Objective information about financial planning, investments, and retirement plans

Retirement Investors: Poor Timing and Short Memories?

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A recent Wall Street Journal article Retirement Investors Flock Back to Stocks (not behind their paywall as I write this) discussed how retirement savers are putting more money into stocks.  Nothing like waiting for the stock market rally to pass its fifth anniversary, with many of the major market averages in record territory, to get retail investors interested in the stock market.  Two excerpts from this article:

“Stocks accounted for 67% of employees’ new contributions into retirement portfolios in March, according to the most-recent data from Aon Hewitt, which tracks 401(k) data for 1.3 million people at large corporations.” 

What cash I have, I’m going to use to buy more if the market dips,” said Roy Chastain, a 68-year-old retiree in Sacramento, Calif., who put an extra 10% of his retirement account into stocks in September, bringing his total stock allocation to 80%.  Mr. Chastain, who had put all his retirement assets into cash in May 2008, has gradually rebuilt his stockholdings.” 

If I understand Mr. Chastain’s situation, he sold out about half way through the market decline, he likely missed a good part of the ensuing market run-up, and now he’s bulking up on stocks 5+ years into the market rally.  I sincerely hope this all works out for him.

 What’s wrong with this picture? 

Part of the rational cited in this article and elsewhere is that stocks appear to be the only game in town.  At one level it’s hard to argue.  Bonds appear to have run their course and with interest rates at record low levels there is seemingly nowhere for bond prices to go but down.

Alternatives, the new darling of the mutual fund industry have merit, but it is hard for most individual investors (and for many advisors) to separate the wheat from the chafe here.

But a 68 year old retiree with 80% of his retirement investments in stocks is this really a good idea?

I’m not advocating that anyone sell everything and go to cash or even that stocks aren’t a good place for a portion of your money.  What I am saying is that with the markets where they are investors need to be conscious of risk and at the very least invest in a fashion that is appropriate for their situation.

Can you say risk? 

With the stock market flirting with all-time highs and in year six of a torrid Bull Market I’m guessing things are a bit riskier than they were on March 9, 2009 when the S&P 500 bottomed out.

Let’s say an investor had a $500,000 portfolio with 80% in stocks and the rest in cash.  If stocks were to drop 57% as the S&P 500 did from October 9, 2007 through March 9, 2009 this would reduce the size of his portfolio to 272,000.

Not devastating if this investor is 45 years old with 15-20 years until retirement.  However if this investor is 68 and counting on this money to fund his retirement this could be a total game changer.  Let’s further assume this occurred just as this investor was starting retirement.

Using the classic 4% annual rule of thumb for retirement withdrawals (for discussion only retirees should not rely on this or any rule of thumb), this investor could have reasonably withdrawn $20,000 annually from his nest egg prior to this market decline.  After the 57% loss on the equity portion this amount would have declined to $10,880 a drop of 45.6%.

Assuming this retiree had other sources of income such as Social Security and perhaps a pension the damage is somewhat mitigated.  Still this type of loss in a retiree’s portfolio would be a disaster that could have been partially avoided.

Am I saying that the stock market will suffer another 57% decline?  While my crystal ball hasn’t been working well of late I’m guessing (hoping) this isn’t in the cards, but then again after the S&P 500 suffered a 49% drop from May 24, 2000 through October 9, 2002 many folks (myself included) felt like another market decline of this magnitude wasn’t going to happen anytime soon.

Diversification still matters 

I agree with those who say investing in bonds will likely not result in gains over the next few years.  But given their low correlation to stocks and relatively lower volatility than stocks, bonds (or bond mutual funds) can still be a key diversifying tool in building a portfolio.

When I read an article like the Wall Street Journal piece referenced above or hear “experts” advocating the same thing on the cable financial news shows I just have to wonder if investor’s memories are really this short.

Individual investors are historically notorious for their bad market timing.  Is this another case of bad timing fueled by greed and a short memory?  Are you willing to bet your retirement that the markets will keep going up?  Or perhaps you think that you might be able to get out before the big market correction.

Perhaps you should consider doing some financial planning to include an appropriate investment allocation for your stage of life and your real risk tolerance.

Please check out our Book Store for books on financial planning, retirement, and related topics as well as any Amazon shopping needs you may have (or just click on the link below).  The Chicago Financial Planner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.  If you click on my Amazon.com links and buy anything, even something other than the product advertised, I earn a small fee, yet you don’t pay any extra.

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss  all of your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services.

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A Pre-Retirement Financial Checklist

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Are you within a few years of retirement? It’s time to get your financial house in order. Here are several items to include on your pre-retirement financial checklist.

