Category: Income

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.

Are Retirees Focused on the Wrong Thing in Their Portfolios?

According to a recent study, a middle class couple aged 65 has a 43% chance that one of them will live to age 95. The challenge for this couple is to continue to enjoy their lifestyle and have enough money to live worry-free. Once you stop working you are dependent on income sources like pensions, annuities, social security payments and withdrawals from the savings you have accumulated over the years.

Most of these retirement income sources are fixed once we retire and are out of our control. It’s the retirement savings component that has people concerned. Most retirees don’t want to run out of money before they run out of time. For many they, themselves, are the income source that makes the difference between just getting by and enjoying life. Many retirees focus on the dividends and interest that their portfolios create. That may not be the best answer. Let’s examine the problems associated with this approach.

For the last five years the interest rate on high quality bonds (and CDs) has been close to zero. People who have chosen the “safety” of U.S. Treasury bonds or CDs have actually lost purchasing power after you take inflation and taxes into consideration. The same holds true for owners of tax-free municipal bonds. Those who bought bonds 10, 15, even 20 year ago when interest rates were higher have realized that bonds eventually come due. And when bonds mature, new bonds pay whatever the current interest rate is. That has meant a huge drop in income for many people who depend largely on interest payments.

Dividend payments are also subject to disruption. The financial crisis of 2008 was devastating for many investors. Those who owned bank stocks were particularly impacted. Bank stocks were a favorite for many income investors at that time because they produced lots of dividend income. Most banks slashed or eliminated their dividends, and some went out of business completely. Even companies that were not considered banks, like General Electric, were forced to cut their dividends. Dividends are nice income sources, especially in a low interest rate environment, but they are not guaranteed and you have to be careful about having too much of your portfolio concentrated in any one stock or industry.

The preferred method of planning for withdrawals from retirement savings is to take a “total return” approach. Total return refers to the growth in value of a portfolio from all sources, not just dividends and interest but also capital appreciation. In many cases, capital appreciation provides more return than either dividends or interest.

So how does one go about taking an income from a total return portfolio? Many advisors use 4% as a good starting point for withdrawals. That means for every $100,000 in your portfolio you withdraw $4,000 (4%) per year to live on while investing the rest. The goal is to invest the portfolio is such a way that over the long term, the growth offsets the withdrawals you are taking. It’s like a farmer harvesting a crop, leaving enough so that your portfolio has the chance to actually grow a little over time.

Of course, as we age other factors enter into our lives and the retirement equation, often headlined by medical problems related to aging. We will deal with these issues in another essay.

"Will a Stock Market Drop Affect My Dividend Payments?"

We got this question from a client of ours earlier this week in response to the stock market’s wild market ride.  It is a great question!
The quick and easy answer is “No, it shouldn’t.”  And we could pretty much stop right there.  But if you know us, you know we love to get into the explanation!  So here it goes…
Let’s go back to the very start, with “What is a dividend?”  A dividend is a payment of a portion of a company’s earnings distributed to the company’s shareholders.  Dividends typically are paid in cash, and the company’s board of directors decides the amount distributed.
Now the next question would be, “What causes a company to raise or lower their dividend?”  The answer is cash flow.  It all comes down to earnings and profitability and how much money the company has remaining after paying for all the things that keep it running, such as salaries, research and development, marketing, etc.  After those expenses and the dividend payment, the remaining profits go back into the company.
When a company pays a dividend, their board is essentially deciding that reinvesting all of the company’s profits to achieve further growth will not offer the shareholders as high a return as a dividend distribution.  That said, companies offer a dividend as extra enticement for investors to buy their stock.  Moreover, a steadily increasing dividend payout is an indication of a successful company.
Therefore, it stands to reason that a company’s steady or increasing profitability will typically lead to steady or increasing dividend rates, and a decline in profitability will lead to that company reducing or eliminating their dividends.  Most U.S. companies are loathe to reduce their dividend rates because it signals to investors that their profits are lagging, which results in their stock price getting pummeled.  And that is not a good thing for their company’s board or management.
The final long-winded answer: You will often see companies cut their dividends when there is a severe economic crash, but not in reaction to a market correction.  Since dividends are not a function of stock price, market fluctuations and stock price fluctuations on their own do not affect a company’s dividend payments.
If you have a question, feel free to send it our way!
(Here is an interesting tidbit: the term “dividend” comes from the Latin word dividendum, which means “thing to be divided.”  With a dividend, companies are dividing their profits up among shareholders.)

The Importance of Having an Exit Plan for Your Retirement

I was speaking with a prominent surgeon recently, and the subject of a career “exit plan” came up.  He’s not yet 60, but he’s got a stressful job.  In addition, changes in the medical field over the past decade have made practicing medicine less attractive to him.  His exit plan was a combination of retirement and a second career.
The conversation stayed with me for a few days, and I wrote down some ideas that could help him — or anyone — craft a proper exit plan.
When you retire, your income stops.  Even if you begin a second career, your income will probably decline.  The money you’ve saved suddenly becomes much more important because it’s the source of much of your retirement income.  Avoiding major losses becomes more important than making those savings grow further.
Our surgeon has investment accounts with a number of brokerage firms and is thinking of consolidating them with one provider.  We suggested he select the financial advisor he would most trust to provide investment management for his wife if he was no longer there.  By thinking of it this way, he can determine whom he sees as most trustworthy.
Consider how your own financial advisor is compensated.  There is nothing inherently wrong with working for commissions, but in my experience it can’t help but influence the advisor’s investment recommendations.  The “fee-only” advisor has fewer conflicts of interest.  In fact, advisors who are compensated based on the assets they manage have an incentive to avoid losses and maximize growth.
There is also the question of qualifications.  Some people in the business have broad planning and investment skills and are Certified Financial Planners.  Some are experienced portfolio analysts.
The cornerstone of an exit plan is a comprehensive financial plan.  It should articulate specific goals.  It should make reasonable assumptions about rates of growth, the rate of inflation going forward and your post-retirement income needs.  Without it, you’re flying blind.  And it’s not something you can draw up on the back of an envelope.  The plan may show that you can meet all your goals without changing your lifestyle.  It may show that you need to cut back.  Or it may show that you need a second career.
The time to begin this process is before you take the plunge.  It allows you to look before you leap.

