Category: individual investor

DIY Retirement

The Risks of Do-It-Yourself Retirement Plans

Do-It-Yourself Retirement Planning?

A report recently published by the Federal Reserve Bank on the economic well-being of U.S. households discusses what people have saved for retirement versus what they will actually need, commonly known as the “retirement gap.”  The survey found that only 47 percent of DIY investors were comfortable with handling their own 401(k)s, IRAs or other outside retirement accounts.

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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.

Mutual Fund Shares and Why They’re 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.

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.

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.

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.

Three Ways to Stay Financially Healthy Well into Your 90s

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 and the hospital become more frequent.  There’s also the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s that so many suffer from.  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.

We should face these issues squarely, especially as we approach retirement.  Too many people refuse to face these possibilities and instead hope that things will work out.  As the saying goes, “hope is not a plan.”

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 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 your 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 a 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.

Why do smart people use financial advisors?

What is the real value to hiring a financial advisor, and who uses them?  What is the value proposition?  What makes one car with four doors and wheels worth $300,000 and other $30,000?  Although we might have an answer, the answer differs from person to person.

People use financial advisors for many reasons.  Some use them because they absolutely need them, others because they want them. Paying a fee for advice and guidance to a professional who uses the tools and tactics of a CFP™ (CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™) and an experienced Registered Investment Advisor who is a fiduciary can add meaningful value compared to what the average investor experiences.

Many middle-class investors are anxious about their finances and are not interested in learning the details of managing their money.  This anxiety often results with money left on the sidelines because they don’t know what to do or are afraid of making mistakes. That means earning a fraction of 1% at the bank when the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) is up over 25% in the last 12 months.

There are others who are interested in learning about investing and may want to hire an advisor to “look over their shoulder.”  They want to hire an “investment coach.”

A third category are people who hire professionals because they are busy doing things that are more important to them: building a career or a business, being with family, or living an active retirement.  They hire an expert to manage their money the same way they hire a lawyer for estate planning, a CPA to prepare their taxes, and a doctor to keep them healthy.

A fourth category is people who were making their own investment decisions but ended up making a huge financial mistake.  This leads me to a story about a really smart, highly paid high tech executive who is very knowledgeable about investing; but he hired an advisor:

It’s not because he lacks the knowledge or interest, obviously. Rather, he figured out he had behavioral blind spots and understood he was at risk of great financial loss. He’s paying someone just to take that risk off his plate.

Determining your goals, controlling risk, managing portfolios well, and knowing your limitations – knowing you have “blind spots” – has led many smart people to hire an advisor.

Vanguard, the hugely successful purveyor or no-load mutual funds (that appeal to do-it-yourselfers) estimates that a financial advisor is worth about 3% net in annual returns.  They attribute this to the seven services that a good advisor provides:

  1. Creating a suitable asset allocation strategy.
  2. Cost-effective implementation.
  3. Rebalancing
  4. Behavioral coaching
  5. Asset location
  6. Spending strategy.
  7. Total return versus income investing.

If you have an advisor but he is not meeting your objectives, ask us for a second opinion.  If you don’t have an advisor but may want one, we offer a free one-hour consultation to see if we are compatible.

What’s the Difference Between an IRA and a Roth IRA

A questioner on Investopedia.com asks:

I contribute about 10% to my 401k. I want to know more about Roth IRAs. I have one with my company, but haven’t contributed any percentage yet as I am not sure how much I should contribute. What exactly is a Roth IRA? Additionally, what is the ideal contribution to a 401k for someone making $48K a year?

Here was my reply:

A Roth IRA is a retirement account.  It differs from a regular IRA in two important aspects.  First the negative: you do not get a tax deduction for contributing to a Roth IRA.  But there is a big positive: you do not have to pay taxes on money you take out during retirement.  And, like a regular IRA, your money grows sheltered from taxes.  There’s also another bonus to Roth IRAs: unlike regular IRAs, there are no rules requiring you to take annual required minimum distributions (RMDs) from your Roth IRA, even after you reach age 70 1/2.

In general, the tax benefits of being able to get money out of a Roth IRA outweigh the advantages of the immediate tax deduction you get from making a contribution to a regular IRA.  The younger you are and the lower your tax bracket, the bigger the benefit of a Roth IRA.

There is no “ideal” contribution to a 401k plan unless there is a company match.  You should always take full advantage of a company match because it is  essentially “free money” that the company gives you.

The Trouble with 401(k) Plans

assets.sourcemedia.com

The 401(k) plan is now the primary retirement plan for employees in the private sector and Ted Benna isn’t happy.  Benna is regarded as the “father” of the 401(k) plan but now he calls his child a “monster.”

There are several problems modern with 401(k) type plans.

  1. They are too complicated. The typical 401(k) plan has dozens of investment options. These are often included to satisfy government regulatory demands for broad diversification.  For the plan sponsor, who has a fiduciary responsibility, more is better.  However, for the typical worker, this just creates confusion.  He or she is not an expert in portfolio construction.  Investment choices are often made when an employee gets a new job and there are other things that are more pressing than creating the perfect portfolio.  Which leads to the second problem.
  1. Employees are given too little information. Along with a list of funds available to the employee, the primary information provided is the past performance of the funds in the plan.  However, we are constantly reminded that past performance is no guarantee of future results.  But if past performance is the main thing that the employee goes by, he or she will often invest in high-flying funds that are likely to expose them to the highest risk, setting them up for losses when the market turns.
  1. There are no in-house financial experts available to employees. Employee benefits departments are not equipped to provide guidance to their employees; that’s not their function.  In fact, they are discouraged from providing any information beyond the list of investment options and on-line links to mutual fund prospectuses.  Doing more exposes the company to liability if the employee becomes unhappy.

What’s the answer?  Until there are major revisions to 401(k) plans, it’s up to the employee to get help.  One answer is to meet with a financial advisor – an RIA – who is able and willing to accept the responsibility of providing advice and creating an appropriate portfolio using the options available in the plan.  There will probably be a fee associated with this advice, but the result should be a portfolio that reflects the employee’s financial goals and risk tolerance.

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Korving & Company, Investment Management, Suffolk, VA

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