Medical Professionals: A Prescription for Your Financial Health

The demands on medical practitioners today can seem overwhelming. It’s no secret that health-care delivery is changing, and those changes are reflected in the financial issues that health-care professionals face every day. You must continually educate yourself about new research in your chosen specialty, stay current on the latest technology that is transforming health care, and pay attention to business considerations, including ever-changing state and federal insurance regulations.

Like many, you may have transitioned from medical school and residency to being on your own with little formal preparation for the substantial financial issues you now face. Even the day-to-day concerns that affect most people–paying college tuition bills or student loans, planning for retirement, buying a home, insuring yourself and your business–may be complicated by the challenges and rewards of a medical practice. It’s no wonder that many medical practitioners look forward to the day when they can relax and enjoy the fruits of their labors.

Unfortunately, substantial demands on your time can make it difficult for you to accurately evaluate your financial plan, or monitor changes that can affect it. That’s especially true given ongoing health care reform efforts that will affect the future of the industry as a whole. Just as patients need periodic checkups, you may need to work with a financial professional to make sure your finances receive the proper care.

Maximizing your personal assets

Much like medicine, the field of finance has been the subject of much scientific research and data, and should be approached with the same level of discipline and thoughtfulness. Making the most of your earning years requires a plan for addressing the following issues.

Retirement

Your years of advanced training and perhaps the additional costs of launching and building a practice may have put you behind your peers outside the health-care field by a decade or more in starting to save and invest for retirement. You may have found yourself struggling with debt from years of college, internship, and residency; later, there’s the ongoing juggling act between making mortgage payments, caring for your parents, paying for weddings and tuition for your children, and maybe trying to squeeze in a vacation here and there. Because starting to save early is such a powerful ally when it comes to building a nest egg, you may face a real challenge in assuring your own retirement. A solid financial plan can help.

Investments

Getting a late start on saving for retirement can create other problems. For example, you might be tempted to try to make up for lost time by making investment choices that carry an inappropriate level or type of risk for you. Speculating with money you will need in the next year or two could leave you short when you need that money. And once your earnings improve, you may be tempted to overspend on luxuries you were denied during the lean years. One of the benefits of a long-range financial plan is that it can help you protect your assets–and your future–from inappropriate choices.

Tuition

Many medical professionals not only must pay off student loans, but also have a strong desire to help their children with college costs, precisely because they began their own careers saddled with large debts.

Tax considerations

Once the lean years are behind you, your success means you probably need to pay more attention to tax-aware investing strategies that help you keep more of what you earn.

Using preventive care

The nature of your profession requires that you pay special attention to making sure you are protected both personally and professionally from the financial consequences of legal action, a medical emergency of your own, and business difficulties. Having a well-defined protection plan can give you confidence that you can practice your chosen profession without putting your family or future in jeopardy.

Liability insurance

Medical professionals are caught financially between rising premiums for malpractice insurance and fixed reimbursements from managed-care programs, and you may find yourself evaluating a variety of approaches to providing that protection. Some physicians also carry insurance that protects them against unintentional billing errors or omissions. Remember that in addition to potential malpractice claims, you also face the same potential liabilities as other business owners. You might consider an umbrella policy as well as coverage that protects you against business-related exposures such as fire, theft, employee dishonesty, or business interruption.

Disability insurance

Your income depends on your ability to function, especially if you’re a solo practitioner, and you may have fixed overhead costs that would need to be covered if your ability to work were impaired. One choice you’ll face is how early in your career to purchase disability insurance. Age plays a role in determining premiums, and you may qualify for lower premiums if you are relatively young. When evaluating disability income policies, medical professionals should pay special attention to how the policy defines disability. Look for a liberal definition such as “own occupation,” which can help ensure that you’re covered in case you can’t practice in your chosen specialty.

To protect your business if you become disabled, consider business overhead expense insurance that will cover routine expenses such as payroll, utilities, and equipment rental. An insurance professional can help evaluate your needs.

Practice management and business planning

Is a group practice more advantageous than operating solo, taking in a junior colleague, or working for a managed-care network? If you have an independent practice, should you own or rent your office space? What are the pros and cons of taking over an existing practice compared to starting one from scratch? If you’re part of a group practice, is the practice structured financially to accommodate the needs of all partners? Does running a “concierge” or retainer practice appeal to you? If you’re considering expansion, how should you finance it?

Questions like these are rarely simple and should be done in the context of an overall financial plan that takes into account both your personal and professional goals.

Many physicians have created processes and products for their own practices, and have then licensed their creations to a corporation. If you are among them, you may need help with legal and financial concerns related to patents, royalties, and the like. And if you have your own practice, you may find that cash flow management, maximizing return on working capital, hiring and managing employees, and financing equipment purchases and maintenance become increasingly complex issues as your practice develops.

Practice valuation

You may have to make tradeoffs between maximizing current income from your practice and maximizing its value as an asset for eventual sale. Also, timing the sale of a practice and minimizing taxes on its proceeds can be complex. If you’re planning a business succession, or considering changing practices or even careers, you might benefit from help with evaluating the financial consequences of those decisions.

Estate planning

Estate planning, which can both minimize taxes and further your personal and philanthropic goals, probably will become important to you at some point. Options you might consider include:

  • Life insurance
  • Buy-sell agreements for your practice
  • Charitable trusts

You’ve spent a long time acquiring and maintaining expertise in your field, and your patients rely on your specialized knowledge. Doesn’t it make sense to treat your finances with the same level of care?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, Glaxosmithkline, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Merck, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, 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.

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Setting and Targeting Investment Goals

Go out into your yard and dig a big hole. Every month, throw $50 into it, but don’t take any money out until you’re ready to buy a house, send your child to college, or retire. It sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it? But that’s what investing without setting clear-cut goals is like. If you’re lucky, you may end up with enough money to meet your needs, but you have no way to know for sure.

How do you set investment goals?

Setting investment goals means defining your dreams for the future. When you’re setting goals, it’s best to be as specific as possible. For instance, you know you want to retire, but when? You know you want to send your child to college, but to an Ivy League school or to the community college down the street? Writing down and prioritizing your investment goals is an important first step toward developing an investment plan.

What is your time horizon?

Your investment time horizon is the number of years you have to invest toward a specific goal. Each investment goal you set will have a different time horizon. For example, some of your investment goals will be long term (e.g., you have more than 15 years to plan), some will be short term (e.g., you have 5 years or less to plan), and some will be intermediate (e.g., you have between 5 and 15 years to plan). Establishing time horizons will help you determine how aggressively you will need to invest to accumulate the amount needed to meet your goals.

