Not making a move may not always be the best move to make.
A decision not made may have financial consequences. Sometimes, we fall prey to a kind of money paralysis, in which financial indecision is regarded as a form of “safety.”
Retirement seems to heighten this tendency. If you are single and retired, you may be fearful of drawing down your retirement savings too soon or assuming investment risks. Memories of this-or-that market downturn may linger.
Even so, “paralysis by analysis,” or simple hesitation, may cost you in the long run. Your retirement may last much longer than you presume it will – perhaps, 30 or 40 years – and maintaining your standard of living could require some growth investing. As much as you may want to stay out of stocks and funds, their returns often exceed the rate of inflation, which is important. Creeping inflation can reduce your quality of life in retirement by subtly reducing your purchasing power over time.
Retirement calls for distributing some of your accumulated assets. Some new retirees are reluctant to do this, even when some of that money has been set aside for goals or dreams. Frugality suddenly reigns: a long vacation, a new car to replace an old one, or a kitchen remodel may be seen as extravagances.
We cannot control how long we will live, how much money we will need in the future, or how well the economy will perform next year or ten years on. There comes a point where you must live for today. Pinching pennies in retirement with the idea that the great bulk of your savings is for “someday” can weigh on your psyche. What does your retirement dream amount to if it is unlived?
If you fear outliving your money, remember that certain investing approaches offer you the potential to generate a larger retirement fund for yourself. If you seek more retirement income, ask a financial professional about ways to try and arrange it – there are multiple options, and some involve relatively little risk to principal.
There is one situation where waiting may be wise. If you wait to file for Social Security until age 65 or 70, your monthly Social Security benefit will be larger than if you had filed earlier in life. Why? Social Security has what it calls “full retirement age,” or FRA – the age at which you can receive the full Social Security benefit you are entitled to, based on your earnings record.
If you were born in 1960 or later, your FRA is 67. If you were born during 1954-59, your FRA is 66 (and it gradually increases toward 67, depending on your birth year within that date range).
Most retirees claim Social Security benefits in their early sixties (eligibility begins at age 62). In a way, they are shortchanging themselves by doing so. Because they are claiming benefits before reaching their FRA, their monthly benefit is smaller than it would be at age 66 or 67 – in fact, it may be as much as 30% smaller. On the other hand, those who claim after their FRA at age 68, 69, or 70 receive monthly benefits that are larger than they would get at age 66 or 67. Roughly speaking, for every year you delay claiming benefits beyond your FRA, you will increase the size of your monthly benefit payment by around 8%.
Your approach to investing has been created with your retirement in mind. A practical outlook on investing and decisions to work longer or claim Social Security later can potentially help you amass and receive more money in the future.
What are your options? What are the benefits?
If you own an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), perhaps you have heard about Roth IRA conversions. Converting your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA can make a lot of sense depending on your situation. But remember, consulting with your financial advisor before making financial decisions is never a bad idea. Ready to learn more? Read on.
Why go Roth? There is a belief behind every Roth IRA conversion that future income tax rates will be higher. If you are one of the believers, then you may be compelled to convert. After all, once you are age 59½ and have had your Roth IRA open for at least five calendar years, withdrawals of the earnings from your Roth IRA are exempt from federal income taxes. You can withdraw your Roth IRA contributions tax free and penalty free at any time.
As the law is currently written, you never have to make mandatory withdrawals from a Roth IRA, and if your income permits, you can make contributions to a Roth IRA as long as you live.
Currently, if your filing status is married and your adjusted gross income (AGI) is $193,000 or less you can contribute a maximum of $6,000 to your Roth IRA – $7,000 if you’re age 50 or older. The maximum contribution is also available to single filers with an AGI of $122,000 or less. Depending on how high your AGI is, the amount you are able to contribute may change. Consult with your financial advisor to discuss the latest limitations and potential contributions for your situation.
Why not go Roth? Two reasons: the tax hit could be substantial, and time may not be on your side.
A Roth IRA conversion is a one-time taxable event. The I.R.S. regards it as a payout from a traditional IRA prior to that money entering a Roth IRA, and the payout represents taxable income. That taxable income stemming from the conversion could send you into a higher income tax bracket in the year when the conversion occurs.
