Effective Roth Conversion Strategies for Tax-Free Growth

Roth Conversion

Roth conversion of your tax-deferred retirement savings can be a brilliant move. Learn the must-know rules and tax implications of Roth Conversion before you decide if it is right for you.

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What is a Roth Conversion?

Roth Conversion is the process of transferring the full or partial balance of your existing traditional IRA into a Roth IRA. The conversion effectively moves tax-deferred retirement savings into tax-exempt dollars.

A critical downside of Roth conversion is that you need to pay income taxes on the converted amount. For that reason, it is beneficial to have additional taxable savings to cover the tax cost of the conversion.

Unfortunately, not everybody is the right candidate for Roth conversion. Consider your specific financial and tax circumstances before moving forward.

Watch your tax bracket

A crucial element of any Roth conversion decision making is your taxes. The strategy becomes feasible during low tax years or whenever you expect higher tax rates in the future. Higher future tax rates make a Roth IRA more appealing, while lower future tax rates would make a traditional IRA more attractive.

Consider your investment horizon

Generally, you will achieve a higher benefit if you perform your conversions earlier. Your Roth IRA will have time to grow tax-free for longer and will offset the cost of paying taxes upfront. 

Roth IRA 5-year rule

When you do a Roth conversion, you need to be mindful of the 5-year rule. The rule requires that 5 years have passed since your first Roth contributions before taking penalty-free withdrawals of your tax-free earnings.

You can still withdraw your original contributions at any time. However, your earnings are subject to the 5-year minimum restriction. If you do not meet the minimum 5-year holding period, your profits can be subject to ordinary income tax as well as a 10% penalty for early withdrawal.

Furthermore, each separate Roth conversion has a five-year limit. The Five-Year clock begins ticking on January 1st of the year when you make the conversion.

The advantages of Roth conversion

Converting your tax-deferred dollars to Roth RIA can have several financial and estate benefits.

Your money grows tax-free

Savings in your Roth IRA grow tax-free. As long as you meet the 5-year rule, you will not owe any taxes on your distributions. Roth IRA contributions are pre-tax. You are paying taxes beforehand but do not owe taxes on any future earnings.

In comparison, contributions to Traditional IRA are typically tax-deductible. When you take distributions from Traditional IRA, you have to pay ordinary income taxes on your entire withdrawal amount. 

Tax Diversification

If your future tax rate is uncertain for various reasons, you may want to diversify your tax risk through Roth conversion. You will benefit from holding both tax-deferred and tax-exempt retirement accounts. Tax diversification gives you more flexibility when it comes to future retirement withdrawals and tax planning. 

Asset Location

Asset location is a tax-optimization strategy that takes advantage of different types of investments, getting different tax treatments. Investors who own a variety of taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-exempt accounts can benefit from asset location. By doing Roth conversion, you can determine which securities should be held in tax-deferred accounts and which in Roth accounts to maximize your after-tax returns.

No Required Minimum Distributions

Traditional IRA rules mandate you to take taxable required minimum distributions (RMDs) every year after you reach age 72.

Alternatively, your Roth IRA does not require minimum distributions at any age. Your money can stay in the account and grow tax-free for as long as you want them.

Leave behind a tax-free legacy

The Roth IRA can play a crucial role in your estate planning. Your heirs who inherit your Roth IRA will receive a tax-free gift. They will be required to take distributions from the account. However, they will not have to pay any income tax on the withdrawals if the Roth IRA has been open for at least five years. Roth IRA is especially appealing if your heirs are in a higher tax bracket than you.

Keep Social Security income tax and Medicare Premiums low

Another hidden benefit of the Roth conversion is it could potentially lower your future social security income tax and Medicare Premiums.

Up to 85% of your Social Security checks can be taxable for individuals earning more than $34,000 and families receiving more than $44,000 per year.

Your Medicare Plan B premium will be calculated based on your reported income-related monthly adjustment amount (IRMAA) 2 years prior to your application. Even a dollar higher can push in a higher premium bracket,

Roth Conversion Strategies

With some planning, Roth IRA offers substantial tax-free benefits. Due to income limits, many retirement savers end up with significant amounts in tax-deferred accounts such as 401k and Traditional IRA. These plans give you initial tax relief to encourage retirement savings. However, all future distributions are fully taxable.

The Roth conversion may help you reduce your future tax burden and unlock some of the befits of Roth IRA. Here are some of the strategies that can be helpful in your decision process.

  

End-of-year Roth conversion

The stability of your income can be critical to your success. Each conversion must be completed by the end of each tax year. If your income is constant, you can process the conversion at any time. If your income is less predictable, your only choice will be to make your conversions towards the end of the year when you will have more visibility on your earnings.

Conversion during low-income years

The Roth conversion is generally more attractive during your low-income years when you will be in a lower tax bracket. The additional reported income from the conversion will add on to your base earnings. If you do the math right, you will be able to maintain your taxes relatively low. Analyze your tax bracket and convert the amount that will keep in your desired marginal tax rate.

Conversion during a market downturn

Another popular strategy is performing Roth conversion during a market downturn. A Roth conversion could become appealing if your Traditional IRA is down 20% or 30%. At the same time, you have a long-term investment horizon and believe that your portfolio will recover the losses over time.

Your largest benefit will come from the potential tax-free portfolio gains after the stock market goes higher. With this approach, your underlying taxes take a lower priority versus the ability to earn higher tax-free income in the future. However, you still need to determine whether saving taxes on future gains provides a higher benefit than paying higher taxes now.

Monthly or quarterly cost averaging

Timing the stock market is hard. The cost averaging strategy removes the headache of trying to figure out when the stock market will go up or down. This approach calls for making planned periodic, monthly, or quarterly, conversions. The benefit of this method is that at least part of your portfolio may benefit from lower stock values. It is a way to hedge your bets on surprising stock market moves. If your portfolio goes higher consistently throughout the year, your earlier conversions will benefit from lower stock values. If the stock market goes down in the second half of the year, your later-in-the-year conversion will produce a higher benefit.