How do you get income with interest rates as low as they are?

I was reminded recently how low interest rates were when I downloaded my investment account activity into Quicken. Each account with a money market balance received a few pennies worth of interest, not enough to buy a cup of coffee. Certainly not enough to buy a Happy Meal. The average money market fund yields 0.02%. Every $1,000 investment will give you 20 cents in a year. And that’s before taxes. You could make more money collecting bottles at the side of the road.

There are some alternatives. One way is to invest for growth and forget about income. You can always spend some of the growth when you need the money.

But for those who want to see income flowing into their accounts, there’s always the “Dogs of the Dow.” The “Dogs” are members of the 30 Dow Jones industrial average with the highest dividend yields. This may be the result of a drop in prices, hence the name. For example, two of the highest yielding stocks in the DJIA are oil stocks which have declined in price even as they increased their dividends.

The current yield on the “Dogs” portfolio is over 3.5% and last year the total return (dividends plus capital appreciation) was over 10%. For more information on this strategy, contact us.

Family Business Financial Planning

A family business is one of the ways that individuals build something of value for themselves and their family. Suffolk is a great example of a community where family owned restaurants, hardware stores, gift shops, bike shops, jewelry, sporting goods, clothing and furniture stores line the streets. Suffolk has its national chains, but its most recognizable businesses – in the pork and peanut industry – began as family businesses.

These family shops often provide a comfortable living as well as job opportunities for family members of the founders. Whether they stay small and local or grow into large businesses, there are challenges that everyone running a business has to face.

The first is competition. For every business there is a better financed competitor. The supermarket doomed the family-run grocery store. Wal Mart is a feared competitor for anyone selling groceries, clothing, furniture, electronics, toys, eyeglasses; and now it’s even getting into banking.

The second challenge is a bad economy. Many communities have seen their downtowns shuttered when local industry left. The businesses depending on housing have still not fully recovered from the crash of 2008.

Finally, most small businesses are very dependent on one or a few key people. If the children don’t want to get into the business when the parents are ready to retire, the business often closes. There is no guarantee that a business can be sold when they owner is ready to retire. Unless the owner has prepared for this, the financial results can be devastating.

For all these reasons, the family business owner has to make sure that they have prepared themselves financially for life after the business. Succession planning is critically important and should be part of the business plan from the moment the business is started. If a business is a partnership, buy-sell agreements should be in place to avoid complications from the death of a partner. If a business is going to be passed along to children, the owners should be clear about the division of assets. Otherwise there is likely to be wrangling – or even lawsuits – over who is entitled to what.

Most people in business choose to convert from individual proprietorships to limited liability companies. This protects the business owners’ personal assets in case of a lawsuit against the business. Some convert to “Chapter C” corporations for tax purposes. If a company wants to grow even larger, it may want to raise cash by “going public” and selling shares to the general public.

One of the most common mistakes that business owners make is to invest too much of their money in the business. It’s a fact that a family business is a high-risk enterprise. Competition, the economy – even a change in traffic patterns – can bring a business to its knees. Building an investment portfolio should go hand-in-hand with building a business. When most of your money is tied up in your business you are making the same mistake as the investor who owns only one stock. Diversification reduces risk and provides a safety net. Factors that are out of your control could end up severely damaging your business value, thereby crippling your total savings and your future goals and ambitions.

In addition to the traditional savings and investment accounts, the tax code provides many ways for business owners to put money aside in a variety of tax-deferred accounts such as SEP-IRAs, 401(k) plans, and SIMPLE-IRA plans. As a business owner you can even set up a “Defined Benefit Plan” which works much like a traditional pension.

There are a great many things that running a business entails beyond offering customers a great product or service. People who start a business are usually focused on this aspect of the business. But to insure that the business – and the family – survives and thrives, business owners should seek the assistance and guidance of a team consisting of an attorney, an accountant and a financial planner. They may be in the background, but they are critical for the financial success of the family business.

Preparing for the unexpected.

What happens if you have to live on less income because you lost your job or your spouse died? The economy has not been kind to many people and job loss can happen before we’re ready to retire. That’s when a financial advisor can help.

It can be tough to find a good paying job if you’re within a decade of retirement age.  Companies are reluctant to hire you.  You may be wondering what you should do when you realize that the best path is early retirement. Where can you cut back? How should your money be invested for an extra-long retirement? These are all questions that you should not tackle on your own because the wrong decision at this age can haunt you a few years down the road.

If the major breadwinner in your family dies how will the survivor cope? One 61-year-old woman left work to care for her dying husband. After his death she could not return to work but had a lot of decisions to make. Decisions about social security, insurance, where to cut back (fewer trips, sell the motorcycle and the RV), as well as decisions about her investments.

Each case is unique, but a financial advisor should be more than a money manager. He should advise his clients about all aspects of their lives that impact their financial well-being. Ideally you will have developed a good relationship with a financial advisor before an unfortunate event occurs. But if you have not, this is definitely the time to find one.

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