 Review your company benefits  

Your 401(k) plan might be your largest and most significant employee benefit, but there may be others to consider as well. Does your company offer any sort of retiree medical coverage? Are there other benefits that you can continue at reduced group rates?

In the case of your 401(k) you will have choices to make at retirement.  You will need to determine if you want to leave it with your soon-to-be-former employer, roll it into an IRA, or take a distribution. The last choice will likely result in a hefty tax bill, so this is generally not a good idea for most folks.

Do you have company stock options that you haven’t exercised? Check the rules here. Speaking of company stock, there are special rules called net unrealized appreciation to consider when dealing with company stock held in your 401(k) plan.

Do you have a pension from your current or former employer?

While a pension is certainly an employee benefit, I feel that it deserved its own section.  You might have several decisions to make with regard to your pension benefit if you are fortunate enough to be covered by one.

  • Do you take the benefit immediately upon retirement, or wait?
  • If you have the option, do you take the pension as a lump-sum and roll over to an IRA or take it as a monthly annuity?
  • Generally there will be several annuity payment options to consider, which one is right for your situation?  

These decisions should be made in the context of your overall financial situation and your ability to effectively manage a lump sum. Since any lump sum would be taxable, it is usually advisable for you to roll it over into a tax-deferred account such as an IRA. If you have earned a pension benefit from a former employer, be sure to contact your old company to get all of the details and to make sure they have your current address and contact information so there are no delays or glitches when you want to start drawing on this pension.

Determine your Social Security benefits and when to take them

While you can start taking Social Security at age 62, there is a significant reduction in your monthly benefit as opposed to waiting until your full retirement age. Further, if you can wait until age 70 your benefit level continues to grow. If you are married the planning should involve both spouses’ benefits. There are a number of sophisticated strategies surrounding couples and whose benefits to take and when so planning is very critical here.

Review all of your retirement financial resources 

Over the course of your working life you have likely accumulated a variety of investments and other assets that can be used to fund your retirement which might include:

  • Your 401(k) or similar retirement plan such as a 401(b) or other defined contribution plan.
  • IRA accounts, both traditional and Roth.
  • A pension.
  • Stock options or restricted stock units.
  • Social Security
  • Taxable investment accounts.
  • Cash, savings accounts, CDs, etc.
  • Annuities
  • Cash value in a life insurance policy
  • Inheritance
  • Interest in a business
  • Real estate
  • Any income from working into retirement    

Well prior to commencing your retirement it is a good idea to review all of your anticipated assets and determine how they can be best utilized to support your anticipated retirement lifestyle.

Determine how much you will need to support your retirement lifestyle 

While this might seem intuitive you’d be surprised how many folks within a few years of retirement haven’t done this. Basically you will want to put together a budget.  Will you stay in your home or downsize?  What activities will you engage in?  What will your basic living expenses be?  And so on.

Compare this to the income that your various retirement resources might generate for you and you will have a good idea if you will be able to support your desired lifestyle in retirement.  Further you will need to do some planning in terms of which financial resources and accounts to tap at various stages of your retirement.

This is a very cursory “checklist” for Baby Boomers and others within a few years of retirement. This might be a good point to engage the services of a fee-only financial advisor if you’ve never done a financial plan, or if your plan is out of date. Retirement can be a great time of life, but proper planning is required to help ensure your financial success.

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss all of your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services.

The Chicago Financial Planner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you click on my Amazon.com links and buy anything, even something other than the product advertised, I earn a small fee, yet you don’t pay any extra. Click on the Amazon banner below to go directly to the main site or check out the financial planning related selections in our Book Store.

 

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How Confident Are You About Retirement?

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Retirement Paradise

The Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) recently published their annual Retirement Confidence Survey.  A few highlights from the survey:

  • The number of workers who say they are confident that they will have enough money to live comfortably in retirement improved to 18% from 13% in the prior survey.
  • The percentage of retirees indicating that they were very confident that they would have enough money to live comfortably in retirement jumped from 18% to 28%.
  • Workers having money in a retirement plan such as an IRA, 401(k), or pension were more than twice as confident that they would have enough money in retirement (24% vs. 9%) than those not participating in a retirement plan of some sort.
  • Worker confidence decreased with higher levels of debt.
  • Worker confidence was higher among workers with higher levels of income. 

Surveys and overall statistics are great, but the reality is that your level of retirement confidence should be driven by your level of retirement readiness.

