Guide to the coronavirus economic fallout

Guide to the coronavirus economic fallout

Our guide to the coronavirus economic fallout. The world is facing the biggest health crisis in 100 years. The COVID-19 outbreak has infected over 2 million people worldwide and caused hundreds of thousands of lost lives. The unprecedented global lockdown and social distancing policies became an existential threat to travel, entertainment, retail, and service businesses. Many companies from large to small struggle to cover their basic costs and pay employees. Despite the government’s initial hopes for a quick recovery and fast rebound, the economic conditions remain uncertain.

Unemployment

In a matter of a few weeks, 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment. Corporations, universities, local governments, and non-profit organizations of all sizes are furloughing workers. Disney has furloughed 70,000 cast members. Best Buy announced plans to furlough about 51,000 employees The New York Metropolitan Opera has furloughed all its union employees—musicians, chorus members, stagehands, and other supporting staff.

"Survival

According to St. Louis Fed projections, the coronavirus economic freeze could cost 47 million jobs and send the unemployment rate past 32%. These figures are just staggering.

Fiscal Policy

In response to the coronavirus economic fallout, the Congress passed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act of 2020. The CARES Act offered $2.2 trillion fiscal stimulus, intending to bring relief to families and businesses hit hardest by the impacts of the COVID-19 outbreak.

Support for Individuals and Families

  • The CARES acts offered one-time stimulus checks of $1,200 for individuals with AGI up to $75,000 or a head of household with AGI up to. $112,500. All joint filers, with AGI up to $150,000 are eligible for $2,400. Those amounts increase by $500 for every child
  • Eligible laid-off workers will get an extra $600 per week on top of their state benefit, until July 31.
  • The federal government has waived up to six months of payments and interest for many federal student loan borrowers. Until Sept. 30, there will be automatic payment suspensions for any student loan held by the federal government
  • Employers can pay up to $5,250 of student loans without that money counting as part of the employee’s income
  • Waiving penalties for withdrawing of as much as $100,000 from IRA, 401k and other retirement plans

Support for Small Businesses

  • The CARES Act provided $349 billion in partially forgivable SBA loans for small businesses with 500 or fewer employees to cover payroll and other expenses
  • 50% refundable retention tax credit for employers to encourage businesses to keep workers on their payroll
  • A delay in employer-side payroll taxes for Social Security until 2021 and 2022

Growing budget deficit

According to the Congressional Budget, the stimulus package designed to mitigate the economic damage brought by the novel coronavirus pandemic will add $1.76 trillion to federal budget deficits over the coming decade. The CBO estimates that the Federal spending will rise by $1.314 trillion in the 2020 to 2030 period as a result of the legislation, At the same time revenues are expected to fall by $446 billion.

"Survival

Monetary Policy

In response to the economic fallout, the Federal Reserve instituted a series of programs and measures to soften and battle the impact of the crisis. Among many things, the Fed dropped the Fed fund rate to zero. Furthermore, the Fed unleashed its crisis toolkit and restarted Quantitative Easing with the purchase of US treasuries and mortgage loans. The Fed has nearly unlimited power to buy repos, commercial papers, muni bonds, investment-grade bonds, bond ETFs and certain below-investment-grade bonds. The Fed also started a $600 billion lending facility to help businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic with up to 10,000 employees.

Unlike previous crises, the Fed acted proactively and rapidly in its efforts to dampen to negative effects of the sudden liquidity crisis. Its swift approach provided a financial lifeline to businesses and local governments. Despite the initial negative reactions, the Fed managed to reinstitute an order in the US bond market.

Survival guide to the coronavirus economic fallout

As a result of its efforts to combat the crisis, the Fed balance sheet has nearly doubled. The total share of Federal Reserve assets to GDP reached 28%. These levels were last seen since in the 1940s during the Gold standard.

US Federal Reserve asset as a shate of GDP

The stock market plunged and then bounced back

From February 20, 2020, to March 23, 2020, the S&P 500 lost nearly 34% of its value. Dow Jones Industrial fell -36%. The Nasdaq fared a little bit better at -29% loss. Russell 2000 dropped -40%.

Between March 23, 2020, till April 17, 2020, S&P 500 gained 28.5% with a total year to date loss of -11%. Nasdaq Composite was down -3% for 2020. Dow Jones Industrial Index lost -15%. While Russell 2000 was significantly lower at -26% for the year.

Major Srock indices performance
Major Srock indices performance between January 1 and April 17, 2020.

The most important driver for this rapid rebound was the Federal Reserve’s massive monetary stimulus plan, combined with the $2.2 trillion rescue package of the U.S. government. These unprecedented measures sent a confidence signal that the US is willing to take any step to save the economy.

Flight to quality and strong balance sheet

Amid initial fears and intense sell-off investors have moved to mega-cap companies with a strong balance sheet and core revenues that can weather the storm.

Some of the big winners of the coronavirus crisis are companies that directly benefit from a prolonged stay-at-home economy, a growing number of working from home business models, as well as pharma companies developing drugs and vaccines against the COVID-19 virus. The travel, retail, financial and energy companies were the hardest hit with many of them losing between 50% to 80% of their market value.

 

The Stock market and the Economy send conflicting messages

According to the Wall Street Journal – “The Dow Jones Industrial Average staged its best two-week performance since the 1930s, a dramatic rebound that has left many investors with a confounding reality: soaring share prices and a floundering economy.

The explosive rally is a sign that many are positioning for the U.S. to make a speedy recovery when the coronavirus crisis eases. Investors have been encouraged in recent days by signs that several states will move to resume business, along with hopes that a viable treatment for COVID-19 could be near.”

According to JP Morgan – “The Fed’s latest move reinforces our view of a full asset price recovery, and equity markets reaching all-time highs next year. Investors with [a] focus on negative upcoming earnings and economic developments are effectively ‘fighting the Fed,’ which was historically a losing proposition.”

Despite these positive views, this stock market rebound comes on the heels of growing unemployment, dropping retail sales, and Fed’s projections of US GDP falling by 5% in 2020.

We are in unchartered territory

  • There is no playbook to combat this health crisis.
  • The US economy was growing at a steady 2% a year with record-low unemployment. Restarting the economy at full speed may take several years
  • China’s GDP shrank by 6.8% in the first quarter of 2020 giving us a glimpse of what to expect.
  • Pre-crisis, many US workers had inadequate retirement savings and insufficient rainy-day money. There is many Americans living paycheck to paycheck.
  • The small businesses which have always been the foundation of the US economy are facing an existential threat for survival. Many family-owned companies relying on higher volume sales and small margins may never be able to compete with large firms.
  • The SBA $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program was depleted in less than 2 weeks.
  • While many pharmaceutical companies are working on a COVID-19 vaccine, we do not expect the vaccine to be widely available until 2021. Some of the trial drugs that have shown positive treatment results will not be a solution for this crisis.
  • We need rapid tests widely available to hospitals, businesses, airports, public venues, and schools. Some types of social distancing measures will continue through the end of 2020 and potentially 2021.

How to manage your investments and savings

We have very little control over the stock market and the economy. But we have full control of our actions.

During this crisis, focus on what you can control.

Set your financial goals and have a plan

Having a solid financial plan will help you ensure that you are following of your long-term financial goals and staying on track. The investment performance of your portfolio is a key component of your future financial success but it’s not the most important factor. Be disciplined, patient and consistent in following your long-term goals while putting emotions aside

If you do not have a financial plan, this a perfect time to start one. A holistic financial will help you create a comprehensive view of your personal and financial life and have a clear understanding of the main risks and abilities to achieve financial independence and confidence.

Keep cash

As a financial advisor, I always recommend keeping an emergency fund worth at least 6 to 12 months of your living expenses. An emergency fund will allow you to build a cushion and survive a prolonged economic uncertainty. Furthermore, it will prevent you from dipping into your retirement savings which could significantly deteriorate your financial health in the future. The best time to build your rainy-day fund is when the economy is strong and healthy.

Know your investment horizon

Your investment horizon is a product of your financial goals. It will determine the level of investment risk you should be taking. If you are retiring soon and need your investments for retirement income, then your investment horizon is short. Short investment horizon in general means a lower level of risk. If you are young and do not need your retirement savings and investments for a few years and decades, then your investment horizon is long. In this case, you can afford to take on more risk.

Assess your risk tolerance

Risk tolerance is a measure of our emotional ability to accept market volatility. It is not so simple to quantify people’s emotions with numbers. As humans, we are always more likely to be risk-averse during market turbulence and more risk-tolerant when the stock market is going higher. If you are willing to accept short-term losses for potential long-term gains, then your risk tolerance is high. If you are not willing to accept any losses, then your risk tolerance is very low.

Review your investment portfolio

Tune-up your investments regularly. You should review your investment portfolio in connection with your financial plan, investment horizon, and risk tolerance. Make sure that your investments support your financial goals and needs.

Keep your 401k

One of the biggest mistakes you could possibly make now is to drop and stop contributing to your 401k plan. Many people gave up on their retirement savings during the financial crisis and never restarted them. As a result, we have a generation of people with no retirement savings. As a 401k participant, you make regular monthly or semi-monthly payments to your plan. You benefit from dollar-cost averaging and buying stocks at lower prices during market volatility.

Take time to self-reflect and reconnect

Social distancing and stay-at-home lifestyle can emotionally burdensome and isolating. In these times, it is important to stay connected with friends and family. This is a great opportunity to learn new skills, reassess your priorities, and catch up on house projects. For those who like to travel, the economic slowdown is a paradise for travel deals.

Final words

If you have any questions about your investments and how to navigate through these turbulent times, feel free to reach out. if you are worried about finances I am here to listen and help.

Navigating the market turmoil after the Coronavirus outbreak

Navigating the market turmoil after the Coronavirus outbreak

Here is how to navigate the market turmoil after the Coronavirus outbreak, the stock market crash, and bottom low bond yields.

The longest bull market in history is officially over. Today the Dow Jones recorded its biggest daily loss since the October crash in 1987.  Today will remain in the history books. After the Dow Jones index dropped more than 20% from its February 2020 high, we are formally in a bear market.

Navigating the market turmoil after the Coronavirus outbreak
S&P 500 12 year performance

Investors’ flight to safety has pushed 10-year Treasury rate to 0.8% and 30-year treasury to 1.4%, all-time lows.

Navigating the market turmoil after the Coronavirus outbreak

Where are we standing

The coronavirus outbreak is spreading globally. The virus fears are halting public events and forcing companies to change the way they conduct business. The US has imposed travel restrictions on China and the European Union. Many countries in the US are imposing border control restrictions on their neighbors. While the virus outbreak in Wuhan is officially contained according to the Chinese government, large parts of the country remain in lockdown.
The inability of governments around the world to contain COVID-19 spooked investors. We are now observing the worst stock market selloff since the financial crisis of 2008. In certain ways, the daily market conditions are more brutal and unpredictable than a decade ago. Currently, close to 80% of the stock trading is generated by computer algorithms who can send thousands of trades in milliseconds.

Date Dow Jones Index Change % Change
12-Mar-20 21,200.95 -2,352.27 -9.99%
11-Mar-20 23,553.22 -1,464.94 -5.86%
10-Mar-20 25,018.16 1,167.14 4.89%
9-Mar-20 23,851.02 -2,013.76 -7.79%
6-Mar-20 25,864.78 -256.50 -0.98%
5-Mar-20 26,121.28 -969.58 -3.58%
4-Mar-20 27,090.86 1,173.45 4.53%
3-Mar-20 25,917.41 -785.91 -2.94%
2-Mar-20 26,703.32 1,293.96 5.09%
28-Feb-20 25,409.36 -357.28 -1.39%
27-Feb-20 25,766.64 -1,190.95 -4.42%
26-Feb-20 26,957.59 -123.77 -0.46%
25-Feb-20 27,081.36 -879.44 -3.15%
24-Feb-20 27,960.80 -1,031.61 -3.56%

The virus fears initially caused by a meltdown in travel-related stocks. Many airline and cruise ship stocks are now trading at a multi-year low. The heightened concerns for the global recession and the lowered commodity demand from China pushed the price of the oil down significantly. After failed negotiations between OPEC and Russia, Saudi Arabia decided to lower the sale prices of oil by 20% and increase its daily output. In turn, the prices of US oil companies collapsed due to fears that US oil producers can not maintain profitable operations at these low levels. During the previous in 2016, many small oil producers shut down or filed for bankruptcy. The expectation is that many more will follow the same faith soon.
Since the oil and gas and travel-related industry make up for more than 10% of the US GDP, it’s easy to understand that lower revenues and potential job cuts can trickle down to the rest of the US economy.

Are we in a recession?
We wouldn’t know the exact figures until April. The likelihood that the US economy will be in recession in Q1 and Q2 of 2020 is very high. The best-case scenario is for a sluggish economy. We started the year on a strong footing with low employment and strong job growth and housing sales, low price of oil and low-interest rates. However, the crisis in US travel, entertainment, and the energy sector can push the economy down.

What can you do now?

Focus on what you can control.

Have a plan
Having a robust financial plan will help you ensure that you are following of your long-term financial goals and staying on track. The investment performance of your portfolio is a key component of your future financial success but it’s not the most important factor. Be disciplined, patient and consistent in following your long-term goals while putting emotions aside
If you don’t have a financial plan, this a perfect time to initiate it. A holistic financial will help you create a comprehensive view of your personal and financial life and have a clear understanding of core risks and abilities to achieve financial independence and confidence.

Do not read the headlines

Wall Street resides in its own bubble and often overreacts to news whether that is good or bad. Right now, all news is bad news. The only thing that will provide confidence in the market is finding a treatment against the COVID-19, which is probably months or weeks away or drop in virus cases in both the US and Europe. A coordinated effort between the Fed, the Congress and the current administration can provide some stability. Let’s hope that all interested parties can come together and create a working plan.