Roth Conversion barbelling

This strategy makes sense if your annual income is variable and less predictable. For example, your income fluctuates due to adjustments in commissions, bonuses, royalties, or other payments. With barbelling, you perform two conversions per year. You make the first conversion early in the year based on a projected income that is at the high end of the range. The second conversion will occur towards the end of the year, when your income becomes more predictable. If your income is high, you may convert a much smaller amount or even nothing. If your earnings for the year are at the lower end of expectation, then you convert a larger amount.

Roth Conversion Ladder

As I mentioned earlier, each Roth conversion is subject to its own 5-year rule. The 5-year period starts on January 1st of the tax year of your Roth conversion. Every subsequent conversion will have a separate 5-year holding period.

The Roth Conversion ladder strategy requires a bit of initial planning. This approach stipulates that you make consistent annual conversions year after year. After every five years, you can withdraw your savings tax-free from the Roth IRA. In effect, you are creating a ladder similar to the CD ladder.

Keep in mind that this strategy only makes sense under two conditions. One, you can afford to pay taxes for the conversion from another taxable account. Second, your future taxable income is expected to increase, and therefore you would be in a higher tax bracket.

Conclusion

Roth Conversion can be a great way to manage your future taxes. However, not every person or every family is an ideal candidate for a Roth conversion. In reality, most people tend to have lower reportable income when they retire. For them keeping your Traditional IRA and taking distributions at a lower tax rate makes a lot of sense. However, there are a lot of financial, personal, and legacy planning factors that come into play. Make your decision carefully. Take a comprehensive look at your finance before you decide if Roth conversion is right for you.

Preparing for retirement during coronavirus

Preparing for retirement during coronavirus

Are you preparing for retirement during the coronavirus crisis? Many professionals who are planning to retire in 2020 and beyond are facing unique challenges and circumstances. Probably your investment portfolio took a hit in February and March. Maybe your job is at risk. Many people have been furloughed. Some have lost their job. Large employers have announced hiring freezes. Small business owners are facing an existential threat to survival. Landlords are facing uncertainties with rent collection. A range of jobs has become obsolete overnight.

Future retirees will have to make difficult choices in the coming years. With global Interest rates near zero, retirees can no longer rely on traditional safe vehicles such as treasuries, corporate bonds, and annuities for income. The Social Security fund will be depleted in the next decade. The US is building an enormous budget deficit with no plan to repay it anytime soon. Even companies with extensive dividend history are suspending dividend payments to shareholders. Even your private pension might be at risk.

Take a holistic view of your finances 

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to have a comprehensive view of your finances. if you are preparing for retirement during the coronavirus crisis you must be proactive. We do not know what the future will be after the coronavirus. Some variations of social distancing will remain for the foreseeable future. This crisis will impact every private and public organization. The best way to prepare for the future is to take full control of the presence. Having a holistic view of your finances will help you make informed financial decisions and watch out for blinds spots. Collect all essential financial pieces from 401k and rental income to life insurance and pension. Draw a full picture of your financial life. Take the stress out of your retirement and start planning now.

Stick to a budget

The coronavirus pandemic has brought the first recession since the financial crisis. The US GDP shrank by -4.5% in Q1 of 2020 and is expected to shrink even further in the second quarter. Nearly 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment. Even if your job is safe, now is an excellent opportunity to take control of your budget. Aim to save at least 10% of your income. If your retirement is imminent, you should save at least 20% of your income. With so much spending out of reach – restaurants, travel, theaters, festivals, and sports events, this is an opportunity to access your spending needs for the next few years.

Pay off debt

The coronavirus crisis proved that liquidity is king, and high levels of debt are detrimental. The extreme volatility we saw March 2020 was the result of inventors looking for cash at any price. Make sure you pay off all your debt before you retire. You must make a cautious effort to clear all your debt, including mortgages and credit cards. Even loans with lower interest can be dangerous if you do not have the income to support it. Start your retirement with a clean slate.

Review your investments

The steep market selloff in March 2020 brought troublesome memories of the financial crisis. The stock market lost 35% from its February high. The wild daily swings ended the longest bull market in US history. Just when everyone was expecting another shoe to drop, the Fed stepped in. The Federal Reserve launched not one but several nuclear bazookas and saved the economy from complete collapse. The quickest drop on record lead to the quickest recovery. The massive Fed intervention alongside positive news of bending the curve, state reopening, vaccine progress, and remdesivir drug approval pushed the stock markets higher.

At the time of this article, Nasdaq was flat for 2020. S&P 500 was down -12% and Russell 2000 down nearly -25%. Gold 10-year treasury is paying 0.64%, and the 30-year treasury is yielding 1.27%.

With all that in mind, you have a perfect opportunity to review your investment portfolio. Take a deep dive and make changes if necessary. Remember that your investments must align with your investment horizon, financial goals, and risk tolerance.

Keep your options open

Prepare for multiple scenarios. Without an effective vaccine, the coronavirus will be a threat to the economy for the foreseeable future. However, in every crisis, there is an opportunity. We will experience a full digital transformation in all business sectors and aspects of life.

Despite the call of numerous experts and overnight “authorities” for a V-shaped, U-shaped, L–shaped, and W-shaped economic recovery, I do not know what the future holds. But I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I am confident that we will come out stronger from this crisis. Hopefully, we learn our lessons and become more prepared for future unforeseen threats.

Maybe this crisis affected your health. Perhaps it changed your views about your life and your family. Maybe this crisis made you reevaluate your priorities. It certainly did it for me. As you approach your retirement date, keep an open mind. Have a plan A, B, C, and even D. Build enough cash buffer and never run out of options.

Final words

Preparing for retirement during coronavirus can be stressful. Many of the safe investments and guaranteed income options may not provide you with enough income to support yourself in retirement. Low interest rates are detrimental to retirees. Commodity markets are extremely volatile. The stock market offers dividend and upside with a high risk premium. Real Estate is lucrative but illiquid.

Having a comprehensive view of your finances will help you take a pulse of your financial health. It can help you see areas of financial weakness and strength that you may not be able to see otherwise. Be proactive and keep your options open.

If you are having questions or concerns about your retirement in 2020 or beyond, feel free to contact me directly.