If you are nearing retirement age, going Roth may not be worth it. If you convert a large traditional IRA to a Roth when you are in your fifties or sixties, it could take a decade (or longer) for the IRA to recapture the dollars lost to taxes on the conversion.
In many respects, the earlier in life you convert a regular IRA to a Roth, the better. Your income should rise as you get older; you will likely finish your career in a higher tax bracket than you were in when you were first employed. Those conditions relate to a key argument for going Roth: it is better to pay taxes on IRA contributions today than on IRA withdrawals tomorrow.
On the other hand, since many retirees have lower income levels than their end salaries, they may retire to a lower tax rate. That is a key argument against Roth conversion.
You could choose to “have it both ways.” As no one can fully predict the future of American taxation, some people contribute to both Roth and traditional IRAs – figuring that they can be at least “half right” regardless of whether taxes increase or decrease.
If you do go Roth, your heirs may receive a tax-free inheritance. Lastly, Roth IRAs can prove to be very useful estate planning tools. If I.R.S. rules are followed, Roth IRA heirs may end up with a tax-free inheritance, paid out either annually or as a lump sum. In contrast, the distributions of inherited assets from a traditional IRA are routinely taxed.
Supporting family can put a crimp in your strategy.
Families are one of the great joys in life, and part of the love you show to your family is making sure that their basic needs are met. While that’s only to be expected from birth through the high school years, many households are helping their offspring well into their twenties and beyond.
However, you may have concerns that your adult children have come to depend on you too much. On the other hand, you may have given more than you planned, to the point where you are dipping into your retirement savings. If that’s the case, you might want to think about how involved you want to be in your children’s financial needs.
How common is this? An April 2019 Bankrate.com survey of 2,500 Americans indicated 51% of respondents saying that they helped adult children, aged 18 and up, either “somewhat” or “a lot” – specifically drawing from their retirement savings.
While every household has their reasons to help their adult children, it’s important to keep your retirement strategy on track. It’s not only a matter of replacing the money that you are taking out of retirement accounts or investments, but you’re also losing time. The growth that may occur with investments or compound interest is a phenomenon that happens over decades. In that situation, you can replace the money you took out, but you can’t replace its potential.
Communication is a good first step. Beyond your own interest, there’s also the young adult in your life to consider. Helping solve a short-term financial problem is one thing, but you also want to offer them an advantage that may help them face a future money squeeze on their own.
It’s also helpful to keep in mind that not all the expenses young adults are incurring are wasteful. CBS News reports that student loan payments may be $400 per month, describing the amount as “typical.” When you factor in rent, utilities, and basic personal expenses, that underlines why the habit of careful budgeting can be so crucial for someone just joining the workforce.
For that reason, financial education can also be a great gift. There are numerous resources that can help with learning how to budget: books, classes, apps, and more. If you aren’t sure what would work best for the young adult in your life, you can ask your trusted financial advisor for some tips. The skills and knowledge needed to handle money is not instinctual; helping your adult children learn how to better control their financial lives may offer them the confidence to succeed and navigate rough money issues without you, in time.
Will your accumulated assets be threatened by them?
All too often, family wealth fails to last. One generation builds a business – or even a fortune – and it is lost in ensuing decades. Why does it happen, again and again?
Often, families fall prey to serious money blunders. Classic mistakes are made; changing times are not recognized.
Procrastination. This is not just a matter of failing to plan, but also of failing to respond to acknowledged financial weaknesses.
As a hypothetical example, say there is a multimillionaire named Alan. The named beneficiary of Alan’s six-figure savings account is no longer alive. While Alan knows about this financial flaw, knowledge is one thing, but action is another. He realizes he should name another beneficiary, but he never gets around to it. His schedule is busy, and updating that beneficiary form is inconvenient.
Sadly, procrastination wins out in the end, and as the account lacks a payable-on-death (POD) beneficiary, those assets end up subject to probate. Then, Alan’s heirs find out about other lingering financial matters that should have been taken care of regarding his IRA, his real estate holdings, and more.