Assess your risk tolerance
Risk tolerance is how we measure our emotional ability to accept market volatility. It’s not always easy to quantify emotions with numbers. As humans, we are always more likely to be risk-averse during market turbulence and more risk-tolerant when the stock market is going higher. If you want to know how you would feel when the stock market drops 20%, open your investment account today. When you are willing to accept short losses, then your risk tolerance is high. If losses are unacceptable then your risk tolerance is very low.

Review your investment portfolio

Perhaps not today, but soon, you should review your investment portfolio in connection with your long-term financial plan and risk tolerance. Make sure that your investments are aligned with your financial goals and needs.

Do not drop your 401k

One of the biggest mistakes you could possibly make now is to drop and stop contributing to your 401k plan. Many people gave up on their retirement savings during the financial crisis and never restarted them. As a result, we have a generation of people with no retirement savings. As a 401k participant, you make regular monthly or semi-monthly payments to your plan. Despite current losses, you benefit from dollar-cost averaging and buying stocks at lower prices.

Invest now

It may sound crazy but if you are a new investor there is no better time to start investing than now. Stocks rarely go on sale. This is one of those opportunities that come only once in a decade. Remember Warren Buffet’s famous quote:

Be fearful when others are greedy and to be greedy only when others are fearful”

Check my blog for guidance and ideas

  • In late January I posted “How to Survive the Next Market Downturn”. I didn’t think that we will need my guide so soon but here we are. I offer nine steps on how to navigate any stock market crash.

 

  • If you are a conservative investor, who mostly invests in bonds, you were probably somewhat sheltered from the March Market Madness. However, the future for income-seeking investors is cloudy. Current bond yields cannot support future bond investors and will likely deteriorate the economy. For more information on how to traverse from here, read my article on “Why negative interest rates are bad for your portfolio

 

  • Amid market volatility and uncertainty, dividend growth ETFs can provide some shelter. In my latest article “Top 5 Dividend Growth ETFs” I discuss five ETF strategies that offer lower volatility and extra income.

Final words
If you have any questions about your investments and how to update your financial plan, feel free to reach out. if you are worried about finances I am here to listen and help.

Early retirement for physicians

Early retirement for physicians

Early retirement for physicians….As someone married to a physician and surrounded by many friends in the medical field, I know that early retirement is on the minds of many physicians. If you are reading this article, you have probably put some serious thoughts about it as well.

Retiring early is a very personal decision. And it is not an easy decision to make. It would be best if you considered many financial and personal factors before you make the final call. Retirement will change your lifestyle dramatically. Your salary and healthcare benefits will be different. You might experience an unexpected change of pace. You may lose touch with colleagues and friends. On the bright side, you can travel and do things that matter most to you. Your stress level will decrease, and you will spend more time with your family and loved ones.

Physician Burnout

Many physicians decide to leave the profession due to physical and emotional stress. A 2019 study by the AMA, the Mayo Clinic, and Stanford University School of Medicine found that 44% of US physicians presented at least one symptom of burnout. For comparison, the overall burnout among US workers is 28%.

Among the specialties with the highest burnout rate are Urology (54%), Neurology (53%), Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation (52%), Internal Medicine (49%), and Emergency Medicine (48%).

The peer pressure for early retirement

Be prepared to encounter some resistance from colleagues and patients when you announce your early retirement. There is this unspoken public “belief” that doctors owe society their skills and knowledge. Many patients don’t want to look for another doctor. And some of your colleagues may feel that you are abandoning the profession. You need to ignore the noise and focus on your personal goals.

I compiled a list of suggestions that will help you prepare for your journey to early retirement. Don’t wait until the last moment. Get ahead of the curve so that you can take the financial stress out of your retirement plans.

Study your benefits

The first step to early retirement for physicians is to know your employee benefits in full detail. Most public and private healthcare systems offer competitive benefits packages with a wide range of perks, including pension, 401k match, profit sharing, healthcare coverage, life insurance, disability insurance, and loan repayment. Many employers even offer an early retirement option at 55.

These benefit packages vary significantly from one employer to the next. Take some time to learn and understand your options. If your goal is to retire early, consider an employer that will give you the highest chance to achieve this goal.

Become debt-free

The US student debt has skyrocketed to $1.6 trillion. Seventy-five percent of medical students graduated in their class of 2018 with student debt. The average loan per student is $196,520. Furthermore, many medical students graduate with more than $300,000 in debt. It’s not uncommon that some physician couples owe over half a million dollars in student debt.

A crucial step in your journey to early retirement for physicians is paying off ALL YOUR DEBT, including student loans, credit cards, and mortgages. It might seem like an uphill battle, but it’s not impossible.

There are several options you can consider when tackling your student loans – loan forgiveness, refinancing with low-interest rates, and income-driven repayment.

Maximize your retirement savings

When you retire early, assuming before the age of 66, you will not have full access to your social security benefits, pension, and Medicare benefits. In many cases, you may want to delay taking your pension and social security to maximize the amount you will receive annually.

One way to cover the gap while you are waiting is through your retirement savings. Most employers nowadays offer either a 401k, a 403b, or a 457-retirement plan. When you join your employer’s retirement plan, you can save up to $19,000 per year as of 2019. If you are 50 or older, you can save an additional $6,000 for a total of $25,000 per year. An additional benefit to you is that these contributions are tax-deductible and will lower your tax bill. Many employers also offer a match that can further boost your retirement savings. For more information about how to increase your 401k savings, read my article about “The Secret to becoming a 401k millionaire.

Save outside your retirement plan

if you plan to retire early, you need to make additional savings outside of your retirement plan.

First, you need an emergency fund. It would help if you had at least six months’ worth of living expenses in cash or a savings account. This emergency fund will serve you as a buffer in case of sudden and unexpected expenses.

Second, save in a taxable investment account. The main benefit of using an investment account is liquidity. You can access these funds at any point in time without any restrictions.

If you retire in your 40s or 50s, you may not be able to access your retirement accounts before reaching 59 ½. Some legal exemptions, including poor health, disability, and economic hardship, allow withdrawing your retirement savings without a penalty. However, these exceptions may not apply to you. And ideally, you should let your tax-deferred retirement savings grow for as long as possible.

Investing outside of your retirement accounts does not provide immediate tax benefits. All investments will be after-taxes. You may also incur taxes on dividends and capital gains. To make the most out of your investment account, make sure to use low-cost, tax-efficient ETFs and index funds.

Have an exit strategy if you own a medical practice

If you own a medical practice and want to retire early, you need a good exit and succession plan. You will have to find a suitable buyer or someone who will manage the day-to-operations on your behalf. Many business owners have a significant portion of their wealth locked in their business. If selling your practice is the primary source of your retirement income, you will need to consider tax implications from any potential realized capital gains.

Consider moving to a low-cost location.

If you currently work and live in an expensive area like San Francisco or New York City, you may want to consider retiring in a different state or even another country. The cost of living differential between Mississippi or Arkansas versus New York and California could make a big difference in your retirement lifestyle, especially when working on a tight budget.

Look for healthcare coverage.

One of the main challenges when you plan for early retirement for physicians will be healthcare coverage. Depending on your employer, some doctors have excellent medical and dental benefits. In some cases, these benefits are completely free or heavily subsidized by your employer.  Some hospitals that offer an early retirement option could have healthcare benefits included. In other cases, when you retire early, you could lose these perks. Since you won’t have access to Medicare until you reach 65, you need to find a reasonably priced healthcare insurance policy.

Do not underestimate healthcare costs. According to Fidelity, a 65-year old couple retiring in 2019 can expect to spend $285,000 in health care and medical expenses throughout retirement. For single retirees, the health care cost could reach $150,000 for women and $135,000 for men.

Consider working per diem

If you are short of retirement savings or bored of staying at home, you may consider working per diem or locum tenens. You can work on an hourly basis at your own pace. The extra work will boost your early retirement income and will keep your knowledge up to date.

Stick to a budget

You must adhere to a budget before and after your retirement. Before retirement, you need to pay off your debt and save for retirement aggressively. Depending on your income, these payments can cut through your family budget. You may have to make some tough choices to avoid or delay large purchases and curb discretionary spending.

Once you retire, your income may go down. True, you don’t have to drive to work, but some of your expenses might still be the same.

Here are some ideas about how to save money—Cook instead of going to a restaurant. Make your coffee. Drive your old car instead of buying a new one—travel off-season.

Have a plan

A happy retirement comes with a good plan. It may require some self-discovery but ultimately will lead to finding a purpose and fulfilling your life dreams. You can travel and volunteer. Write a book. Teach. Learn a new hobby or language. Find out what makes you happy outside of your daily routine and make the most out of your free time.

The bottom line on early retirement

Early retirement for physicians is not an illusion. It’s an achievable mission that requires a great deal of planning and some personal sacrifice. If you want to retire early, you need to start planning now. Some hospital systems offer early retirement packages. Unfortunately, your guaranteed retirement income or pension will be a lot less than what you would get if you retire ten years later.

Your family can be a big influencer for or against your decision to retire early.  You might have a partner who wants to stay active. Perhaps, you have children who are going to college soon. Every family is different, and every situation is unique. Do the number crunching and see what makes the most sense to you.

10 Behavioral biases that can ruin your investments

10 Behavioral biases that can ruin your investments

As a financial advisor, I often speak with my clients about behavioral biases. Our emotions can put a heavy load on our investment decisions. In this article, I would like to discuss ten behavioral biases that I encounter every day. It’s not a complete list, but it’s a good starting point to understand your behavioral biases and how to deal with them.

We have to make choices every day. Often our decisions are based on limited information or constrained by time. We want to make the right call every single time. But sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we can be our worst enemy. Stress, distraction, media, and market craziness could get the worst of us.

Behavioral finance

In 2018 Richard Thaler won the Nobel prize for his work in behavioral economics. In his 2009 book “Nudge” and later on in his 2015 book “Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioral Economics,” Thaler reveals the architecture of the human decision-making process. He talks about behavioral biases, anomalies, and impulses that drive our daily choices.

In another study about the value of the financial advisor or the advisor alpha, Vanguard concluded that clients using a financial advisor have the potential to add 1.5% of additional annual returns as a result of behavioral coaching. Further on, Vanguard concludes that because investing evokes emotion, advisors need to help their clients maintain a long-term perspective and a disciplined approach.

 

Afraid to start investing 

Social Security is going into deficit by 2035. And most employers moving toward Defined Contribution Plans (401k, 403b, SEP-IRA). It will be up to you and me to secure our retirement by increasing our savings and investments. However, not everybody is in tune. For many people, investing is hard. It’s too complicated. Not all employers provide adequate training about retirement and investment options. And I don’t blame anyone. As much as I try to educate my blog readers, as well as many colleagues, we are outnumbered by the media and all kinds of financial gurus without proper training and credentials. If you are on the boat and want to start investing, talk to a fiduciary financial advisor, or ask your employer for educational and training literature. Don’t be afraid to ask hard questions and educate yourself.

“This time is different.”

How many times have you heard “This time is different” from a family member or the next financial guru, who is trying to sell you something? Very likely, it’s not going to be any different. As a matter, it could be worse. As humans, we tend to repeat our mistake over and over. It’s not that we don’t learn from our mistakes. But sometimes it’s just more comforting staying on your turf, not trying something new, and hoping that things will change. So, when you hear “This time is different,” you should be on high alert. Try to read between the lines and assess all your options.

Falling for “guaranteed income” or “can’t lose money” sales pitch

As many people are falling behind their retirement savings, they get tempted to a wide range of “guaranteed income” and “can’t lose money” financial products. The long list includes but not limited to annuities, life insurance products, private real estate, cryptocurrency, and reverse mortgage. Many of these products come with sky-high commissions and less than transparent fees, costly riders, and complex restrictions and high breakup fees. The sales pitch is often at an expensive steakhouse or a golf club following a meeting in the salesperson’s office where the deals are closed. If someone is offering you a free steak dinner to buy a financial product that you do not fully understand, please trust me on it – you will be the one picking the tab in the end.

Selling after a market crash

One of the most prominent behavioral biases people make in investing is selling their investments after a market crash. As painful as it could be, it’s one of the worst decisions you could make. Yes, markets are volatile. Yes, markets crash sometimes. But nobody has made any money panicking. You need to control your impulses to sell at the bottom. I know it’s not easy because I have been there myself. What really helps is thinking long-term. You can ask yourself, do you need this money right away. If you are going to retire in another 10 or 20 years, you don’t need to touch your portfolio, period. Market swings are an essential part of the economic cycle. Recessions help clean up the bad companies with a poor business model and ineffective management and let the winners take over.

You may remember that the rise of Apple coincided with the biggest recession in our lifetime, 2008 – 2009. Does anyone still remember Blackberry, Nokia, or Motorola, who were the pioneers of mobile phones?

Keeping your investments in cash

Another common behavioral bias is keeping your investments in cash…..indefinitely. People who keep their 401k or IRA in cash almost always miss the market recovery. At that point, they either have to chase the rally or must wait for a market correction and try to get in again. As a financial advisor, I would like to tell you that it is impossible to time exactly any market rally. By the time you realize it. It’s already too late.

To understand why timing the markets and avoiding risk by keeping cash can be harmful, see what happens if an investor misses the biggest up days in the market. The hypothetical table below looks at the performance of $10,000 invested in the S&P 500 between January 4, 1988, and December 31, 2018. It’s important to note this hypothetical investment occurred during two of the biggest bear markets in history, the 2000 tech bubble crash and the 2008 global financial crisis.

10 Behavioral biases that can ruin your investments - Keeping Cash

As you can see, missing the ten best days over between 1998 and 2018 meant earning nearly 2.5% less on an annual basis and leaving half of the potential absolute gains on the table. Here’s the kicker: Six of the 10 “best days” in the market were within weeks of the worst days in the market. In other words, some of the best days often happen as “v-shaped” bounces off the worst days. Going to cash on a big negative day means increasing the risk of missing a big positive day which, as can be seen from the table above, can have a substantial impact on your returns over time.