 

 

15 Costly retirement mistakes

15 Costly retirement mistakes

15 Costly retirement mistakes… Retirement is a major milestone for many Americans. Retiring marks the end of your working life and the beginning of a new chapter. As a financial advisor, my job is to help my clients avoid mistakes and retire with confidence and peace of mind.  Together we build a solid roadmap to retirement and a gameplan to achieve your financial goals. My role as a financial advisor is to provide an objective and comprehensive view of my clients’ finances.  As part of my process, I look for any blind spots that can put my clients’ plans at risk.  Here is a list of the major retirement mistakes and how to avoid them.

1. Not planning ahead for retirement

Not planning ahead for retirement can cost you a lot in the long run. Delaying to make key decisions is a huge retirement mistake that can jeopardize your financial security during retirement. Comprehensive financial planners are more likely to save for retirement and feel more confident about achieving their financial goals.  Studies have shown that only 32% of non-planners are likely to have enough saved for retirement versus 91% of comprehensive planners.

Reviewing your retirement plan periodically will help you address any warning signs in your retirement plan. Recent life changes, economic and market downturns or change in the tax law could all have a material impact on your retirement plans. Be proactive and will never get caught off guard.

2. Not asking the right questions

Another big retirement mistake is the fear of asking the right question. Avoiding these

Here are some of the questions that my clients are asking –

  • “Do I have enough savings to retire?”
  •  “Am I on the right track?”.
  • “Can I achieve my financial goals?”
  • “Can I retire if the stock market crashes?”.
  • “Are you fiduciary advisor working in my best interest?” (Yes, I am fiduciary)

Asking those tough questions will prepare you for a successful retirement journey. Addressing your concerns proactively will take you on the right track of meeting your priorities and achieving your personal goals

3. Not paying off debt

Paying off debt can be an enormous burden during retirement. High-interest rate loans can put a heavy toll on your finances and financial freedom. As your wages get replaced by pension and social security benefits, your expenses will remain the same. If you are still paying off loans, come up with a plan on how to lower your debt and interest cost. Being debt-free will reduce the stress out of losing viable income.

4. Not setting goals

Having goals is a way to visualize your ideal future. Not having goals is a retirement mistake that can jeopardize your financial independence during retirement. Without specific goals, your retirement planning could be much harder and painful. With specific goals, you have clarity of what you want and what you want to achieve. You can make financial decisions and choose investment products and services that align with your objectives and priorities. Setting goals will put you on a successful track to enjoy what matters most to you.

5. Not saving enough

An alarming 22% of Americans have less than $5,000 in retirement savings. The average 401k balance according to Fidelity is $103,700. These figures are scary. It means that most Americans are not financially ready for retirement. With ultra-low interest rates combined with constantly rising costs of health care,  future retirees will find it difficult to replace their working-age income once they retire. Fortunately, many employers now offer some type of workplace retirement savings plans such as 401k, 403b, 457, TSP or SEP IRA. If your employer doesn’t offer any of those, you can still save in Traditional IRA, Roth IRA, investment account or the old fashioned savings account.

6. Relying on one source for retirement income

Many future retirees are entirely dependent on a single source for their retirement income such as social security or pension.  Unfortunately. with social security running out of money and many pension plans shutting down or running a huge deficit, the burden will be on ourselves to provide reliable income during our retirement years.  If you want to be financially independent, make sure that your retirement income comes from multiple sources.

7. Lack of diversification

Diversification is the only free lunch you can get in investing and will help decrease the overall risk of your portfolio. Adding uncorrelated asset classes such as small-cap, international and emerging market stocks, bonds, and commodities will reduce the volatility of your investments without sacrificing much of the expected return in the long run.

A common mistake among retirees is the lack of diversification. Many of their investment portfolios are heavily invested in stocks, a target retirement fund or a single index fund.

Furthermore, owning too much of one stock or a fund can cause significant issues to your retirement savings. Just ask the folks who worked for Enron or Lehman Brothers who had their employer’s stocks in their retirement plans. Their lifetime savings were wiped out overnight when these companies filed for bankruptcy.

8. Not rebalancing your investment portfolio

Regular rebalancing ensures that your portfolio stays within your desired risk level. While tempting to keep a stock or an asset class that has been on the rise, not rebalancing to your original target allocation can significantly increase the risk of your investments.

9. Paying high fees

Paying high fees for mutual funds and high commission insurance products can eat up a lot of your return. It is crucial to invest in low-cost investment managers that can produce superior returns over time. If you own a fund that has consistently underperformed its benchmark,  maybe it’s time to revisit your options.

Many insurance products like annuities and life insurance while good on paper, come with high upfront commissions, high annual fees, and surrender charges and restrictions.  Before signing a contract or buying a product, make sure you are comfortable with what you are going to pay.

10. No budgeting

Adhering to a budget before and during retirement is critical for your confidence and financial success. When balancing your budget, you can live within your means and make well-informed and timed decisions. Having a budget will ensure that you can reach your financial goals.

11. No tax planning

Not planning your taxes can be a costly retirement mistake. Your pension and social security are taxable. So are your distributions from 401k and IRAs. Long-term investing will produce gains, and many of these gains will be taxable. As you grow our retirement saving the complexity of assets will increase. And therefore the tax impact of using your investment portfolio for retirement income can be substantial. Building a long-term strategy with a focus on taxes can optimize your after-tax returns when you manage your investments.

12. No estate planning

Many people want to leave some legacy behind them. Building a robust estate plan will make that happen. Whether you want to leave something to your children or grandchildren or make a large contribution to your favorite foundation, estate, and financial planning is important to secure your best interests and maximize the benefits for yourself and your beneficiaries.

13. Not having an exit planning

Sound exit planning is crucial for business owners. Often times entrepreneurs rely on selling their business to fund their retirement. Unlike liquid investments in stocks and bonds, corporations and real estate are a lot harder to divest.  Seling your business may have serious tax and legal consequences. Having a solid exit plan will ensure the smooth transition of ownership, business continuity, and optimized tax impact.

14. Not seeing the big picture

Between our family life, friends, personal interests, causes, job, real estate properties, retirement portfolio, insurance and so on, our lives become a web of interconnected relationships. Above all is you as the primary driver of your fortune. Any change of this structure can positively or adversely impact the other pieces. Putting all elements together and building a comprehensive picture of your financial life will help you manage these relationships in the best possible way.

