 average annual premium

2.Jeep Patriot Sport 2WD
$1,136 average annual premium

1.Jeep Wrangler Sport 4WD
$1,134 average annual premium

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