Chasing hot investments

One of the most common behavioral biases is chasing hot investments. People generally like to be with the winners. It feels good. It pumps your ego. There is a whole theory of momentum investing based on findings that investors buy recent winners and continue to buy their stock for another 6 to 12 months. We have seen it time and time again – from the tech bubble in 2000, through the mortgage-backed securities in 2008, to cryptocurrency and cannabis stocks in 2018. People like highflyers. Some prior hot stocks like Apple, Google, and Amazon dominate the stock markets today. Others like Motorola, Nokia, and GE dwindle in obscureness. If an investment had a considerable run, sometimes it’s better to let it go. Don’t chase it.

Holding your losers too long

“The most important thing to do if you find yourself in a hole is to stop digging.” – Warren Buffett. 

In a research conducted in the 1990s by professor Terrance Odean, he concluded that investors tend to hold to their losers a lot longer than their winners. A result of this approach, those investors continue to incur losses in the near future. Professor Odean offers a few explanations for his findings. One reason is that investors rationally or irrationally believe that their current losers will outperform. A second explanation comes from the Prospect Theory by Kahneman and Tversky (1979). According to them, investors become risk-averse about their winners and risk-seeking to their losers.

When it comes to losing bets, they are willing to take a higher gamble and seek to recover their original purchase price. A third theory that I support and observed is based on emotions. The pain from selling your losers is twice as high as the joy from selling your winners. We don’t like to be wrong. We want to hold on to the hope that we made the right decision. After all, it is a gamble, and the odds will be against you. At some point, we just need to make peace with your losses and move on. It’s not easy, but it’s the right thing to do.

Holding your winners too long

There is a quote by the famous financier Bernard Baruch – “I made my money by selling too soon.” Many people, however, often hold on to their winners for very long. Psychologically, it’s comforting to see your winners and feel great about your investment choices. There is nothing wrong with being a winner. But at some point, you must ask yourself, is it worth it. How long this run can go for and should you cash in some of your profits. What if your winners are making up a large part of your investment portfolio? Wouldn’t this put your entire retirement savings at risk if something were to happen to that investment?

There is no one-size-fits-all answer when it comes to selling your winners. Furthermore, there could be tax implications if you realize the gains in your brokerage account. However, it’s prudent to have an exit strategy. As much as it hurts (stops the joy) to sell the winners, it could lower the risk of your portfolio and allow you to diversify amongst other investments and asset classes.

Checking your portfolio every day

The stock market is volatile. Your investments will change every day. There will be large swings in both directions. So, checking your portfolio every single day can only drive crazy and will not move the needle. It could lead to irrational and emotional decisions that could have serious long-term repercussions. Be patient, disciplined, and follow your long-term plan.

Not seeking advice

Seeking advice from a complete stranger can be scary. You must reveal some of your biggest secrets to a person you never met before. It’s s big step. I wish the media spends more time talking about the thousands of fiduciary advisors out there who honestly and trustworthy look for your best interest.

My financial advisory service is based on trust between you as a client and me as the advisor . So, do not be afraid to seek advice, but you also need to do your homework. Find an advisor who will represent you and your family and will care about your personal goal and financial priorities. Don’t be afraid to interview several advisors before you find the best match for you.

Final words

“The most important quality for an investor is temperament, not intellect. You need a temperament that neither derives great pleasure from being with the crowd or against the crowd.” – Warren Buffet.

Investing is an emotional act. We put our chips on the table and wish for a great outcome. We win, or we lose. Understanding your emotions and behavioral biases will help you become a better investor. It doesn’t mean that we will always make the right decisions. It doesn’t mean that we will never make a mistake again. We are humans, not robots. Behavioral biases are part of our system. Knowing how we feel and why feel a certain way, can help us when the markets are volatile, when things get ugly or the “next big thing” is offered to us. Look at the big picture. Know your goals and financial priorities. Try to block the noise and keep a long-term view.

Reach out

If you have questions about your investments and retirement savings, reach out to me at sto[email protected] or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit my Insights page, where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, founder of Babylon Wealth Management

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, MBA is a fee-only financial advisor in Walnut Creek, CA, serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. Babylon Wealth Management specializes in financial planning, retirement planning, and investment management for growing families, physicians, and successful business owners.

Subscribe to get our newest Insights delivered right to your inbox

Latest Articles

The biggest risks for your retirement savings

Biggest risks to your retirement savings

Whether you are just starting your career or about to retire, you need to understand the risks you are facing when you plan for your future retirement.

Most experts recommend that you should aim to replace about 80% of work income during your retirement. Part of your retirement income will come from Social Security. Other sources could be a public pension, IRAs, 401k, rental income, sale of real estate or business, royalties, or a part-time job. However, the 80% is not a definite number. The amount you need in retirement could vary substantially depending on your lifestyle, family size, number of dependents, health issues, and so on.

Social Security benefits

The maximum Social Security benefit in 2019:

  • $3,770 for someone who files at age 70.
  • $2,861 for someone at a full retirement age of 66
  • $2,209 for someone aged 62

For reference, very few people reach these upper limits. The average Social Security retirement benefit in 2019 is $1,461 a month. The average disability benefit is $1,234.

Unfortunately, the Social Security trust is already running a deficit. Currently, the Social Security is paying more benefits than all the proceed its receiving from the payroll taxes. Its reserve will be depleted by 2035. After that point, social security recipients will have to receive only a portion of their actual benefit. The current estimate is around 75%.

Pension Shortfall

Similarly to Social Security, most of the public and private pension plans nationwide have an enormous shortfall between assets and their future liabilities. According to a recent study by Pew Charitable Trust and Pension Tracker, US public pension shortfall is over $1 trillion. States like Alaska, California, Illinois, Ohio, Hawaii, and New Jersey have one of the highest pension burdens in the nation. Even after ten years of economic recovery and bull market, most state pension plans are not prepared to face another downturn. Policymakers must take urgent measures to close the pension funding gap, which remains at historically high levels as a share of GDP.

Low savings rate

With social security benefits expected to shrink, I advise my clients that they need to increase their savings in order to supplement their income in the future. Retirement savings in IRA, 401k and even a brokerage account will provide you with the necessary income during your retirement years.

Unfortunately, not everyone is forward-looking. The average 401k balance, according to Fidelity, is $106,000 in 2019, while the average IRA is $110,000. The sad reality is that most Americans do not save enough for retirement and we are facing a retirement crisis.

Not saving enough for retirement is the highest risk of enjoying your retirement years.

Relying on a single source

Many people make the mistake of relying on a single source of income for their retirement.  

Imagine that you were planning to retire in 2009 upon selling a piece of real estate. Or you had all your retirement savings in a 401k plan and the market just crashed 50%.  Many of these folks had to delay their retirement for several years to make up for the lost income. Similarly, selling your business can be risky too. With technology advancements, many businesses are becoming obsolete. You may not always be able to find buyers or get the highest price for your business.

We always recommend to our clients to have a diversified stream of retirement income. Diversifying your source will create a natural safety net and potentially could increase the predictability of your income in retirement.

Market risk

We all would like to retire when the market is up and our retirement account balance is high. However, the income from these retirement accounts like IRA, Roth IRA and 401k are not guaranteed. As more people relying on them for retirement, their savings become subject to market turbulence and the wellbeing of the economy.  Today, prospective retirees must confront with high equity valuations, volatile markets, and ultra-low and even negative yields.

In my practice, I use my clients’ risk tolerance as an indicator of their comfort level during market volatility. With market risk in mind, I craft well-diversified individual retirement strategies based on my clients’ risk tolerance and long-term and short-term financial goals.

Sequence of returns

The sequence of returns is the order of how your portfolio returns happen over time. If you are in your accumulation phase, the sequence of return doesn’t impact your final outcome. You will end up with the same amount regardless of the order of your annual returns.  

However, if you are in your withdrawal phase, the sequence of returns can have a dramatic impact on your retirement income. Most retires with a 401k or IRAs have to periodically sell a portion of their portfolios to supplement their income. Most financial planning software uses an average annual return rate to project future account balance. However, these average estimates become meaningless if you experience a large loss at the start of your retirement.

Our retirement strategies take the sequence of returns very seriously. Some of the tools we use involve maintaining cash buffers, building bond ladders and keeping a flexible budget.

Taxes

Your IRA balance might be comforting but not all of it is yours. You will owe income taxes on every dollar you take out of any tax-deferred account (IRA, 401k, 403b). You will pay capital gain taxes on all realized gains in your brokerage accounts. Even Social Security is taxable.

With skyrocketing deficits in the treasury budget, social security and public pensions will guarantee one thing – higher taxes. There is no doubt that someone will have to pick up the check. And that someone is the US taxpayer – me and you.

Managing your taxes is a core function of our wealth management practice. Obviously, we all must pay taxes. And we can not predict what politicians will decide in the future. However, managing your investments in a tax-efficient manner will ensure that you keep more money in your pocket.

Inflation risk

Most retirees have a significant portion of their portfolios in fixed income. Modern portfolio managers use fixed income instruments to reduce investment risk for their clients. At the time of this article, we are seeing negative and near-zero interest rates around the world. However, with inflation going at around 2% a year, the income from fixed-income investments will not cover the cost of living adjustments. Retirees will effectively lose purchasing power on their dollars.

Interest risk

Bonds lose value when interest rates go up and make gains when interest rates go down. For over a decade, we have seen rock bottom interest rates. We had a small blip in 2018 when the Fed raised rates 4 times and 1 year’s CDs reached 2.5%. At that point in time, many investors were worried that higher interest rates will hurt bond investors, consumers and even companies who use a lot of debt to finance their business. Even though these fears are subdued for now, interest rates remain a viable threat. Negative interest rates are as bad for fixed income investors as the high rates are. Unfortunately, traditional bond portfolios may not be sufficient to provide income and protect investors for market swings. Investors will need to seek alternatives or take higher risks to generate income.

Unexpected expenses

Most financial planning software will lay out a financial plan including your projected costs during retirement. While most financial planning software these days is quite sophisticated, the plan remains a plan. We can not predict the unexpected. In my practice, I regularly see clients withdrawing large sums from their retirement savings to finance a new home, renovation, a new car, college fees, legal fees, unexpectedly high taxes and so on. Reducing your retirement savings can be a bad idea on many levels. I typically recommend building an emergency fund worth at least 6 months of living expenses to cover any unexpected expenses that may occur. That way, you don’t have to touch your retirement savings.

Healthcare cost

The average health care cost of a retired couple is $260,000. This estimate could vary significantly depending on your health. Unless you have full health insurance from your previous employer, you will need to budget a portion of your retirement savings to cover health-related expenses. Keep in mind that Medicare part A covers only part of your health cost. The remaining, parts B, C, and D, will be paid out of pocket or through private insurance.

Furthermore, as CNBC reported, the cost of long-term care insurance has gone up by more than 60% between 2013 and 2018 and continues to go higher. The annual national median cost of a private room in a nursing home was $100,375 in 2018.

For future retirees, even those in good shape, healthcare costs will be one of the largest expenses during retirement. In my practice, I take this risk very seriously and work with my clients to cover all bases of their health care coverage during retirement.

Longevity

Longevity risk is the risk of running out of money during retirement. Running out of money depends on an array of factors including your health, lifestyle, family support and the size and sources of retirement income.  My goal as a financial advisor is to ensure that your money lasts you through the rest of your life.

Legacy risk

For many of my clients leaving a legacy is an important part of their personal goal. Whether funding college expenses, taking care of loved ones or donating to a charitable cause, legacy planning is a cornerstone of our financial plan. Having a robust estate plan will reduce the risks to your assets when you are gone or incapacitated to make decisions. 

Liquidity Risk

Liquidity risk is the risk that you will not be able to find buyers for your investments and other assets that you are ready to sell. Often times, during an economic downturn, the liquidity shrinks. There will be more sellers than buyers. The banks are not willing to extend loans to finance riskier deals. In many cases, the sellers will have to sell their assets at a significant discount to facilitate the transaction.

Behavioral risk

Typically, investors are willing to take more risk when the economy is good and the equity markets are high. Investors become more conservative and risk-averse when markets drop significantly. As humans, we have behavioral biases, Sometimes, we let our emotions get the worst of us. We spend frivolously. We chase hot stocks. Or keep all investments in cash. Or sell after a market crash. Working with a fiduciary advisor will help you understand these biases. Together, we can find a way to make unbiased decisions looking after your top financial priorities.

Final Words

Preparing for retirement is a long process. It involves a wide range of obstacles. With proper long-term planning, you can avoid or minimize some of these risks. You can focus on reaching your financial goals and enjoying what matters most to you.

Reach out

If you need help growing your retirement savings, reach out to me at [email protected] or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit my Insights page, where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, MBA is a fee-only financial advisor in Walnut Creek, CA, serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. Babylon Wealth Management specializes in financial planning, retirement planning, and investment management for growing families, physicians, and successful business owners.

Subscribe to get our new Insights delivered right to your inbox

Why negative interest rates are bad for your portfolio

Why negative interest rates are bad for your portfolio

Quantitative Easing

Ever since the financial crisis of 2008-2009, central banks around the world have been using lower interest rates and Quantitative Easing (QE) to combat to slow growth and recession fears. In the aftermath of the Great Recession, all major central banks cut their funding interest rate to nearly zero.

The QE policy led to the longest US economic expansion in history. As the US economy improved, the Federal Reserve started hiking rates in late 2015 and continued hiking until December of 2018. The Fen fund rate reached 2.4% in the early months of 2019. In the meantime, the European and Japan Central Banks hovered their interest rates near zero. In 2016, for the first time, we registered negative interest rates in Europe and Japan.

The trade wars

Escalating fears for slowing global growth and trade war threats had forced the Fed to announce its first rate cut since the financial crisis. While widely expected, the rate cut triggered a chain of events. First, President Trump imposed an additional 10% import tax on $300 billion of Chinese good. In return, the Chinese central bank lowered the target exchange rate between US dollars and yuan to 7.0039, the lowest level since April 2008. Losing confidence for a quick trade resolution the equity markets sold off by 3%. The 10-year Treasury fell to 1.7%, one of the lowest levels since the financial crisis.