15. Not getting help

Some people are very self-driven and do very well by planning for their own retirement. Others who are occupied with their career or family may not have the time or ability to deal with the complexities of financial planning. Seeking help from a fiduciary financial planner can help you avoid retirement mistakes. A fiduciary advisor will watch for your blind spots and help you find clarity when making crucial financial decisions.

How to Survive the next Market Downturn

How to survive a market downturn

Everything you need to know about surviving the next market downturn: we are in the longest bull market in US history. After more than a decade of record-high stock returns, many investors are wondering if there is another market downturn on the horizon. With so many people saving for retirement in 401k plans and various retirement accounts, it’s normal if you are nervous. But if you are a long-term investor, you know these market downturns are inevitable. Market downturns are stressful but a regular feature of the economic cycle.

What is the market downturn?

A market downturn is also known as a bear market or a market correction. During a market downturn, the stock market will experience a sharp decline in value. Often, market downturns are caused by fears of recession, political uncertainty, or bad macroeconomic data.

How low can the market go down?

The largest-ever percentage drop by the S&P 500 index occurred on October 19, 1987 (known as The Black Monday), when the S&P 500 dropped by -20.47%. The next biggest selloff happened on October 15, 2008, when the S&P 500 lost –9.03%. In both cases, the stock market continued to be volatile for several months before reaching a bottom. Every time, the end of the market downturn was the start of a new bull market. Both times, the stock market recovered and reached historic highs in a few years.

What can you do when the next market downturn happens?

The first instinct you may have when the market drops is to sell your investments. In reality, this may not always be the right move. Selling your stocks during market selloff may limit your losses, may lock in your gains but also may lead to missed long-term opportunities. Emotional decisions do not bring a rational outcome.

Dealing with declining stock values and market volatility can be tough. The truth is nobody likes to lose money. The volatile markets can be treacherous for seasoned and inexperienced investors alike. To be a successful investor, you must remain focused on the strength of their portfolio, your goals, and the potential for future growth. I want to share nine strategies that can help you through the next market downturn and boost the long-term growth of your portfolio.

1. Keep calm during the market downturn

Stock investors are cheerful when the stock prices are rising but get anxious during market corrections. Significant drops in stock value can trigger panic. However, fear-based selling to limit losses is the wrong move. Here’s why. Frequently the market selloffs are followed by broad market rallies. A V-shape recovery often follows a market correction.

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. If you had missed the ten best market days, you would lose 2.4% of your average annual return and nearly half of your dollar return.

As long as you are making sound investment choices, your patience, and the ability to tolerate paper losses will earn you more in the long run.

2. Be realistic: Don’t try to time the market

Many investors believe that they can time the market to buy low and sell high. In reality, very few investors succeed in these efforts.

According to a study by the CFA Institute Financial Analyst Journal, a buy-and-hold large-cap strategy would have outperformed, on average, about 80.7% of annual active timing strategies when the choice was between large-cap stocks, short-term T-bills and Treasury bonds.

3. Stay diversified

Diversification is essential for your portfolio preservation and growth. Diversification, or spreading your investments among different asset classes (domestic versus foreign stocks, large-cap versus small-cap equity, treasury and corporate bonds, real estate, commodities, precious metals, etc.), will lower the risk of your portfolio in the long-run. Many experts believe that diversification is the only free lunch you can get in investing.

Uncorrelated asset classes react uniquely during market downturns and changing economic cycles.

For example, fixed income securities and gold tend to rise during bear markets when stocks fall. Conversely, equities rise during economic expansion.

4. Rebalance your portfolio regularly

Rebalancing your portfolio is a technique that allows your investment portfolio to stay aligned with your long terms goals while maintaining a desired level of risk. Typically, portfolio managers will sell out an asset class that has overperformed over the years and is now overweight. With the proceeds of the sale, they will buy an underweighted asset class.

Hypothetically, if you started investing in 2010 with a portfolio consisting of 60% Equities and 40% Fixed Income securities, without rebalancing by the end of 2019, you will hold 79% equities and 21% fixed income. Due to the last decade’s substantial rise in the stock market, many conservative and moderate investors are now holding significant equity positions in their portfolio. Rebalancing before a market downturn will help you bring your investments to your original target risk levels. If you reduce the size of your equity holdings, you will lower your exposure to stock market volatility.

5. Focus on your long-term goals

A market downturn can be tense for all investors. Regardless of how volatile the next stock market correction is, remember that “this too shall pass.”

Market crises come and go, but your goals will most likely remain the same. In fact, most goals have nothing to do with the market. Your investment portfolio is just one of the ways to achieve your goals.

Your personal financial goals can stretch over several years and decades. For investors in their 20s and 30s financial goals can go beyond 30 – 40 years. Even retirees in their 60s must ensure that their money and investments last through several decades.

Remain focused on your long-term goals. Pay of your debt. Stick to a budget. Maintain a high credit score. Live within your means and don’t risk more than you can afford to lose.

6. Use tax-loss harvesting during the market downturn

If you invest in taxable accounts, you can take advantage of tax-loss harvesting opportunities. You can sell securities at depressed prices to offset other capital gains made in the same year. Also, you can carry up to $3,000 of capital losses to offset other income from salary and dividends. The remaining unused amount of capital loss can also be carried over for future years for up to the allowed annual limit.

To take advantage of this option, you have to follow the wash sale rule. You cannot purchase the same security in the next 30 days. To stay invested in the market, you can substitute the depressed stock with another stock that has a similar profile or buy an ETF.

7. Roth Conversion

A falling stock market creates an excellent opportunity to do Roth Conversion. Roth conversion is the process of transferring Tax-Deferred Retirement Funds from a Traditional IRA or 401k plan to a tax-exempt Roth IRA. The Roth conversion requires paying upfront taxes with a goal to lower your future tax burden. The depressed stock prices during a market downturn will allow you to transfer your investments while paying lower taxes. For more about the benefits of Roth IRA, you can read here.

8. Keep a cash buffer

I always recommend to my clients and blog readers to keep at least six months of essential living expenses in a checking or a savings account. We call it an emergency fund. It’s a rainy day, which you need to keep aside for emergencies and unexpected life events. Sometimes market downturns are accompanied by recessions and layoffs. If you lose your job, you will have enough reserves to cover your essential expenses. You will avoid dipping in your retirement savings.