Minimal or absent estate planning. Every year, there are multimillionaires who die without leaving any instructions for the distribution of their wealth – not just rock stars and actors, but also small business owners and entrepreneurs. According to a recent Caring.com survey, 58% of Americans have no estate planning in place, not even a basic will.
Anyone reliant on a will alone risks handing the destiny of their wealth over to a probate judge. The multimillionaire who has a child with special needs, a family history of Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s, or a former spouse or estranged children may need a greater degree of estate planning. If they want to endow charities or give grandkids a nice start in life, the same applies. Business ownership calls for coordinated estate planning and succession planning.
A finely crafted estate plan has the potential to perpetuate and enhance family wealth for decades, and perhaps, generations. Without it, heirs may have to deal with probate and a painful opportunity cost – the lost potential for tax-advantaged growth and compounding of those assets.
The lack of a “family office.” Decades ago, the wealthiest American households included offices: a staff of handpicked financial professionals who worked within a mansion, supervising a family’s entire financial life. While traditional “family offices” have disappeared, the concept is as relevant as ever. Today, select wealth management firms emulate this model: in an ongoing relationship distinguished by personal and responsive service, they consult families about investments, provide reports, and assist in decision-making. If your financial picture has become far too complex to address on your own, this could be a wise choice for your family.
Technological flaws. Hackers can hijack email and social media accounts and send phony messages to banks, brokerages, and financial advisors to authorize asset transfers. Social media can help you build your business, but it can also expose you to identity thieves seeking to steal both digital and tangible assets.
Sometimes a business or family installs a security system that proves problematic – so much so that it is turned off half the time. Unscrupulous people have ways of learning about that, and they may be only one or two degrees separated from you.
No long-term strategy in place. When a family wants to sustain wealth for decades to come, heirs have to understand the how and why. All family members have to be on the same page, or at least, read that page. If family communication about wealth tends to be more opaque than transparent, the mechanics and purpose of the strategy may never be adequately explained.
No decision-making process. In the typical high net worth family, financial decision-making is vertical and top-down. Parents or grandparents may make decisions in private, and it may be years before heirs learn about those decisions or fully understand them. When heirs do become decision-makers, it is usually upon the death of the elders.
Horizontal decision-making can help multiple generations commit to the guidance of family wealth. Estate and succession planning professionals can help a family make these decisions with an awareness of different communication styles. In-depth conversations are essential; good estate planners recognize that silence does not necessarily mean agreement.
You may plan to reduce these risks to family wealth (and others) in collaboration with financial and legal professionals. It is never too early to begin.
When to start? Should I continue to work? How can I maximize my benefit?
Social Security will be a critical component of your financial strategy in retirement, so before you begin taking it, you should consider three important questions. The answers may affect whether you make the most of this retirement income source.
When to Start? The Social Security Administration gives citizens a choice on when they decide to start to receive their Social Security benefit. You can:
* Start benefits at age 62.
* Claim them at your full retirement age.
* Delay payments until age 70.
If you claim early, you can expect to receive a monthly benefit that will be lower than what you would have earned at full retirement. If you wait until age 70, you can expect to receive an even higher monthly benefit than you would have received if you had begun taking payments at your full retirement age.
When researching what timing is best for you, It’s important to remember that many of the calculations the Social Security Administration uses are based on average life expectancy. If you live to the average life expectancy, you’ll eventually receive your full lifetime benefits. In actual practice, it’s not quite that straightforward. If you happen to live beyond the average life expectancy, and you delay taking benefits, you could end up receiving more money. The decision of when to begin taking benefits may hinge on whether you need the income now or if you can wait, and additionally, whether you think your lifespan will be shorter or longer than the average American.
Should I Continue to Work? Besides providing you with income and personal satisfaction, spending a few more years in the workforce may help you to increase your retirement benefits. How? Social Security calculates your benefits using a formula based on your 35 highest-earning years. As your highest-earning years may come later in life, spending a few more years at the apex of your career might be a plus in the calculation. If you begin taking benefits prior to your full retirement age and continue to work, however, your benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $2 in earnings above the prevailing annual limit ($17,640 in 2018). If you work during the year in which you attain full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced by $1 for every $3 in earnings over a different annual limit ($45,360 in 2018) until the month you reach full retirement age. After you attain your full retirement age, earned income no longer reduces benefit payments.
How Can I Maximize My Benefit? The easiest way to maximize your monthly Social Security is to simply wait until you turn age 70 before claiming your benefits.
Delegating responsibilities to others may lead to problems down the road.
When you are putting together a household, it isn’t unusual to delegate responsibilities. One spouse or partner may take on the laundry, while another takes on the shopping. You might also decide which one of you vacuums and which one of you dusts. This is a perfectly fine way to divvy up household tasks and chores.
One household task it’s valuable for both partners to take part in, however, is your shared financial life. It’s important, regardless of your level of wealth or stage of life. Counting on one spouse or partner to handle all financial decisions can create a gap for the other partner. Should the one in charge of the money separate, become severely disabled, or pass away, that may leave the other partner in a bind. A situation like that is probably difficult enough without adding additional stress.
A study conducted in April 2018 surveyed 1,662 American couples, covering households where one partner has primary budgeting responsibility as well as couples where the responsibility is shared evenly. For the latter, 87% of respondents indicated that they were “confident” in taking full responsibility, should it become necessary. For the former, only 52% of those partners who were not actively involved indicated that same confidence.
Begin the conversation. If you are the partner who isn’t steering the household finances, ask yourself why. It may be that you have preconceived notions about how difficult it might be to educate yourself to make informed decisions. Maybe you know how to do it, but you would simply rather not be bothered. It’s also possible that you recognize that your spouse or partner has a particular expertise in these matters and doesn’t need your help.
Regardless of the reason, it’s probably a good idea that you should at least be able to hop into the driver’s seat, should misfortune strike your household. In that unfortunate circumstance, you should feel confident that whatever the reason or the duration, you won’t have any unnecessary concerns about managing your household’s finances.
For example, what if you have insurance that covers extended care, in case of a severe injury that causes your spouse or partner to be away from work for an indefinite period? How will you be certain that the claim is made? Who will make sure the bills get paid? The job will fall to you.
Getting involved. The good news is that through communication, regular conversations, and a little effort, you can probably learn what you need to know in order to help yourself in these situations. Part of this, too, may be meeting and getting to know the financial professional who works for your household.
If it’s your first time, start simple. You may find worksheets helpful in guiding you on how to plan out a monthly household budget. There’s software that may help, but a budget doesn’t need to involve anything more than pen and paper, if you prefer. You’ll find several worksheets available online. You will also want to talk with your spouse or partner about the monthly budget they use, as it will likely be helpful if you are both on the same page – perhaps, literally.
The more knowledge you have, the more confident you can become. Starting the conversation is just the first step. It may take you some time to become comfortable in taking a greater role in the decision-making, but when you do, you may feel more confident if the responsibility ever falls solely to you.
Don't let procrastination keep you from pursuing your financial goals.
Some of us share a common experience. You’re driving along when a police cruiser pulls up behind you with its lights flashing. You pull over, the officer gets out, and your heart drops.
“Are you aware the registration on your car has expired?”
You’d been meaning to take care of it for some time. For weeks, you had told yourself that you’d go to renew your registration tomorrow, and then, when the morning comes, you repeat it again.
Procrastination is avoiding a task that needs to be done – postponing until tomorrow what could be done, today. Procrastinators can sabotage themselves. They often put obstacles in their own path. They may choose paths that hurt their performance.
Though Mark Twain famously quipped, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.” We know that procrastination can be detrimental, both in our personal and professional lives. From the college paper that gets put off to the end of the semester to that important sales presentation that waits until the end of the week for the attention it deserves, we’ve all procrastinated on something.
Problems with procrastination in the business world have led to a sizable industry in books, articles, workshops, videos, and other products created to deal with the issue. There are a number of theories about why people procrastinate, but whatever the psychology behind it, procrastination may, potentially, cost money – particularly, when investments and financial decisions are put off.
As the example below shows, putting off investing may put off potential returns.
Early Bird. Let’s look at the case of Cindy and Charlie, who each invest a hypothetical $10,000 to start. One of them begins immediately, but the other puts investing off.
Charlie begins depositing $10,000 a year in an account that earns a hypothetical 6% rate of return. Then, after 10 years, he stops making deposits. His invested assets, however, are free to keep growing and compounding.
While Charlie fills his account, Cindy waits 10 years before getting started. She then starts to invest a hypothetical $10,000 a year for 10 years into an account that also earns a hypothetical 6% rate of return.
Cindy and Charlie have both invested the same $100,000, but procrastination costs Cindy, as Charlie’s balance is much higher at the end of 20 years. Over 20 years, his account has grown to $237,863, while Cindy’s account has only grown to $132,822. Charlie’s account has not only put the power of compound interest to work, it has also allowed the investment returns more time to compound.
This is a hypothetical example of mathematical compounding. It’s used for comparison purposes only and is not intended to represent the past or future performance of any investment. Taxes and investment costs were not considered in this example. The results are not a guarantee of performance or specific investment advice. The rate of return on investments will vary over time, particularly for longer-term investments. Investments that offer the potential for high returns also carry a high degree of risk. Actual returns will fluctuate. The types of securities and strategies illustrated may not be suitable for everyone.
Certain financial & lifestyle choices may lead you toward a better future.
Some retirees succeed at realizing the life they want; others don’t. Fate aside, it isn’t merely a matter of stock market performance or investment selection that makes the difference. There are certain dos and don’ts – some less apparent than others – that tend to encourage retirement happiness and comfort.
Retire financially literate. Some retirees don’t know how much they don’t know. They end their careers with inadequate financial knowledge, and yet, feel they can plan retirement on their own. They mistake retirement income planning for the whole of retirement planning, and gloss over longevity risk, risks to their estate, and potential health care expenses. The more you know, the more your retirement readiness improves.
Retire debt free – or close to debt free. Who wants to retire with 10 years of mortgage payments ahead or a couple of car loans to pay off? Even if your retirement savings are substantial, what will big debts do to your retirement morale and the possibilities on your retirement horizon? On that note, refrain from loaning money to family members and friends who seem quite capable of standing on their own two feet.
If the thought of using some of your retirement money to pay outstanding debts hits you, set that thought aside. You have dedicated that money to your future, not to bill paying. On second or third thought, other sources for the cash may be apparent.
Retire with purpose. There’s a difference between retiring and quitting. Some people can’t wait to quit their job at 62 or 65. If only they could escape and just relax and do nothing for a few years – wouldn’t that be a nice reward? Relaxation can lead to inertia, however – and inertia can lead to restlessness, even depression. You want to retire to a dream, not away from a problem.
A retirement dream can become even more captivating when it is shared. Spouses who retire with a shared dream or with utmost respect for each other’s dreams are in a good place.
The bottom line? Retirees who know what they want to do – and go out and do it – are positively contributing to their mental health and possibly their physical health as well. If they do something that is not only vital to them, but important to others, their community can benefit as well.
Retire healthy. Smoking, drinking, overeating, a dearth of physical activity – all these can take a toll on your capacity to live life fully and enjoy retirement. It is never too late to quit smoking, stop drinking, or slim down.
Retire in a community where you feel at home. It could be where you live now; it could be a place that is hundreds or thousands of miles away, where the scenery and people are uplifting. It could be the place where your children live. If you find yourself lonely in retirement, then look for ways to connect with people who share your experiences, interests, and passions; those who encourage you and welcome you. This social interaction is one of the great, intangible retirement benefits.
If you want a tax break and want to help a nonprofit, this may be a good move.
Have you ever wanted to make a major charitable gift? Would you like a significant federal tax break in acknowledgment of that gift? If so, an IRA charitable rollover might be a good option.
If you are age 70½ or older and have one or more traditional IRAs, you may want to explore the potential of this tax provision. In the language of federal tax law, it is called a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) – a direct transfer of up to $100,000 in IRA assets to a qualified charity.
An IRA charitable rollover may help you lower your adjusted gross income (AGI). That may be a goal in your tax strategy, especially if your AGI is large enough to position you for increased Medicare premiums, greater taxation of your Social Security benefits, or exposure to the 3.8% investment income tax and the Medicare surtax.
Up to $100,000 may be excluded from your gross income during the year in which you make the gift. The gifted amount also counts toward your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD).
By the way, this $100,000 annual QCD limit is per individual taxpayer. If you are married, you and your spouse may gift up to $200,000 in a year through IRA charitable rollovers. Imagine lowering your household’s AGI by as much as $200,000 in a tax year.
The Internal Revenue Service will not let you claim the amount of a QCD as a deduction on Schedule A. (That would amount to a double tax break.)
You need not be rich to do this. When many people first learn about the IRA charitable rollover, they think it is only for multimillionaires. That is a misconception. Even if you do not think of yourself as wealthy, a QCD could prove a significant element in your tax strategy.
How does it work? Logistically speaking, an IRA charitable rollover has to unfold in a certain way. The custodian or trustee overseeing your IRA must either make the gift to the charity for you or give you a check made payable to the charity for the amount of the gift.
Do not simply take a distribution from your IRA and then write a check to the charity. That does not qualify as a QCD. If you make this mistake, the money you have taken out of your IRA will simply be included in your gross income for the year, and you may not even be able to claim a charitable contribution deduction for your efforts.
An IRA owner must be age 70½ or older to do this; the gifted assets must come from an IRA, or multiple IRAs, and are subject to RMD rules. (SEPs and SIMPLE IRAs are ineligible if an employer contribution has been made for the particular year.)
The charity or nonprofit involved must pass muster with the I.R.S. It must be a public charity eligible for charitable contribution deductions; that is, it must qualify as 501(c)(3) eligible. It cannot be a donor-advised fund or a private foundation. The charity should provide you with a letter of acknowledgement of your gift, for federal tax purposes. If that letter is not quickly sent to you, be firm in requesting it. It should state that you have received no gift, reward, or benefit from the charity in exchange for your contribution.
If you pledge a donation to a qualified charity or nonprofit, an IRA charitable rollover can be used to satisfy your pledge.
This tax break has been a boon to charities and IRA owners alike. Correctly performed, a charitable IRA rollover may help to lessen tax issues while benefiting qualified nonprofit organizations.
A look at where stocks were in 2009 and how they have performed since.
Where were you on March 9, 2009? Do you remember the headwinds hitting Wall Street then? When the closing bell rang at the New York Stock Exchange that Monday afternoon, it marked the end of another down day for equities. Just hours earlier, the Wall Street Journal had asked: “How Low Can Stocks Go?”
The Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index answered that question by sinking to 676.53, even with mergers and acquisitions making headlines. The index was under 700 for the first time since 1996. The Dow Jones Industrial Average tumbled to a closing low of 6,547.05.2
To quote Dickens, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” It was the bottom of the bear market – and it was also the best time, in a generation, to buy stocks.
The next day, a rally began. Buoyed by news of one major bank announcing a return to profitability and another stating it would refrain from further government bailouts, the Dow rose 597 points for the week ending on March 16, 2009. On March 26, the Dow settled at 7,924.56, more than 20% above its March 9 settlement. The bull market was back.
This bull market would make all kinds of history. In fact, it would become the longest bull market in history – at least by one measure.
While the last 10-plus years have seen some big ups and downs for the benchmark S&P 500, the index has never closed more than 20% below a recent peak in that span, meaning the current bull market is more than 10 years old.
Ten years later (at the close on Friday, March 8, 2019), the S&P 500 had risen 305.5% from that low. The Dow had gained 288.7%.
How about the Nasdaq Composite? 483.94%. (As you look at these impressive numbers, remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results.)
Those gains did not come without turbulence, and stocks in no way turned into a “sure thing.” The risk inherent in the market is still substantial along with the potential for loss. The lesson this long bull market has taught is simply that the bad times in the stock market are worth enduring. Good times may replace those bad times more swiftly than anyone can anticipate.