Negative interest rates

Fearing that the intensifying trade war between the US and China could adversely impact the global economy, many Central banks around the world cut their funding rates to zero or even negative levels. Most recently the Reserve Bank of New Zealand lowered its rate from 1.5% to 1%. Furthermore, the New Zealand Governor said, “It’s easily within the realms of possibility that we might have to use negative interest rates,”

In Germany, the 30-year government bond turned negative for the first time last week. In Japan, the 10-year government bond yields -0.2%.

As we stand today, there is $15 trillion in government bonds that offer negative interest rates, according to Deutsche Bank. In short, European investors are paying to own EU government bonds. 

In addition, there are 14 European below investment grade bond issuers trading at negatives rates. Conventionally, the junk bonds are issued by risky borrowers with weaker balance sheets that may struggle to pay back their loans. The typical junk-bond offers a higher income to compensate investors for taking the higher risk of not getting paid at all.

So why negative interest rates are bad for your portfolio

Traditionally, retired and conservative investors have used government bonds as a safe-haven investment. Historically, US treasuries have had a negative correlation with stocks. When the equity markets are volatile, many investors move to US government bonds to wait out the storm. Therefore, many portfolio managers around the world use government bonds as a diversification to lower the risk of your investment portfolio.

So, let’s imagine a conservative investor whose portfolio is invested in about 40% in Equities and 60% in Fixed Income. This person has a low-risk tolerance and would like to use some the extra income to supplement her social security benefits and pension. With ultra-low or negative interest rates, 60% of the portfolio is practically earning nothing and potentially losing money. Let’s break it down.

Lending free money

Investors in negative-yielding bonds are effectively giving the government free money and receiving nothing in return. With $15 trillion worth of negative-yielding bonds, many institutional investors might be willing to take the “deal” since they have legal restrictions on a target amount of fixed income instruments they must own.

No risk-reward premium

The interest rate is the risk-reward premium that the lender is willing to take to provide a loan to a borrower. The higher the risk, the higher the interest rate. Simple. If the risk-reward relationship is broken, many creditors will choose not to lend any money and have the risk of going out of business. Why would a bank give you a negative interest mortgage on your home?

Can’t supplement income

Going back to our imaginary investor with 60% in negative-yielding bonds. This portfolio will not be able to provide additional income that she will need to supplement their pension or social security benefits. What if our investors could not rely on guaranteed benefits, and her portfolio was the sole generator of income? In that case, she will have to spend down the portfolio over time. She would have to adjust her lifestyle and lower her cost so she can stretch the portfolio as long as she could.

Need to take more risk to generate higher income

What if our investor wants to protect her principal? To generate higher income, our conservative investor will ultimately have to consider higher-risk investments that offer a higher positive yield. She will have to be willing to take more risk to receive a higher income from her portfolio.    

Subject to inflation risk

The inflation risk is the risk of lower purchasing power of your money due to rising prices. In a simple example, if you own $100 today and the annual inflation is 2%, the real value of your money will be $98 in a year. You are essentially losing money.

With the US inflation rate at around 1.6% as of June of 2019 and Eurozone inflation rate hovering about 1.2%, there is a real risk that the ultra-low and negative rates will reduce the real value of your investments. Investments in negative-yielding bonds will end up with lower purchasing power over time 

Subject to interest rate risk

In the fixed-income world, rising interest rates lead to a lower value of your bonds. The reason is that older bonds will have to sell at a lower price to match the yield of the newly issued bonds with a higher interest. Just about a year ago when the Fed was hiking rates by 0.25% every quarter, fixed income investors were rightly worried that their bond holdings would lose value. Many bonds funds ended up in the negative in 2018. Even with lower or negative interests, this risk is looming out there.

Promote frivolous spending and cheap debt

It’s not a secret that lower interest rates allow more individuals, corporations, and governments alike to borrow cheap credit. While everybody’s situation is unique, cheap credit often leads to frivolous and irresponsible spending. With US consumer debt reaching $13.51 trillion, total US corporate debt at $15.5 trillion, and Federal debt pushing above $22 trillion, the last thing we need is banks and politicians writing blank checks.

Create asset bubbles

Cheap credit leads to asset bubbles. Artificially low interests allow phantom companies with negative earnings and weak balance sheet to borrow cheap credit and stay afloat. 

The financial crisis of 2008 – 2009 was caused by lower interest rates, which increased the value of US real estate. Many borrowers who otherwise couldn’t afford a mortgage took on cheap loans to buy properties around the country. This led to a real estate bubble which burst soon after the Fed started hiking the interest rates.

One bright spot

The lower interest rate will allow millions of Americans to refinance their mortgage, student debt, or personal loan. If you have borrowed money in the last three year, you might be eligible for refinancing. Be diligent, talk to your banker, and assess all options before taking the next step.

Reach out

If you need help with your investment portfolio or have questions about generating income from your investments, reach out to me at [email protected] or 925-448-9880.

You can also visit my Insights page, where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA, MBA is a fee-only financial advisor in Walnut Creek, CA, serving clients in the San Francisco Bay Area and nationally. Babylon Wealth Management specializes in financial planning, retirement planning, and investment management for growing families and successful business owners.

Subscribe to get our new Insights delivered right to your inbox

The Secret to becoming a 401k millionaire

401k millionaire

How to become a 401k millionaire? Today, 401k plans are one of the most popular employee benefits. Companies use 401k plans to attract top talent. 401k plan is a powerful vehicle to save for retirement and become financially independent. According to Fidelity, there are 180,000 Fidelity 401(k) plans with a $1 million or more balance. Congratulations to you If you are one of them. There are still many helpful tips that can get you to reach your financial goals while keeping your investments safe.

You hear stories about people with a million dollars in their 401k plan. Then you look at your 401k balance, and it doesn’t look as high as you would like it to be.

The path to becoming a 401k millionaire

I hope this article will guide you on your path to become a 401k millionaire.

Many variables can impact your 401k account – age, salary, debt, tax rate, risk tolerance, plan fees, employee match.

Becoming a 401k millionaire is not as hard as it might seem. However, you need to follow a few simple rules that can get you on the right path.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”

Start saving early in your 401k

Saving early in your 401k will guarantee you the highest chance to become a 401k millionaire at the lowest cost.

I did the math for how much you need to contribute if you start fresh at any age. These numbers are based on assumptions for continuous monthly 401k contributions until reaching 65 with a 7% average annual market return for a 60/40 portfolio and 2% annual inflation.  Keep in mind that these assumptions are just assumptions and only for illustration purposes.  Your situation could be unique and could change the math dramatically.

401k Contributions by Age if you start fresh

 

Age | Monthly
Contribution
| Yearly
Contribution
| Lifetime
Contribution
25 $387 $4,644 $190,404
30 $560 $6,720 $241,920
35 $820 $9,840 $305,040
40 $1,220 $14,640 $380,640
45 $1,860 $22,320 $468,720
50 $3,000 $36,000 $576,000
55 $5,300 $63,600 $699,600

 

What drives the growth of your 401k is the power of compounding. It’s the snowball effect of accumulating earnings-generating more earnings over time. The longer you wait, the larger you will need to contribute to reaching your 1-million goal.

If you are 25-years old and just starting your career, you need to save approximately $390 per month or $4,644 annually to reach the $1-million goal by the age of 65. Your lifetime contribution between the age of 25 and 65 will be $190,000.

When you start saving in your 30s, this target number goes to $560 per month. Your lifetime contribution between the age of 30 and 65 will be $241,920.

Your saving rate goes up to 1,220 per month if you start saving actively in your 40s and increases to $5,330 at the age of 55.

Take advantage of your employer match.

If my recommended monthly contribution looks like an uphill battle, don’t forget about your employer match. Many employers offer a 401k match to attract and keep top talent. The match could be a percentage of your salary, a one-to-one match, or an absolute dollar amount. If your employer offers a 4% match, at a minimum, you should contribute 4% to your 401k plan. Take full advantage of this opportunity to get free money.

Max out your 401k

In 2020, you can make up to a $19,500 contribution to your 401k plan. If you can afford it, always try to max out your contributions.

Catch-up contributions when 50 and older

If you are 50 years or older, you can make an additional $6,500 contribution to your plan. Combined with the $19,500 limit, that is a maximum of $26,000 in 2020.

Save aggressively

Obviously, owning $1 million is a big accomplishment. However, it may not be enough to sustain your lifestyle during retirement.  As a financial advisor, I recommend that my clients replace at least 80% of their income before retirement. If you are a high earner or plan to retire early, you need to save more aggressively to reach your goals.

Be consistent

An important part of the formula of becoming a 401k millionaire is consistency.  Saving every month and every year is a critical part of achieving your financial goals. On the contrary, large gaps could hurt your chances of reaching your financial goals.

Don’t panic during market turbulence.

The market can be volatile. Don’t let your emotions get the worst of you. Nobody has made any money panicking. During 2008-2009, many people stopped contributing to their 401k plans or moved their investments into cash. These folks never participated in the market recovery and the longest bull market in history. Stay invested. And think of this way. If the market goes down, your plan will invest your automatic monthly contributions at lower prices. You are already getting a deal.

Watch your fees

Higher fees can erode your returns and slow down the pursuit of your financial goals. I recently advised a 401k plan, where the average fund’s fees were 1.5%. In the age of ETFs and index investing, it is mind-blowing that some 401k plan still charges exuberantly high fees. If your 401k plan charges high fees, talk to your manager or HR representative, and demand lower fee options.

Be mindful of your taxes.

Taxes play a big role in 401k planning. Most 401k contributions are tax-deferred. Meaning that your contributions will reduce your current taxable income. Your investments will grow tax-free until you reach retirement age. You start paying taxes on your withdrawals. There are a couple of strategies you can implement to make your withdrawals to make more tax-efficient. You can reach out to me if you have any questions on that topic, as every situation is unique and could require a unique solution.

Roth 401k

Currently, some employers offer a Roth 401k contribution as an additional option to their plan. Unlike the tax-deferred option, Roth 401k contributions are made on an after-tax basis. Roth 401k contributions don’t have an immediate financial impact. However, if planned well, Roth contributions could help you immensely to reach your financial goals. For example, let’s assume that you are in a low tax bracket and your employers offer both tax-deferred and Roth 401k contributions. The tax-deferred option is usually the default. But if you are in a low tax bracket, your tax benefit will be minimal. In that case, maybe it’s worth selecting the Roth 401k.

Don’t take a loan

Under no circumstances you should take a loan from your 401k plan. No matter how dire the situation is, try to find an alternative.  Taking a loan from your 401k can set you back many years in achieving your financial goal of becoming a 401k millionaire. Obviously, all rules have exceptions, but before you take a loan from your 401k, talk to your financial advisor first for alternatives.

Keep a long-term view.

Life happens. Markets go up and down. You can lose your job or change employers. You need to pay off a big loan. Your car breaks down. You need money for a down payment on your first house. Something always happens. Circumstances change. Whatever happens, keep a long-term view. Your 401k plan could be the answer to your financial independence. Don’t make rash decisions.

The Smart Way to Manage Your Sudden Wealth

The Smart Way to Manage Your Sudden Wealth

Getting rich is the dream of many people. When your sudden wealth becomes a reality, you need to be ready for the new responsibilities and challenges. As someone experienced in helping my clients manage their sudden wealth, I want to share some of my experience.

Sources of sudden wealth

Your sudden windfall can come from many different sources – receiving an Inheritance, winning the lottery, selling your business or a real estate property, signing a new sport or music contract, royalties from a bestselling book or a hit song, or selling shares after your company finally goes public. Whatever the source is, your life is about to change. Being rich brings a unique level of issues.  Your new wealth can have a variety of financial, legal and core repercussions to your life.

Avoid making any immediate changes to your life

Don’t make big and hasty changes to your lifestyle. I recommend that you wait at least six months. Let the big news sink in your mind.  Let things settle down before quitting your job, moving to another city or making a large purchase. Keep it quiet. The next six month will give you a chance to reassess your life, control your emotions and set your priorities.

Figure out what you own

This is the moment you have been waiting for all your life.
You are probably very excited, and you deserve it. There are tons of things you want to do with your money. But before you do anything.  Take a deep breath. Figure out exactly what you own. Gather all necessary information about your assets. Maybe your sudden
windfall is in cash. However, your new wealth could be in real estate, land, stocks, art, gold, rare wines, luxury cars and so on. Not always your new fortunate can easily be converted into cash. Each wealth source is unique on its own and has specific legal and financial rules.

Build your team

Your financial life is about to become a lot more complicated. You will need a team of trusted experts who will help you navigate through these changes. Your financial team can help you understand your wealth.   They watch your back and flag any blind spots. Talk to your team and figure what are your options.

Hire a CPA

You are rich. And that’s a great news for the IRS and your state. There is a very good chance you will pay more taxes that you ever imagined. Start assembling your financial team by hiring a reputable CPA who
understands your situation and can steer you through the complex world of taxes.  Each source of wealth has unique tax rules. Find out what rules apply to you.

Hire a financial advisor

Look for a trusted fiduciary financial advisor with experience managing sudden wealth. A fiduciary advisor will look after your best interest and guide you in your new journey. Talk to your new advisors about your personal and financial goals and how to reach them with the help of your new wealth.

Have a financial plan

Ask your advisor to craft a financial plan that is tailored to your unique situation, specific needs and financial objectives. Figure out how
your sudden wealth can help you reach your goals – retire early, send your kids to college, buy a new house, become self-employed. The list is endless. Talk to your advisor about your risk tolerance. Many of my clients who earned a windfall have a low risk appetite. An important part of our conversation is how to reach their goals without taking on too much risk.

Protect your new
wealth

You need to take steps to protect your sudden windfall.  For a starter, try to keep

If your new money is sitting in your checking account, make sure you allocate it among several different banks and account types. Remember that FDIC insurance covers up to 250k per person per bank in each account category.

If you inherited real estate or art or some other type of physical
property make sure to have solid Insurance to protect you from unexpected events.  

In case you received stocks or other investments, speak to
your financial advisor how to hedge them from market volatility and losing value.