How much will you need to invest?

Although you can invest a lump sum of cash, many people find that regular, systematic investing is also a great way to build wealth over time. Start by determining how much you’ll need to set aside monthly or annually to meet each goal. Although you’ll want to invest as much as possible, choose a realistic amount that takes into account your other financial obligations, so that you can easily stick with your plan. But always be on the lookout for opportunities to increase the amount you’re investing, such as participating in an automatic investment program that boosts your contribution by a certain percentage each year, or by dedicating a portion of every raise, bonus, cash gift, or tax refund you receive to your investment objectives.

Which investments should you choose?

Regardless of your financial goals, you’ll need to decide how to best allocate your investment dollars. One important consideration is your tolerance for risk. All investments involve some risk, but some involve more than others. How well can you handle market ups and downs? Are you willing to accept a higher degree of risk in exchange for the opportunity to earn a higher rate of return?

Whether you’re investing for retirement, college, or another financial goal, your overall objective is to maximize returns without taking on more risk than you can bear. But no matter what level of risk you’re comfortable with, make sure to choose investments that are consistent with your goals and time horizon. A financial professional can help you construct a diversified investment portfolio that takes these factors into account.

Investing for retirement

After a hard day at the office, do you ask yourself, “Is it time to retire yet?” Retirement may seem a long way off, but it’s never too early to start planning, especially if you want retirement to be the good life you imagine.

For example, let’s say that your goal is to retire at age 65. At age 20 you begin contributing $3,000 per year to your tax-deferred 401(k) account. If your investment earns 6% per year, compounded annually, you’ll have approximately $679,000 in your investment account when you retire.

But what would happen if you left things to chance instead? Let’s say that you’re not really worried about retirement, so you wait until you’re 35 to begin investing. Assuming you contributed the same amount to your 401(k) and the rate of return on your investment dollars was the same, you would end up with approximately $254,400. And, as this chart illustrates, if you were to wait until age 45 to begin investing for retirement, you would end up with only about $120,000 by the time you retire.

Investing for college

Perhaps you faced the truth the day your child was born. Or maybe it hit you when your child started first grade: You have only so much time to save for college. In fact, for many people, saving for college is an intermediate-term goal–if you start saving when your child is in elementary school, you’ll have 10 to 15 years to build your college fund.

Of course, the earlier you start, the better. The more time you have before you need the money, the greater chance you have to build a substantial college fund due to compounding. With a longer investment time frame and a tolerance for some risk, you might also be willing to put some of your money into investments that offer the potential for growth.

Investing for a major purchase

At some point, you’ll probably want to buy a home, a car, or even that vacation home you’ve always wanted. Although they’re hardly impulse items, large purchases are usually not something for which you plan far in advance; one to five years is a common time frame. Because you don’t have much time to invest, you’ll have to budget your investment dollars wisely. Rather than choosing growth investments, you may want to put your money into less volatile, highly liquid investments that have some potential for growth, but that offer you quick and easy access to your money should you need it.

Review and revise

Over time, you may need to update your investment strategy. Get in the habit of checking your portfolio at least once a year–more frequently if the market is particularly volatile or when there have been significant changes in your life. You may need to rebalance your portfolio to bring it back in line with your investment goals and risk tolerance. If you need help, a financial professional can help.

Investing for Your Goals

Investment goal and time horizon At 4%, you’ll need to invest At 8%, you’ll need to invest At 12%, you’ll need to invest
Have $10,000 for down payment on home: 5 years $151 per month $136 per month $123 per month
Have $50,000 in college fund: 10 years $340 per month $276 per month $223 per month
Have $250,000 in retirement fund: 20 years $685 per month $437 per month $272 per month
Table assumes 3% annual inflation, and that the return is compounded annually; taxes are not considered. Also, rates of return will vary over time, particularly for long-term investments, which could affect the amounts you would need to invest. This hypothetical example is not intended to reflect the actual performance of any investment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, ExxonMobil, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Glaxosmithkline, 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.

Indexed Annuities

An indexed annuity (IA) is a contract between you and an insurance company. You pay premiums in a lump sum or periodically, and the issuer promises* to pay you some amount in the future. The IA issuer also provides a minimum guaranteed* interest rate on your premiums paid.

With an IA, the interest earnings are tied to the performance of an equity index such as the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

With an IA, your interest earnings may increase if the market performs well, but if the market performs poorly, your principal is not reduced by market losses. Indexed annuities are generally subject to a lengthy surrender charge period. Most IAs pay a minimum guaranteed* interest rate (e.g., 3%) on a percentage of premium (e.g., 87.5%). However, if the IA doesn’t earn interest greater than the minimum, cashing in the account prior to the end of the surrender period may cause the investor to lose money.

Note, however, that any return, whether guaranteed or not, is only as good as the insurance company that offers it. Both the IA’s principal and its earnings are entirely dependent on the insurer’s ability to meet its financial obligations.

Also, be aware that buyers of IAs are not directly invested in the index or the equities comprising the index. The index is merely the instrument used to measure the gain or loss in the market, and that measurement is used to calculate the interest rate.

*Annuity guarantees are subject to the claims-paying ability of the annuity issuer.

Basics

The first IAs that were introduced worked very simply; the interest rate was determined by computing the difference between the value of the index to which the annuity was linked on the annuity’s issue date and the value of the same index on the annuity’s maturity date. If the difference was negative (i.e., the market performed poorly and the value of the index decreased), interest was calculated using the minimum interest rate. If the difference was positive (i.e., the market performed well and the value of the index increased), the interest rate used was a percentage of the difference–but usually not the entire difference.

Participation rates

The participation rate determines how much of the gain in an index will be imparted to your annuity. For example, if the difference (i.e., gain) in the index is 7% and the participation rate is 90%, then the interest rate is 6.3% (90% of 7%). Participation rates of 70% to 90% are typical. Obviously, the higher the participation rate, the higher the potential return. Participation rates are set and limited by the insurance company.

Indexing methods

The indexing method is the approach used to measure the change in an index. The original method, which measures index values at the beginning and end of the term, is known as the point-to-point or European method. The point-to-point method is the simplest approach, but it fails to consider market fluctuations that occur in between the issue and maturity dates. This can result in unsatisfactory returns if the market declines at the end of the term.

Another approach, known as the high-water-mark or look-back method, looks at the value of the index at certain points during the term, such as annual anniversaries. The highest value of these points is then compared to the date-of-issue value to determine any gain to be credited to the IA.

A third approach, the averaging method, also looks at the value of the index at certain points during the annuity’s term, then uses the average value of these points to compute the difference from either the date-of-issue value or the date-of-maturity value.

The fourth main indexing method is known as the reset or ratcheting method. With this method, start-of-year values are compared to end-of-year values for each year of the annuity’s term. Decreases in the index are ignored, and increases are locked in every year.

How interest is credited to an IA

With some IAs, no interest is credited until the end of the term. With others, a percentage of the interest is vested or credited annually or periodically, which gradually increases as the end of the term nears. Further, some IAs pay simple interest while others pay compound interest. These features are important not only because they affect the amount of your return, but also because having interest vested or credited to your IA periodically instead of at the end of the term increases the likelihood that you’ll receive at least some interest if the market thereafter declines.

Caution: Many IAs have surrender charges, which can be a percentage of the amount withdrawn or a reduction in the interest rate. Further, withdrawals from tax-deferred annuities before age 59½ may be subject to a 10% penalty.

Interest rate cap

Some IAs put an upper limit on the interest rate the annuity will earn. Say, for example, that an IA has an interest rate cap of 6%. If the gain in the index is 7% and the participation rate is 90%, the interest rate will be 6%–not 6.3%.

Asset fee/spread/margin

Some IAs charge an asset fee, also known as spread or margin, which is a percentage that is deducted from the interest rate. The asset fee may replace the participation rate or it may be added to it. For example, if the gain in the index is 7%, the interest rate on an IA with an asset fee of 2% will be 5%. If there is also a 90% participation rate, the interest rate will be 4.5%.

Questions to ask about an IA

  • What is the minimum guaranteed* interest rate?
  • What is the participation rate?
  • What is the indexing method? How does it work? Is there an interest rate cap?
  • Is there an asset fee/spread/margin? Is it in addition to or instead of a participation rate?
  • What is the term?
  • When is interest credited or vested? Is interest compounded?
  • What are the surrender charges? Are there penalties for partial withdrawals?

*Annuity guarantees are subject to the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the annuity issuer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, 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.

The Power of Dividends in a Portfolio

It wasn’t so long ago that many investors regarded dividends as roughly the financial equivalent of a record turntable at a gathering of MP3 users–a throwback to an earlier era, irrelevant to the real action.

But fast-forward a few years, and things look a little different. Since 2003, when the top federal income tax rate on qualified dividends was reduced from a maximum of 38.6%, dividends have acquired renewed respect. Favorable tax treatment isn’t the only reason, either; the ability of dividends to provide income and potentially help mitigate market volatility is also attractive to investors. As baby boomers approach retirement and begin to focus on income-producing investments, the long-term demand for high-quality, reliable dividends is likely to increase.

Why consider dividends?

Dividend income has represented roughly one-third of the total return on the Standard and Poor’s 500 since 1926. According to S&P, the portion of total return attributable to dividends has ranged from a high of 53% during the 1940s–in other words, more than half that decade’s return resulted from dividends–to a low of 14% during the 1990s, when investors tended to focus on growth.*

If dividends are reinvested, their impact over time becomes even more dramatic. S&P calculates that $1 invested in the Standard and Poor’s 500 on January 1,1929 would have grown to $66.48 by 2012. However, when coupled with reinvested dividends, that same $1 investment would have resulted in $1,832.45.* (Bear in mind that past performance is no guarantee of future results, and taxes were not factored into the calculations.)

If a stock’s price rises 8% a year, even a 2.5% dividend yield can push its total return into double digits. Dividends can be especially attractive during times of relatively low or mediocre returns; in some cases, dividends could help turn a negative return positive, and also can mitigate the impact of a volatile market by helping to even out a portfolio’s return. Another argument has been made for paying attention to dividends as a reliable indicator of a company’s financial health. Investors have become more conscious in recent years of the value of dependable data as a basis for investment decisions, and dividend payments aren’t easily restated or massaged.

Finally, many dividend-paying stocks represent large, established companies that may have significant resources to weather an economic downturn–which could be helpful if you’re relying on those dividends to help pay living expenses.

The corporate incentive

Financial and utility companies have been traditional mainstays for investors interested in dividends, but other sectors of the market also have begun to offer them. For example, investors have been stepping up pressure on cash-rich technology companies to distribute at least some of their profits as dividends rather than reinvesting all of that money to fuel growth. Some investors believe that pressure to maintain or increase dividends imposes a certain fiscal discipline on companies that might otherwise be tempted to use the cash to make ill-considered acquisitions (though there are certainly no guarantees that a company won’t do so anyway).

However, according to S&P, corporations are beginning to favor stock buybacks rather than dividend increases as a way to reward shareholders. If it continues, that trend could make ever-increasing dividends more elusive.

Differences among dividends

Dividends paid on common stock are by no means guaranteed; a company’s board of directors can decide to reduce or eliminate them. The amount of a company’s dividend can fluctuate with earnings, which are influenced by economic, market, and political events. However, a steadily growing dividend is generally regarded as a sign of a company’s health and stability. For that reason, most corporate boards are reluctant to send negative signals by cutting dividends.

That isn’t an issue for holders of preferred stocks, which offer a fixed rate of return paid out as dividends. However, there’s a tradeoff for that greater certainty; preferred shareholders do not participate in any company growth as fully as common shareholders do. If the company does well and increases its dividend, preferred stockholders still receive the same payments.

The term “preferred” refers to several ways in which preferred stocks have favored status. First, dividends on preferred stock are paid before the common stockholders can be paid a dividend. Most preferred stockholders do not have voting rights in the company, but their claims on the company’s assets will be satisfied before those of common stockholders if the company experiences financial difficulties. Also, preferred shares usually pay a higher rate of income than common shares.

Because of their fixed dividends, preferred stocks behave somewhat similarly to bonds; for example, their market value can be affected by changing interest rates. And almost all preferred stocks have a provision that allows the company to call in its preferred shares at a set time or at a predetermined future date, much as it might a callable bond.

Look before you leap

Investing in dividend-paying stocks isn’t as simple as just picking the highest yield. If you’re investing for income, consider whether the company’s cash flow can sustain its dividend.

Also, some companies choose to use corporate profits to buy back company shares. That may increase the value of existing shares, but it sometimes takes the place of instituting or raising dividends.

If you’re interested in a dividend-focused investing style, look for terms such as “equity income,” “dividend income,” or “growth and income.” Also, some exchange-traded funds (ETFs) track an index comprised of dividend-paying stocks, or that is based on dividend yield.

Note: Be sure to check the prospectus for information about expenses, fees and potential risks, and consider them carefully before you invest.

Taxes and dividends

The American Tax Relief Act of 2012 increased the maximum tax rate for qualified dividends to 20% for individuals in the 39.6% federal income tax bracket. For individuals in the 25%, 28%, 33%, or 35% marginal tax bracket, a 15% maximum rate will generally apply, while those in the 10% or 15% tax bracket will still owe 0% on qualified dividends. Depending on your income, dividends you receive may also be subject to a 3.8% net investment income tax (also referred to as the unearned income Medicare contribution tax).

Qualified dividends are those that come from a U.S. or qualified foreign corporation, one that you have held for more than 60 days during a 121-day period (60 days before and 61 days after the stock’s ex-dividend date). Form 1099-DIV, which reports your annual dividend and interest income for tax accounting purposes, will indicate whether a dividend is qualified or not.

Some dividends aren’t taxed at the same rate as qualified dividends, and a portion may be taxed as ordinary income. Also, some so-called dividends, such as those from deposits or share accounts at cooperative banks, credit unions, U.S. savings and loan associations, and mutual savings banks actually are considered interest for tax purposes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of John Jastremski, 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 resources.hewitt.com, fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Northrop Grumman, 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.

How Much Annual Income Can Your Retirement Portfolio Provide?

Your retirement lifestyle will depend not only on your assets and investment choices, but also on how quickly you draw down your retirement portfolio. The annual percentage that you take out of your portfolio, whether from returns or the principal itself, is known as your withdrawal rate. Figuring out an appropriate initial withdrawal rate is a key issue in retirement planning and presents many challenges.

Why is your withdrawal rate important?

Take out too much too soon, and you might run out of money in your later years. Take out too little, and you might not enjoy your retirement years as much as you could. Your withdrawal rate is especially important in the early years of your retirement; how your portfolio is structured then and how much you take out can have a significant impact on how long your savings will last.

Gains in life expectancy have been dramatic. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, people today can expect to live more than 30 years longer than they did a century ago. Individuals who reached age 65 in 1950 could anticipate living an average of 14 years more, to age 79; now a 65-year-old might expect to live for roughly an additional 19 years. Assuming rising inflation, your projected annual income in retirement will need to factor in those cost-of-living increases. That means you’ll need to think carefully about how to structure your portfolio to provide an appropriate withdrawal rate, especially in the early years of retirement.

Current Life Expectancy Estimates

 

  Men Women
At birth 76.4 81.2

 

At age 65 83.0 85.5

Source: NCHS Data Brief, Number 229, December 2015

Conventional wisdom

So what withdrawal rate should you expect from your retirement savings? The answer: it all depends. The seminal study on withdrawal rates for tax-deferred retirement accounts (William P. Bengen, “Determining Withdrawal Rates Using Historical Data,” Journal of Financial Planning, October 1994) looked at the annual performance of hypothetical portfolios that are continually rebalanced to achieve a 50-50 mix of large-cap (S&P 500 Index) common stocks and intermediate-term Treasury notes. The study took into account the potential impact of major financial events such as the early Depression years, the stock decline of 1937-1941, and the 1973-1974 recession. It found that a withdrawal rate of slightly more than 4% would have provided inflation-adjusted income for at least 30 years.

Other later studies have shown that broader portfolio diversification, rebalancing strategies, variable inflation rate assumptions, and being willing to accept greater uncertainty about your annual income and how long your retirement nest egg will be able to provide an income also can have a significant impact on initial withdrawal rates. For example, if you’re unwilling to accept a 25% chance that your chosen strategy will be successful, your sustainable initial withdrawal rate may need to be lower than you’d prefer to increase your odds of getting the results you desire. Conversely, a higher withdrawal rate might mean greater uncertainty about whether you risk running out of money. However, don’t forget that studies of withdrawal rates are based on historical data about the performance of various types of investments in the past. Given market performance in recent years, many experts are suggesting being more conservative in estimating future returns.

Note: Past results don’t guarantee future performance. All investing involves risk, including the potential loss of principal, and there can be no guarantee that any investing strategy will be successful.

Inflation is a major consideration

To better understand why suggested initial withdrawal rates aren’t higher, it’s essential to think about how inflation can affect your retirement income. Here’s a hypothetical illustration; to keep it simple, it does not account for the impact of any taxes. If a $1 million portfolio is invested in an account that yields 5%, it provides $50,000 of annual income. But if annual inflation pushes prices up by 3%, more income–$51,500–would be needed next year to preserve purchasing power. Since the account provides only $50,000 income, an additional $1,500 must be withdrawn from the principal to meet expenses. That principal reduction, in turn, reduces the portfolio’s ability to produce income the following year. In a straight linear model, principal reductions accelerate, ultimately resulting in a zero portfolio balance after 25 to 27 years, depending on the timing of the withdrawals.

Volatility and portfolio longevity

When setting an initial withdrawal rate, it’s important to take a portfolio’s ups and downs into account—and the need for a relatively predictable income stream in retirement isn’t the only reason. According to several studies done in the late 1990s and updated in 2011 by Philip L. Cooley, Carl M. Hubbard, and Daniel T. Walz, the more dramatic a portfolio’s fluctuations, the greater the odds that the portfolio might not last as long as needed. If it becomes necessary during market downturns to sell some securities in order to continue to meet a fixed withdrawal rate, selling at an inopportune time could affect a portfolio’s ability to generate future income.

Making your portfolio either more aggressive or more conservative will affect its lifespan. A more aggressive portfolio may produce higher returns but might also be subject to a higher degree of loss. A more conservative portfolio might produce steadier returns at a lower rate, but could lose purchasing power to inflation.

Calculating an appropriate withdrawal rate

Your withdrawal rate needs to take into account many factors, including (but not limited to) your asset allocation, projected inflation rate, expected rate of return, annual income targets, investment horizon, and comfort with uncertainty. The higher your withdrawal rate, the more you’ll have to consider whether it is sustainable over the long term.

Ultimately, however, there is no standard rule of thumb; every individual has unique retirement goals, means, and circumstances that come into play.

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 access.att.com, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Bank of America, fidelity.com, Glaxosmithkline, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, ING Retirement, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, 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.

Women: Planning for the Financial Impact of Children

Children are a special blessing and their arrival brings boundless love and joy into our lives that you can’t put a price on. But adding a child to the household impacts the family budget–and women especially—in very measurable ways. Whether this is your first child or your fourth, here are some financial matters to think about and plan for before and after baby arrives.

Check your health insurance

If you and your spouse are both eligible for employer-sponsored health insurance, compare plans to see which spouse’s policy offers the best coverage so you’ll be prepared during the open enrollment period. Along with comparing deductibles, co-payments, and premiums, look at coverage for prenatal visits, hospital and midwife services, infertility treatments, and dependent care.

Once you’ve chosen a health plan, read the policy carefully to see what maternity coverage is provided. Also find out if the policy covers complications from a premature birth, including a stay in a neonatal unit, and whether a separate deductible applies if your baby is hospitalized beyond a certain period of time. Typically, your baby will be covered under your policy from the time of birth, though you’ll have to contact your insurer to officially add your child to the policy. If you’re adopting a child, make sure you know when your policy will begin coverage.

Budget for baby

Some expenses typically increase when you add a baby to the household, including:

  • Groceries, including diapers, formula (you may use some even if you’re nursing), and baby food
  • Clothing and baby equipment
  • Transportation costs–Will you need to buy a larger, more practical, or second car?
  • Housing costs–Will you need to move to a larger apartment or house, or will you simply need to push a bureau a few feet to make room for a crib?

If a housing move is in the cards but you aren’t able to do it before baby arrives, don’t worry. Plan as best you can ahead of time–request a free copy of your credit report and clear up any issues, compare mortgage rates, request a preapproval, look at real estate listings to get an idea of the inventory available in your price range, get estimates to remodel your existing space (if that’s a possibility), and so on.

Thinking about the ways a child can impact the family budget often leads to a larger question.

Will you go back to work?

The decision to go back to work after having a baby is a personal one, and often depends on many factors. Maybe you want to work because you enjoy your job, or maybe you have no choice but to work because it’s the only way you can survive financially. Or perhaps you want to stay home and you’ve spent the past few years shoring up your finances. Whatever you decide, know that your decision isn’t etched in stone. Women, much more so than men, tend to move in and out of the workforce to accommodate children. So whatever you do this year might not be what you’re doing two, five, or ten years from now.

If you don’t plan to return to work:

  • Find out if your employer will pay you for any unused vacation/sick time.
  • Be up-front about your plans and remain on good terms with your supervisor and colleagues in the event you change your mind about working or need a reference in the future.
  • Pay down debt where possible.
  • Try to live on one paycheck before you leave work, which can help you cut non-essential spending.
  • If you have federal student loans, a deferment or forbearance request can give you a six-month reprieve from paying them.
  • Continue to save for retirement–you can establish and contribute to your own IRA (traditional or Roth) based on your spouse’s earnings under the spousal IRA rules

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, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ING Retirement, Pfizer, AT&T, Hughes, ExxonMobil, Qwest, Chevron, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent, 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

Reaching Retirement: Now What?

You’ve worked hard your whole life anticipating the day you could finally retire. Well, that day has arrived! But with it comes the realization that you’ll need to carefully manage your assets so that your retirement savings will last.

Review your portfolio regularly

Traditional wisdom holds that retirees should value the safety of their principal above all else. For this reason, some people shift their investment portfolio to fixed-income investments, such as bonds and money market accounts, as they approach retirement. The problem with this approach is that you’ll effectively lose purchasing power if the return on your investments doesn’t keep up with inflation. While generally it makes sense for your portfolio to become progressively more conservative as you grow older, it may be wise to consider maintaining at least a portion of your portfolio in growth investments.

Spend wisely

Don’t assume that you’ll be able to live on the earnings generated by your investment portfolio and retirement accounts for the rest of your life. At some point, you’ll probably have to start drawing on the principal. But you’ll want to be careful not to spend too much too soon. This can be a great temptation, particularly early in retirement.

A good guideline is to make sure your annual withdrawal rate isn’t greater than 4% to 6% of your portfolio. (The appropriate percentage for you will depend on a number of factors, including the length of your payout period and your portfolio’s asset allocation.) Remember that if you whittle away your principal too quickly, you may not be able to earn enough on the remaining principal to carry you through the later years.

Understand your retirement plan distribution options

Most pension plans pay benefits in the form of an annuity. If you’re married you generally must choose between a higher retirement benefit paid over your lifetime, or a smaller benefit that continues to your spouse after your death. A financial professional can help you with this difficult, but important, decision.

Other employer retirement plans like 401(k)s typically don’t pay benefits as annuities; the distribution (and investment) options available to you may be limited. This may be important because if you’re trying to stretch your savings, you’ll want to withdraw money from your retirement accounts as slowly as possible. Doing so will conserve the principal balance, and will also give those funds the chance to continue growing tax deferred during your retirement years.

Consider whether it makes sense to roll your employer retirement account into a traditional IRA, which typically has very flexible withdrawal options.1 If you decide to work for another employer, you might also be able to transfer assets you’ve accumulated to your new employer’s plan, if the new employer offers a retirement plan and allows a rollover.

Plan for required distributions

Keep in mind that you must generally begin taking minimum distributions from employer retirement plans and traditional IRAs when you reach age 70½, whether you need them or not. Plan to spend these dollars first in retirement.

If you own a Roth IRA, you aren’t required to take any distributions during your lifetime. Your funds can continue to grow tax deferred, and qualified distributions will be tax free.2 Because of these unique tax benefits, it generally makes sense to withdraw funds from a Roth IRA last.

Know your Social Security options

You’ll need to decide when to start receiving your Social Security retirement benefits. At normal retirement age (which varies from 66 to 67, depending on the year you were born), you can receive your full Social Security retirement benefit. You can elect to receive your Social Security retirement benefit as early as age 62, but if you begin receiving your benefit before your normal retirement age, your benefit will be reduced. Conversely, if you delay retirement, you can increase your Social Security retirement benefit.

Consider phasing

For many workers, the sudden change from employee to retiree can be a difficult one. Some employers, especially those in the public sector, have begun offering “phased retirement” plans to address this problem. Phased retirement generally allows you to continue working on a part-time basis–you benefit by having a smoother transition from full-time employment to retirement, and your employer benefits by retaining the services of a talented employee. Some phased retirement plans even allow you to access all or part of your pension benefit while you work part time.

Of course, to the extent you are able to support yourself with a salary, the less you’ll need to dip into your retirement savings. Another advantage of delaying full retirement is that you can continue to build tax-deferred funds in your IRA or employer-sponsored retirement plan. Keep in mind, though, that you may be required to start taking minimum distributions from your qualified retirement plan or traditional IRA once you reach age 70½, if you want to avoid substantial penalties.

If you do continue to work, make sure you understand the consequences. Some pension plans base your retirement benefit on your final average pay. If you work part time, your pension benefit may be reduced because your pay has gone down. Remember, too, that income from a job may affect the amount of Social Security retirement benefit you receive if you are under normal retirement age. But once you reach normal retirement age, you can earn as much as you want without affecting your Social Security retirement benefit.

Facing a shortfall

What if you’re nearing retirement and you determine that your retirement income may not be adequate to meet your retirement expenses? If retirement is just around the corner, you may need to drastically change your spending and saving habits. Saving even a little money can really add up if you do it consistently and earn a reasonable rate of return. And by making permanent changes to your spending habits, you’ll find that your savings will last even longer. Start by preparing a budget to see where your money is going. Here are some suggested ways to stretch your retirement dollars:

  • Refinance your home mortgage if interest rates have dropped since you obtained your loan, or reduce your housing expenses by moving to a less expensive home or apartment.
  • Access the equity in your home. Use the proceeds from a second mortgage or home equity line of credit to pay off higher-interest-rate debts, or consider a reverse mortgage.
  • Sell one of your cars if you have two. When your remaining car needs to be replaced, consider buying a used one.
  • Transfer credit card balances from higher-interest cards to a low- or no-interest card, and then cancel the old accounts.
  • Ask about insurance discounts and review your insurance needs (e.g., your need for life insurance may have lessened).
  • Reduce discretionary expenses such as lunches and dinners out.

By planning carefully, investing wisely, and spending thoughtfully, you can increase the likelihood that your retirement will be a financially comfortable one.

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, Chevron, Hughes, Alcatel-Lucent, Qwest, Bank of America, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, 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.

Why Save for Retirement?

When you envision retirement, you probably see yourself living comfortably, doing what makes you happy. Your dreams could be as lofty as traveling the world or as simple as spending more time with your friends and family. Everyone’s vision is unique.

Fortunately, whatever your dream, your employer wants to help you make it reality–by offering a retirement savings plan. Here’s why you should consider taking full advantage of your plan.

Enhance your income strategy

Like so many other major life events, a successful retirement depends on advance planning. No matter what your age, now is the time to start thinking about where your retirement income will come from. Several possible resources may be available.

For instance, some people assume that Social Security will meet all of their retirement income needs. Others believe that Social Security will dry up before they retire. While no one can say exactly what the future holds, the truth probably falls somewhere in the middle.

According to the Social Security Administration’s Fast Facts & Figures About Social Security, 2014, the government-run program provides less than 40% of the income received by today’s retirees. While some retirees get just a small percentage of their income from Social Security, others rely on the program as their only income source. As you think about how Social Security will fit into your plan, consider that it was never intended to be a retiree’s only source of income. Social Security is meant as a safety net to help keep people out of poverty.

Another possible income resource is a traditional pension plan. These employer-provided plans, which reward long-term employees with a steady stream of income in retirement, were common during the twentieth century. Over the past couple of decades, however, traditional pension plans have become increasingly scarce. Even if you are one of the lucky ones who will receive traditional pension income in retirement, you may still need an extra cushion to be able to retire comfortably.

The cost of waiting

The younger you are, the less likely it is that saving for retirement is a high priority. If you fall into this category, consider this: Time can be one of your greatest advantages. Delaying your savings plan has the potential to be a costly mistake.

For example, say you invest $3,000 every year beginning at age 20. If your investments earn 6% per year, your account would be worth $680,000 at age 65. If you wait until age 35 to begin saving, your account would be worth just $254,000 at age 65. And what happens if you put off saving until age 45? In that case, you would accumulate just $120,000 by age 65. In this example, a 25-year delay cost you more than half a million dollars.

Of course, bear in mind that this example is hypothetical and for illustrative purposes only. It assumes a fixed 6% rate of return; however, no investment return can be guaranteed. The rate of return on your account will change over time. This example also does not take into account taxes or investment fees, which would reduce the performance shown if they were included. Withdrawals from your retirement savings plan are taxed at then-current rates, and distributions prior to age 59½ are subject to a 10% penalty tax (special rules apply to Roth accounts).

Current and future benefits

When utilized wisely, an employer-sponsored retirement savings plan can become your most important tool in planning for retirement. Your plan offers several benefits, including convenience (and possibly free money), tax advantages, and a variety of investments to choose from. Here’s a quick snapshot:

  • Convenience: When you participate in an employer-sponsored plan, your contributions are deducted automatically from your paycheck. Known as “payroll deduction,” this process makes contributing to your plan easy and automatic–you pay yourself first before you even receive the money. In addition, some plans offer an employer match, which is essentially free money. If your plan offers a match, be sure to contribute at least enough to get the full amount of your employer contribution.
  • Tax advantages: Depending on the type of plan offered, you may be able to cut your tax bill both now and in the future. With a traditional 401(k)-type savings plan, contributions are deducted from your pay before income taxes are assessed. This method of “pretax” saving reduces your taxable income, and therefore the amount of tax you pay Uncle Sam each year that you participate in your plan. In addition, your investments benefit from tax deferral, which means you don’t have to pay taxes on your pretax contributions, any employer contributions, and any earnings until you withdraw the money. Some employers also offer Roth accounts as part of the plan. With Roth accounts, you don’t receive an immediate tax benefit, but qualified withdrawals are tax free.*
  • Investment choice: Your plan offers a variety of investment options to choose from, so that you can put together a strategy that pursues your goals within a comfortable level of risk. Depending on the specific offerings in your plan, you may be able to combine a mix of investments or choose a single one designed to meet your investment needs.

*Withdrawals from non-Roth plans and nonqualified withdrawals from Roth plans will be taxed at then-current rates. In addition, early withdrawals will be subject to a 10% penalty tax.

It’s up to you

Your employer-sponsored plan offers an important opportunity. Take the first important step toward turning your retirement dreams into reality by taking full advantage of your retirement savings plan.

How a Retirement Savings Plan Works

Employer-sponsored retirement savings plans, such as 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans, present an ideal opportunity to build a nest egg for retirement. You contribute to the plan via payroll deduction, which can make it easier for you to save for retirement. In addition, you may receive significant tax benefits along the way. Following is a brief overview of how your plan works.

Tax advantages

“Pretax” means that your contributions are deducted from your pay and contributed into your plan account before federal (and most state) income taxes are calculated. This reduces the amount of income tax you pay now. Moreover, you don’t pay income taxes on the amount you contribute–or any returns you earn on those contributions–until you withdraw your money from the plan.

Example(s): Taylor earns $40,000 a year and contributes 6% of his salary, or $2,400, to his plan on a pretax basis. Because of his plan participation, his taxable income is reduced to $37,600. He won’t be taxed on those contributions or any earnings on them until he takes money out of his plan.

Your plan might also offer a Roth account. Contributions to a Roth account are made on an after-tax basis. Although there’s no up-front tax benefit when contributing to a Roth plan, withdrawals of earnings are free from federal income taxes as long as they are “qualified.” (Note: With Roth accounts, taxes apply to withdrawals of earnings only; withdrawals of contribution dollars are tax free.)

Generally a withdrawal from a Roth account is qualified if:

  • It’s made after the end of a five-year waiting period (starting on January 1 of the year you make your first contribution) AND
  • It’s made after you turn 59½, become disabled, or die

Because employer-sponsored savings plans were established to help American workers prepare for their retirement, special rules are in place to discourage people from taking money out of the plan prior to retirement. With certain exceptions, taxable withdrawals from traditional (i.e., non-Roth) accounts prior to age 59½ and nonqualified withdrawals of earnings from Roth accounts are subject to both regular income taxes and a 10% penalty tax.

Traditional or Roth?

The decision of whether to contribute to a traditional plan, a Roth plan, or both depends on your personal situation. If you think you’ll be in a similar or higher tax bracket when you retire, you may find Roth contributions more appealing since qualified income from a Roth account is tax free. However, if you think you’ll be in a lower tax bracket in retirement, then contributing to a traditional pretax account may be more appropriate.

Employer contributions

Employers are not required to contribute to employee accounts, but many do through what’s known as a matching contribution. Your employer can match your pretax contributions, your Roth contributions, or both. Most match programs are based on a certain formula–say, 50% of the first 6% of your salary that you contribute. If your plan offers an employer match, be sure to contribute enough to take maximum advantage of it. The match is a valuable benefit offered by your employer. In the example formula above, the employer is offering an additional 3% of your salary to invest for your future. Neglecting to contribute the maximum (and therefore not receiving the full match) is essentially turning down free money.

Often, employer contributions are subject to a vesting schedule. That means you earn the right to those contributions (and the earnings on them) over a period of time.

There are two possible vesting schedules for an employer-sponsored plan. One is called “cliff vesting,” which means you have no right to the employer-provided portion of your account for your first three years with the organization. In year four of your employment, you are 100% vested–i.e., you have access to the entire amount of your employer’s contributions and associated earnings.

The second type of schedule is called “graded vesting.” With this type of plan, you cannot access the employer contributions and earnings in year one, but beginning in year two, you earn 20% of the amount each year. After six years, you are fully vested–100% of the employer matching funds are yours.

Keep in mind that you are always fully vested in your own contributions and the earnings on them.

Eligibility rules and contribution limits

You can contribute to your employer’s plan as soon as you’re eligible, as defined by the plan documents. Some plans will require up to a one-year waiting period, while others allow you to begin participating right away.

Still others provide for automatic enrollment, which means you will automatically be enrolled in the plan unless you specifically opt out. The automatic contribution amount is typically low, perhaps 3% or less, and your contributions will be placed in the plan’s default investment.

If you have been automatically enrolled in your plan, be sure to check the contribution amount and investment selection to make sure they are appropriate for your needs.

The IRS imposes combined limits on how much participants can contribute to their traditional and Roth savings plans each year. In 2015, that limit is $18,000. Your employer may impose lower limits, however.

Participants age 50 and older can make additional “catch-up” contributions of $6,000 per year. (Special catch-up limits apply to certain participants in 401(k) and 457(b) plans.)

One smart move

An employer-sponsored retirement savings plan offers a tax-advantaged opportunity to save for your future. Participating in your plan could be one of the smartest financial moves you make.

Choosing Investments for Your Retirement Savings Plan

Your employer-sponsored retirement plan offers a variety of investments to choose from. How do you know which ones may be right for your needs? How many investments should you choose? And how much should you direct to each one? The keys to answering these questions are to understand your options and consider how they relate to your own personal circumstances.

Asset classes: the building blocks

When choosing investments to pursue your retirement accumulation goals, you’ll need to balance the amount of risk you take in your investment mix (or “portfolio”) with the potential for returns. Generally speaking, the riskier the investment, the higher the return potential. But with this higher return potential comes a greater chance of loss, including the loss of your original investment dollars (your “principal”).

There are three basic asset classes to choose from, and each has different risk/return characteristics.

  • Stocks: Stocks represent ownership in a company–i.e., when you own stock in an organization, you actually own a small portion of that company. Stocks are the riskiest of the three asset classes, but historically have offered the greatest return potential over time. Stocks are offered in many different categories; some tend to be riskier than others. For example, the stocks of large, well-established companies are typically less risky than those of smaller, younger firms. Similarly, stocks of companies based in developed nations, such as the United States, are typically less risky than stock of companies in “emerging market” regions, where economies are not considered developed. Also, differences in financial reporting, currency exchange risk, as well as economic and political risk unique to the specific country can adversely affect the value of these securities.
  • Bonds: Bonds are essentially loans made to a company or government (the “borrower”) by the bondholder (you). In return for the loan, the borrower promises to pay income at a stated interest rate. However, there are no guarantees that steady repayments will occur or that the bond (or how much you paid for it) will maintain its value. For this reason, bonds typically fall in the mid-range of the risk/return spectrum. Like stocks, bonds come in a variety of categories, and some tend to be riskier than others. Bonds issued by the U.S. government tend to be more stable, while high-yield or “junk” bonds are typically among the most risky. U.S. Treasury securities are guaranteed by the federal government as to the timely payment of principal and interest.
  • Stable value/cash: These investments are designed to protect your investment dollars while pursuing modest returns. They’re also used as a place to temporarily “park” your money while you decide on an investment strategy. Although this asset class generally carries a lower risk of loss to principal, it does have the risk that your investment returns won’t beat the rising cost of living, potentially reducing your purchasing power over time. And although many cash investments strive to preserve your principal, there is no guarantee that they will be able to do so.

Mutual funds: instant diversification

For the most part, investors cannot purchase individual stocks, bonds, and other “securities” through a retirement plan. Rather, they can access them by choosing from a variety of mutual funds.

Mutual funds pool the money of many different investors to buy a series of securities. By investing in a fund or several funds, you own small portions of each individual security. The fund’s manager chooses securities for the fund based on its stated objective, which is usually growth, income, or capital preservation. Generally, growth funds invest in stocks; income funds, in bonds (or dividend-paying stocks); and capital preservation funds, in stable value or cash securities. (Please note that while dividend-paying stocks are intended to provide income, the amount of a company’s dividend can fluctuate with earnings, which are influenced by economic, market, and political events. Dividends are typically not guaranteed and could be charged or eliminated.)

Investing through mutual funds is an ideal way to utilize an investing principle known as diversification, which is the process of combining different types of investments in your portfolio to help manage risk. The thinking is that when one investment performs poorly, another may be holding steady or gaining in value.

Asset allocation: putting the pieces together

After familiarizing yourself with the investment options in your plan, the next step is to put together your mix, or “asset allocation.” Although many factors will contribute to your asset allocation, three are particularly important–your savings goal, risk tolerance, and time horizon.

  • Savings goal: How much do you need to accumulate in your plan to potentially provide the income you’ll need throughout retirement? Targeting a goal will help you develop your strategy. After all, before mapping a route, you should first know where you’re going.
  • Risk tolerance: How much loss–5%, 10%, 15%–would it take to make you worry? Risk tolerance refers to your financial and emotional ability to withstand dips in your account value as you pursue your goal, and also helps you determine how to allocate your plan contribution dollars among the investments you select.
  • Time horizon: How much time do you have until you will need to tap the money in your account? The longer you have, the more time you may have to ride out those dips in pursuit of long-term results.

Generally speaking, a large goal, a high tolerance for risk, and a long time horizon might translate into an ability to take on more risk in a portfolio. The opposite is also true: smaller goals, a low tolerance for risk, and a shorter time horizon might warrant a more conservative approach.

In many cases, your plan’s education materials will provide tools to help you set a goal, gauge your risk tolerance, and choose investments for your strategy. You might also seek the assistance of a financial professional, who can provide expertise and an objective viewpoint.

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 Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, Merck, Pfizer, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, Bank of America, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, 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.

Why I Don’t Want to Buy Life Insurance

If you’re like most people, it’s not that you don’t appreciate the value of life insurance. In fact, many people believe they need more coverage. You probably wouldn’t mind owning additional life insurance. It’s just that you don’t want to buy it.

Thinking about buying life insurance, talking about buying life insurance, discussing the reasons for buying life insurance–all of this makes many people feel uncomfortable. Here are just some of the reasons why you may be putting off buying the life insurance you know you need.

I don’t have enough time

You’ll get around to buying life insurance, but not today. With all the things you’ve got to do, buying life insurance can come off as a low priority–just one more thing you ought to do. Plus, the whole idea of discussing life insurance isn’t a whole lot of fun. Who wouldn’t rather take the dogs for a walk on the beach, attend a child’s softball game, or spend those precious few hours of free time in the evening visiting with friends?

Nonetheless, buying life insurance is really an important task that should be addressed. Life insurance can help ensure that your family will have enough money to meet their financial obligations in the event of your death.

The subject is boring and morbid

If you really don’t like to think about death, you’re not alone. Death is an unpleasant subject, and life insurance raises issues of our own mortality. Some people say that the very thought of starting the life insurance buying process makes them feel stressed out. There’s no great appeal to contemplating our own mortality. It’s a subject we’d rather ignore than address. The result can be inertia or denial.

It doesn’t have to be that way. People who do act on their life insurance needs tend to focus on the positive aspects: the idea of meeting their responsibilities to provide for, and care for, their loved ones. They think of it as contingency planning, protecting their families against the uncertainties of life. They also recognize that life insurance is really about life and love, about helping to ensure a positive quality of life for their spouse and children if they die prematurely.

I don’t know where to start

If you don’t have a clue about which type of policy is right for you, or how much life insurance you need, join the club. Few of us truly understand life insurance: why we need it, what type of policy is best, how much we need, when and how benefits are paid, how benefits may be taxed, and more. That’s okay. It’s not your job to know everything about life insurance. That’s the job of an insurance professional.

Thinking you need to have all of the answers about which type of life insurance is best for you is sort of like needing surgery and thinking you need to know which type of scalpel to use. That’s the surgeon’s job. In the same respect, the right insurance professional can guide you through the process of selecting the policy that best suits your needs, budget, and objectives, and can answer your questions.

Life insurance isn’t a high priority compared with the other expenses I have

For many underinsured people, it’s not so much that they don’t want the life insurance they need; it’s just difficult to find the extra dollars to pay for it.

Buying life insurance you can’t afford benefits no one. If it causes your family hardship or requires you to make choices that seem incongruous (“Gee kids, I’d love to take you on vacation, but our life insurance premium is due”), you’ll eventually discontinue the policy. Then you lose, and your family loses.

That’s why it’s important to purchase a policy that meets your needs and your budget. Fortunately, there are many types of life insurance available. These include term life insurance policies and various types of permanent (cash value) life insurance policies. 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.

Permanent insurance policies offer protection for your entire life, regardless of future health changes, provided you pay the premium to keep the policy in force. As you pay your premiums, a portion of each payment goes toward building up the policy’s cash value, which may be accessed through loans or withdrawals. (Keep in mind, though, that loans and withdrawals will reduce the cash value and the death benefit, and could cause the policy to lapse, which may result in a tax liability if the policy terminates before the death of the insured). The cash value continues to grow–tax deferred–as long as the policy is in force.

Several different types of permanent life insurance are available, including:

  • Whole life insurance
  • Universal life insurance
  • Variable life
  • Variable universal life

Note: Variable life and variable universal life insurance policies are offered by prospectus, which you can obtain from your financial professional or the insurance company. The prospectus contains detailed information about investment objectives, risks, charges, and expenses. You should read the prospectus and consider this information carefully before purchasing a variable life or variable universal life insurance policy. There are contract limitations, fees, and charges associated with variable life and variable universal life insurance, which can include mortality and expense risk charges, sales and surrender charges, investment management fees, administrative fees, and charges for optional benefits. Variable life and variable universal life insurance is not guaranteed by the FDIC or any other government agency; they are not deposits of, nor are they guaranteed or endorsed by, any bank or savings association. The investment return and principal value of the investment options will fluctuate. Your cash value, and perhaps the death benefit, will be determined by the performance of the chosen investment options and is not guaranteed. Withdrawals may be subject to surrender charges and are taxable if you withdraw more than your basis in the policy.

The bottom line

It’s easy to understand why people tend to put off purchasing the life insurance they know they need. But look at it this way: buying life insurance is one way you can help secure your family’s financial future. And what could be better than knowing your loved ones will be protected, even if you’re no longer around to take care of them?

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, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, Bank of America, ExxonMobil, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, 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.