Retirement readiness questions 

In assessing your level of retirement readiness, ask yourself these questions:

  • How much do I have saved for retirement?
  • How much am I saving each year for retirement?
  • How much will I need to have accumulated by the time I retire to ensure a comfortable retirement?
  • How much will I spend annually in retirement?
  • What resources will I have available to fund retirement other than my nest egg?  This would include items such as a pension and Social Security. 

The impact of debt

According to the survey those workers carrying high debt loads were less confident about their ability to accumulate enough money for a comfortable retirement than those workers with more modest levels of debt.  This is no surprise in that money that goes to service your debts is money that cannot be saved and invested for retirement.

Once you are retired excess debt payments can be a real burden for those on a fixed or semi-fixed income which is a high percentage of retirees.  If the debt, such as a mortgage, is at a manageable level given your retirement cash flow, that’s fine.

What can you do to boost retirement confidence? 

There are any number of things you can do to boost your retirement readiness and your retirement confidence level.  Here are a few:

  • Manage your spending and make cuts where possible.
  • Take full advantage of your 401(k) plan or other workplace retirement plan.
  • Start and fund a self-employed retirement plan if you are self-employed.
  • Manage all of your old retirement plans as well as those of your spouse as part of your overall portfolio.  Consider an IRA to consolidate several old plans in one place.
  • Get a financial plan in place to assess where you stand and to determine any shortfalls regarding where you need to be.   

If it looks like you might come up short relative to being able to fund your desired lifestyle you have some choices to make:

  • Delay retirement or plan to work at least part-time during retirement.
  • Ramp up you savings now.
  • Revise your planned standard of living in retirement. 

In a prior post on this blog Is a $100,000 a Year Retirement Doable? I worked through the math of a hypothetical retiree.  This methodology might be helpful to you as well.

You may or may not like the answer you get when you do the planning and the math for your retirement but at least you will know where you stand.  Knowing where you stand is powerful and can go a long way to improving your confidence about your retirement.

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss  all of your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services. 

The Chicago Financial Planner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. If you click on my Amazon.com links and buy anything, even something other than the product advertised, I earn a small fee, yet you don’t pay any extra. Click on the Amazon banner below to go directly to the main site or check out the selections in our Book Store.

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Retirement: Will You Outlive Your Money?

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If you’ve been watching the Olympics, you may have noticed several new Ameriprise Financial commercials with their star pitchman Tommy Lee Jones.  One commercial asks the question on the mind of many folks looking to retire:  

retirement

This isn’t about whether Ameriprise Financial is the right firm to help you answer this vital question.  Rather I wanted to discuss some of the factors that will go into the answering this question from the perspective of someone looking to retire.

Your resources 

A good first step is to determine your resources to generate spendable cash once you retire.  Depending upon your situation these may include some or all of the following:

  • 401(k) or similar retirement plan such as a 401(b) or other defined contribution plan.
  • IRA accounts, both traditional and Roth.
  • A pension.
  • Stock options or restricted stock units.
  • Social Security
  • Taxable investment accounts.
  • Cash, savings accounts, CDs, etc.
  • Annuities
  • Cash value in a life insurance policy
  • Inheritance
  • Interest in a business
  • Real estate
  • Any income from working into retirement  

The list above is not exhaustive and you may have other assets or sources of income that you will be able to tap in retirement.

How much have you accumulated? 

This is an important question at all ages for those saving for retirement.  It is critical the closer you are to retirement and this is certainly true if you are within 10 years or less of retirement.

How much will you spend in retirement? 

While this might vary over the course of your retirement you need to take a stab at a spending plan for retirement if you are close to retirement.  Some of the issues to consider:

  • Where will you live?
  • Will you have a mortgage or other debts as you enter retirement?
  • What types of activities will you engage in?
  • What are your costs for medical insurance and medical care?
  • Will you need to provide support for children?  Grandchildren?  Aging parents?
  • What will your basic living expenses entail?  

These questions just scratch the surface, but I think you get the idea.  One other point to remember is that you might spend more on travel and activities in the earlier part of your retirement and less as you age.  However, any savings here might be offset by increased costs for medical care.

Another approach is to figure out what level of expenditure your savings and other resources will support and either work backwards to a budget within that spending level, try to ramp up your retirement savings to close the gap, or perhaps plan to work a few years longer before retiring.  This can be done using any number of retirement planning calculators available online.  With any such tool it is important that you pay attention to the assumptions inherent in the calculator’s model and that you think through any assumptions that you are allowed to input.

A qualified financial planner can help you through this process and this is a key element in a financial plan.

Whatever route you take the issue of outliving your money in retirement is a vital one for you to address.  In my opinion this is the biggest risk retiree’s face and is a biggest risk than losing money in the next market downturn.