Have an estate plan

No matter how well you plan, life can be unpredictable. Getting a windfall is a great opportunity to update your estate plan or craft a new one. The estate plan will protect your loved ones and ensure your legacy in the face of the unknown. If something happens to you, your fortune will be used and divided per your own wish. The alternative is going through a lengthy and expensive probate process that may
not have the same outcome.

Pay off your debts

If you owe money, you have a chance to pay off your debts.  Credit cards debts and any personal loans with high interest should be your priority. Your new wealth can help your live a debt-free life. This is one area where working with a financial advisor will make a big difference in your life.  

Beware that many people who receive sudden windfall end up
borrowing more money and sometimes filing for bankruptcy.  Don’t be that person. You still need to live within
your means.

Plan your taxes

Depending on the source of sudden wealth you may owe taxes to the IRS and your state either immediately or sometime in the near future. Don’t underestimate your tax bill. Your CPA and financial advisor should help you understand and prepare for your current and future tax bills.

Don’t overspend

Many lottery winners and former athletes file for bankruptcy
due to poor spending habits, lending money to family and friends and money mismanagement.
The fact that you are rich doesn’t mean that you can’t lose your money. You need to be responsible. Talk to your advisor about your monthly budget and what you can afford.  

Be philanthropic

Making a donation is an excellent way to give back to the society and leave a legacy.  If you have a charitable cause close to your heart, you make a difference. Often time, charitable contributions can be tax-deductible and lower your tax bill. Talk to your CPA and financial advisors how you can achieve that.

Conclusion

Sudden Wealth can come in all shapes and forms – cash, real estate, land, ongoing business, royalties, stocks, and many others. Even though it might not be completely unexpected, the way you feel about after the fact might be shocking to you. Don’t let your emotions get the worst of you. Getting windfall is a great life accomplishment. And you should make the best out of it.  Work with your team of trusted professionals and build a long-term plan with milestones and objectives.

Reach out

If you are expecting a windfall or recently received a sudden wealth, reach out to me at [email protected] or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit my Insights page where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

Why you need a Roth IRA? Updated for 2020

Roth IRA

Do you have a Roth IRA? If you never heard about it, I hope this article will convince you to open one. Roth IRA is a tax-exempt investment account that allows you to make after-tax contributions to save for retirement.  The Roth IRA has a tax free status. It is a great way to save for retirement and meet your financial goals without paying a dime for taxes on your investments. The Roth IRA offers you a lot of flexibility with very few constraints.

1. Plan for your future

Opening a Roth IRA account is a great way to plan for your retirement and build your financial independence. The Roth IRA is an excellent saving opportunity for many young professionals and pretty much anyone with limited access to workplace retirement plans. Even those who have 401k plans with their employer can open a Roth IRA.

If you are single and earn $124,000 or less in 2020, you can contribute up to $6,000 per year in your Roth IRA. Individuals 50 years old and above can add a catch-up contribution of $1,000. If you are married filing jointly, you can contribute the full amount if your MAGI is under $196,000.

There is a phaseout amount between $124,000 and $139,000 for single filers and $196,000 and $206,000 for married filing jointly.

2. No age limit

There is no age limit for your contributions. You can contribute to your Roth IRA at any age as long as you earn income.

Minors who earn income can also invest in Roth IRA. While youngsters have fewer opportunities to make money, there are many sources of income that will count – babysitting, garden cleaning, child acting, modeling, selling lemonade, distributing papers, etc.

3. No investment restrictions

Unlike most 401k plans, Roth IRAs do not have any restrictions on the type of investments in the account. You can invest in any asset class that suits your risk tolerance and financial goals.

4. No taxes

There are no taxes on the distributions from this account once you reach the age of 59 ½. Your investments will grow tax-free.  You will never pay taxes on your capital gains and dividends either. Roth IRA is a great saving tool for investors at all income levels and tax brackets.

With an average historical growth rate of 7%, your investment of $6,000 today could bring you $45,674 in 30 years completely tax-free. The cumulative effect of your return and the tax status of the account will help your investments grow faster.

5. No penalties if you withdraw your original investment

While not always recommended, Roth IRA allows you to withdraw your original dollar contribution (but not the return) before reaching retirement, penalty and tax-free. Say, you invested $5,000 several years ago. And now the account has grown to $15,000. You can withdraw your initial contribution of $5,000 without penalties.

6. Diversify your future tax exposure

It is very likely that most of your retirement savings will be in a 401k plan or an investment account. 401k plans are tax-deferred and you will owe taxes on any distributions. Investment accounts are taxable and you pay taxes on capital gains and dividends. In reality, nobody can predict what your tax rate will be by the time you need to take out money from your retirement and investment accounts. Roth IRA adds this highly flexible tax-advantaged component to your investments.

7. No minimum distributions

Unlike 401k plans, Roth IRA doesn’t have any minimum distributions requirements. Investors have the freedom to withdraw their savings at their wish or keep them intact indefinitely.

8. Do a backdoor Roth conversion

Due to recent legal changes investors who do not satisfy the requirements for direct Roth IRA contributions, can still make investments to it. The process starts with a taxable contribution, up to the annual limit, into a Traditional IRA. Eventually, the contributions are rolled from the Traditional IRA to the Roth IRA.

9. Roth conversion from Traditional IRA and 401k plans

Under certain circumstances, it could make sense for you to rollover your Traditional IRA and an old 401k plan to Roth IRA. If you expect to earn less income or pay lower taxes in a particular year, it could be beneficial to consider this Roth conversion. Your rollover amount will be taxable at your current ordinary income tax level. An alternative strategy is to consider annual rollovers in amounts that will keep you within your tax bracket.

10. Estate planning

Roth IRA is an excellent estate planning tool. Due to its age flexibility and no minimum required distributions, it is a good option for generation transfer and leaving a legacy to your beloved ones.

Final words

Roth IRA is an excellent starting point for young professionals. It can help you reach your financial goals faster. So open your account now to maximize its full potential. Investing early in your career will lay out the path for your financial independence.

Reach out

If you’d like to discuss how to open a new Roth IRA or make the most out of your existing account, reach out to me at [email protected] or +925-448-9880.

You can also visit our Insights page where you can find helpful articles and resources on how to make better financial and investment decisions.

Everything you need to know about your Target Retirement Fund

Everything you need to know about your Target Retirement Fund

Target Retirement Funds are a popular investment option in many workplace retirement plans such as 401k, 403b, 457, and TSP. They offer a relatively simple and straightforward way to invest your retirement savings as their investment approach is based on the individual target retirement dates.

Nowadays, almost all employers and 401k providers offer target retirement funds – from Fidelity to Vanguard, American Funds, Blackrock, and Schwab. Although employers and advisors have a choice amongst several fund families, they will typically select one of them for their plan. Multiple target fund families are readily available in individual brokerage accounts or self-directed IRAs.

Workplace plan participants typically have to choose one fund from a single family with target retirement dates in 5-year increments – 2025, 2030, 2035, 2040, 2045, and 2050. Often, plans with auto-enrollment features will automatically assign a target retirement fund based on the estimated year of retirement. Manual enrollment programs will have the fund series in their fund line-up, which could consist of a mix of index, actively managed and target retirement funds.

The base assumption of the target retirement funds is that younger investors have a long investment horizon and higher risk tolerance, therefore, they should have their target retirement assets in more risky investments such as stocks. Inversely, older investors will have a shorter investment horizon and lower risk tolerance. Therefore, the majority of their target retirement money will be in more low-risk investments such as bonds.

Despite their growing popularity, target retirement funds have some limitations and are not identical.  They have substantial differences that may not always appeal to everybody. In this post, I would like to explain some of those nuances.

Style

Target funds utilize two main investment styles – passive indexing and active management. Passive Target Retirement Funds like Vanguard and BlackRock LifePath primarily invest in a mix of index funds. The second groups including T. Rowe Price, Fidelity, American Century, and American Funds pursue an active strategy where investments are allocated in a mix of active mutual funds typically managed by the same firm.

Fees

The fund investment style will often impact the management fees charged by each fund. Passive funds tend to charge lower fees, usually around 0.15% – 0.20%. On the other hand, active funds typically range between 0.40% – 1%.

Name Ticker Morningstar Rating Morningstar Analyst Rating AUM Expense
Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 VTIVX 4-star Gold $18.1 bil 0.16%
T. Rowe Price Retirement 2045 TRRKX 5-Star Silver $10.2 bil 0.76%
American Funds 2045 Trgt Date Retire R6 RFHTX 5-Star Silver $4.8 bil 0.43%
Fidelity Freedom® 2045 FFFGX 3-Star Silver $3.5 bil 0.77%
American Century One Choice 2045 AROIX 4-star Bronze $1.7 bil 0.97%

If you have any doubts about how much you pay for your fund, double-check with your plan administrator or Human Resource. Not to sound alarming but I recently read about a case where a 401k plan contained a fund listed as “Vngd Tgt Retrmt 2045 Fund.” whose sole investment was Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 Fund. However, instead of charging an expense ratio of 0.16%, the fund was taking a whopping 0.92%.  The only purpose of this sham is to deceive participants into believing they are investing in the real Vanguard fund and marking up the expense ratio exponentially.

Asset allocation

The asset allocation is the most critical factor for investment performance. According to numerous studies, it contributes to more than 90% of the portfolio return.  As a factor of such significance, it is essential to understand the asset allocation of your target retirement fund.

While comparing five of the largest target retirement families, we see some considerable variations between them. Vanguard has the highest allocation to Foreign Equity, while T. Rowe has the largest investment in US Equity. Fidelity has the highest allocation to Cash and Cash Equivalents while American Century has the biggest exposure to Bonds. And lastly, American Funds has the largest distribution to Other, which includes Preferred Stocks and Convertible Bonds.

 

2045 Series 

Name Ticker Cash US Stock Non-US Stock Bond Other
Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 VTIVX   1.11      52.98         34.91     9.77   1.23
T. Rowe Price Retirement 2045 TRRKX   2.87      58.98         28.48     9.05   0.62
American Funds 2045 Trgt Date Retire R6 RFHTX   3.66      53.21         29.02     9.77   4.34
Fidelity Freedom® 2045 FFFGX   5.79      57.58         32.07     3.93   0.63
American Century One Choice 2045 AROIX   2.04      55.38         20.32   21.36   0.90

It is also important to understand how the target asset allocation changes over time as investors approach retirement. This change is known as the glide path. In the below table you can see the asset allocation of the 2025 target fund series. All of them have a higher allocation to Bonds, Cash and Cash Equivalents, and a lower allocation of US and Foreign Equity.

2025 Series

Name Ticker Cash US Stock Non-US Stock Bond Other
Vanguard Target Retirement 2025 VTIVX   1.44      38.05         25.09   34.30   1.12
T. Rowe Price Retirement 2025 Fund TRRHX   3.35      45.64         22.06   28.23   0.72
American Funds 2025 Trgt Date Retire R6 RFDTX   4.12      39.60         19.36   33.65   3.27
Fidelity Freedom® 2025 FFTWX   8.99      41.70         24.31   24.46   0.54
American Century One Choice 2025 ARWIX   7.18      40.01         11.88   40.01   0.92

 

 Keep in mind that the target Asset Allocation is not static. Moreover, the fund managers can change the fund allocation according to their view of the market and economic conditions.

Performance

After all said and done, the performance is what matters for most investors and retirees. However, comparing performance between different target funds can be a little tricky. As you saw in the previous paragraph, they are not the same.

So let’s first look at a comparison between different target-date funds from the same family. The return figures represent a net-of-fees performance for 3, 5 and 10 years. Standard Deviation (St. Dev) measures the volatility (risk) of returns.  As expected, the long-dated funds posted higher returns over the near-dated funds. However, the long-dated funds come with higher volatility due to their higher allocation to equities.

 

Target Date Performance Comparison by Target Year

Return Standard Deviation
Name Ticker 3-Year 5-Year 10-Year 3-Year 5-Year 10-Year
American Funds 2025 Trgt Date Retire R6 RFDTX    5.71     9.36      5.88    6.78     7.48    12.83
American Funds 2035 Trgt Date Retire R6 RFFTX    6.73   10.43      6.44    8.70     8.84    13.81
American Funds 2045 Trgt Date Retire R6 RFHTX    6.99   10.67      6.56    9.09     9.10    13.96
American Funds 2055 Trgt Date Retire R6 RFKTX    7.33   11.32    9.13     9.15

 

The comparison between different fund families also reveals significant variations in performance. The majority of these differences can be attributed to their asset allocation, investment selection, and management fees.

Target Date Performance Comparison by Fund Family

Return     Standard Deviation
Name Ticker 3-Year 5-Year 10-Year 3-Year 5-Year 10-Year
Vanguard Target Retirement 2045 VTIVX    6.24     9.50      5.70    9.42     9.51    14.63
T. Rowe Price Retirement 2045 TRRKX    6.54     9.92      6.20    9.68     9.80    15.80
American Funds 2045 Trgt Date Retire R6 RFHTX    6.99   10.67      6.56    9.09     9.10    13.96
Fidelity Freedom® 2045 FFFGX    6.50     8.95      4.82    9.83     9.64    15.25
American Century One Choice 2045 AROIX    5.79     8.63      5.73    8.38     8.41    13.50

How they fit with your financial goals

How the target retirement fund fit within your financial goals is an important nuance that often gets underestimated by many. Target retirement funds assume the investors’ risk tolerance based on their age and the estimated year of retirement. Older investors will automatically be assigned as conservative while they could be quite aggressive if this is a part of their inter-generational estate planning. Further, young investors default to an aggressive allocation while they could be more conservative due to significant short-term financial goals. So keep in mind that the extra layer of personal financial planning is not a factor in target retirement funds.

 

Final words

Target retirement funds come with many benefits. They offer an easy way to invest for retirement without the need for in-depth financial knowledge. Target funds come in different shapes and forms and bring certain caveats which may appeal to some investors and not to others. If you plan to invest in a target retirements fund, the five questions above will help you decide if this is the right investment for you.

