Do Our Biases Affect Our Financial Choices?

 

Even the most seasoned investors are prone to their influence.

Investors are routinely warned about allowing their emotions to influence their decisions.  They are less routinely cautioned about letting their preconceptions and biases color their financial choices.

In a battle between the facts & our preconceptions, our preconceptions may win. If we acknowledge this tendency, we may be able to avoid some unexamined choices when it comes to personal finance. So it may actually “pay” us to recognize our biases as we invest. Here are some common examples of bias creeping into our financial lives.

Valuing outcomes of investment decisions more than the quality of those decisions. An investor thinks, “I got a great return off of that decision” instead of thinking, “that was a good decision because ______.”

How many investment decisions do we make that have a predictable outcome? Hardly any. In retrospect, it is all too easy to prize the gain from a decision over the wisdom of the decision, and to therefore believe that the decisions with the best outcomes were in fact the best decisions (not necessarily true).

Valuing facts we “know” & “see” more than “abstract” facts. Information that seems abstract may seem less valid or valuable than information that relates to personal experience. This is true when we consider different types of investments, the state of the markets, and the health of the economy.

On Main Street, we find a classic example in Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index. In the August edition of this monthly poll of more than 3,500 U.S. adults, 55% of respondents said the American economy is “getting worse” instead of better. In fact, more Americans have told Gallup that the economy is getting worse rather than better since March.1

This flies in the face of the declining jobless rate, the strong hiring of 2015, the comeback of the housing market, and key surveys showing years of consistent monthly growth in the manufacturing and service sectors – but in all probability, these poll respondents are not looking at economic indicators when they make such a judgment. Their neighbor was laid off, or there was a story on the nightly news about a new homeless camp growing in size. These are facts they can “see” – and therefore, in their minds the economy is getting worse.1

Valuing the latest information most. In the investment world, the latest news is almost always more valuable than old news… but when the latest news is consistently good (or consistently bad), memories of previous market climate(s) may become too distant. If we are not careful, our minds may subconsciously dismiss the eventual emergence of the next bear (or bull) market.

Being overconfident. The more experienced we are at investing, the more confidence we have about our investment choices. When the market is going up and a clear majority of our investment choices work out well, this reinforces our confidence, sometimes to a point where we may start to feel we can do little wrong thanks to the state of the market, our investing acumen or both. This can be dangerous. 

The herd mentality. You know how this goes: if everyone is doing something, they must be doing it for sound and logical reasons. If most investors are getting out of equities, or getting back into equities, it follows that you should follow them. The herd mentality is what leads many investors to buy high (and sell low). It can also promote panic selling. Above all, it encourages market timing – and when investors try to time the market, they frequently realize subpar returns.

Did you know that American retail investors held equity shares for an average of 6.3 years during the 1950s? That duration kept shortening until the 2000s, when it was reduced to roughly six months – which is still the average today. We have exponentially greater media coverage of Wall Street today than we had in the 1950s, and that may be the big factor in that difference – but still, you have to wonder how much better the typical investor’s return would be if he or she had the patience of the investors of the past.2 

Extreme aversion to risk. Some investors want zero risk, or close. What price do they pay in pursuit of that goal? The opportunity cost may be sizable. In building an extremely risk-averse portfolio, they thwart their potential for significant gains when the equity markets advance.

Everyone loves to be certain about things. Sometimes, however, we need to ask ourselves what that certainty is based on, and what it reflects about ourselves. Examining our preconceptions may help us as we invest.

Citations.

1 – gallup.com/poll/184640/economic-confidence-index-stable.aspx [8/18/15]

2 – nytimes.com/2014/01/13/your-money/stocks-and-bonds/why-we-buy-in-a-marked-up-market.html [1/13/14]

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Raytheon, Hughes, Verizon, Bank of America, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Northrop Grumman, Merck, Pfizer, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

Advertisements

Self-Directed IRAs

A self-directed IRA isn’t a different type of IRA. Rather, the term refers to any individual retirement account (traditional or Roth) that allows you to direct the investment of your IRA assets into nontraditional investments. For example, in addition to the usual IRA mainstays (stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and CDs), a self-directed IRA might invest in real estate, limited partnership interests, or anything else the law (and your IRA trustee/custodian) allows. In fact, the only investment you can’t have in an IRA is life insurance. Collectibles (e.g., artwork, stamps, wine, and antiques) aren’t prohibited, but if your IRA purchases these items, you could suffer adverse tax consequences.

Getting started

First, you’ll need to find a trustee or custodian that specializes in self-directed IRAs. Make sure you understand the expenses involved–some trustees charge transaction fees and/or asset-based fees, depending on the particular investment. You also need to be aware of the prohibited transaction rules. These rules are designed to make sure that only your IRA, and not you (or your immediate family), benefits from your IRA transactions. For example, you are prohibited from buying investments from, or selling investments to, your IRA. If you violate these rules, your account will cease to be treated as an IRA, with potentially devastating tax consequences.

Finally, you need to understand the UBIT (unrelated business income tax) rules. Even though IRA investments usually grow tax deferred (or even potentially tax free in the case of a Roth IRA), if your IRA conducts certain business activities or has debt-financed income, then your IRA could be taxed currently on all or part of the income generated.

Investing in real estate

Your self-directed IRA can invest in virtually any form of real estate. That includes direct ownership in property as well as indirect ownership through limited partnership interests, REITs, and mortgage obligations. Your IRA can buy a beach house, a multifamily home, commercial property, raw land, time shares, condos, an island–almost anything. Your IRA can be the sole owner of the real estate, or a partial owner with others.

Your IRA can even borrow money to purchase real estate. However, it may be difficult to find a bank that will lend money to your IRA (since you can’t personally guarantee the note). Borrowing may also cause some of the income (or sales proceeds) from the property to be taxed currently to your IRA under the UBIT rules. When you invest in real estate, you’ll also need to pay particular attention to the prohibited transaction rules. You can’t, for example, sell property you already own to your IRA. And neither you nor certain family members can use real estate while it’s owned by your IRA. As discussed below, that sort of self-dealing can result in your entire IRA becoming taxable to you.

Keep in mind that when you hold real estate in a traditional IRA, you’ll have to pay tax at ordinary income rates when your account is ultimately paid out to you–whether you receive cash or the property itself. Qualified distributions from a self-directed Roth IRA, on the other hand, are free from federal income tax, which makes the Roth IRA an attractive vehicle for real estate ownership. Say you’ve found your dream retirement home. It may be possible to have your Roth IRA purchase the property, rent it out to an unrelated party to generate income, and then, when you’re ready to retire, have the IRA distribute the property (and any income) to you tax free. (A distribution is qualified if you satisfy a five-year holding period and you’re either age 59½ or disabled when you receive the distribution.)

Finally, note that you’ll need to pay any expenses related to your real estate investment out of your IRA, so make sure it will have enough cash each year to cover any real estate taxes, legal fees, repairs, insurance, and other costs.

What are prohibited transactions?

Generally, a prohibited transaction is any improper use of an IRA account or annuity by you, your beneficiary, or any disqualified person. Disqualified persons include IRA fiduciaries (see below) and members of your family (spouse, ancestor, lineal descendant, and any spouse of a lineal descendant). The following are examples of prohibited transactions with an IRA:

  • Borrowing money from it • Selling property to it
  • Receiving unreasonable compensation for managing it
  • Using it as security for a loan
  • Buying property for personal use (present or future) with IRA funds

For this purpose, a fiduciary includes anyone who does any of the following:

  • Exercises any discretionary authority or discretionary control in managing your IRA or exercises any authority or control in managing or disposing of its assets
  • Provides investment advice to your IRA for a fee, or has any authority or responsibility to do so
  • Has any discretionary authority or discretionary responsibility in administering your IRA

Consequences of engaging in a prohibited transaction

Generally, if you (or your beneficiary after your death) engage in a prohibited transaction at any time during the year, the account stops being an IRA as of the first day of that year. The account is also treated as distributing all its assets to you at their fair market values on the first day of the year. For a traditional IRA, if the total of those values exceeds your basis in the IRA, you’ll have a taxable gain that’s includible in your income. If you’re not yet age 59½, the 10% premature distribution penalty tax may also apply. The IRS hasn’t yet provided specific guidance describing how these rules apply to Roth IRAs. However, it’s probable that if you’ve satisfied the requirements for a qualified distribution, the distribution will still be tax free. A nonqualified distribution from a Roth IRA will result in a taxable gain to the extent the distribution exceeds your Roth IRA contributions (and again, the premature distribution penalty tax may apply if you haven’t yet reached age 59½).

What is UBIT?

UBIT stands for “unrelated business income tax.” While not common, it can apply to your traditional (and Roth) IRA. (The UBIT rules also apply to most employer retirement plans and tax-exempt organizations.) In simple terms, if your IRA regularly conducts a trade or business (for example, you buy and operate a bakery using IRA funds), then the income from that trade or business (less any expenses directly connected with carrying on the trade or business) is subject to UBIT. The IRA is taxed on the income (unrelated business taxable income, or UBTI) at trust tax rates.

The term “trade or business” is defined as any activity carried on for the production of income from selling goods or performing services. This has been broadly interpreted to apply even if an IRA doesn’t directly conduct a business, but instead invests in a pass-through entity, like a partnership, that conducts a trade or business. If an IRA invests in a partnership that conducts a trade or business, then the IRA must calculate its UBTI based on its share of the partnership’s gross income and deductions. This information is provided by the partnership to the IRA on Schedule K-1.

There are numerous exclusions from the definition of UBTI, including dividends, interest, annuities, royalties, and rents from real property. However, even otherwise exempt income can become subject to UBIT if the property is acquired with borrowed funds. For example, if your IRA purchases real property and finances the purchase with a mortgage, any rental income attributable to the financed portion of the property will be UBTI, even though that rental income would otherwise be exempt. An IRA needs at least $1,000 of gross income from unrelated businesses for the UBIT to apply. The IRA itself is responsible for paying the tax. This may result in double taxation as the income will be subject to tax again, under the regular IRA distribution rules, when ultimately distributed from the IRA (although qualified distributions from Roth IRAs will be tax free).

As you can see, a self-directed IRA can provide you with almost unlimited investment flexibility, but also presents some traps for the unwary. Your financial professional can help you weigh the benefits and risks of a self-directed IRA, and help you determine if it’s the right choice for you.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, Merck, Pfizer, AT&T, Verizon, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Bank of America, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com..

Protecting Your Loved Ones with Life Insurance

How much life insurance do you need?

Your life insurance needs will depend on a number of factors, including the size of your family, the nature of your financial obligations, your career stage, and your goals. For example, when you’re young, you may not have a great need for life insurance. However, as you take on more responsibilities and your family grows, your need for life insurance increases.

Here are some questions that can help you start thinking about the amount of life insurance you need:

  • What immediate financial expenses (e.g., debt repayment, funeral expenses) would your family face upon your death?
  • How much of your salary is devoted to current expenses and future needs?
  • How long would your dependents need support if you were to die tomorrow?
  • How much money would you want to leave for special situations upon your death, such as funding your children’s education, gifts to charities, or an inheritance for your children?
  • What other assets or insurance policies do you have?

Types of life insurance policies

The two basic types of life insurance are term life and permanent (cash value) life. Term policies provide life insurance protection for a specific period of time. If you die during the coverage period, your beneficiary receives the policy’s death benefit. If you live to the end of the term, the policy simply terminates, unless it automatically renews for a new period. Term policies are typically available for periods of 1 to 30 years and may, in some cases, be renewed until you reach age 95. With guaranteed level term insurance, a popular type, both the premium and the amount of coverage remain level for a specific period of time.

Permanent insurance policies offer protection for your entire life, regardless of your health, provided you pay the premium to keep the policy in force. As you pay your premiums, a portion of each payment is placed in the cash-value account. During the early years of the policy, the cash-value contribution is a large portion of each premium payment. As you get older, and the true cost of your insurance increases, the portion of your premium payment devoted to the cash value decreases. The cash value continues to grow–tax deferred–as long as the policy is in force. You can borrow against the cash value, but unpaid policy loans will reduce the death benefit that your beneficiary will receive. If you surrender the policy before you die (i.e., cancel your coverage), you’ll be entitled to receive the cash value, minus any loans and surrender charges.

Many different types of cash-value life insurance are available, including:

  • Whole life: You generally make level (equal) premium payments for life. The death benefit and cash value are predetermined and guaranteed (subject to the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company). Your only action after purchase of the policy is to pay the fixed premium.
  • Universal life: You may pay premiums at any time, in any amount (subject to certain limits), as long as the policy expenses and the cost of insurance coverage are met. The amount of insurance coverage can be changed, and the cash value will grow at a declared interest rate, which may vary over time.
  • Indexed universal life: This is a form of universal life insurance with excess interest credited to cash values. But unlike universal life insurance, the amount of interest credited is tied to the performance of an equity index, such as the S&P 500.
  • Variable life: As with whole life, you pay a level premium for life. However, the death benefit and cash value fluctuate depending on the performance of investments in what are known as subaccounts. A subaccount is a pool of investor funds professionally managed to pursue a stated investment objective. You select the subaccounts in which the cash value should be invested.
  • Variable universal life: A combination of universal and variable life. You may pay premiums at any time, in any amount (subject to limits), as long as policy expenses and the cost of insurance coverage are met. The amount of insurance coverage can be changed, and the cash value goes up or down based on the performance of investments in the subaccounts.

With so many types of life insurance available, you’re sure to find a policy that meets your needs and your budget.

Choosing and changing your beneficiaries

When you purchase life insurance, you must name a primary beneficiary to receive the proceeds of your insurance policy. Your beneficiary may be a person, corporation, or other legal entity. You may name multiple beneficiaries and specify what percentage of the net death benefit each is to receive. If you name your minor child as a beneficiary, you should also designate an adult as the child’s guardian in your will.

What type of insurance is right for you?

Before deciding whether to buy term or permanent life insurance, consider the policy cost and potential savings that may be available. Also keep in mind that your insurance needs will likely change as your family, job, health, and financial picture change, so you’ll want to build some flexibility into the decision-making process. In any case, here are some common reasons for buying life insurance and which type of insurance may best fit the need.

Mortgage or long-term debt: For most people, the home is one of the most valuable assets and also the source of the largest debt. An untimely death may remove a primary source of income used to pay the mortgage. Term insurance can replace the lost income by providing life insurance for the length of the mortgage. If you die before the mortgage is paid off, the term life insurance pays your beneficiary an amount sufficient to pay the outstanding mortgage balance owed.

Family protection: Your income not only pays for day-to-day expenses, but also provides a source for future costs such as college education expenses and retirement income. Term life insurance of 20 years or longer can take care of immediate cash needs as well as provide income for your survivor’s future needs. Another alternative is cash value life insurance, such as universal life or variable life insurance. The cash value accumulation of these policies can be used to fund future income needs for college or retirement, even if you don’t die.

Small business needs: Small business owners need life insurance to protect their business interest. As a business owner, you need to consider what happens to your business should you die unexpectedly. Life insurance can provide cash needed to buy a deceased partner’s or shareholder’s interest from his or her estate. Life insurance can also be used to compensate for the unexpected death of a key employee.

Review your coverage

Once you purchase a life insurance policy, make sure to periodically review your coverage; over time your needs will change. An insurance agent or financial professional can help you with your review.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, Bank of America, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Verizon, Raytheon, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Pfizer, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Yes, Young Growing Families Can Save & Invest

It may seem like a tall order, but it can be accomplished. 

Plan to put yourself steps ahead of your peers. If you have a young, growing family, no doubt your to-do list is pretty long on any given day. Beyond today, you are probably working on another kind of to-do list for the long term. Where does “saving and investing” rank on that list?

For some families, it never quite ranks high enough – and it never becomes the priority it should become. Assorted financial pressures, sudden shifts in household needs, bad luck – they can all move “saving and investing” down the list. Even so, young families have planned to build wealth in the face of such stresses. You can follow their example. It is less an option than a necessity.

First step: put it into numbers. Most people have invested a little by the time they reach 30 or 35, and some have invested avidly. A plan is not always in place, however. The mission is simply to “make money” or “build wealth” for “the future.”

This is good, but also vague. How much money will you need to save by 65 to promote enough retirement income and to live comfortably? Are you on pace to build a retirement nest egg that large? How much risk do you feel comfortable tolerating as you invest? What kind of impact are investment fees and taxes having on your efforts?

A financial professional can help you arrive at answers to these questions, and others. He or she can help you define long-range retirement savings goals and project the amount of savings and income you may need to sustain your lifestyle as retirees. At that point, “the future” will seem more tangible and your wealth-building effort even more purposeful.

Second step: start today & never stop. If you have already started, congratulations! In getting an early start, you have taken advantage of a young investor’s greatest financial asset: time.

If you haven’t started saving and investing, you can do so now. It doesn’t take a huge lump sum to begin. Even if you defer $100 worth of salary into a retirement plan a month, you are putting a foot forward. See if you can allocate much more.

If you begin when you are young and keep at it, you will witness the awesome power of compounding as you build your retirement savings and net worth through the years.

Just how awesome is it? An example: let’s say you save $100 per month in an investment account for 20 years and the account returns a (hypothetical) 5% for you over those two decades. In 20 years under such conditions, your $100-a-month nest egg will not amount to $24,000 – it will work out to $41,011, which is 71% more! If you put in $200 a month, you wind up with a projected $82,022 off of the $24,000 in contributions! We aren’t factoring in account fees or market fluctuations, of course – but you get the picture. Stretched out to 30 years, a consistent $100-per-month contribution and a consistent 5% return project to $82,302; raise the monthly contribution to $200 and you get $164,604. These numbers factor in annual compounding; use daily compounding as the variable, and they grow a bit larger. So even if you set aside and invest a few twenties each month, you may still end up with appreciable retirement savings – and these are numbers for one retirement saver, there are two of you.1

What’s that? You say you can’t retire on $164,000 or less? You’re absolutely right. You have to devote more than that to your effort. You may need a million or two – and if you plan ahead, you may very well generate it. Ownership of equity investments, real property, business or professional success – this can all help to position you and your family for a comfortable future, provided you keep good financial habits along the way and pay attention to taxes.  

How do you find the balance? This is worth addressing – how do you balance saving and investing with attending to your family’s immediate financial needs?

Bottom line, you have to find money to save and invest for your family’s near-term and long-term goals. If it isn’t on hand, you may find it by reducing certain household costs. Are you spending a lot of money on goods and services you want rather than need? Cut back on that kind of spending. Is credit card debt siphoning away dollars you should assign to saving and investing? Fix that financial leak and avoid paying with plastic whenever you can. Other young families are doing it, and yours can as well.   

Vow to keep “paying yourself first” – maintain the consistency of your saving and investing effort. What is more important, saving for your child’s college education or buying those season tickets? Who comes first in your life, your family or your gardener? You know the answer.

It has been done; it should be done. Stories abound of families that have built wealth out of comparative poverty. There are people who came to this country with little more than the clothes on their backs who have found prosperity; there are families (including single-parent households) who have been dealt a bad hand yet overcame long financial odds to gain affluence.

It all starts with belief – the belief that you can do it. Complement that belief with a plan and regular saving and investing, and you may find yourself much better off much sooner than you think.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – bankrate.com/calculators/savings/compound-savings-calculator-tool.aspx [12/26/14]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.


The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, Glaxosmithkline, ING Retirement, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Verizon, Bank of America, ExxonMobil, Merck, Pfizer or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

Health Savings Accounts: Are They Just What the Doctor Ordered?

Are health insurance premiums taking too big of a bite out of your budget? Do you wish you had better control over how you spend your health-care dollars? If so, you may be interested in an alternative to traditional health insurance called a health savings account (HSA).

How does this health-care option work?

An HSA is a tax-advantaged account that’s paired with a high-deductible health plan (HDHP). Let’s look at how an HSA works with an HDHP to enable you to cover your current health-care costs and also save for your future needs.

Before opening an HSA, you must first enroll in an HDHP, either on your own or through your employer. An HDHP is “catastrophic” health coverage that pays benefits only after you’ve satisfied a high annual deductible. (Some preventative care, such as routine physicals, may be covered without being subject to the deductible). For 2016, the annual deductible for an HSA-qualified HDHP must be at least $1,300 for individual coverage and $2,600 for family coverage. However, your deductible may be higher, depending on the plan.

Once you’ve satisfied your deductible, the HDHP will provide comprehensive coverage for your medical expenses (though you may continue to owe co-payments or coinsurance costs until you reach your plan’s annual out-of-pocket limit). A qualifying HDHP must limit annual out-of-pocket expenses (including the deductible) to no more than $6,550 for individual coverage and $13,100 for family coverage for 2016. Once this limit is reached, the HDHP will cover 100% of your costs, as outlined in your policy. Because you’re shouldering a greater portion of your health-care costs, you’ll usually pay a much lower premium for an HDHP than for traditional health insurance, allowing you to contribute the premium dollars you’re saving to your HSA. Your employer may also contribute to your HSA, or pay part of your HDHP premium. Then, when you need medical care, you can withdraw HSA funds to cover your expenses, or opt to pay your costs out-of-pocket if you want to save your account funds.

An HSA can be a powerful savings tool. Because there’s no “use it or lose it” provision, funds roll over from year to year. And the account is yours, so you can keep it even if you change employers or lose your job. If your health expenses are relatively low, you may be able to build up a significant balance in your HSA over time. You can even let your money grow until retirement, when your health expenses are likely to be substantial. However, HSAs aren’t foolproof. If you have relatively high health expenses (especially within the first year or two of opening your account, before you’ve built up a balance), you could deplete your HSA or even face a shortfall.

How can an HSA help you save on taxes?

HSAs offer several valuable tax benefits:

  • You may be able to make pretax contributions via payroll deduction through your employer, reducing your current income tax.
  • If you make contributions on your own using after-tax dollars, they’re deductible from your federal income tax (and perhaps from your state income tax) whether you itemize or not. You can also deduct contributions made on your behalf by family members.
  • Contributions to your HSA, and any interest or earnings, grow tax deferred.
  • Contributions and any earnings you withdraw will be tax free if they’re used to pay qualified medical expenses.

Consult a tax professional if you have questions about the tax advantages offered by an HSA

Can anyone open an HSA?

Any individual with qualifying HDHP coverage can open an HSA. However, you won’t be eligible to open an HSA if you’re already covered by another health plan (although some specialized health plans are exempt from this provision). You’re also out of luck if you’re 65 and enrolled in Medicare or if you can be claimed as a dependent on someone else’s tax return.

How much can you contribute to an HSA?

For 2016, you can contribute up to $3,350 for individual coverage and $6,750 for family coverage. This annual limit applies to all contributions, whether they’re made by you, your employer, or your family members. You can make contributions up to April 15th of the following year (i.e., you can make 2015 contributions up to April 15, 2016). If you’re 55 or older, you may also be eligible to make “catch-up contributions” to your HSA, but you can’t contribute anything once you reach age 65 and enroll in Medicare.

Can you invest your HSA funds?

HSAs typically offer several savings and investment options. These may include interest-earning savings, checking, and money market accounts, or investments such as stocks, bonds, and mutual funds that offer the potential to earn higher returns but carry more risk (including the risk of loss of principal). Make sure that you carefully consider the investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses associated with each option before investing. A financial professional can help you decide which savings or investment options are appropriate.

How can you use your HSA funds?

You can use your HSA funds for many types of health-care expenses, including prescription drugs, eyeglasses, deductibles, and co-payments. Although you can’t use funds to pay regular health insurance premiums, you can withdraw money to pay for specialized types of insurance such as long-term care or disability insurance. IRS Publication 502 contains a list of allowable expenses.

There’s no rule against using your HSA funds for expenses that aren’t health-care related, but watch out–you’ll pay a 20% penalty if you withdraw money and use it for nonqualified expenses, and you’ll owe income taxes as well. Once you reach age 65, however, this penalty no longer applies, though you’ll owe income taxes on any money you withdraw that isn’t used for qualified medical expenses.

Questions to consider

  • How much will you save on your health insurance premium by enrolling in an HDHP? If you’re currently paying a high premium for individual health insurance (perhaps because you’re self-employed), your savings will be greater than if you currently have group coverage and your employer is paying a substantial portion of the premium.
  • What will your annual out-of-pocket costs be under the HDHP you’re considering? Estimate these based on your current health expenses. The lower your costs, the easier it may be to accumulate HSA funds.
  • How much can you afford to contribute to your HSA every year? Contributing as much as you can on a regular basis is key to building up a cushion against future expenses.
  • Will your employer contribute to your HSA? Employer contributions can help offset the increased financial risk that you’re assuming by enrolling in an HDHP rather than traditional employer-sponsored health insurance.
  • Are you willing to take on more responsibility for your own health care? For example, to achieve the maximum cost savings, you may need to research costs and negotiate fees with health providers when paying out-of-pocket.
  • How does the coverage provided by the HDHP compare with your current health plan? Don’t sacrifice coverage to save money. Read all plan materials to make sure you understand benefits, exclusions, and all costs.
  • What tax savings might you expect? Tax savings will be greatest for individuals in higher income tax brackets. Ask your tax advisor or financial professional for help in determining how HSA contributions will impact your taxes.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Bank of America, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Northrop Grumman, Pfizer, Raytheon, Verizon or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Common Annuity Riders

An annuity is a contract between you (the purchaser or owner) and the issuer (an insurance company). In its simplest form, you pay money to the annuity issuer, the issuer invests the money for you, and then the issuer pays out the principal and earnings back to you or to a named beneficiary.

An immediate annuity is a contract between you and an insurance company in which you pay a single sum of money to the company in exchange for its promise to make payments to you for a fixed period of time or for the rest of your life.

Annuity riders are optional features that provide added benefits to a basic annuity contract. For example, some riders focus on offering greater access to the annuity’s principal, or providing long-term income.

Annuity riders usually come with an annual cost, generally ranging from.1% to 1.0% or more of the annuity’s value. Review the annuity sales materials and prospectus for a description of applicable fees and charges. The availability of a specific annuity rider usually depends on the annuity issuer and the type of annuity you are considering. 

Cost-of-living adjustment rider

The cost-of-living adjustment rider, available on some immediate annuities, increases immediate annuity payments by a stated annual percentage to offset the effects of inflation. However, due to the added cost of this rider to the issuer, the first few payments from an annuity with this rider are typically less than they would be without the rider. It usually takes several years before cost-of-living immediate annuity payments equal or exceed immediate annuity payments without this rider. 

Cash/installment refund rider

Available on some immediate annuities, the cash refund rider provides that if the total of all immediate annuity payments received by the time of your death is less than the investment (the premium) you paid into the immediate annuity, the difference is paid in a lump sum to your annuity beneficiary. The installment refund rider is similar to the cash refund rider, except that your beneficiary receives the balance of the immediate annuity premium in installment payments instead of a lump sum. 

Impaired risk (medically underwritten) rider

This rider may be added to an immediate annuity. Ordinarily, an insurance company bases the amount of immediate annuity payments on the amount of premium you pay, your age at the time payments begin, and how long you are expected to live if payments are to be made for the rest of your life. If you have a medical condition that reduces your life expectancy, the impaired risk rider bases your annuity payments on your shortened life expectancy. This results in payments being greater than they would be for a person in good health, or the payments can be the same but for a smaller premium.

Commuted payout rider

This immediate annuity rider allows you to withdraw a lump-sum amount from your immediate annuity in addition to the regular payments you are receiving. Usually, this option is available for a limited period of time, and may be limited to a maximum dollar amount or a maximum percentage of your premium.

Guaranteed minimum accumulation benefit rider (GMAB)

The GMAB rider, available with some variable annuities, restores your annuity’s accumulation value to the amount of your total premiums paid if, after a prescribed number of years (usually 5 to 10), the annuity’s accumulation value is less than the premiums you paid (excluding your withdrawals). Some issuers offer this rider with the ability to lock in any gains in the accumulation value. Thereafter, your guaranteed minimum accumulation value will equal your total premiums paid, plus locked-in gains, less withdrawals.

Guaranteed minimum withdrawal benefit rider (GMWB) 

The GMWB rider provides you with a minimum income by allowing you to take withdrawals from your annuity up to an amount at least equal to the premiums you paid. Annual withdrawals are usually limited to a percentage of the total premiums paid (5% to 12% per year). Both the GMAB rider and the GMWB rider provide you with the opportunity to secure the return of your investment (the premium) in the annuity, even if the annuity’s accumulation value decreases due to poor subaccount performance. 

Guaranteed minimum income benefit rider (GMIB)

The GMIB rider, included with some variable annuities, offers a minimum income regardless of your actual accumulation value. The annuity issuer adds a growth rate to your premiums (usually 5% to 7% per year) that becomes your guaranteed minimum account value. After a minimum number of years (often 5 to 10), the rider allows you to convert the variable annuity to an immediate annuity and receive payments based on the greater of the minimum account value or the annuity’s accumulation value. 

Guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit rider (GLWB)

The GLWB rider may be added to some annuity contracts. It allows you to receive an annual income for the rest of your life without having to convert to an immediate annuity. And you can usually access the remaining accumulation value in addition to the income payments received. Income payments and withdrawals are subtracted from the annuity’s cash value.  

Long-term care rider

The long-term care rider is available with many fixed deferred annuities. If you become confined to a nursing home, or are unable to take care of yourself, this rider allows you to access more of your annuity’s accumulation value, possibly up to 100%, without the imposition of surrender charges or distribution costs otherwise applicable. 

Disability/unemployment rider

These riders are offered with fixed and variable annuities. If you become disabled for an extended period of time (usually from 60 days to 1 year), or if you are unemployed for a similar length of time and are eligible for unemployment benefits, these riders allow you to access a portion or all of your annuity’s accumulation value without the imposition of surrender charges. 

Terminal illness rider

This rider, available with both fixed and variable annuities, waives surrender charges otherwise applicable for a portion or all of your annuity’s accumulation value if you suffer from a terminal illness with a medical life expectancy of one year or less. 

Immediate Variable Fixed
Cost-of-Living GMAB LTC
Cash/Installment GMWB Disability
Impaired Risk GMIB Terminal Illness
Commuted Payout GLWB GLWB
Disability Disability

 

Terminal Illness

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Bank of America, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Alcatel-Lucent, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Signs of Elder Abuse

Physical, mental & financial warning signals.

Is someone taking advantage of someone you love? June 15 is World Elder Abuse Prevention Day, a day to call attention to a crisis that may become even more common as baby boomers enter the “third acts” of their lives.1

Every year, more than half a million American elders are abused or neglected. That estimate comes from the Centers for Disease Control, and the frequency of elder abuse may be greater as so many elders are afraid or simply unable to speak out about what is happening to them. In some cases, the abuse is limited to financial exploitation. In other cases, it may encompass neglect and physical or emotional cruelty.1

What should you watch out for? Different varieties of elder abuse have different signals, some less obvious than others.

Neglect. This is commonly defined as withholding or failing to supply necessities of daily living to an elder, from food, water and appropriate clothing to necessary hygiene and medicines. Signals are easily detectable and include physical signs such as bedsores, malnutrition and dehydration and flawed living conditions (i.e., faulty electrical wiring, fleas or cockroaches, inadequate heat or air conditioning).

Self-neglect also surfaces, stemming from the declining physical or mental capacity of an elder. If he or she foregoes proper hygiene, disdains needed medications or medical aids, or persists in living in an insect-ridden, filthy or fire-hazardous dwelling, intervene to try and change their environment for the better, for their health and safety.

Finally, neglect may also take financial form. If someone who has assumed a fiduciary duty to pay for assisted living, nursing home care or at-home health care fails to do so, that is a form of neglect which may be defined as elder abuse. The same goes for an in-home eldercare service provider that fails to provide an adequate degree or frequency of care.2

Abandonment. This occurs when a caregiver or responsible party flat-out deserts an elder – dropping him or her off at a nursing home, a hospital, or even a bus or train station with no plans to return. Hopefully, the elder has the presence of mind to call for help, but if not, a tragic situation will quickly worsen. When an elderly person seems to stay in one place for hours and appears confused or deserted, it is time to get to the bottom of what just happened for his or her safety.

Physical abuse. Bruises and lacerations are evident signals, but other indicators are less evident: sprains and dislocations, cracked eyeglass lenses, impressions on the arms or legs from restraints, too much or too little medication, or a strange reticence, silence or fearfulness or other behavioral changes in the individual.

Emotional or psychological abuse. How do you know if an elder has been verbally degraded, tormented, or threatened in your absence, or left in isolation? If the elder is not willing or able to let you know about such wrongdoing, watch for signals such as withdrawal from conversation or communication, agitation or distress, and repetitive or obsessive-compulsive actions linked to dementia such as rocking, biting or sucking.2

Financial abuse. When an unscrupulous relative, friend or other party uses an elder’s funds, property, or assets illegally or dishonestly, this is financial exploitation of the elderly. This runs all the way from withdrawing an elder’s savings with his or her ATM card to forgery to improperly assuming conservatorship or power of attorney.2

How do you spot it? Delve into the elder’s financial life and see if you detect things like strange ATM withdrawals or account activity, additional names on a bank signature card, changes to beneficiary forms, or the sudden absence of collectibles or valuables.

Examine signatures on financial transactions – on closer examination, do they appear to be authentic, or studied forgeries? Have assets been inexplicably transferred to long-uninvolved heirs or relatives, or worse yet apparent strangers? Have eldercare bills gone unpaid recently? Is the level of eldercare being provided oddly slipshod given the financial resources being devoted to it?

Respect your elders; protect your elders. Some people aim to exploit senior citizens. Others simply don’t recognize or respect the responsibilities that come with eldercare. Whether the abuse is intentional or not, the emotional, physical or financial harm done can be reprehensible. Talk to or check in on your parents, grandparents, siblings or other elders you know and care for to see that they are free from such abuse.

Citations.

1 – cdc.gov/features/elderabuse/ [6/9/14]

2 – ncea.aoa.gov/FAQ/Type_Abuse/index.aspx [2/10/15]

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by Bank of America, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Qwest, Chevron, ING Retirement, AT&T, Verizon, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

Balancing Your Investment Choices with Asset Allocation

A chocolate cake. Pasta. A pancake. They’re all very different, but they generally involve flour, eggs, and perhaps a liquid. Depending on how much of each ingredient you use, you can get very different outcomes. The same is true of your investments. Balancing a portfolio means combining various types of investments using a recipe that’s appropriate for you.

Getting an appropriate mix

The combination of investments you choose can be as important as your specific investments. The mix of various asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives, accounts for most of the ups and downs of a portfolio’s returns.

There’s another reason to think about the mix of investments in your portfolio. Each type of investment has specific strengths and weaknesses that enable it to play a specific role in your overall investing strategy. Some investments may be chosen for their growth potential. Others may provide regular income. Still others may offer safety or simply serve as a temporary place to park your money. And some investments even try to fill more than one role. Because you probably have multiple needs and desires, you need some combination of investment types.

Balancing how much of each you should include is one of your most important tasks as an investor. That balance between growth, income, and safety is called your asset allocation, and it can help you manage the level and type of risks you face.

Balancing risk and return

Ideally, you should strive for an overall combination of investments that minimizes the risk you take in trying to achieve a targeted rate of return. This often means balancing more conservative investments against others that are designed to provide a higher return but that also involve more risk. For example, let’s say you want to get a 7.5% return on your money. Your financial professional tells you that in the past, stock market returns have averaged about 10% annually, and bonds roughly 5%. One way to try to achieve your 7.5% return would be by choosing a 50-50 mix of stocks and bonds. It might not work out that way, of course. This is only a hypothetical illustration, not a real portfolio, and there’s no guarantee that either stocks or bonds will perform as they have in the past. But asset allocation gives you a place to start.

Someone living on a fixed income, whose priority is having a regular stream of money coming in, will probably need a very different asset allocation than a young, well-to-do working professional whose priority is saving for a retirement that’s 30 years away. Many publications feature model investment portfolios that recommend generic asset allocations based on an investor’s age. These can help jump-start your thinking about how to divide up your investments. However, because they’re based on averages and hypothetical situations, they shouldn’t be seen as definitive. Your asset allocation is–or should be—as unique as you are. Even if two people are the same age and have similar incomes, they may have very different needs and goals. You should make sure your asset allocation is tailored to your individual circumstances.

Many ways to diversify

When financial professionals refer to asset allocation, they’re usually talking about overall classes: stocks, bonds, and cash or cash alternatives. However, there are others that also can be used to complement the major asset classes once you’ve got those basics covered. They include real estate and alternative investments such as hedge funds, private equity, metals, or collectibles. Because their returns don’t necessarily correlate closely with returns from major asset classes, they can provide additional diversification and balance in a portfolio.

Even within an asset class, consider how your assets are allocated. For example, if you’re investing in stocks, you could allocate a certain amount to large-cap stocks and a different percentage to stocks of smaller companies. Or you might allocate based on geography, putting some money in U.S. stocks and some in foreign companies. Bond investments might be allocated by various maturities, with some money in bonds that mature quickly and some in longer-term bonds. Or you might favor tax-free bonds over taxable ones, depending on your tax status and the type of account in which the bonds are held.

Asset allocation strategies

There are various approaches to calculating an asset allocation that makes sense for you.

The most popular approach is to look at what you’re investing for and how long you have to reach each goal. Those goals get balanced against your need for money to live on. The more secure your immediate income and the longer you have to pursue your investing goals, the more aggressively you might be able to invest for them. Your asset allocation might have a greater percentage of stocks than either bonds or cash, for example. Or you might be in the opposite situation. If you’re stretched financially and would have to tap your investments in an emergency, you’ll need to balance that fact against your longer-term goals. In addition to establishing an emergency fund, you may need to invest more conservatively than you might otherwise want to.

Some investors believe in shifting their assets among asset classes based on which types of investments they expect will do well or poorly in the near term. However, this approach, called “market timing,” is extremely difficult even for experienced investors. If you’re determined to try this, you should probably get some expert advice–and recognize that no one really knows where markets are headed.

Some people try to match market returns with an overall “core” strategy for most of their portfolio. They then put a smaller portion in very targeted investments that may behave very differently from those in the core and provide greater overall diversification. These often are asset classes that an investor thinks could benefit from more active management.

Just as you allocate your assets in an overall portfolio, you can also allocate assets for a specific goal. For example, you might have one asset allocation for retirement savings and another for college tuition bills. A retired professional with a conservative overall portfolio might still be comfortable investing more aggressively with money intended to be a grandchild’s inheritance. Someone who has taken the risk of starting a business might decide to be more conservative with his or her personal portfolio.

Things to think about

  • Don’t forget about the impact of inflation on your savings. As time goes by, your money will probably buy less and less unless your portfolio at least keeps pace with the inflation rate. Even if you think of yourself as a conservative investor, your asset allocation should take long-term inflation into account.
  • Your asset allocation should balance your financial goals with your emotional needs. If the way your money is invested keeps you awake worrying at night, you may need to rethink your investing goals and whether the strategy you’re pursuing is worth the lost sleep.
  • Your tax status might affect your asset allocation, though your decisions shouldn’t be based solely on tax concerns.

Even if your asset allocation was right for you when you chose it, it may not be appropriate for you now. It should change as your circumstances do and as new ways to invest are introduced. A piece of clothing you wore 10 years ago may not fit now; you just might need to update your asset allocation, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, ExxonMobil, access.att.com, Raytheon, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Pfizer, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Planning Lessons for Educators: Addressing Your Financial Issues

Being an educator requires expertise and that you stay current on developments in your field. However, that level of ongoing attention can make it difficult to find the time to stay on top of issues that affect your finances, or to put together a comprehensive financial plan. Whether you work directly with students or focus on research, whether you are just starting your career or have achieved distinction in your field, you may benefit from working with a financial professional who understands an educator’s special concerns. Here are some issues that may not have been at the top of your to-do list, but that can affect your long-term comfort and happiness.

 

Addressing tax issues

 

Many educators, particularly contingency or adjunct faculty members, have multiple sources of income. For example, you may teach at several institutions, and/or earn consulting fees or royalties on your work. Welcome as that income doubtless is, it also may complicate tax planning and preparation. Other tax issues you may need help with include the deductibility of student loan payments, tax issues that arise from pursuing an advanced degree, and the taxation of employer-provided benefits such as faculty housing.

 

Getting tenure is cause for celebration, but it also is likely to affect your tax situation. Moving into a higher tax bracket could mean it’s time to make or rethink decisions about how much you need to save for retirement, the immediate and long-term benefits of various retirement savings accounts–both taxable and tax-advantaged–and how your retirement savings are invested.

 

Planning for retirement and beyond

 

One key to any potentially successful retirement plan is starting early. The sooner you can put a well-thought-out plan in place, the better your chances of financial security. Saving for retirement is like building up an endowment; it gives you the freedom to expand your horizons. Because academic salaries tend to remain relatively predictable (at least compared with corporate salaries) once you’ve gotten tenure, you may have an advantage when it comes to retirement planning. Why? Because you may be able to make more accurate forecasts of your lifetime earning capacity than people in other professions, which can in turn help you make more informed decisions about how you should manage your money now. Statistical analysis tools can estimate the likelihood that a given financial strategy may be adequate to meet your long-term needs.

 

Take full advantage of the tax benefits of your employer’s 401(k), 403(b), or 457(b) plan, especially if there’s an employer match (it’s essentially free money). You can defer up to $18,000 in 2015 ($24,000 if you’re 50 or older), or 100% of your pay if less. Also, any deferrals you make to a 457(b) plan don’t reduce the amount you can contribute to a 401(k) or 403(b) plan. So, for example, if you’re eligible for both a 403(b) and 457(b) plan, you can contribute the maximum to both, for a total contribution of up to $36,000 ($48,000 if you’re 50 or older) in 2015. Beyond employer-sponsored plans, you may also be able to use other tax-advantaged retirement savings vehicles, such as a traditional or Roth IRA. In 2015, the annual contribution limit for traditional and Roth IRAs is $5,500 (plus an additional $1,000 if you’re 50 or older).

 

Investing responsibly

 

An understanding of investing fundamentals is essential to making informed decisions with your money. A financial professional can help you understand not only the mechanics of investing, but demonstrate why a given strategy might be appropriate for you. Most common investing strategies are derived from a wealth of research on the historical performance of various types of  investments. Though past performance is no guarantee of future results, it can help to understand the various asset classes, the way each class tendsto behave, and the function each fulfills in a balanced portfolio. Asset allocation is a method used to help manage investment risk; it does not guarantee a profit or protect against investment loss. You might find assistance especially useful if you are the recipient of a lump sum, such as a cash award, prize or grant for your work.

 

Do you have ethical concerns about investing? Socially conscious investing has entered the mainstream, and there are many investment options that could help you address your financial needs and still support your convictions.

 

Even if you’re an experienced investor, you may need to adjust your strategy periodically as your circumstances change over time–for example, after you receive tenure or as you near retirement. The sooner you establish a relationship with a professional, the sooner you might benefit from the expertise of someone who deals with financial issues daily.

 

Creating an estate plan

 

A will is the cornerstone of every estate plan; without it, you have no control over how your assets will be distributed. You also should have a durable power of attorney and a health care directive.

 

If you’ve amassed substantial outside business interests or intellectual property assets (e.g., copyrights, patents, and royalties), an estate plan is particularly important. Managing those assets wisely while you’re alive can help make an enormous difference in your ability to maximize their benefits for your heirs.

 

Estate planning also can further your legacy in other ways. Charitable giving to your heirs, your educational institution, or another nonprofit organization can both further your philanthropic goals and be an effective tool to help reduce taxes. For example, by establishing a trust, you may be able to benefit from an immediate tax deduction as well as provide an ongoing income stream for you or the charitable institution of your choice. While trusts offer numerous advantages, they incur up-front costs and often have ongoing administrative fees. The use of trusts involves a complex web of tax rules and regulations. You should consider the counsel of an experienced estate planning professional and your legal and tax advisors before implementing such strategies.

 

Protecting your assets

 

You also might want to think about whether you and your family are adequately shielded from emergencies. Types of insurance you might consider include:

  • Life insurance
  • Disability insurance
  • Liability insurance (particularly if you’re involved in applied research projects or consulting engagements)

 

Managing debt

 

Being in debt can make managing all other financial issues more challenging. If you’re in the early part of your career, you may still be facing years of student loan payments; if you’re more senior, you may be trying to pay off a mortgage and eliminate all debts before retirement. Balancing debt with the day-to-day demands of raising a family, seeking support for your work, finding good housing, and saving for your children’s education and your own retirement can be a formidable task.

 

Handling debt wisely can have consequences over time. Having someone review your finances might uncover some new ideas for improving your situation. It also can help you understand the true long-term cost of any debt you incur. Whether you have a specific concern or just want to be better prepared for the future, a financial professional may be able to help. However, there is no guarantee that working with a financial professional will improve investment results.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, resources.hewitt.com, ING Retirement, access.att.com, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, hewitt.com, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Holding Equities for the Long Term: Time Versus Timing

Legendary investor Warren Buffett is famous for his long-term perspective. He has said that he likes to make investments he would be comfortable holding even if the market shut down for 10 years. Investing with an eye to the long term is particularly important with stocks. Historically, equities have typically outperformed bonds, cash, and inflation, though past performance is no guarantee of future results and those returns also have involved higher volatility. It can be challenging to have Buffett-like patience during periods such as 2000-2002, when the stock market fell for 3 years in a row, or 2008, which was the worst year for the Standard & Poor’s 500* since the Depression era. Times like those can frazzle the nerves of any investor, even the pros. With stocks, having an investing strategy is only half the battle; the other half is being able to stick to it.

Just what is long term?

Your own definition of “long term” is most important, and will depend in part on your individual financial goals and when you want to achieve them. A 70-year-old retiree may have a shorter “long term” than a 30 year old who’s saving for retirement.

Your strategy should take into account that the market will not go in one direction forever–either up or down. However, it’s instructive to look at various holding periods for equities over the years. Historically, the shorter your holding period, the greater the chance of experiencing a loss. It’s true that the S&P 500 showed negative returns for the two 10-year periods ending in 2008 and 2009, which encompassed both the tech crash and the credit crisis. However, the last negative-return 10-year period before then ended in 1939, and each of the trailing 10-year periods since 2010 have also been positive.*

The benefits of patience

Trying to second-guess the market can be challenging at best; even professionals often have trouble. According to “Behavioral Patterns and Pitfalls of U.S. Investors,” a 2010 Library of Congress report prepared for the Securities and Exchange Commission, excessive trading often causes investors to underperform the market.

The Power of Time

Note: Though past performance is no guarantee of future results, the odds of achieving a positive return in the stock market have been much higher over a 5or 10-year period than for a single year. Another study, “Stock Market Extremes and Portfolio Performance 1926-2004,” initially done by the University of Michigan in 1994 and updated in 2005, showed that a handful of months or days account for most market gains and losses. The return dropped dramatically on a portfolio that was out of the stock market entirely on the 90 best trading days in history. Returns also improved just as dramatically by avoiding the market’s 90 worst days; the problem, of course, is being able to forecast which days those will be. Even if you’re able to avoid losses by being out of the market, will you know when to get back in?

Keeping yourself on track

It’s useful to have strategies in place that can help improve your financial and psychological readiness to take a long-term approach to investing in equities. Even if you’re not a buy-and-hold investor, a trading discipline can help you stick to a long-term plan.

Have a game plan against panic

Having predetermined guidelines that anticipate turbulent times can help prevent emotion from dictating your decisions. For example, you might determine in advance that you will take profits when the market rises by a certain percentage, and buy when the market has fallen by a set percentage. Or you might take a core-and-satellite approach, using buy-and-hold principles for most of your portfolio and tactical investing based on a shorter-term outlook for the rest.

Remember that everything’s relative

Most of the variance in the returns of different portfolios is based on their respective asset allocations. If you’ve got a well-diversified portfolio, it might be useful to compare its overall performance to the S&P 500. If you discover you’ve done better than, say, the stock market as a whole, you might feel better about your long-term prospects.

Current performance may not reflect past results

Don’t forget to look at how far you’ve come since you started investing. When you’re focused on day-to-day market movements, it’s easy to forget the progress you’ve already made. Keeping track of where you stand relative to not only last year but to 3, 5, and 10 years ago may help you remember that the current situation is unlikely to last forever.

Consider playing defense

Some investors try to prepare for volatile periods by reexamining their allocation to such defensive sectors as consumer staples or utilities (though like all stocks, those sectors involve their own risks). Dividends also can help cushion the impact of price swings. If you’re retired and worried about a market downturn’s impact on your income, think before reacting. If you sell stock during a period of falling prices simply because that was your original game plan, you might not get the best price. Moreover, that sale might also reduce your ability to generate income in later years. What might it cost you in future returns by selling stocks at a low point if you don’t need to? Perhaps you could adjust your lifestyle temporarily.

Use cash to help manage your mindset

Having some cash holdings can be the financial equivalent of taking deep breaths to relax. It can enhance your ability to act thoughtfully instead of impulsively. An appropriate asset allocation can help you have enough resources on hand to prevent having to sell stocks at an inopportune time to meet ordinary expenses or, if you’ve used leverage, a margin call.

A cash cushion coupled with a disciplined investing strategy can change your perspective on market downturns. Knowing that you’re positioned to take advantage of a market swoon by picking up bargains may increase your ability to be patient.

Know what you own and why you own it

When the market goes off the tracks, knowing why you made a specific investment can help you evaluate whether those reasons still hold. If you don’t understand why a security is in your portfolio, find out. A stock may still be a good long-term opportunity even when its price has dropped.

Tell yourself that tomorrow is another day

The market is nothing if not cyclical. Even if you wish you had sold at what turned out to be a market peak, or regret having sat out a buying opportunity, you may get another chance. If you’re considering changes, a volatile market is probably the worst time to turn your portfolio inside out. Solid asset allocation is still the basis of good investment planning.

Be willing to learn from your mistakes

Anyone can look good during bull markets; smart investors are produced by the inevitable rough patches. Even the best aren’t right all the time. If an earlier choice now seems rash, sometimes the best strategy is to take a tax loss, learn from the experience, and apply the lesson to future decisions.

*Data source: Calculations by Broadridge based on total returns on the S&P 500 Index over rolling 1-, 5-, and 10-year periods between 1926 and 2014.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Patrick Ray, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, netbenefits.fidelity.com, Pfizer, Verizon, AT&T, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Patrick Ray is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.