9. Be opportunistic and invest

Market downturns create opportunities for buying stocks at discounted prices. One of the most famous quotes by Warren Buffet’s famous words is “When it’s raining gold, reach for a bucket, not a thimble.” Market selloffs rarely reflect the real long-term value of a company as they are triggered by panic, negative news, or geopolitical events. For long-term investors, market downturns present an excellent opportunity to buy their favorite stocks at a low price. If you want to get in the market after a selloff, look for established companies with strong secular revenue growth, experienced management, solid balance sheet and proven track record of paying dividends or returning money to shareholders.

Final words

Market downturns can put a huge toll on your investments and retirement savings. The lack of reliable information and the instant spread of negative news can influence your judgment and force you to make rash decisions. Market selloffs can challenge even the most experienced investors. That said, don’t allow yourself to panic even if it seems like the world is falling apart. Prepare for the next market downturn by following my list of nine recommendations. This checklist will help you “survive” the next bear market while you still follow your long-term financial goals.

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 stoyan@babylonwealth.com 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.

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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.

Wealth sources

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 stoyan@babylonwealth.com 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.

Why you need a Roth IRA

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 $122,000 or less in 2019, 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 $193,000.

There is a phaseout amount between $122,000 and $137,000 for single filers and $193,000 and $203,000 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 stoyan@babylonwealth.com 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.

8 reasons to open a solo 401k plan

8 reasons why entrepreneurs should open a solo 401k plan

What is a solo 401k plan

The solo 401k plan is a powerful tool for entrepreneurs to save money for retirement and reduce their current tax bill. These plans are often ignored and overshadowed by the more popular corporate 401k and SEP IRA plans.  In fact, there is a lack of widely available public information about them. Simply put, not many people know about it. In this article, I will discuss 8 reasons why entrepreneurs should open a solo 401k plan.

Solo or one participant 401k plans are available to solo entrepreneurs who do not have any personnel on staff. If a business owner employs seasonal workers who register less than 1,000 hours a year, then he or she may be eligible for the solo 401k plans as well. The solo plans have most of the characteristics of the traditional 401k plan without any of the restrictions.

Learn more about our Private Client Services

What are some of the most significant benefits of the self-employed 401k?

Maximize your retirement savings with a solo 401k

Self-employed 401k allows a business owner to save up to $56,000 a year for retirement, plus an additional $6,000 if age 50 and over. How does the math work exactly?

Solo entrepreneurs play a dual role in their business – an employee and an employer. As an employee, they can contribute up to $19,000 a year plus catch-up of $6,000 if over the age of 50. Further, the business owner can add up to $37,000 of contribution as an employer match. The employee’s side of the contribution is subject to 25% of the total compensation, which the business owner must pay herself.

Example: Jessica, age 52, has a solo practice. She earns a W2 salary of $100,000 from her S-corporation. Jessica set-up a solo 401k plan. In 2017 she can contribute $18,000 plus $6,000 catch-up, for a total of $24,000 as an employee of her company. Additionally, Jessica can add up to $25,000 (25% x $100,000) as an employer. All-n-all, she can save up to $49,000 in her solo 401k plan.

One important side note, if a business owner works for another company and participates in their 401(k), the above limits are applicable per person, not per plan. Therefore, the entrepreneur has to deduct any contributions from the second plan to stay within the allowed limits.

Add your spouse

A business owner can add his or her spouse to the 401k plan subject to the same limits discussed above. To be eligible for these contributions, the spouse has to earn income from the business. The spouse must report a wage from the company on a W2 form for tax purposes.

Reduce your current tax bill

The solo 401k plans contributions will reduce your tax bill at year-end. The wage contributions will lower your ordinary income tax. The company contributions will decrease your corporate tax.

This is a very significant benefit for all business owners and in particular for those who fall into higher income tax brackets. If an entrepreneur believes that her tax rate will go down in the future, maximizing her current solo 401k contributions now, can deliver substantial tax benefits in the long run.

Opt for Roth contributions

Most solo 401k plans allow for Roth contributions. These contributions are after taxes. Therefore, they do not lower current taxes. However, the long-term benefit is that all investments from Roth contributions grow tax-free. No taxes will be due at withdrawal during retirement.

Only the employee contributions are eligible for the Roth status. So solo entrepreneur can add up to $19,000 plus $6,000 in post-tax Roth contributions and $37,000 as tax-deductible employer contributions.

The Roth contributions are especially beneficial for young entrepreneurs or those in a lower tax bracket who expect that their income and taxes will be higher when they retire. By paying taxes now at a lower rate, plan owners avoid paying much larger tax bill later when they retire, assuming their tax rate will be higher.

No annual test

Solo 401k plans are not subject to the same strict regulations as their corporate rivals. Self-employed plans do not require a discrimination test as long as the only participants are the business owner and the spouse.

If the company employs workers who meet the eligibility requirements, they must be included in the plan.  To be eligible for the 401k plan, the worker must be a salaried full-time employee working more than 1,000 hours a year. In those cases, the plan administrator must conduct annual discrimination test which assesses the employee participation in the 401k plan. As long as solo entrepreneurs do not hire any full-time workers, they can avoid the discrimination test in their 401k plan.

No annual filing

Another benefit of the 401k plans is the exemption from annual filing a form 5500-EZ, as long as the year-end plan assets do not exceed $250,000. If plan assets exceed that amount, the plan administrator or the owner himself must do the annual filing. To learn more about the annual filing process, visit this page.

Asset protection

401k plans offer one of the highest bankruptcy protection than any other retirement accounts including IRA. The assets in 401k are safe from creditors as long as they remain there.

In general, all ERISA eligible retirement plans like 401k plan are sheltered from creditors. Non-ERISA plans like IRAs are also protected up to $1,283,025 (in aggregate) under federal law plus any additional state law protection.

Flexibility

You can open a self-employed 401k plan at nearly any broker like Fidelity, Schwab or Vanguard. The process is relatively straightforward. It requires filling out a form, company name, Tax ID, etc. Most brokers will act as your plan administrator. As long as, the business owner remain self-employed, doesn’t hire any full-time workers and plan assets do not exceed $250,000, plan administration will be relatively straightforward.

As a sponsor of your 401k plan, you can choose to manage it yourself or hire an investment advisor. Either way, most solo 401k plans offer a broader range of investments than comparable corporate 401k plans. Depending on your provider you may have access to a more extensive selection of investment choices including ETFs, low-cost mutual funds, stocks, and REITs. Always verify your investment selection and trading costs before opening an account with any financial provider.

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.

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A financial checklist for young families

A financial checklist for young families

A financial checklist for young families…..Many of my clients are young families looking for help to build their wealth and improve their finances. We typically discuss a broad range of topics from buying a house, saving for retirement, savings for their kids’ college, budgeting and building legacy. As a financial advisor in the early 40s, I have personally gone through many of these questions and was happy to share my experience.

Some of my clients already had young children. Others are expecting a new family member. Being a dad of a nine-month-old boy, I could relate to many of their concerns. My experience helped me guide them through the web of financial and investment questions.  

While each family is unique, there are many common themes amongst all couples. While each topic of them deserves a separate post, I will try to summarize them for you.

Communicate

Successful couples always find a way to communicate effectively. I always advise my clients to discuss their financial priorities and concerns. When partners talk to each other, they often discover that they have entirely different objectives.  Having differences is normal as long as you have common goals. By building a strong partnership you will pursue your common goals while finding a common ground for your differences

Talking to each other will help you address any of the topics in this article.

If it helps, talk to an independent fiduciary financial advisor. We can help you get a more comprehensive and objective view of your finances. We often see blind spots that you haven’t recognized before.

Set your financial goals

Most life coaches will tell you that setting up specific goals is crucial in achieving success in life. It’s the same when it comes to your finances. Set specific short-term and long-term financial goals and stick to them. These milestones will guide you and help you make better financial decisions in the future.

Budget

There is nothing more important to any family wellbeing than budgeting. Many apps can help you budget your income and spending. You can also use an excel spreadsheet or an old fashion piece of paper. You can break down your expenses in various categories and groups similar to what I have below. Balance your budget and live within your means.

Sample budget

Gross Income?????
Taxes???
401k Contributions??
Net Income????
Fixed Expenses
Mortgage?
Property Taxes?
Utilities (Phone, Cable, Gas, Electric)?
Insurance?
Healthcare/Medical?
Car payment?
529 savings?
Daycare?
Non-Discretionary Flexible Expenses
Groceries?
Automotive (Fuel, Parking, Tolls)?
Home Improvement/Maintenance?
Personal Care?
Dues & Subscriptions?
Discretionary Expenses
Restaurants?
General Merchandise?
Travel?
Clothing/Shoes?
Gifts?
Entertainment?
Other Expenses?
Net Savings???

Consolidate your assets

One common issue I see amongst young couples is the dispersion of their assets. It’s very common for spouses to have multiple 401k, IRAs and savings accounts in various financial institutions and former employers. Consolidating your assets will help you get a more comprehensive view of your finances and manage them more efficiently.

Manage your debt

The US consumer debt has grown to record high levels. The relatively low-interest rates, rising real estate prices and the ever-growing college cost have pushed the total value of US household debt to $13.25 trillion. According to the New York Fed, here is how much Americans owe by age group.

  • Under 35: $67,400
  • 35–44: $133,100
  • 45–54: $134,600
  • 55–64: $108,300
  • 65–74: $66,000
  • 75 and up: $34,500

For many young families who are combining their finances, managing their debt becomes a key priority in achieving financial independence.

Manage your credit score

One way to lower your debt is having a high credit score. I always advise my clients to find out how much their credit score is.  The credit score, also known as the FICO score, is a measure between 300 and 850 points. Higher scores indicate lower credit risk and often help you get a lower interest rate on your mortgage or personal loan. Each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, provides an individual FICO score.  All three companies have a proprietary database, methodology, and scoring system. You can sometimes see substantial differences in your credit score issued by those agencies.

Your FICO score is a sum of 64 different measurements. And each agency calculates it slightly differently. As a rule, your credit score depends mainly on the actual dollar amount of your debt, the debt to credit ratio and your payment history. Being late on or missing your credit card payments, maximizing your credit limits and applying for too many cards at once will hurt your credit score.

Own a house or rent

Owning your first home is a common theme among my clients. However, the price of real estate in the Bay area, where I live, has skyrocketed in the past 10 years. The average home price in San Francisco according to Zillow is $1.3 million. The average home price in Palo Alto is $3.1 million. (Source: https://www.zillow.com/san-francisco-ca/home-values/ ). While not at this magnitude, home prices have risen in all major metropolitan areas around the country. Buying a home has become an impossible dream for many young families. Not surprisingly a recent survey by the Bank of the West has revealed that 46% of millennials have chosen to rent over buying a home, while another 11% are staying with their parents.  

Buying a home in today’s market conditions is a big commitment and a highly personal decision. It depends on a range of factors including how long you are planning to live in the new home, available cash for a downpayment, job prospects, willingness to maintain your property, size of your family and so on.

Maximize your retirement contributions

Did you know that in 2019 you can contribute up to $19,000 in your 401k? If you are in your 50s or older, you can add another $6,000 as a catch-up contribution. Maximizing your retirement savings will help you grow your wealth and build a cushion of solid retirement savings. Not to mention the fact that 401k contributions are tax-deferred and lower your current tax bill.

Unfortunately, many Americans are not saving aggressively for retirement. According to Fidelity, the average person in their 30’s have $42.7k in their 401k plan. people in their 40s own on average 103k.

If your 401k balance is higher than your age group you are already better off than the average American.

Here is how much Americans own in their 401 plan by age group

  • 20 to 29 age: $11,500
  • 30 to 39 age: $42,700
  • 40 to 49 age: $103,500
  • 50 to 59 age: $174,200
  • 60 to 69 age: $192,800

For those serious about their retirement goals, Fidelity recommends having ten times your final salary in savings if you want to retire by age 67. They are also suggesting how to achieve this goal by age group.

  • By the age of 30: Have the equivalent of your starting salary saved
  • 35 years old: Have two times your salary saved
  • 40 years old: Have three times your salary saved
  • 45 years old: Have four times your salary saved
  • 50 years old: Have six times your salary saved
  • 55 years old: Have seven times your salary saved
  • 60 years old: Have eight times your salary saved
  • By age 67: Have 10 times your salary saved

Keep in mind that these are general guidelines. Everybody is different. Your family retirement goal is highly dependent on your individual circumstances, your lifestyle, spending habits, family size and alternative sources of income.