6 Essential steps to diversify your portfolio

6 Essential steps to diversify your portfolio

Diversification is often considered the only free lunch in investing. In one of my earlier blog posts, I talked about the practical benefits of diversification. I explained the concept of investing in uncorrelated asset classes and how it reduces the overall risk of the investments.  In this article, I will walk you through 6 essential steps to diversify your portfolio.

 

1. Know your risk tolerance

Risk tolerance is a measure of your emotional appetite to take on risk. It is the ability to endure volatility in the marketplace without making any emotional and spur of the moment investment decisions. Individual risk tolerance is often influenced by factors like age, investment experience, and various life circumstances.

Undoubtedly, your risk tolerance can change over time. Certain life events can affect your ability to bear market volatility. You should promptly reflect these changes in your portfolio risk profile as they happen.

 

2. Understand your risk capacity

Often your willingness and actual capacity to take on risk can be in conflict with each other. You may want to take more risk than you can afford. And inversely, you could be away too conservative while you need to be a bit more aggressive.

Factors like the size of savings and investment assets, investment horizon, and financial goals will determine the individual risk capacity

 

3. Set a target asset allocation

Achieving the right balance between your financial goals and risk tolerance will determine the target investment mix of your portfolio. Typically, investors with higher risk tolerance will invest in assets with a higher risk-return profile.

These asset classes often include small-cap, deep value, and emerging market stocks, high-yield bonds, REITs, commodities and various hedge fund and private equity strategies. Investors will lower risk tolerance will look for safer investments like government and corporate bonds, dividends and low volatility stocks.

In order to achieve the highest benefit from diversification, investors must allocate a portion of their portfolio to uncorrelated asset classes. These investments have a historical low dependence on each other’s returns.

The US Large Cap stocks and US Treasury Bonds are the classic examples of uncorrelated assets. Historically, they have a negative correlation of -0.21. Therefore, the pairs tend to move in opposite direction over time. US Treasuries are considered a safe haven during bear markets, while large cap stocks are the investors’ favorite during strong bull markets.

See the table below for correlation examples between various asset classes.

Asset Correlation Chart
Source: Portfoliovisualizer.com

4. Reduce your concentrated positions

There is a high chance that you already have an established investment portfolio, either in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, self-directed IRA or a brokerage account.

If you own a security that represents more than 5% of your entire portfolio, then you have a concentrated position. Regularly, individuals and families may acquire these positions through employer 401k plan matching, stock awards, stock options, inheritance, gifts or just personal investing.

The risk of having a concentrated position is that it can drag your portfolio down significantly if the investment has a bad year or the company has a broken business model. Consequently, you can lose a substantial portion of your investments and retirement savings.

Managing concentrated positions can be complicated. Often, they have restrictions on insider trading. And other times, they sit on significant capital gains that can trigger large tax dues to IRS if sold.

 

5. Rebalance regularly

Portfolio rebalancing is the process of bringing your portfolio back to the original target allocation. As your investments grow at a different rate, they will start to deviate from their original target allocation. This is very normal. Sometimes certain investments can have a long run until they become significantly overweight in your portfolio. Other times an asset class might have a bad year, lose a lot of its value and become underweight.

Adjusting to your target mix will ensure that your portfolio fits your risk tolerance, investment horizon, and financial goals. Not adjusting it may lead to increasing the overall investment risk and exposure to certain asset classes.

 

6. Focus on your long-term goals

When managing a client portfolio, I apply a balanced, disciplined, long-term approach that focuses on the client’s long-term financial goals.

Sometimes we all get tempted to invest in the newest “hot” stock or the “best” investment strategy ignoring the fact that they may not fit with our financial goals and risk tolerance.

If you are about to retire, you probably don’t want to put all your investments in a new biotech company or tech startup. While these stocks offer great potential returns, they come with an extra level of volatility that your portfolio may not bear. And so regularly, taking a risk outside of your comfort zone is a recipe for disaster. Even if you are right the first time, there is no guarantee you will be right the second time.

Keeping your portfolio well diversified will let you endure through turbulent times and help your investments grow over time by reducing the overall risk of your investments.

 

 

About the author: Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is a fee-only financial advisor based in Walnut Creek, CA. His firm Babylon Wealth Management offers fiduciary investment management and financial planning services to individuals and families.

 

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is a sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. If you decide to invest in any of the instruments discussed in the posting, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions. Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing, Copyright: www.123rf.com

Top 5 Strategies to Protect Your Portfolio from Inflation

Top 5 Strategies to Protect Your Portfolio from Inflation

Protecting Your Portfolio from Inflation

The 2016 election revived the hopes of some market participants for higher interest rates and higher inflation. Indeed, the 10-year Treasury rate went from 1.45% in July to 2.5% in December before settling at around 2.35-2.40% at the end of February 2017. Simultaneously, the Consumer Price Index, which is one of the leading inflation indicators, hit a five-year high level at 2.5% in January 2017. As many investors are becoming more concerned, we will discuss our top 5 strategies to protect your portfolio from inflation.

Higher interest and inflation rates can hurt the ability of fixed income investors to finance their retirement. Bonds and other fixed-income instruments lose value when interest rates go up and gain value when interest rate come down.

There were numerous articles in popular media about the “great rotation” and how investors will switch from fixed to equity investments in search for higher return. None of that has happened yet, and the related news has seemed to disappear.

However, the prospects for higher inflation are still present. So, in this article, I would like to discuss several asset classes that are popular among individual investors. I will explain see how they perform in the environment of rising inflation.

Cash

Cash is by far one of the worst vehicles to offer protection against inflation. Money automatically loses purchasing power with the rise of inflation. Roughly speaking, if this year’s inflation is 3%, $100 worth of goods and services will be worth $103 in a year from now. Therefore, someone who kept cash in the checking account or at home will need extra $3 to buy the same goods and services he could buy for $100 a year ago.

A better way to protect from inflation, while not ideal, is using saving accounts and CDs. Some online banks and credit unions offer rates above 1%. This rate is still less than the CPI but at least preserves some of the purchasing power.

Equities

Stocks are often considered protection tools against inflation. They offer a tangible claim over company’s assets, which will rise in value with inflation. However, historical data has shown that equities perform better only when inflation rates are around 2-3%. To understand this relationship, we have to look at both Real and Nominal Inflation-Adjusted Returns. As you can see from the chart below, both real and nominal stock returns have suffered during periods of inflation that is over 5% annually. Moreover, stocks performed very well in real and nominal terms when inflation rates were between 0% and 3%.

High inflation deteriorates firms’ earnings by increasing the cost of goods and services, labor and overhead expenses. Elevated levels of inflation have the function to suppress demand as consumers are adjusting to the new price levels.

While it might look tempting to think that certain sectors can cope with inflation better than others, the success rate will come down to the individual companies’ business model. As such, firms with strong price power and inelastic product demand can pass the higher cost to their customers. Additionally, companies with strong balance sheet, low debt, high-profit margins and steady cash flows tend to perform better in high inflation environment.

 Real estate

Real Estate very often comes up as a popular inflation protection vehicle. However, historical data and research performed the Nobel laureate Robert Shiller show otherwise.

According to Shiller “Housing traditionally is not viewed as a great investment. It takes maintenance, it depreciates, it goes out of style. All of those are problems. And there’s technical progress in housing. So, the new ones are better….So, why was it considered an investment? That was a fad. That was an idea that took hold in the early 2000’s. And I don’t expect it to come back. Not with the same force. So people might just decide, ‘yeah, I’ll diversify my portfolio. I’ll live in a rental.’ That is a very sensible thing for many people to do”.

Shiller continues “…From 1890 to 1990 the appreciation in US housing was just about zero.  That amazes people, but it shouldn’t be so amazing because the cost of construction and labor has been going down.”  Rising inflation will lead to higher overhead and maintenance costs, potential renter’s delinquency and high vacancy rates.

To continue Shiller’s argument, investors seeking an inflation protection with Real Estate must consider their liquidity needs. Real Estate is not a liquid asset class. It takes a longer time to sell it. “Every transaction involves paying fees to banks, lawyers, and real-estate agents. There are also maintenance costs and property taxes. The price of a single house also can be quite volatile.”  Just ask the people who bought their homes in 2007, just before the housing bubble.

Commodities

Commodities and particularly gold tend to provide some short-term protection against inflation. However, this is a very volatile asset class. Gold’s volatility measured by its 42-year standard deviation is 33% higher than that of stocks and 3.5 times greater the volatility of the 10-year treasury.  Short-term inflation protection benefits are often overshadowed by other market-related events and speculative trading.

Not to mention the fact that the gold and other commodities are not easily available to retail investors outside the form of ETFs, ETNs, and futures. Buying actual commodities can incur significant transaction and storage cost which makes it almost prohibitive for individuals to physically own them.

Bonds

According to a many industry “experts” bonds are a terrible tool to protect for inflation. The last several years after the great recession were very good to bonds since rates gradually went down and the 10-year treasury rate reached 1.47% in July 2017.  The low rates were supported by quantitate easing at home and abroad and higher demand from foreign entities due to near zero or negative rates in several developed economies. As the rates went up in the second half of 2016, bonds, bonds ETFs and mutual funds lost value. While bonds may have some short-term volatility with rising inflation, they have shown a strong long-term resilience. The 42-year annualized return of the 10-year Treasury is 7.21% versus 10.11% for large Cap Stocks. The Inflation adjusted rate of return narrows the gap between two asset groups, 3.07% for bonds and 5.85% for stocks.

For bond investors seeking inflation protection, there are several tools available in the arsenal. As seen in the first chart, corporate bonds due to their stronger correlation to the equities market have reported much higher real returns compared to treasuries. Moving to short-term duration bonds, inflation-protected bonds (TIPS), floating rate bonds, are banks loan are some of the other sub-classes to consider

14 Effective ways to take control of your taxes

In this blog post, I will go over several popular and some not so obvious tax deductions and strategies that can help you decrease your annual tax burden. Let’s be honest.  Nobody wants to pay taxes. However, taxes are necessary to pay for pensions, social services, Medicaid, roads, police, law enforcement and so on. Most people will earn a higher income and grow their investments portfolios as their approach retirement. Thus they will gradually move to higher tax brackets and face a higher tax bill at the end of the year. IRS provides many tax deductions and breaks that can help you manage your tax burden. Taking advantage of these tax rules can help you reduce your current or future your tax bill.

These are general rules. I realize that we all face different circumstances. Use them as a broad guideline. Your particular situation may require a second opinion by an accountant, a tax lawyer or an investment advisor.

Learn more about our Private Client Services

 

1. Primary residence mortgage deductions

Buying a first home is a big decision. Your new neighborhood, school district, nearby services are all critical factors you need to consider before making your choice. If you own a primary residence (sorry, a vacation home in Hawaii doesn’t count), you can deduct the interest on your mortgage loan from your taxable income for the year. Your property taxes are also deductible. These incentives are provided by the Federal and state governments to encourage more families to buy their home.

There are two additional benefits of having a mortgage and being a responsible borrower. First, your credit score will increase. Making regular payments on your mortgage (or any loan) improves your credit history, increases your FICO score and boosts your creditworthiness. Your ability to take future loans at a lower rate will significantly improve. Second, your personal equity (wealth) will increase as you pay off your mortgage loan. Your personal equity is a measure of assets minus your liabilities.  Higher equity will boost your credit score. It is also a significant factor in your retirement planning.

Buying a home and applying for a mortgage is a long and tedious process. It requires a lot of legwork and documentation. After the financial crisis in 2008 banks became a lot stricter in their requirements for providing mortgage loans to first buyers. Nevertheless, mortgage interest on a primary residence is one of the biggest tax breaks available to taxpayers.

 

2. Home office deductions

Owning a home versus renting is a dilemma for many young professionals. While paying rent offers flexibility and lower monthly cash payments it doesn’t allow you to deduct your rent from your taxes. Rent is usually the highest expense in your monthly budget. It makes up between 25% and 35% of your total income. The only time you can apply your rent as a tax deduction is if you have a home office.

A home office is a dedicated space in your apartment or house to use for the sole purpose of conduction your private business. It’s usually a separate room, basement or attic designated for your business purposes.

The portion of your office to the total size of your home can be deductible for business purposes. If your office takes 20% of your home, you can deduct 20% of the rent and utility bills for business expense purposes.

 

3. Charitable donations

Monetary and non-monetary contributions to religious, educational or charitable organization approved by IRS are tax deductible. The annual limit is 50% of your AGI (aggregate gross income) for most donations and 30% of AGI for appreciated assets.

Most often people choose to give money. However, you can also donate household items, clothes, cars, and airline miles. The fair value of the donated items decreases your taxable income and therefore will reduce the amount of taxes due to IRS.

Another alternative is giving appreciated assets including stocks and real estate. This is one of the best ways to avoid paying significant capital gain tax on low-cost investments. For one, you are supporting a noble cause. Second, you are not paying taxes for the difference between the market value and purchase cost of your stock. Also, the fair market value of the stock at the time of donation will reduce your taxable income, subject to 30% of AGI rule. If you were to sell your appreciated assets and donate the proceeds to your charity of choice, you would have to pay a capital gain tax on the difference between market value and acquisition cost at the time of sale. However, if you donate the investments directly to the charity, you avoid paying the tax and use the market value of the investment to reduce your taxable income.

 

4. Gifts

Making a gift is not a standard tax deduction. However, making gifts can be a way to manage your future tax payments and pass on the tax bill to family members who pay a lower tax rate. You can give up to $14,000 to any number of people every year without any tax implications. Amounts over $14,000 are subject to the combined gift and estate tax exemption of $5.49 million for 2017.  You can give your child or any person within the annual limits without creating create any tax implications.

Another great opportunity is giving appreciated assets as a gift. If you want to give your children or grandchildren a gift, it is always wise to consider between giving them cash or an appreciated asset directly.  Giving appreciated assets to family members who pay a lower tax rate doesn’t create an immediate tax event. It transfers the tax burden from the higher rate tax giver to the lower tax rate receiver.