Please check out our Book Store for books on financial planning and retirement as well as any Amazon shopping needs you may have.  The Chicago Financial Planner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.  If you click on my Amazon.com links and buy anything, even something other than the product advertised, I earn a small fee, yet you don’t pay any extra.

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a complimentary 30-minute consultation to discuss  all of your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services.

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Reverse Mortgages – The Basics

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Senator Thompson in Iowa.

 This is a guest post by Gary Foreman, of The Dollar Stretcher.com one of the oldest and best all-purpose financial blogs.  I don’t know about you but I find those reverse mortgage commercials featuring Fred Thompson to be nauseating and annoying.  Gary provides some objective information for those who might be considering this route.

With approximately 10,000 Baby Boomers reaching retirement age every day, it’s not surprising that more people are asking questions about reverse mortgages.  The concept of a reverse mortgage seems complicated at first. But if you break it down into it’s individual pieces it’s not that hard to understand.

Comparing a reverse mortgage to a traditional mortgage

With a traditional mortgage the lending institution gives you a large sum of money at closing that you use to buy the house from the seller. Generally you’ll make monthly payments to the lender to repay the loan. Hopefully someday you’ll have the mortgage paid off and own the house free and clear.

With a reverse mortgage you’re borrowing against the value of your home. Just like a traditional mortgage. Naturally you need to own your home outright or have significant equity.

Most reverse mortgage borrowers choose to take a monthly check from the lender although there are other options. So instead of repaying the mortgage, each month the amount they owe increases.

Beyond the basics

There are a number of requirements to qualify for a reverse mortgage.

  • The borrower must be 62 or older.
  • The home must be your principal residence.
  • Your home must meet all FHA property standards.

Besides these requirements, there are a few other facts about reverse mortgages that you’ll want to know.

  • How much money you can borrow will depend on your age, the equity in your home and the current interest rate.
  • The interest charged on the loan is variable, not fixed.
  • The lender will charge you an origination fee that will be included in the amount that you owe.
  • After you move from your home, the loan becomes due.
  • Any equity left after the loan is repaid goes to you or to your heirs.
  • The money you receive is a loan and generally not considered as ‘income’ for tax or Social Security purposes.

Advantages and disadvantages of a reverse mortgage

First, the positives.

You have flexibility in how much and how often you receive money. You can choose a fixed monthly payment, a line of credit, a lump sum or a combination.

You will never owe more than your home is worth. So when you finally move out and sell the home you won’t need to bring money to the closing table.

You still own the home. The title stays in your name(s), just like with a traditional mortgage.

You don’t repay the loan until the last surviving borrower dies, sells the home or moves out. If you need to move into a nursing home, you’ll have 12 months before the loan becomes due.

The income shouldn’t affect your current Social Security or Medicare benefits, though you should consult with the Social Security folks or your financial advisor.

Unlike other mortgages there aren’t any income requirements.

But, there are some negatives to consider before you apply for a reverse mortgage.

You’ll be charged origination fees and closing costs. There can also be ‘servicing fees’ during the life of the loan. They’ll be included in the amount you’ll owe when you pay off the mortgage. Often these fees are quite high.

Income from the reverse mortgage may affect your eligibility for Medicaid. Contact a CPA or Medicaid planner for details.

The amount you owe will steadily increase over time, even if you choose a single lump-sum payout.

Most reverse mortgages have variable interest rates. So the amount you owe could increase significantly if inflation returns and interest rates rise from our current low rates.

Unlike traditional mortgages, you generally can’t deduct interest paid on your federal income taxes until you sell the home.  I suggest consulting your tax advisor here.

Unless you’re prepared to repay the mortgage from home sale proceeds, you’ll be trapped in your home. No moving to a retirement community or condo.

You won’t be able to give or sell your home to a child without repaying the mortgage.

You’ll still need to pay insurance and taxes on your home. The typical responsibilities of a homeowner remain.

A few final cautions

You should also consider alternatives to a reverse mortgage. There may be other sources of income that are a better fit for your needs. This is especially true if you don’t require an additional regular monthly income stream.

Before you take out a reverse mortgage on your home make sure that you understand it thoroughly. There are some aspects that are a little unusual. Take your time. Don’t be rushed into a decision.

Remember, too, that people will be making money on your mortgage. And, sometimes unscrupulous people push financial products that aren’t well suited to the situation. So tread cautiously.

But, in the right situation, a reverse mortgage can be a viable solution for Baby Boomers and seniors looking for some extra retirement income.

For additional facts regarding reverse mortgages visit the HUD website.

Gary Foreman is a former financial planner who founded  The Dollar Stretcher.com website and newsletters.  The site features thousands of articles on how to save your valuable time and money including other articles on reverse mortgages.

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a complimentary 30-minute retirement planning consultation and to discuss all of your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services.   

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Is My Pension Safe?

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Logo of the United States Pension Benefit Guar...

The city of Detroit recently filed the largest municipal bankruptcy in history.  One of the potential casualties of this situation will likely be retired city workers receiving pensions.  While pension payments are promises made by the employer, should the bankruptcy go through the city will be free to cut pension benefits as part of the restructuring of the city’s finances.  In light of this situation, how safe is your pension?

What is behind your pension? 

Your employer starts an investment fund that is designed to grow via investment returns and contributions from the employer to a level that will support the pension benefits you’ve earned based upon the plan’s benefits formula.  Pension benefits are typically earned by workers based on a formula that usually takes into account factors such as career earnings, years of service and perhaps other factors.  Each year an actuary calculates the amount that the employer must contribute to the pension plan in order to maintain an acceptable level of funding.

Sadly in far too many cases, especially in the public sector, we’ve seen employers under contribute to their pension plan causing severe underfunding.  In my home state of Illinois this is rampant and is a major part of our state’s ongoing pension crisis.  Certainly this was also a factor in Detroit’s case as well.

Let’s take a look at some of the issues with private employer pensions and those in the public sector.

Private employer pensions 

Pension plans offered by private employers (which I define as those employers who are not municipalities, state or federal government entities, etc.) are a liability of the company in much the same fashion are their accounts payable or a bank loan.  Failure to make good on these obligations can result in the bankruptcy of the firm.

Should a private employer be unable to make good on its pension obligation, in most cases the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation (PBGC), an independent governmental agency, will step and cover the pension obligations of the company up to its limits.  The maximum benefit they will guarantee depends upon the year in which the plan was terminated and your age among other factors.

For many workers the PBGC maximums will cover the pension payments promised via their employer’s plan.  Some highly paid retirees receiving large monthly pension payments might see their payments reduced once PBGC coverage kicks in.  A case in point occurred here in Chicago in 2005 when locally based United Airlines defaulted on its pension obligations and many retired pilots and other highly paid retirees saw their monthly benefits reduced by the PBGC.

Municipal and governmental pensions 

The issue for the retired Detroit workers is that municipal and governmental pensions have no backstop such as the PBGC.  Detroit will be the biggest test of the Chapter 9 municipal bankruptcy process but there is much speculation that current and future retirees will see cut on the order of 30%-40% or more in their monthly payments.

At the state level it is less clear to what extent that states such as Illinois would be able to reduce pension payments due the rules in place.

Steps to consider

If you are retired and drawing a pension there probably isn’t much that you can do.  One step to consider is taking your Social Security now if you are eligible and have been waiting to draw upon it until a later age to maximize your benefit.   You might also look at getting a part-time job or hanging out your shingle as a self-employed consultant if you have skills that are applicable to this route.

If you are approaching retirement and your pension plan offers the option to take a lump-sum benefit as an alternative to annuitizing this option might be even more attractive now.  As always you should look at all of the factors involved such as the financial stability of your employer, your other resources available in retirement, etc.  This might be a good time to engage the services of a fee-only financial planner who can help you evaluate your options.  While a lump-sum still needs to be managed in terms of the investments chosen and the timing of withdrawals, you do eliminate any issues surrounding future benefit reductions due to your employer encountering financial difficulties.  If you are offered an early retirement package you should give it serious consideration as well.

Younger workers should take this as a wake-up call and make sure they are saving for retirement especially if they are counting on a pension plan from their employer.  Many companies freeze their pension benefit which means that you will receive the benefit that you’ve earned but you won’t be accruing a larger benefit via increased earnings and years of service.  Take full advantage of defined contribution retirement plans such as a 401(k) or a 403(b).  Fund an IRA account.  Save and invest in taxable accounts.  Strive for financial independence as soon as possible.

Employees with a pension plan generally have a leg up in retirement.  The Detroit situation simply highlights the fact that nothing is set in stone.  At the end of the day we are all responsible for our own retirement, plan accordingly to the extent that you can.

For more background on this situation check out these two excellent pieces on the Market Watch site:

Detroit not alone; public pensions vulnerable

Will your pension disappear, post-Detroit?

Please contact me at 847-506-9827 for a complimentary 30-minute retirement planning consultation and to discuss all of your investing and financial planning questions. Check out our Financial Planning and Investment Advice for Individuals page to learn more about our services.   

Please check out our Resources page for some additional links that might be beneficial to you.  

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