Know your risk tolerance level

One common issue I see with young families is the substantial gap between their risk tolerance and the actual risk they take in their retirement and investment accounts.  Risk tolerance is your emotional ability to accept risk as an investor.

I have seen clients who are conservative by nature but have a very aggressive portfolio. Or the opposite, there are aggressive investors with a large amount of cash or a large bond portfolio. Talking to a fiduciary financial advisor can help you understand your risk tolerance. You will be able to narrow that gap between your emotions and real-life needs and then connect them to your financial goals and milestones.

Diversify your investments

Diversification is the only free lunch you will get in investing. Diversifying your investments can reduce the overall risk of your portfolio. Without going into detail, owning a mix of uncorrelated assets will lower the long-term risk of your portfolio. I always recommend that you have a portion of your portfolio in US Large Cap Blue Chip Stocks and add some exposure to Small Cap, International, and Emerging Market Stocks, Bonds and Alternative Assets such as Gold and Real Estate.

Invest your idle cash

One common issue I have seen amongst some of my clients is holding a significant amount of cash in their investment and retirement accounts. The way I explain it is that most millennials are conservative investors. Many of them observed their parents’ negative experience during the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. As a result, they became more risk-averse than their parents.  

However, keeping ample cash in your retirement account in your 30s will not boost your wealth in the long run. You are probably losing money as inflation is deteriorating the purchasing power of your idle cash. Even if you are a very conservative investor, there are ways to invest in your retirement portfolio without taking on too much risk.

Early retirement

I talk about early retirement a lot often than one might imagine. The media and online bloggers have boosted the image of retiring early and made it sound a lot easier than it is. I am not saying that early retirement is an illusion, but it requires a great deal of personal and financial sacrifice. Unless you are born rich or rely on a huge payout, most people who retire early are very frugal and highly resourceful. If your goal is to retire early, you need to pay off your debt now, cut down spending and save, save and save.

Build-in tax diversification

While most of the time we talk about our 401k plans, there are other investment and retirement vehicles out there such as Roth IRA, Traditional IRA and even your brokerage account. They all have their own tax advantages and disadvantages. Even if you save a million bucks in your 401k plan, not all of it is yours. You must pay a cut to the IRS and your state treasury. Not to mention the fact that you can only withdraw your savings penalty-free after reaching 59 ½. Roth IRA and brokerage account do not lower your taxes when you make contributions, but they offer a lot more flexibility, liquidity, and some significant future tax advantages. In the case of Roth IRA, all your withdrawals can be tax-free when you retire. Your brokerage account provides you with immediate liquidity and lower long-term capital gains tax on realized gains.

Plan for child’s expenses

Most parents will do anything for their children. But having kids is expensive. Whether a parent will stay at home and not earn a salary, or you decide to hire a nanny or pay for daycare, children will add an extra burden to your budget. Not to mention the extra money for clothes, food, entertainment (Disneyland) and even another seat on the plane.

Plan for college with a 529 Plan

Many parents want to help their children pay for college or at least cover some of the expenses. 529 plan is a convenient, relatively inexpensive and tax-advantageous way to save for qualified college expenses. Sadly, only 29% of US families are familiar with the plan. Most states have their own state-run 529 plan. Some states even allow state tax deductions for 529 contributions. Most 529 plans have various active, passive and age-based investment options. You can link your checking account to your 529 plan and set-up regular monthly contributions. There are plentiful resources about 529 plans in your state. I am happy to answer questions if you contact me directly.  

Protect your legacy

Many young families want to protect their children in case of sudden death or a medical emergency. However, many others don’t want to talk about it at all. I agree it’s not a pleasant conversation. Here in California, unless you have an established estate, in case of your death all your assets will go to probate and will have to be distributed by the court. The probate is a public, lengthy and expensive process. When my son was born my wife and I set up an estate, created our wills and assigned guardians, and trustees to our newly established trust.  

The process of protecting your legacy is called estate planning. Like everything else, it’s highly personalized depending on the size of your family, the variety of assets you own, your income sources, your charitable aptitude, and so on. Talking to an experienced estate attorney can help you find the best decision for yourself and your family.

I never sell insurance to my clients. However, if you are in a situation where you are the sole bread earner in the household, it makes a lot of sense to consider term life and disability insurance, which can cover your loved ones if something were to happen to you.

Plan ahead

I realize that this is a very general, kind of catch-all checkpoint but let me give it a try. No matter what happens in your life right now, I guarantee you a year or two from now things will be different. Life changes all the time – you get a new job, you have a baby, you need to buy a new car, or your company goes public, and your stock options make you a millionaire. Whatever that is, think ahead. Proper planning could save you a lot of money and frustration in the long run.

Conclusion

I realize that this checklist is not complete. Every family is unique. Each one of you has very different circumstances, financial priorities, and life goals. There is never a one-size-fits-all solution for any family out there. If you contact me directly, I will be happy to address your questions.

 

Market Outlook October 2018

Overview

The US stock market was on an absolute tear this summer. S&P 500 went up by 7.65% and completed its best 3rd quarter since 2013. Despite the February correction, the US stocks managed to recover from the 10% drop. All major indices reached a series of record highs at the end of August and September.

IndexQ1 2018Q2 2018Q3 2018YTD 2018
S&P 500 Large-Cap (SPY)-1.00%3.55%7.65%10.37%
S&P 600 Small-Cap (IJR)0.57%8.69%4.87%14.64%
MSCI EAFE (VEA)-0.90%-1.96%1.23%-1.62%
Barclays US Aggregate Bond (AGG)-1.47%-0.18%-0.08%-1.73%
Gold (GLD)1.73%-5.68%-4.96%-8.81%
Source: Morningstar

 

The US Economy remains strong

Markets have largely shrugged off the trade war fears benefiting from a strong economy and high corporate earnings.

US Unemployment remains low at 3.9% in July and August, levels not seen since the late 1960s and 2000.

Consumer sentiment is at a multi-year high. The University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index hit 100.1 in September, passing 100 for the third time since the January of 2004.