 

5. 529 Plans

One of the best examples of how gifts can minimize future tax payments is the 529 college tuition plan. Parents and grandparents can contribute up to $14,000 annually per person, $28,000 per married couple into their child college education fund. The plan even allows a one–time lump sum payment of $70,000 (5 years x $14,000).

529 contributions are not tax deductible on a federal level. However, many states like New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, etc. allow for state tax deductions up to a certain amount. The plan allows your contributions (gifts) to grow tax-free. Withdrawals are also tax-free when using the money to pay qualified college expenses.

 

6. Tax-deferred contributions to 401k, 403b, and IRA

One of my favorite tax deductions is the tax-deferred contribution to 401k and 403b plans. In 2017 the allowed maximum contribution per person is $18,000 plus an additional $6,000 catch-up for investors at age 50 and older. In addition to that, your employer can contribute up to $36,000 for a total annual contribution of $54,000 or $60,000 if you are older than 50.

Most companies offer a matching contribution of 5%-6% of your salary and dollar limit of $4,000 – $5,000. At a very minimum, you should contribute enough to take advantage of your company matching plan. However, I strongly recommend you to set aside the entire allowed annual contribution.

The contributions to your retirement plan are tax deductible. They decrease your taxable income if you use itemized deductions on your tax filing form. Not only that, the investments in your 401k portfolio grow tax-free. You will owe taxes upon withdrawal at your current tax rate at that time.

If you invest $18,000 for 30 years, a total of $540,000 contributions, your portfolio can potentially rise to $1.5m in 30 years at 6% growth rate. You will benefit from the accumulative return on your assets year after year.  Your investments will grow depending on your risk tolerance and asset allocation. You will be able to withdraw your money at once or periodically when you retire.

 

7. Commuter benefits

You are allowed to use tax-free dollars to pay for transit commuting and parking costs through your employer-sponsored program.  For 2017, you can save up to $255 per month per person for transit expenses and up to $255 per month for qualified parking. Qualified parking is defined as parking at or near an employer’s worksite, or at a facility from which employee commutes via transit, vanpool or carpool. You can receive both the transit and parking benefits.

If you regularly commute to work by a bike you are eligible for $20 of tax-free reimbursement per month.

By maximizing the monthly limit for both transportation and parking expenses, your annual cost will be $6,120 ($255*2*12). If you are in the 28% tax bracket, by using the commuter benefits program, you will save $1,714 per year. Your total out of pocket expenses will be $ 4,406 annually and $367 per month.

 

8. Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums

The medical insurance plan sponsored by your employer offers discounted premiums for one or several health plans.  If you are self-employed and not eligible for an employer-sponsored health plan through your spouse or domestic partner, you may be able to deduct your health insurance premiums.  With the rising costs of health care having a health insurance is almost mandatory.  Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums can average between $2,000 for a single person and 5,000 for a family per year. At a 28% tax rate, this is equal to savings between $560 and $1,400. Apart from the tax savings, having a health insurance allows you to have medical services at discounted prices, previously negotiated by your health insurance company. In the case of emergency, the benefits can significantly outweigh the cost of your insurance premium.

 

9. Flexible Spending Account

Flexible Spending Account (FSA) is a special tax-advantaged account where you put money aside to pay for certain out-of-pocket health care costs. You don’t pay taxes on these contributions. This means you will save an amount equal to the taxes you would have paid on the money you set aside. The annual limit per person is $2,600. For a married couple, the amount can double to $5,200. The money in this account can be used for copayments, new glasses, prescription medications and other medical and dental expenses not covered by your insurance.  FSA accounts are arranged and managed by your employer and subtracted from your paycheck.

Let’s assume that you are contributing the full amount of $2,600 per year and your tax rate is 28%. You effectively save $728 from taxes, $2,550 * 28%. Your actual out-of-pocket expense is $1,872.

One drawback of the FSA is that you must use the entire amount in the same tax year. Otherwise, you can lose your savings. Some employers may allow up to 2.5 months of grace period or $500 of rollover in the next year. With that in mind, if you plan for significant medical expenses, medication purchases or surgery, the FSA is a great way to make some savings.

 

10. Health Spending Account

A health savings account (HSA) is a tax-exempt medical savings account available to taxpayers who are enrolled in a high-deductible health plan (HDHP) The funds contributed to this account are not subject to federal income tax at the time of deposit. Unlike a flexible spending account (FSA), HSA funds roll over and accumulate year over year if not spent. HSA owners can use the funds to pay for qualified medical expenses at any time without tax liability or penalty. The annual contribution limits are $3,350 per person, $6,750 per family and an additional $1,000 if 55 or older. The owner of HSA can invest the funds similarly to IRA account and withdraw without penalty when used for medical expenses.

 

11. Disability  insurance

Disability premiums are generally not deductible from your tax return. They are paid with after-tax dollars. Therefore, any proceeds received as a result of disability are tax-free. The only time your benefits are taxable is when your employer pays your disability insurance and does not include it in your gross income.


12. Life insurance

Life insurance premiums are typically not deductible from your tax return if you are using after-tax dollars. Therefore, any proceeds received by your beneficiaries are tax-free.

Life insurance benefits can be tax deductible under an employer-provided group term life insurance plan. In that case, the company pays fully or partially life insurance premiums for its employees.  In that scenario, amounts more than $50,000 paid by your employer will trigger a taxable income for the “economic value” of the coverage provided to you.

If you are the owner of your insurance policy, you should make sure your life insurance policy won’t have an impact on your estate’s tax liability. In order to avoid having your life insurance policy affecting your taxes, you can either transfer the policy to someone else or put it into a trust.

13. Student Loan interest

If you have student loans and you can deduct up to $2,500 of loan interest.  To use this deduction, you must earn up to $80,000 for a single person or $165,000 for a couple filing jointly. This rule includes you,  your spouse or a dependent. You must use the loan money for qualified education expenses such as tuition and fees, room and board, books, supplies, and equipment and other necessary expenses (such as transportation)

14. Accounting and Investment advice expenses

You may deduct your investment advisory fees associated with your taxable account on your tax return.  You can list them on Schedule A under the section “Job Expenses and Certain Miscellaneous Deductions.” Other expenditures in this category are unreimbursed employee expenses, tax preparation fees, safe deposit boxes and other qualifying expenses like professional dues, required uniforms, subscriptions to professional journals, safety equipment, tools, and supplies. They may also include the business use of part of your home and certain educational expenses. Investment advisory fees are a part of the miscellaneous deduction.  The entire category is tax deductible if they exceed 2% of your adjusted gross income for the amount in excess.

 

About the Author: Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is a fee-only financial advisor based in Walnut Creek, CA. His firm Babylon Wealth Management offers fiduciary investment management and financial planning services to individuals and families.

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is a sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. If you decide to invest in any of the instruments discussed in the posting, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions. Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing,  Image Copyright: www.123rf.com

10 Ways to reduce taxes in your investment portfolio

10 Ways to reduce taxes in your investment portfolio

Successful practices to help you lower taxes in your investment portfolio

A taxable investment account is any brokerage or trust account that does not come with tax benefits. Unlike Roth IRA and Tax-Deferred 401k plans, these accounts do not have many tax advantages. Your contributions to the account are with after-tax dollars. This is money you earned from salary, royalties, the sale of a property, and so on. All gains, losses, dividends, interest, and other income from any investments are subject to taxes at the current tax rates.  In this post, we will discuss several successful practices that can help you lower taxes in your investment portfolio

Why investors put money into taxable accounts? They provide flexibility and liquidity, which are not available by other retirement accounts. Money is readily accessible for emergencies and unforeseen expenses. Many credit institutions take these accounts as a liquid asset for loan applications.

Since investment accounts are taxable, their owners often look for ways to minimize the tax impact at the end of the year. Several practices can help you reduce your overall tax burden.

1. Buy and Hold

Taxable investment accounts are ideal for buy and hold investors who don’t plan to trade frequently. By doing that investors will minimize trading costs and harvest long-term capital gains when they decide to sell their investments. Long-term capital gains are taxable at a favorable rate of 0%, 15% or 20% plus 3.8% Medicare surcharge. In contrast, short-term gains for securities held less than a year are taxed at the higher ordinary income level.

Individuals and families often use investments accounts for supplemental income and source of liquidity. Those investors are usually susceptible to market volatility. Diversification is the best way to lower market risk. I strongly encourage investors to diversify their portfolios by investing in uncorrelated assets including mid-cap, small-cap, international stocks, bonds, and real assets.

2. Invest in Municipal Bonds

Most municipal bonds are exempt from taxes on their coupon payments. They are considered a safer investment with a slightly higher risk than Treasury bonds but lower than comparable corporate bonds.

This tax exemption makes the municipal bond suitable investment for taxable accounts, especially for individuals in the high brackets category.

3. Invest in growth non-dividend paying stocks

Growth stocks that pay little or no dividends are also a great alternative for long-term buy and hold investors. Since the majority of the return from stocks will come from price appreciation, investors don’t need to worry about paying taxes on dividends. They will only have to pay taxes when selling the investments. 

4. Invest in MLPs

Managed Limited Partnerships have a complex legal and tax structure, which requires them to distribute 90% of their income to their partners. The majority of the distributions come in the form return on capital which is tax-deferred and deducted from the cost basis of the investments. Investors don’t owe taxes on the return on capital distributions until their cost basis becomes zero or decide to sell the MLP investment.

One caveat, MLPs require K-1 filing in each state where the company operates, which increases the tax filing cost for their owners.

 5. Invest in Index Funds and ETFs

Index funds and ETFs are passive investment vehicles. Typically they track a particular index or a benchmark. ETFs and index funds have a more tax-efficient structure that makes them suitable for taxable accounts. Unlike them, most actively managed mutual funds frequently trade in and out of individual holdings causing them to release long-term and short-term capital gains to shareholders.

6. Avoid investments with a higher tax burden

While REITs, taxable bonds, commodities, and actively managed mutual funds have their spot in the investment portfolio, they come with a higher tax burden.

The income from REITs, treasuries, corporate and international bonds is subject to the higher ordinary income tax, which can be up to 39.6% plus 3.8% Medicare surcharge

Commodities, particularly Gold are considered collectibles and taxed at a minimum of 28% for long-term gains.

Actively managed funds, as mentioned earlier, periodically release long-term and short-term capital gains to their shareholders, which automatically triggers additional taxes.

7. Make gifts

You can use up to $14,000 a year or $28,000 for a couple to give to any number of people you wish without tax consequences. You can make gifts of cash or appreciated investments from your investment account to family members at a lower tax bracket than yours.

8. Donate 

You can make contributions in cash for up to 50% of your taxable income to your favorite charity. You can also donate appreciated stocks for up to 30% of AGI. Consequently, the value of your donation will reduce your income for the year. If you had a good year when you received a big bonus, sold a property or made substantial gains in the market, making donations will help you reduce your overall tax bill for the year.

9. Stepped up cost basis

At the current law, the assets in your investment account will be received by your heirs at the higher stepped-up basis, not at the original purchase price. If stocks are transferred as an inheritance directly (versus being sold and proceeds received in cash), they are not subject to taxes on any long-term or short-term capital gains. Your heirs will inherit the stocks at the new higher cost basis.  However, if your investments had lost value over time, you may wish to consider other ways to transfer your wealth. In this case, the stepped-up basis will be lower than you originally paid for and may trigger higher taxes in the future for your heirs.

10. Tax-loss harvesting

Tax-loss harvesting is selling investments at a loss. The loss will offset gains from other the sale of other securities. Additionally, investors can use $3,000 of investment losses a year to offset ordinary income. They can also carry over any remaining amounts for future tax filings.

 

 

How to find and choose the best financial advisor near me?

How to find and choose the best financial advisor near me?

Last update, August 2020……….Seeking a financial advisor near you is a significant step in achieving your personal and financial goals. Financial advisors have been instrumental in helping clients maintain well balanced, disciplined, long-term focused approach towards their personal finances and retirement planning. Finding the right financial advisor near you is like finding a personal doctor. There are very high chances that you will stick with that person for a long time. In this article, we will give you several suggestions on how to find and choose the best financial advisor near me?.

What is a financial advisor?

A financial advisor is a professional who provides financial guidance regarding a broad range of topics, including investment management, risk management, financial, retirement, college, tax, estate, and legacy planning.

Furthermore, they will make recommendations and provide services based on your specific financial needs and long-term financial goals. Your financial advisors will help you resolve specific financial circumstances —such a taking a comprehensive view of your finances, preparing for retirement, buying a house, and managing your investments.

So how to pick your financial advisor near you?

The financial industry has done a great job confusing the public with various job titles and certificates. Financial advisors can call themselves financial planners,  investment advisors, wealth advisors, financial coaches, wealth managers, and brokers. Additionally, insurance agents, accountants, and lawyers provide some type of financial advice to their clients.

So let’s breakdown several questions you need to ask when you are looking for a  financial advisor near you.

Are you fiduciary?

There are two main models under which financial advisors offer their services – Registered investment advisor (RIA) and broker-dealers.

RIAs are independent fee-only investment companies that often provide both financial planning and investment management services. They charge a flat fee or a percentage of the client’s assets under management. RIAs are usually boutique companies with one founder and a few employees. Moreover, independent advisors have a fiduciary duty to work in their customers’ best interests. Most RIAs provide holistic goal-based financial advice based on their clients’ particular economic circumstances, lifestyle, and risk tolerance. If you prefer to receive personalized fiduciary financial services, then the RIA model is probably the best fit for you.

Brokers offer commission-based financial services. They receive compensation based on the number of trades placed in their client accounts. The agents often belong to large banking institutions like Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase. Other times they are independent houses offering a broad range of services, including insurance, accounting, tax, and estate planning. Brokers and sales agents do not always have a legal fiduciary duty to work in their clients’ best interests. Fortunately, they face certain standards regarding suitability and best interest.

