TSP contribution limits 2021

TSP Contribution Limits for 2021

TSP contribution limits for 2021 is 19,500 per person. Additionally, all federal employees over the age of 50 can contribute a catch-up of $6,500 per year.

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What is TSP?

Thrift Saving Plan is a Federal retirement plan where both federal employees and agencies can make retirement contributions. Moreover, this retirement plan is one of the easiest and most effective ways for you to save for retirement. As a federal employee, you can make automatic contributions to your TSP directly through your employer’s payroll. You can choose the percentage of your salary that will go towards your retirement savings. TSP provides you with multiple investment options in stocks, fixed income, and lifecycle funds. Additionally, most agencies offer a TSP match up to a certain percentage. In most cases, you need to participate in the plan in order to get the match. For more information about investment options in your TSP account, check my article – “Grow your retirement savings with the Thrift Savings Plan.”

Who is Eligible to Participate in the TSP?

Most employees of the United States Government are eligible to participate in the Thrift Savings Plan. You are eligible if you are:

  • Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) employees (started on or after January 1, 1984)
  • Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) employees (started before January 1, 1984, and did not convert to FERS)
  • Members of the uniformed services (active duty or Ready Reserve)
  • Civilians in certain other categories of Government service

How much can I contribute to my TSP in 2021?

TSP contribution limits for 2021 stayed the same as change every year. IRS typically increases the maximum annual limit with the cost of living adjustment and inflation. These contribution limits apply to all employees who participate in the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan,  401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans. Additionally, the limits apply to both tax-deferred and Roth contributions combined. 

  • Employees can contribute up to $19,500 to their TSP plan for 2021,  the same amount as  2020.
  • Employees of age 50 or over are eligible for an additional catch-up contribution of $6,500 in 2021, the same amount as  2020.
  • Employee compensation limit for calculating TSP contributions is $290,000, $5,000 more than 2020
  • For participants who contribute to both a civilian and a uniformed services TSP account during the year, the elective deferral and catch-up contribution limits apply to the combined amounts of traditional (tax-deferred) and Roth contributions in both accounts.
  • Members of the uniformed services, receiving tax-exempt pay (i.e., pay that is subject to the combat zone tax exclusion), your contributions from that pay will also be tax-exempt. Your total contributions from all types of pay must not exceed the combined limit of $58,000 per year.

There are two types of contributions – tax-deferred traditional TSP  and tax-exempt Roth TSP contributions.

Tax-deferred TSP

Most federal employees, typically, choose to make tax-deferred TSP contributions. These contributions are tax-deductible. They will lower your tax bill for the current tax year. Your investments will grow on a tax-deferred basis. Therefore, you will only owe federal and state taxes when you start withdrawing your savings.

Roth TSP

Roth TSP contributions are pretax. It means that you will pay all federal and state taxes before making your contributions. The advantage of Roth TSP is that your retirement savings will grow tax-free. As long as you keep your money until retirement, you will withdraw your gain tax-free. It’s a great alternative for young professionals and workers in a low tax bracket.

TSP Matching

Federal agencies can make a matching contribution up to the combined limit of $58,000 or $64,500 with the catch-up contribution. If you contribute the maximum allowed amount, your agency match cannot exceed $38,500 in 2021.

If you are an eligible FERS or BRS employee, you will receive matching contributions from your agency based on your regular employee contributions. Unlike most private companies, matching contributions are not subject to vesting requirements.

FERS or BRS participants receive matching contributions on the first 5% of your salary that you contribute each pay period. The first 3% of your contribution will receive a dollar-for-dollar match. The next 2% will be matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Contributions above 5% of your salary will not be matched.

Consider contributing at least 5% of your base salary to your TSP account so that you can receive the full amount of matching contributions.

Matching schedule

TSP Matching contribution
Source: tsp.gov

Opening your TSP account

FERS Employees

If you are a federal employee hired after July 31, 2010, your agency has automatically enrolled you in the TSP.  By default, 3% of your base salary will be deducted from your paycheck each pay period and deposited in the traditional balance of your TSP account.  If you decide, you have to make an election to change or stop your contributions.

If you are a FERS employee who started before August 1, 2010, you already have a TSP account with accruing 1% automatic contributions. In addition, you can make contributions to your account from your pay and receive additional matching contributions.

CSRS Employees

If you are a Federal civilian employee who started before January 1, 1984, your agency will establish your TSP account after you make a contribution election using your agency’s election system.

BRS Members of the Uniformed Services

Members of the uniformed services who began serving on or after January 1, 2018, will automatically enroll in the TSP once you serve 60 days. By default,  3% of your basic pay is deducted from your paycheck each pay period and deposited in the traditional balance of your TSP account. You have can always select to change or stop your contributions.

New Year Financial Resolutions for 2021

New Year Financial Resolutions for 2021

New Year Financial Resolutions for 2021. Let’s kick off 2021 with a bang. It’s time to hit the refresh button.  2020 was very challenging. The covid pandemic brought enormous shifts to our daily lives.  Social distancing. Working from home. Digital transformation. 5G. Many of these changes will stay with us permanently. It’s time to open a new chapter. Take control of your finances. Become financially independent

Here are your New Year Financial Resolutions for 2021

1. Set your financial goals

Your first  New Year Financial Resolutions for 2021 is to set your financial goals. Know where you are going. Build milestones of success.  Be in control of your journey. Setting and tracking your financial goals will help you make smart financial decisions in the future. It will help you define what is best for you in the long run.

2. Pay off debt

Americans owe $14.3 trillion in debt. The average household owes  $145,000 in total debt, $6,270 in credit cards, and $17,553 in auto loans. These figures are insane. If you are struggling to pay off your debts, 2021 is your year to change your life. Check out my article How to Pay off your debt before retirement. With interest rates are record low today, you can look into consolidating debt or refinancing your mortgage. Take advantage of these low-interest options. Even a small percentage cut of your interest can lead to massive savings and reductions of your monthly debt payments.

3. Automate bill payments

Are you frequently late on your bills? Are you getting hefty late penalty fees? It’s time to switch on automatic bill payments. It will save you time, frustration, and money. You should still review your bills for unexpected extra charges. But no need to worry about making your payments manually. Let technology do the heavy lifting for you.

4. Build an emergency fund

2020 taught us an important lesson. Life can be unpredictable. Economic conditions can change overnight. For that reason, you need to keep money on a rainy day. Your emergency fund should have enough cash to cover 6 to 12 months of essential expenses. Start with setting up a certain percentage of your wage that will automatically go to your savings account. Your rainy-day cash will hold you up if you lose your job or your ability to earn income. By maintaining an emergency fund, you could avoid taking debt and cover temporary gaps in your budget.

5. Monitor your credit score

In today’s world, everything is about data. Your credit score measures your financial health. It tells banks and other financial institutions your creditworthiness and ability to repay your debt. Often. The credit score methodology is not always perfect. That said, every lender and even some employers will check your credit score before extending a new line of credit or a job offer.

6. Budget

Do you find yourself spending more than you earn? Would you like to save more for your financial goals? If you are struggling to meet your milestones, 2021 will give you a chance to reshape your future. Budgeting should be your top New Year Financial Resolutions for 2021. There are many mobile apps and online tools alongside old fashion pen-and -aper to track and monitor your expenses. Effective budgeting will help you understand your spending habits and control impulse purchases.

7. Save more for retirement

One of your most important New Year Financial Resolutions for 2021 should be maximizing your retirement savings. I recommend that you save at least 10% of your earnings every year. If you want to be more aggressive, you can set aside 20% or 25%.  A lot depends on your overall income and spending lifestyle.

In 2021, you can contribute up to $19,500 in your 401k. If you are 50 and older, you can set an additional $6,500. Furthermore, you can add another $6,000 to your Roth IRA or Traditional IRA.

8. Plan your taxes

You probably heard the old phrase. It’s not about how much you earn but how much you keep. Taxes are the single highest expense that you pay every year. Whether you are a high-income earner or not, proper tax planning is always necessary to ensure that you keep your taxes in check and take advantage of tax savings opportunities. But remember, tax planning is not a daily race; it’s a multi-year marathon.

9. Review your investments

When was the last time you reviewed your investments? Have you recently checked your 401k plan? You will be shocked to know how many people keep their retirement savings in cash and low-interest earning mutual funds.  Sadly, sitting in cash is a losing strategy as inflation reduces your purchasing power. A dollar today is not equal to a dollar 10 years from now. While investing is risky, it will help you grow your wealth and protect you from inflation. Remember that time and time again; long-term investors get rewarded for their patience and persistence.

10. Protect your family finances from unexpected events

2020 taught us a big lesson. Life is unpredictable. Bad things can happen suddenly and unexpectedly. In 2021, take action to protect your family, your wealth, and yourself from abrupt events. Start with your estate plan. Make sure that you write your will and assign your beneficiaries, trustees, and health directives.

Laslly, you need to review your insurance coverage. Ensure that your life, disability, and other insurance will protect your family in times of emergency.

5 smart 401k moves to make in 2020

Smart 401k moves in 2020

5 smart 401k moves to make in 2020. Do you have a 401k? These five 401k moves will help you empower your retirement savings and ensure that you take full advantage of your 401k benefits.

2020 has been a challenging year in many aspects. Let’s make it count and put your 401k to work.

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What is a 401k plan?

401k plan is a workplace retirement plan that allows employees to build and grow their retirement savings. It is one of the most convenient and effective ways to save for retirement as both employees and employers can make retirement contributions. As an employee, you can set up automatic deductions to your 401k account directly through your company payroll.  You can choose the exact percentage of your salary that will go towards your retirement savings. Most 401k will provide you with multiple investment options in stocks and fixed income mutual funds and ETFs. Furthermore, most employers offer a 401k match up to a certain percentage. In most cases, you need to participate in the plan to receive the match.

1. Maximize your contributions

The smart way to ignite your retirement savings is to maximize your contributions each year.

Did you know that in 2020, you can contribute up to $19,500 to your 401k plan? If you are 50 or over, you are eligible for an additional catch-up contribution of $6,500 in 2020. Traditional 401k contributions are tax-deductible and will lower your overall tax bill in the current tax year.

Many employers offer a 401k match, which is free money for you. The only way to receive it is to participate in the plan. If you cannot max out your dollar contributions, try to deduct the highest possible percentage so that you can capture the entire match from your employer. For example, if your company offers a 4% match on every dollar, at the very minimum, you should contribute 4% to get the full match.

2. Review your investment options

When was the last time you reviewed the investment options inside your 401k plan? When is the last time you made any changes to your fund selection? With automatic contributions and investing, it is easy to get things on autopilot. But remember, this is your money and your retirement savings. With all the craziness in the economy and the stock market in 2020, now is the best time to get a grip on your 401k investments.

Look at your fund performance over the last 1, 3, 5, and 10 years. Make sure the fund returns are close or higher than their benchmark. Review the fund fees. Check if there have been new funds added to the line up recently.

3. Change your asset allocation

Asset allocation tells you how your investments are spread between stocks, bonds, money markets, and other asset classes. Stocks typically are riskier but offer great earnings potential. Bonds are considered a safer investment but provide a limited annual return.

Your ideal asset allocation depends on your age, investment horizon, risk tolerance, and specific individual circumstances.

Typically, younger plan participants have a longer investment horizon and can withstand portfolio swings to achieve higher returns in the future.  If you are one of these investors can choose a higher allocation of stocks in your 401k.

However, if you are approaching retirement, you would have a much shorter investment horizon and probably lower tolerance to investment losses. In this case, you should consider adding more bonds and cash to your asset allocation.

4. Consider contributing to Roth 401k

Are you worried that you would pay higher taxes in the future? The Roth 401k allows you to make pretax contributions and avoid taxes on your future earnings. All Roth contributions are made after paying all federal and state income taxes now. The advantage is that all your prospective earnings will grow tax-free. If you keep your money until retirement or reaching the age of 59 ½, you will withdraw your gains tax-free. If you are a young professional or you believe that your tax rate will grow higher in the future, Roth 401k is an excellent alternative to your traditional tax-deferred 401k savings.

5. Rollover an old 401k plan

Do you have an old 401k plan, stuck with your former employer? How often do you have a chance to review your balance? Unfortunately, many old 401k plans have become forgotten and ignored for many years.

It is a smart move to transfer an old 401k to a Rollover IRA.

The rollover is your chance to gain full control of your retirement savings. Furthermore, you will expand your investment options from the limited number of mutual funds to the entire universe of stocks, ETFs, and fund managers. Most importantly, you can manage your account according to your retirement goals.

Grow your retirement savings with the Thrift Savings Plan

Thrift Savings Plan

The Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) is a retirement savings plan for federal employees. The purpose of the TSP is to provide federal workers with a platform for long-term retirement savings where you can make regular monthly payroll contributions. In many ways, TSP resembles the 401k plans used by private corporations.

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TSP Eligibility

Most employees of the United States Government are eligible to participate in the Thrift Savings Plan. You qualify if you are:

  • Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) employees (started on or after January 1, 1984)
  • Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) employees (began before January 1, 1984, and did not convert to FERS)
  • Members of the uniformed services (active duty or Ready Reserve)
  • Civilians in specific other categories of Government service including some congressional positions and judges

Contribution Limits for 2020

Federal employees can contribute up to $19,500 in their Thrift Savings Plan in 2020. Additionally, all federal employees over the age of 50 can make a catch-up contribution of $6,500 per year.
Members of the uniformed services, receiving tax-exempt pay that is subject to the combat zone tax exclusion, can make contributions up to the combined limit of $57,000 per year.

TSP Matching

TSP participants receive matching contributions on the first 5% of your salary that you contribute each pay period. The first 3% of your contribution will get a dollar-for-dollar match. The next 2% will be matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Contributions above 5% of your salary do not receive an additional match.

Federal agencies can make a matching contribution up to the combined limit of $57,000 or $63,500 with the catch-up contribution. If you contribute the maximum allowed amount, your agency match cannot exceed $37,500 in 2020.  Receiving a match on your contributions is free money. You must contribute at least 5% of your base salary to your TSP account to get the full match from your agency.

Matching schedule

The table below illustrates how your agency makes a matching contribution to your TSP account based on your own selection. Even if you choose not to contribute to TSP, you will still receive 1% of your base pay. If you put aside 5% of base pay, you will get the full 5% match from your agency.

TSP Matching schedule

Source: opm.gov

TSP Vesting

For vesting purposes, there are two types of agency contributions.

Agency Automatic Contributions (1%)

All eligible TSP participants will automatically receive deposits into your account equal to 1% of your basic pay each pay period, even if you do not contribute your own money. After three years of Federal civilian service (or two years in some cases), you are vested in these contributions and their earnings.

Agency Matching Contributions (0% – 4%)

All eligible federal employees will receive a dollar for dollar matching contribution for the first 3% that you contribute each pay period. Each dollar of the next 2% of basic pay will be matched with 50 cents on the dollar. All matching contributions are vested immediately.

How to grow your retirement savings with TSP

The Thrift Savings Plan allows you to save for retirement and become financially independent. Even small annual contributions paired with the agency match can make a big difference in your financial future.

Here is an example:

Let’s assume that your base pay is $100,000 per year. You want to save for retirement and take advantage of your agency match. Saving 5% or $5,000 per year will guarantee you another (free) $5,000 in your TSP account. That is a total of $10,000 annually. Assuming a modest return of 7% every year, you will have savings worth $1,000,000 in your TSP in 30 years. (For the 30 years between 1990 and 2019, the US stock market has earned a 9.84% average annual return. By setting aside $150,000 in 30 years, you have the potential of making a million dollars in your retirement. Being patient and consistent in combination with the power of compounding can boost your financial freedom in the long run.

TSP Savings Growth

Tax Treatment

For tax purposes, there are two types of individual contributions.

Tax-deferred TSP

Most federal employees opt to make tax-deferred contributions to their Thrift Savings Plan account. These contributions are tax-deductible. They will lower your tax bill for the current tax year. Your TSP investments will grow on a tax-deferred basis. You will only owe federal and state taxes when you start withdrawing your retirement savings.
If you are a uniformed services member making tax-exempt contributions, your contributions will be tax-free; only your earnings will be subject to federal and state tax at withdrawal.

Roth TSP

Roth TSP contributions are pretax. You pay all federal and state taxes before making your contributions. The advantage of Roth TSP is that your retirement savings will grow tax-free. As long as you keep your money until retirement, you will withdraw your investment earnings tax-free. Roth TSP is an excellent alternative for young professionals and federal workers in a low tax bracket.

TSP Fund options

As a TSP participant, you can choose between several fund options.

TSP Fund Performance 2019

C Fund

The C fund tracks the performance of the S&P 500 Index; a broad market index made up of stocks of the top 500 largest U.S. companies. The C fund owns companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Amazon.com, Facebook, Berkshire Hathaway, JPMorgan Chase, Alphabet, Johnson & Johnson, and Visa. The fund has earned an annualized 13.59% average 10-year rate of return.

S Fund

The S fund matches the performance of the Dow Jones U.S. Completion Total Stock Market Index; a broad market index made up of stocks of small-to-medium size U.S. companies. These are stocks that are not included in the S&P 500 Index. The S fund owns companies like TSLA Tesla Motors, Blackstone Group, Lululemon Athletica, Workday, Splunk, Palo Alto Networks, CoStar Group, Square, Dexcom, and Liberty Broadband Corp. The fund has earned an annualized 13.08% average 10-year rate of return.

I Fund

The I fund invests in foreign stocks and follows the performance of the MSCI EAFE (Europe, Australasia, Far East) Index. The I fund owns companies such as Nestlé, Roche, Novartis, Toyota Motor, HSBC, SAP, Total, AstraZeneca, LVMH, and BP. The fund has earned an annualized 5.85% average 10-year rate of return.

F Fund

The F fund tracks the performance of the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. Aggregate Bond Index. The fund invests in a broad range of US bonds, including US treasuries, investment-grade corporate bonds, and agency mortgage pass-through bonds. Nearly 70% of the fund portfolio is in the highest quality AAA-rated bonds. The fund has earned an annualized 2.23% average 10-year rate of return.

G Fund

The G fund invests in nonmarketable US Treasury bonds specially issued to the TSP. The payment of G Fund principal and interest is guaranteed by the U.S. Government. The G fund is the most stable and safe investment option in the TSP fund list. It has an investment objective to produce a rate of return that is higher than inflation while avoiding market price fluctuations. The fund has earned an annualized 3.99% average 10-year rate of return.

The L Funds

The L funds are lifecycle funds that invest automatically according to a professionally designed mix of stocks, bonds, and government securities. You can select your L Fund based on your age and investment time horizon. Your expected future retirement date will determine which fund assignment. For example, if you plan to retire in 2039, you will be assigned to L 2040 fund.

The L Fund roaster includes L 2065, L 2060, L 2055, L 2050, L 2045, L 2040, L 2035, L 2030, L 2025, and L Income.

All L funds own a mix of the five individual funds. TSP participants with a longer investment horizon will own more stocks and fewer bods. Those approaching retirement will move to a higher allocation to bonds and a smaller allocation to stocks.

L Funds Glide Path

Investing your Thrift Savings Plan


The L fund is an easy and convenient investment option. If you choose the lifecycle fund, you do not have to spend too much time guessing the stock market and periodically rebalancing your retirement savings. Your savings will be invested automatically. Your asset allocation will move from more aggressive to more conservative as you get closer to retirement.

Individual fund mix

If you prefer a more active approach, then you can invest directly in any of the five individual funds. I recommend that you allocate your account depending on your age:

Recommended Fund Mix

You will notice that my recommendations differ considerably from the current L funds allocation. I established the age-based fund mix based on the actual fund performance and current economic conditions. Before investing, you need to consider your investment horizon, individual circumstances, and risk tolerance level. I assume that younger participants would have a long (30-40 years) investment horizon and high-risk tolerance. On the other hand, participants approaching retirement would have a much shorter investment horizon and lower risk tolerance as they will depend on their retirement savings in the near future. Choosing individual funds gives you the flexibility to make any changes at any point in time.

Plan Your Taxes

The physician’ roadmap to secure and healthy retirement

physician retirement

I talk to physicians every day and know that retirement is a sensitive subject. For many physicians retiring is an extremely personal decision. And it is not an easy choice to make. You must take into account a wide range of financial, professional, and individual 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. At the same time, you can travel and do things that matter most to you. Your stress level will go down, and you will spend more time with your family and loved ones.

I compiled a list of suggestions that will help you prepare on your journey to 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.

Take advantage of your employee benefits

The first step to a happy retirement is knowing your employee benefits inside and out. Most public and private healthcare systems offer competitive physician retirement benefits packages with a wide range of perks, including pension, 401k match, profit sharing, healthcare coverage, life insurance, disability insurance, and loan repayment. Some 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. Ask your colleagues and attend benefit seminars. If retirement is your priority, consider an employer that will give you the best shot in achieving this goal.

Pay off your student loans

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. It’s not uncommon that some physician couples owe over half a million dollars in student debt.

A crucial step in your journey to a happy retirement is paying off ALL YOUR DEBT, including student loans, credit cards, and mortgage. 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, loan consolidation, refinancing with lower interest rates, and income-driven repayment. Find out what is the best option for you and get started.

Maximize your physician retirement savings

Some physicians are fortunate to have an employer who offers a pension plan. Others need to save aggressively for their own retirement. In many cases, a corporate pension and social security may not be enough to cover all your essential expenses after you retire.

One way to cover the gap is through your personal retirement savings. Most employers nowadays offer either a 401k, a 403b, or a 457-retirement plan. When you join your physician retirement plan, you can save up to $19,500 per year as of 2020. If you are 50 or older, you can save an additional $6,500 for a total of $26,000 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.

Have an emergency fund

You need an emergency fund. Keep at least six months’ worth of essential living expenses in cash or a savings account. This emergency fund will serve you as a buffer in case of sudden and unexpected life events.

Secure your healthcare coverage

One of the main challenges, when planning your retirement, is 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.  In order to attract talent, some hospitals offer free lifetime healthcare if you commit to working for them for a certain number of years.

Do not underestimate healthcare costs. According to estimates, a 65-year old couple retiring in 2020 can expect to spend $290,000 in health care and medical expenses throughout retirement. For single retirees, the health care cost could reach $150,000 for women and $140,000 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 retirement income and will keep your knowledge up to date.

Create a budget

You must adhere to a budget before and after you retire. Before retirement, you need to pay off your debt and save for retirement aggressively. Depending on your earnings, 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.

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

Physician retirement is an achievable goal that requires a great deal of planning and some personal sacrifice. If you want to retire one day, you need to start planning now. Don’t leave some of the most critical decisions for the final stretch of your career.

Your family can be a big influencer for your decision to retire.  You might have a partner who wants to stay active. Perhaps, you have children who are going to college. Every family is different, and every situation is unique. Be proactive, plan ahead, do the number crunching, and find what makes the most sense to you.

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.

TSP contribution limits 2020

TSP contribution limits 2020

TSP contribution limits for 2020 is 19,500 per person. Additionally, all federal employees over the age of 50 can contribute a catch-up of $6,500 per year.

Retirement Calculator

What is TSP?

Thrift Saving Plan is a Federal retirement plan where both federal employees and agencies can make retirement contributions. Moreover, this retirement plan is one of the easiest and most effective ways for you to save for retirement. As a federal employee, you can make automatic contributions to your TSP directly through your employer’s payroll. You can choose the percentage of your salary that will go towards your retirement savings. TSP provides you with multiple investment options in stocks, fixed income, and lifecycle funds. Additionally, most agencies offer a TSP match up to a certain percentage. In most cases, you need to participate in the plan in order to get the match. For more information about investment options in your TSP account, check my article – “Grow your retirement savings with the Thrift Savings Plan“.

Who is Eligible to Participate in the TSP?

Most employees of the United States Government are eligible to participate in the Thrift Savings Plan. You are eligible if you are:

  • Federal Employees’ Retirement System (FERS) employees (started on or after January 1, 1984)
  • Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) employees (started before January 1, 1984, and did not convert to FERS)
  • Members of the uniformed services (active duty or Ready Reserve)
  • Civilians in certain other categories of Government service

How much can I contribute to my TSP in 2020?

TSP contribution limits change every year. IRS typically increases the maximum annual limit with the cost of living adjustment and inflation. These contribution limits apply to all employees who participate in the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan,  401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans. Additionally, the limits apply to both tax-deferred and Roth contributions combined. 

  • Employees can contribute up to $19,500 to their TSP plan for 2020,  $500 more than  2019.
  • Employees of age 50 or over are eligible for an additional catch-up contribution of $6,500 in 2020,  $500 higher than  2019
  • Employee compensation limit for calculating TSP contributions is $285,000, $5,000 more than 2019
  • For participants who contribute to both a civilian and a uniformed services TSP account during the year, the elective deferral and catch-up contribution limits apply to the combined amounts of traditional (tax-deferred) and Roth contributions in both accounts.
  • Members of the uniformed services, receiving tax-exempt pay (i.e., pay that is subject to the combat zone tax exclusion), your contributions from that pay will also be tax-exempt. Your total contributions from all types of pay must not exceed the combined limit of $57,000 per year.

There are two types of contributions – tax-deferred traditional TSP  and tax-exempt Roth TSP contributions.

Tax-deferred TSP

Most federal employees, typically, choose to make tax-deferred TSP contributions. These contributions are tax-deductible. They will lower your tax bill for the current tax year. Your investments will grow on a tax-deferred basis. Therefore, you will only owe federal and state taxes when you start withdrawing your savings.

Roth TSP

Roth TSP contributions are pretax. It means that you will pay all federal and state taxes before making your contributions. The advantage of Roth TSP is that your retirement savings will grow tax-free. As long as you keep your money until retirement, you will withdraw your gain tax-free. It’s a great alternative for young professionals and workers in a low tax bracket.

TSP Matching

Federal agencies can make a matching contribution up to the combined limit of $57,000 or $63,500 with the catch-up contribution. If you contribute the maximum allowed amount, your agency match cannot exceed $37,500 in 2020.

If you are an eligible FERS or BRS employee, you will receive matching contributions from your agency based on your regular employee contributions. Unlike most private companies, matching contributions are not subject to vesting requirements.

FERS or BRS participants receive matching contributions on the first 5% of your salary that you contribute each pay period. The first 3% of your contribution will receive a dollar-for-dollar match. The next 2% will be matched at 50 cents on the dollar. Contributions above 5% of your salary will not be matched.

Consider contributing at least 5% of your base salary to your TSP account so that you can receive the full amount of matching contributions.

Matching schedule

TSP Matching contribution
Source: tsp.gov

Opening your TSP account

FERS Employees

If you are a federal employee, hired after July 31, 2010, your agency has automatically enrolled you in the TSP.  By default, 3% of your base salary will be deducted from your paycheck each pay period and deposited in the traditional balance of your TSP account.  If you decide, you have to make an election to change or stop your contributions.

If you are a FERS employee who started before August 1, 2010, you already have a TSP account with accruing 1% automatic contributions. In addition, you can make contributions to your account from your pay and receive additional matching contributions.

 

CSRS Employees

If you are a Federal civilian employee who started before January 1, 1984, your agency will establish your TSP account after you make a contribution election using your agency’s election system.

BRS Members of the Uniformed Services

Members of the uniformed services who began serving on or after January 1, 2018, will automatically enroll in the TSP once you serve 60 days. By default,  3% of your basic pay is deducted from your paycheck each pay period and deposited in the traditional balance of your TSP account. You have can always select to change or stop your contributions.

IRA Contribution Limits 2020

IRA contribution limits 2020

The IRA contribution limits for 2020 are $6,000 per person with an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution for people who are 50 or older.

Retirement Calculator

What is an IRA?

IRA or Traditional IRA is a tax-deferred retirement savings account that allows you to make tax-deductible contributions to save towards retirement. Your savings grow tax-free. You do not owe taxes on dividends and capital gains. Once you reach retirement age, you can start taking money out of the account. All distributions from the IRA are taxable as ordinary income in the year of withdrawal.

IRA income limits for 2020

The tax-deductible IRA contribution limits for 2020 are based on your annual income. If you are single and earn $124,000 or less, you can contribute up to the full amount of $6,000 per year.  If your aggregated gross income is between $124,000 and $139,000 you can still make contributions but with a lower value.

Married couples filing jointly can contribute up to $6,000 each if your combined income is less than $196,000.  If your aggregated gross income is between $196,000 and $206,000 you can still make reduced contributions.

Spousal IRA

If you are married and not earning income, you can still make contributions. As long as your spouse earns income and you file a joint return, you may be able to contribute to an IRA even if you did not have taxable compensation. Keep in mind that, your combined contributions can’t be more than the taxable compensation reported on your joint return.

IRA vs 401k

IRA is an individual retirement account.  401k plan is a workplace retirement plan, which is established by your employer. You can contribute to a 401k plan if it’s offered by your company.  In comparison, starting in 2020, anyone who is earning income can open and contribute to a traditional IRA regardless of your age.

IRA vs Roth IRA 

Traditional and Roth IRA have the same annual contributions limits.  The Traditional IRA contributions can be tax-deductible or after-tax depending on your income. In comparison. Roth IRA allows you to make after-tax contributions towards retirement. Another difference, your Traditional IRA retirement savings grow tax-deferred, while Roth IRA earnings are tax-free.

 

Roth IRA Contribution Limits 2020

Roth IRA contribution limits for 2020

The Roth IRA contribution limits for 2020 are $6,000 per person with an additional $1,000 catch-up contribution for people who are 50 or older.

Retirement Calculator

Roth IRA income limits for 2020

Roth IRA contribution limits for 2020 are based on your annual earnings. If you are single and earn $124,000 or less, you can contribute up to the full amount of $6,000 per year.  If your aggregated gross income is between $124,000 and $139,000 you can still make contributions but with a lower value.

Married couples filing jointly can contribute up to $6,000 each if your combined income is less than $196,000.  If your aggregated gross income is between $196,000 and $206,000 you can still make reduced contributions.

What is a Roth IRA?

Roth IRA is a tax-free retirement savings account that allows you to make after-tax contributions to save towards retirement. Your Roth investments grow tax-free. You will not owe taxes on dividends and capital gains. Once you reach retirement your withdrawals will be tax-free as well.

Roth vs Traditional IRA

Roth IRA allows you to make after-tax contributions towards retirement. In comparisons. Traditional IRA has the same annual contributions limits. The Traditional IRA contributions can be tax-deductible or after-tax depending on your income. Additionally, your Traditional IRA savings grow tax-deferred. Unlike Roth Roth, you will owe income taxes on your withdrawals.

Roth IRA Rules

The Roth IRA offers a lot of flexibility and few constraints.  There are Roth IRA rules that can help you maximize the benefits of your tax-free savings account.

Easy and convenient

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

Flexibility

There is no age limit for contributions. Minors and retired investors can invest in Roth IRA as well as long as they earn income.

No investment restrictions

There is no restriction on the type of investments in the account. Investors can invest in any asset class that suits their risk tolerance and financial goals.

No taxes

There are no taxes on the distributions from this account once you reach 59 ½. Your investments will grow tax-free. You will never pay taxes on your capital gains and dividends either.

No penalties if you withdraw your original investment

While not always recommended, Roth IRA allows you to withdraw your original dollar contributions (but not the return from them) 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.

Diversify your future tax exposure

Roth IRA is ideal for investors who are in a lower tax bracket but expect higher taxes in retirement. Since most retirement savings sit in 401k and investment accounts, Roth IRA adds a very flexible tax-advantaged component to your investments. Nobody knows how the tax laws will change by the time you need to take out money from your retirement accounts. That is why I highly recommend diversifying your mix of investment accounts and take full advantage of your Roth IRA.

No minimum distributions

Unlike 401k and IRA, 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.

Earnings cap

You can’t contribute more than what you earned for the year. If you made $4,000, you could only invest $4,000.

401k contribution limits 2020

401k conntribution limits for 2020

401k contribution limits for 2020 are $19,500 per person. All 401k participants over the age of 50 can add a catch-up contribution of $6,500.

Retirement Calculator

What is 401k?

401k plan is a workplace retirement plan where both employees and employers can make retirement contributions. These retirement plans can be one of the easiest and most effective ways to save for retirement. As an employee, you can make automatic contributions to your 401k directly through your company payroll. You can choose the percentage of your salary that will go towards your retirement savings, Most 401k will provide you with multiple investment options in stocks and fixed income. Additionally, most companies offer a 401k match up to a certain percentage. In most cases, you need to participate in the plan in order to get the match.

There are two types of contributions – traditional 401k tax-deferred and tax-exempt Roth 401k contributions.

Tax-deferred 401k

Most employees, typically, choose to make tax-deferred 401k contributions. These payments are tax-deductible. They will lower your tax bill for the current tax year. Your investments will grow on a tax-deferred basis. Therefore, you will only owe federal and state taxes when you start withdrawing your savings.

Roth 401k

Roth 401k contributions are pretax. It means that you will pay all federal and state taxes before making your contributions. The advantage of Roth 401k is that your retirement savings will grow tax-free. As long as you keep your money until retirement, you will withdraw your gain tax-free. It’s a great alternative for young professionals and workers in a low tax bracket.

How much can I contribute to my 401k in 2020?

401k contribution limits change every year. IRS typically increases the maximum annual limit with the cost of living adjustment and inflation. These contribution limits apply to all employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan. Additionally, the limits apply to both tax-deferred and Roth contributions combined. 

  • Employees can contribute up to $19,500 to their 401(k) plan for 2020,  $500 more than  2019.
  • Employees of age 50 or over are eligible for an additional catch-up contribution of $6,500 in 2020,  $500 higher than  2019
  • The employee compensation limit for calculating 401k contributions is $285,000, $5,000 more than 2019
  • Companies can make a matching contribution up to the combined limit of $57,000 or $63,500 with the catch-up contribution. If an employee makes the maximum allowed contribution, the company match cannot exceed $37,500 in 2020.

Solo 401k contribution limits 2020

A solo 401k plan is a type of 401k plan with one participant. Those are usually solo entrepreneurs, consultants, freelancers, and other small business owners. Self-employed individuals can take advantage of solo 401k plans and save for retirement.

  • The maximum contribution limit in 2020 for a solo 401k plan is $57,000 or $63,500 with catch-up contributions. Solo entrepreneurs can make contributions both as an employee and an employer.
  • The employee contribution cannot exceed $19,500 in the solo 401(k) plan for 2020.
  • Self-employed 401k participants, age 50 or over are eligible for an additional catch-up contribution of $6,500 in 2020.
  • The total self-employed compensation limit for calculating solo 401k contributions is $285,000.
  • Employer contribution cannot exceed 25% of the compensation
  • If you participate in more than one 401k plan at the same time, you are subject to the same annual limits for all plans.

Please note that if you are self-employed and decide to hire other employees, they will have to be included in the 401k plan if they meet the plan eligibility requirements.

 

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.

 

 

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 your 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 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.

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 [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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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All you need to know about Restricted Stock Units (RSUs)

Restricted Stock Units (RSU)

Restricted Stock Units are a popular equity compensation for both start-up and public companies. Employers, especially many startups, use a variety of compensation options to attract and keep top-performing employees. Receiving RSUs allows employees to share in the ownership and the profits of the company. Equity compensation takes different forms such as stock options, restricted stock units, and deferred compensation. If you are fortunate to receive RSU from your employer, you should understand the basics of this corporate perk. Here are some essential tips on how to manage them.

What are RSUs?

A restricted stock unit is a type of equity compensation by companies to employees in the form of company stock. Employees receive RSUs through a vesting plan and distribution schedule after achieving required performance milestones or upon remaining with their employer for a particular length of time. RSUs give an employee interest in company stock but they have no tangible value until vesting is complete.

Vesting Schedule

Companies issue restricted stock units according to a vesting schedule.
The vesting schedule outlines the rules by which employees receive full ownership of their company stock. The restricted stock units are assigned a fair market value when they vest. Upon vesting, they are considered income, and often a portion of the shares is withheld to pay income taxes. The employees receive the remaining shares and can sell them at their discretion.

As an employee, you should keep track of these essential dates and figures.

Grant Date

The grant date is the date when the company pledges the shares to you. You will be able to see them in your corporate account.

Vesting Date

You only own the shares when the granted RSUs are fully ‘vested’.  On the vesting date, your employer will transfer the full ownership of the shares to you. Upon vesting, you will become the owner of the shares.

Fair Market Value

When vesting is complete, the restricted stock units are valued according to the fair market value (FMV)  at that time. Your employer will provide you with the FMV based on public price or private assessment.

Selling your RSU

Once the RSUs are converted to company stock, you become a shareholder in your firm. You will be able to sell all or some of these shares subject to companies’ holding period restrictions. Many firms impose trading windows and limits for employees and senior executives.

How are RSUs taxed?

You do not pay taxes on your restricted stock units when you first receive them.  Typically you will owe ordinary income tax on the fair market value of your shares as soon as they vest.

The fair market value of your vested RSUs is taxable as personal income in the year of vesting. This is a compensation income and will be subject to federal and local taxes as well as Social Security and Medicare charges.

Typically, companies withhold part of the shares to cover all taxes. They will give employees the remaining shares. At this point, you can decide to keep or sell them at your wish. If your employer doesn’t withhold taxes for your vested shares, you will be responsible for paying these taxes during the tax season.

Double Trigger RSUs

Many private Pre-IPO companies would offer double-trigger RSUs. These types of RSUs become taxable under two conditions:
1. Your RSU are vested
2. You experience a liquidity event such as an IPO, tender offer, or acquisition.

You will not owe taxes on any double-trigger RSUs at your vesting date. However, you will all taxes on ALL your vested shares in the day of your liquidity event.

Capital gain taxes

When you decide to sell your shares, you will pay capital gain taxes on the difference between the current market price and the original purchase price.

You will need to pay short-term capital gain taxes for shares held less than a year from the vesting date.  Short-term capital gains are taxable as ordinary income.

You will owe long-term capital gains taxes for shares that you held for longer than one year. Long-term capital gains have a preferential tax treatment with rates between 0%, 15%, and 20% depending on your income.

Investment risk with RSUs

Being a shareholder in your firm could be very exciting. If your company is in great health and growing solidly, this could be an enormous boost to your personal finances.

However, here is the other side of the story. Owning too much of your company stock could impose significant risks to your investment portfolio and retirement goals. You are already earning a salary from your employer. Concentrating your entire wealth and income from the same source could jeopardize your financial health if your employer fails to succeed in its business ventures. Many of you remember the fall of Enron and Lehman Brothers. Many of their employees lost not only their jobs but a significant portion of their retirement savings.

As a fiduciary advisor, I always recommend diversification and caution. Try to limit your exposure to your employer and sell your shares periodically. Sometimes paying taxes is worth the peace of mind and safety.

Key takeaways

Receiving RSUs is an excellent way to acquire company stock and become part of your company’s future. While risky owning RSUs often comes with a huge financial upside. Realizing some of these gains could help you build a strong foundation for retirement and financial freedom. When managed properly, they can help you achieve your financial goals, whether they are buying a home, taking your kids to college, or early retirement.