Business optimism hit another record high in August.  The National Federation of Independent Business’ small business optimism index reached the highest level in the survey’s 45-year history. According to NFIB, small business owners are planning to hire more workers, raise compensation for current employees, add inventory, and spend more on capital investments.

A hypothetical 60/40 portfolio

A hypothetical 60/40 index portfolio consisting of 30% US Large Cap Stocks, 10% US Small Cap Stocks, 20% International Stocks, 33% US Fixed Income and 7% Gold would have returned 3.06% by the end of September.

IndexAllocationReturn
S&P 50030%3.11%
S&P 60010%1.46%
MSCI EAFE20%-0.32%
Barclays USAgg Bond33%-0.57%
Gold7%-0.62%
Hypothetical Performance3.06%

 

US Equity

I expect a strong Q4 of 2018 with a record high holiday consumer and business spending. While stock valuations remain elevated, robust revenue and consumer demand will continue to drive economic growth.

After lagging large-cap stocks in 2017, small-cap stocks are having a comeback in 2018. Many domestically focused publicly traded businesses benefited massively from the recent corporate tax cuts, higher taxes on imported goods and healthy domestic demand.

This year’s rally was primarily driven by Technology, Healthcare and Consumer Discretionary stocks, up 20.8%, 16.7%, and 13.7% respectively. However, other sectors like Materials, Real Estate, Consumer Staples, Financials and Utilities are either flat or negative for the year. Keep in mind of the recent reshuffle in the sector classification where Google, Facebook, Netflix and Twitter along with the old telecommunication stocks were added to a new sector called Communication services.

Sector performance

SectorPerformancePrice perPrice toDividend
YTDEarningsSalesYield
as of 10/3/2018(TTM) (TTM)(%)
Communication Services-1.91%22.6x1.3x4.83%
Consumer Discretionary13.72%16.5x1.0x1.27%
Consumer Staples-5.50%15.1x1.0x2.86%
Energy8.67%14.0x1.2x1.74%
Financials0.29%15.2x2.1x1.91%
Health Care16.71%18.2x1.2x1.86%
Industrials4.73%15.7x1.1x1.85%
Information Technology20.86%14.8x2.1x0.90%
Materials-3.56%13.2x1.1x1.79%
Utilities0.77%17.1x1.3x3.70%
Source: Bloomberg

 

I believe that we are in the last few innings of the longest bull market. However, a wide range of sectors and companies that have largely remained on the sidelines. Some of them could potentially benefit from the continued economic growth and low tax rates.

International Equity

The performance gap between US and foreign stocks continues to grow. After a negative Q1 and Q2, foreign stocks recouped some of the losses in Q3. Furthermore, emerging market stocks are down close to -9% for the year.

Bad economic data coming from Turkey, Italy, Argentina, Brazil, Indonesia, South Africa, and China along with trade war fears put downward pressure on foreign equity markets. Additionally, rising right-wing sentiments in Italy, Austria, Sweden, Hungary, and even Germany puts doubts on the stability of the European Union and its pro-immigration policies.

In my view, the risk that the financial crisis in Turkey, Argentina, and Italy will spread to other countries is somewhat limited. However, the short-term headwinds remain, and we will continue to monitor these markets.

Brexit

Another major headline for European stocks is the progress of the Brexit negotiation. While soft Brexit would benefit both sides, a hard exit could have a higher negative impact on the UK.

I remain cautiously positive on international stocks. According to WSJ, foreign stocks are trading at a 12% discount over US equity on price to earnings basis. This year created value opportunities in several counters. However, the issue with European and Japanese stocks is not so much in valuations but the search for growth catalysts in conservative economies with an aging population.

Fixed Income

Rising Fed rates and higher inflation have driven bond prices lower so far this year. With inflation rate hovering at 2%, strong employment figures, rising commodity cost, and robust GDP growth, the Fed will continue to hike interest rates. I am expecting one more rate hike in December and three additional hikes in 2019.

I will also continue to monitor the spread between 2-year and 10-year treasury. This spread is currently at 0.23%, the lowest level since 2005.  Normally, a negative spread, i..e 2-year treasury rare higher than 10-year is a sign of a troubled economy.

While modest, individual pockets of the fixed-income market are generating positive performance this year. For instance, short duration fixed income products are now yielding in the range of 1.5% to 2%. The higher interest is now a compelling reason for many investors to keep some of their holdings in cash, CDs or short-term instruments.

With 10-year treasury closing above 3% and moving higher, fixed income investors will continue to see soft returns on their portfolio.

Gold

Gold is one of the big market losers this year. The strong dollar and robust US economy have led to the precious metal sell-off.  While the rise cryptocurrency might have reduced some of the popularity of Gold, I still believe that a small position in Gold can offer a buffer and reduce the overall long-term portfolio volatility. The investors tend to shift to Gold during times of uncertainty.

Navigating market highs

With S&P 500, NASDAQ and Dow Jones hitting all-time highs, how should investors manage their portfolio?

Rebalance

End of the year is an excellent opportunity for reconciliation and rebalancing to your target asset allocation. S&P 500 has returned 16.65% in the past five years, and the chance that equities are taking a big chunk of your portfolio is very high. Realizing some long-term gains and reinvesting your proceeds into other asset classes will ensure that your portfolio is reset to your desired risk tolerance level as well as adequately diversified.

Think long-term

In late January and early February, we experienced a market sell-offs while S&P 500 dropped more than 10%. Investors in the index who did not panic and sold at the bottom recouped their losses and ended up with 10% return as of September 30, 2018. Taking a long-term view will help you avoid the stress during market downturns and allow you to have a durable long-term strategy

 

If you have any questions about your existing investment portfolio or how to start investing for retirement and other financial goals, reach out to me at stoyan@babylonwealth.com 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.

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is the founder and CEO of Babylon Wealth Management, a fee-only investment advisory firm based in Walnut Creek, CA. Babylon Wealth Management offers personalized wealth management and financial planning services to individuals and families.  To learn more visit our Private Client Services page here. Additionally, we offer Outsourced Chief Investment Officer services to professional advisors (RIAs), family offices, endowments, defined benefit plans, and other institutional clients. To find out more visit our OCIO page here.

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,