What is your education

What is your financial advisor’s education? Make sure that you are comfortable with your new advisor’s credentials and educational background.  Many financial professionals hold at least a bachelor’s or master’s degrees in Finance or Accounting. For those that lack the financial education or work experience, regulators require passing series 65 for RIAs and series 7 and 63 for brokers. Additionally, there are three popular financial certificates – CFA, CFP, and CPA, Advisors that hold any of the certificates that have gone through a significant training and learning process.

Chartered Financial Analyst

CFA is a professional designation given by the CFA Institute. The exam measures the competence and integrity of financial analysts. Candidates have to pass three levels of exams covering areas such as accounting, economics, ethics, money management, and security analysis.

CFA is considered the highest-ranked financial certificate and widely recognized across the globe. CFA program takes at least three years and requires passing the three-level exam. Level 1 exam is offered twice a year in June and December. Level 2 and 3 are offered only once a year in June. Candidates also need to pass strict work requirements regarding their work experience in the investment decision-making process.

Certified Financial Planner

CFP refers to the certification owned and awarded by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc. The CFP designation is awarded to individuals who complete the CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements. Individuals desiring to become a CFP professional must take extensive exams in the areas of financial planning, taxes, insurance, estate planning, and retirement. The exam is computer-based taken over three days.  Attaining the CFP designation takes experience and a substantial amount of work. CFP professionals must also complete continuing education programs each year to maintain their certification status. 

Certified Public Accountant

CPA is a designation given by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants to those who pass an exam and meet work experience requirements. CPA designation ensures that professional standards for the industry are enforced. CPAs are required to get a bachelor’s degree in business administration, finance or accounting. They are also required to complete 150 hours of education and have no less than two years of public accounting experience. CPAs must pass a certification exam, and certification requirements vary by state. Additionally, they must complete a specific number of continuing hours of education yearly.

Why is education important?

While receiving a degree in Finance, Accounting, or Economics or passing a test doesn’t always guarantee that the person has the right set of skills to be an advisor, the lack of any of these credentials should be a warning sign for you.

What is your work experience

If you are planning to give your retirement savings in the hands of a financial advisor, make sure that this person has prior financial experience. Some of you may remember the commercial with the DJ who was imposing as a financial advisor. Would you want to work with this guy? He might be a great person, but it’s your money, after all. Do your due diligence before you meet them for the first time? LinkedIn is a great place to start your search.

Do you provide personalized service?

You are looking for a financial advisor because you have specific needs and financial circumstances. Find out if your financial advisor is willing to listen and learn about your objectives. Does he or she have a gameplan that you will help you achieve your financial goals, preserve your wealth, and allow you to be financially independent?

Can you describe your Investment Management Style?

Do you know your advisor’s investment style? Does your advisor regularly trade in your account or is more conservative and rebalance once or twice a year? It is essential to understand your advisor’s investment style. Frequent trading can increase your trading cost substantially. On the other hand, not trading at all will bring your portfolio away from your target allocation and risk tolerance.

Some advisors prefer to work only with ETFs. Others like using actively managed mutual funds. A third group favors trading single stocks and bonds. All strategies have their benefits and shortcomings. ETFs come with lower fees and broad diversification. Active mutual funds seek to beat their benchmark with lower risk. However, they may lack tax-efficiency if sitting in investment accounts. Finally,  trading single stocks provides a high upside but offer less diversification.

What is your custodian

Who is your advisor’s custodian? Custodians are the financial companies that actually hold your assets. Most RIAs will use a custodian like Pershing, Fidelity, TD, Schwab, or Interactive Brokers. Your advisor’s custodian, to a large extent, will determine (or limit) the selection of ETFs and funds available for investing. Additionally, custodians may have different rules, document requirements, technology platforms, and transaction fees.

How big is your firm?

How large is the company that your advisor works for? Some advisors are one-man-shop. They consist of their founder and potentially one or two assistants or paraplanners. Other advisors, including RIAs, could be a part of a much larger regional or national network. Smaller companies have more flexibility but less capacity. Bigger companies have more bureaucracy but may have more resources.

 Do you coach your clients?

What have you learned from your advisor in the past few years or even at the last meeting?

Advisor’s role is not only to manage investments but also to coach and educate clients about best financial practices, tax changes, market developments, estate planning, college savings, and such.

Additionally, many advisors offer workshops to clients and prospects where they talk about the economy, retirement planning, tax strategies, and other financial topics.

How are you going to communicate with me?

How is your financial advisor communicating with you? Is your advisor responsive?  Communication is an essential part of the advisor-client relationship. The best financial advisors always stay in touch with their clients. Remember what I said earlier, advisors are like doctors. You need to meet at least once a year. So during your meeting, talk to them about your progress in achieving your goals. Also, get updates on your portfolio performance. And finally, update them regarding any changes in your life.

Also, financial advisors have to protect their clients’ privacy. Make sure your advisor uses secured channels to send and receive sensitive information.

How is your advisor handling client queries? Can you speak to your advisor personally if you have an urgent question or unexpected life event? Or do you need to call 1-800 number and wait for your turn in line?

What technology do you use?

Is your financial advisor tech-savvy or old school? The current environment of constant tech innovations provides a broad range of tools and services to financial advisors and their clients.

New sophisticated financial planning software lets advisors change plan inputs just with one click of the mouse. This software allows clients to have access to their personal financial plans to amend their financial goals and personal information. Therefore, clients can see in real-time the progress of their financial plans and make better financial decisions.

Account aggregation tools allow clients to pull different accounts from various financial providers under one view. The aggregated view helps both advisors and customers to see a comprehensive picture of the client’s finances with only one login.

A beginner’s guide to retirement planning

uide to retirement planning

Many professionals feel overwhelmed by the prospect of managing their finances. Often, this results in avoidance and procrastination– it is easy to prioritize career or family obligations over money management.  Doing so puts off decision making until retirement looms.  While it is never too late to start saving for retirement,  the earlier you start, the more time your retirement assets have to grow.  There are several things you can do to start maximizing your retirement benefits.  In this posting, I will present my beginner’s guide to retirement planning.

Start Early 

It is critical to start saving early for retirement. An early start will lay the foundation for a healthy savings growth.

With 7% average annual stock return, $100,000 invested today can turn into almost $1.5m in 40 years. The power of compounding allows your investments to grow over time.

The table below shows you how the initial saving of $100,000 increases over 40 years:

Year 0        100,000
Year 10        196,715
Year 20        386,968
Year 30        761,226
Year 40     1,497,446

Not all of us have $100k to put away now. However, every little bit counts. Building a disciplined long-term approach towards saving and investing is the first and most essential requirement for stable retirement.

Know your tax rate

Knowing your tax bracket is crucial to setting your financial goals. Your tax rate is based on your gross annual income subtracted by allowable deductions (ex: primary residence mortgage deductions, charitable donations, and more).

See below table for 2016 tax brackets.

Guide to retirement planning

 

Jumping from a lower to a higher tax bracket while certainly helpful for your budget will increase your tax liabilities to IRS.

Why is important?  Understanding your tax bracket will help you optimize your savings for retirement.

Knowing your tax bracket will help you make better financial decisions in the future. Income tax brackets impact many aspects of retirement planning including choice of an investment plan, asset allocation mix, risk tolerance, tax level on capital gains and dividends.

As you can see in the above table, taxpayers in the 10% and 15% bracket (individuals making up to 37,650k and married couples filing jointly making up to $75,300) are exempt from paying taxes on long-term capital gains and qualified dividends.

Example: You are single. Your total income is $35,000 per year. You sold a stock that generated $4,000 long-term capital gain. You don’t owe taxes for the first $2,650 of your gain and only pay 15% of the remaining balance of $1,350 or $202.5

Conversely, taxpayers in the 39.6% tax bracket will pay 20% on their long-term capital gains and qualified dividends. A long-term capital gain or qualified dividend of $4,000 will create $800 tax liability to IRS.

Tax bracket becomes even more important when it comes to short-term capital gains. If you buy and sell securities within the same year, you will owe taxes at your ordinary income tax rate according to the chart above.

Example: You make $100,000 a year. You just sold company shares and made a short-term capital gain of $2,000. In this case, your tax bracket is 28%, and you will owe $560 to IRS. On the other hand, if you waited a little longer and sold your shares after one year you will pay only $300 to IRS.

Know your  State and City Income Tax

If you live in the following nine states, you are exempt from paying state income tax:  Alaska, Florida, Nevada, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, Wyoming, New Hampshire and Tennessee.

For those living in other states, the state income tax rates vary by state and income level.  I’ve listed state income tax rates for California and New York for comparison.

California income tax rates for 2016:

1% on the first $7,850 of taxable income.

2% on taxable income between $7,851 and $18,610.

4% on taxable income between $18,611 and $29,372.

6% on taxable income between $29,373 and $40,773.

8% on taxable income between $40,774 and $51,530.

9.3% on taxable income between $51,531 and $263,222.

10.3% on taxable income between $263,223 and 315,866.

11.3% on taxable income between $315,867 and $526,443.

12.3% on taxable income of $526,444 and above.

 

New York State tax rates for 2016:

4% on the first $8,400 of taxable income.

4.5% on taxable income between $8,401 and $11,600.

5.25% on taxable income between $11,601 and $13,750.

5.9% on taxable income between $13,751 and $21,150.

6.45% on taxable income between $21,151 and $79,600.

6.65% on taxable income between $79,601 and $212,500.

6.85% on taxable income between $212,501 and $1,062,650.

8.82% on taxable income of more than $1,062,651.

 

City Tax

Although New York state income tax rates are lower than California, those who live in NYC will pay an additional city tax. As of this writing, the cities that maintain city taxes include New York City, Baltimore, Detroit, Kansas City, St. Louis, Portland, OR, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Cleveland. If you live in one of these cities, your paycheck will be lower as a result of this added tax.  The city tax rate varies from 1% and 3.65%.

Create an emergency fund

I recommend setting up an emergency fund that will cover six to 12 months of unexpected expenses. You can build your “rainy day” fund overtime by setting up automatic monthly withdrawals from your checking account. Unfortunately, in the current interest environment, most brick and mortar banks offer 0.1% to 0.2% interest on saving accounts.

Some of the other options to consider are saving account in FDIC-accredited online banks like Discover or Allied Bank, money market account, short term CD, short-term treasuries and municipal bonds.

Maximize your 401k contributions

Many companies now offer 401k plans to their employees as a means to boost employee satisfaction and retention rate. They also provide a matching contribution for up to a certain amount or percentage.

The 401k account contributions are tax deductible and thus decrease your taxable income.  Investments grow tax-free. Taxes are due during retirement when money is withdrawn from the account.

Hence, the 401k plan is an excellent platform to set aside money for retirement. The maximum employee contribution for 2016 is $18,000.  Your employer can potentially match up to $35,000 for a total joint contribution of $53,000. Companies usually match up to 3% to 5% of your salary.

401K withdrawals

Under certain circumstances, you can take a loan against your 401k or even withdraw the entire amount.  Plan participants may decide to take a loan to finance their first home purchase. You can use the funds as last resort income during economic hardship.

In general, I advise against liquidating your 401k unless all other financial options are exhausted.  If you withdraw money from your 401k, you will likely pay a penalty.  Even if you don’t pay a penalty, you miss out on potential growth through compounded returns.

Read the fine print

Most 401k plans will give you the option to rollover your investments to a tax-deferred IRA account once you leave your employer. You will probably have the opportunity to keep your investments in the current plan. While there are more good reasons to rollover your old 401k to IRA than keep it (a topic worth a separate article), knowing that you have options is half the battle.

Always read the fine print of your employer 401k package. The fact that your company promises to match up to a certain amount of money every year does not mean that the entire match is entirely vested to you.  The actual amount that you will take may depend on the number of years of service. For example, some employers will only allow their matching contribution to be fully vested after up to 5 years of service.   If you don’t know these details, ask your manager or call HR. It’s a good idea to understand your 401k vesting policy, particularly if you just joined or if you are planning to leave your employer.

In summary, having a 401k is a great way to save for retirement even if your employer doesn’t match or imposes restrictions on the matching contributions. Whatever amount you decide to invest, it is yours to keep. Your money will grow tax-free.

Maximize your Roth IRA

Often neglected, a Roth IRA is another great way to save money for retirement.  Roth IRA contributions are made after taxes. The main benefit is that investments inside the account grow tax-free. Therefore there are no taxes due after retirement withdrawals. The Roth IRA does not have any age restrictions, minimum contributions or withdrawal requirements.

The only catch is that you can only invest $5,500 each year and only if your modified adjusted gross income is under $117,000 for single and $184,000 for a couple filing jointly. If you make between $117,000 and $132,000 for an individual or $184,000 and $194,000 for a family filing jointly, the contribution to Roth IRA is possible at a reduced amount.

 

How to decide between Roth IRA and 401k

Ideally, you want to maximize contributions to both plans.

As a rule of thumb, if you expect to be in a higher tax bracket when you retire then prioritizing Roth IRA contributions is a good move.  This allows you to pay taxes on retirement savings now (at your lower taxable income) rather than later.

If you expect to retire at a lower rate (make less money), then invest more in a 401k plan.

Nobody can predict with absolute certainty their income and tax bracket in 20 or 40 years.  Life sometimes takes unexpected turns. Therefore the safe approach is to utilize all saving channels. Having a diverse stream of retirement income will help achieve higher security, lower risk and balanced after tax income.

I suggest prioritizing retirement contributions in the following order:

  1. Contribute in your 401k up to the maximum matching contribution by your employer. The match is free money.
  2. Gradually build your emergency fund by setting up an automatic withdrawal plan
  3. Maximize Roth IRA contributions every year, $5,500
  4. Any additional money that you want to save can go into your 401k plan. You can contribute up to $ 18,000 annually plus $6,000 for individuals over 50.
  5. Invest all extra residual income in your saving and taxable investment account

 

About the author: Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is a fee-only financial advisor based in Walnut Creek, CA. His firm Babylon Wealth Management offers fiduciary investment management and financial planning services to individuals and families.

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is a sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. If you decide to invest in any of the instruments discussed in the posting, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions.  Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing.