IRA Contribution Limits 2021

IRA Contribution Limits for 2021

The IRA contribution limits for 2021 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 2021

The tax-deductible IRA contribution limits for 2021 are based on your annual income. If you are single and earn $125,000 or less, you can contribute up to the full amount of $6,000 per year.  If your aggregated gross income is between $125,000 and $140,000 you can still make contributions but with a smaller amount.

Married couples filing jointly can contribute up to $6,000 each if your combined income is less than $198,000.  If your aggregated gross income is between $198,000 and $208,000 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, 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 contribution 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.

 

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.

Roth IRA Contribution Limits 2021

Roth IRA Contribution Limits for 2021

The Roth IRA contribution limits for 2021 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 2021

Roth IRA contribution limits for 2021 are based on your annual earnings. If you are single and earn $125,000 or less, you can contribute up to the full amount of $6,000 per year.  If your aggregated gross income is between $125,000 and $140,000 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 $198,000.  If your aggregated gross income is between $198,000 and $208,000 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.

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.

Charitable donations: 6 Tax Strategies

Charitable donations

Charitable donations are an excellent way to help your favorite cause, your church, a foundation, a school, or any other registered charitable institution of your choice. Americans made $373.25 billion of charitable donations in 2015, which was 4.1% higher than in 2014. The average annual household contribution was $2,974. In 2015, the majority of charitable dollars went to religious institutions (32%), educational organizations (15%), human services (12%), grantmaking foundations (11%), and health organizations (8%).

Charitable donations are also a powerful tool to reduce your overall tax liability to the IRS. By carefully following the tax law and IRS rules you can substantially increase the impact of donations. Here is what you can do.

1. Meet the requirements for charitable donations

In order to receive tax deductions for your gift, donations need to meet certain requirements. Some of the most important rules are:

  • You have to give to qualified charitable organizations approved by the IRS. The charity can be public or private. Usually, public charities receive more favorable tax treatment.
  • You need to have a receipt for your gift.
  • You need to itemize your tax return.
  • Donations apply for the same tax year when you make them. For most individuals the tax year and calendar year are the same. For some companies, their tax year may end on a different date during the calendar year (for example, November 1 to October 31)
  • All gifts are valued at fair market value. Depending on your donation, the fair market value may not be equal to the initial cash value.
  • You have to transfer the actual economic benefit or ownership to the receiver of your gift.

There are many ways to give. Some are straightforward, others are more complex and require professional help. Each one of them has its rules, which you need to understand and follow strictly to receive the highest tax benefit.

2. Give Cash

Giving money is by far the easiest way to make contributions to your favorite charitable cause. IRS allows for charitable donations for as much as 50% of your aggregated gross income. Any amounts of more than 50% can be carried over in future years. However, it’s imperative that you keep a record of your cash donations.

3. Give Household goods

You can donate clothes, appliances, furniture, cars, and other household items in good condition. The items will be priced at fair value, In most cases, the value will be lower than what you paid for them. This category is also subject to the 50% limit of the AGI.

Donating household items is a perfect way to clean your closet from old clothes and shoes that you haven’t worn for years. You can even donate your old car that has been collecting dust in the garage. Moreover, if you plan to do a kitchen remodel, you can give your old cabinets and appliances to charities like the Salvation Army. Remember to keep the receipts of these items in case the IRS asks you for them.

4. Donate Appreciated assets

One of the most popular tax-saving strategies is donating appreciated assets directly to charitable organizations. This approach is subject to 30% of AGI for donations given to qualified public charities. Appreciated assets can include publicly traded stocks, restricted stocks, real estate, privately help companies, collectibles, and artwork. The main caveat to receiving the highest tax benefit is to give the appreciated asset directly to the charitable donations instead of selling it and gifting the remaining cash amount.  This way you will avoid paying a capital gain tax on the sale of your asset and deduct the full fair value of your asset.

 Let’s look at an example. An investor at a 28% tax bracket is considering donating an appreciating stock to her favorite charity. She can sell the stock and give the proceeds or donate the shares directly. The current market value of the stock is $100,000. She purchased it more than one year ago for $20,000. The total capital gain is $80,000.

 By giving the stock directly to her favorite, the investor is achieving three major goals. First, she is not paying a capital gain tax on the proceeds of the sale. Second, she can use the full fair value of the stock (instead of the proceeds from the sale) to reduce her tax liabilities. Third, the charitable organization receives an asset with a higher value, which they can sell tax-free.

 5. Make direct IRA charitable rollover

Donations made directly from your IRA, and 401k accounts are another way of reducing your tax bill. If you reached 70 ½, you could make up to $100,000 a year in gifts to a charity directly from your IRA or 401k accounts. Those contributions count towards the required annual minimum distributions you must take once you reach 70 ½, They also reduce your adjusted gross income. To be compliant, you have to follow two simple rules.

Your plan administrator has to issue a check payable to your charity of choice. Therefore the funds have to transfer directly to the charitable organization. If the check is payable to you, this will automatically trigger a tax event for IRS. In that case, your IRA distribution will be taxable as ordinary income, and you will owe taxes on them. The second rule, you have to complete the transfer by December 31 of the same calendar year.

6. Consolidate your donations

Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 increased the standard deduction for all individuals and families.  Therefore relatively small charitable donations may not be tax-deductible at all.

Standard deduction amounts

2019 tax year2020 tax year
Individuals$12,200$12,400
Married couples filing jointly$24,400$24,800
Heads of households$18,350$18,650

If you want to increase the tax impact of your donations you may have to consolidate the small annual donations in a single year.

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.

The recent market volatility – the tale of the perfect storm

The recent market volatility – the tale of the perfect storm

The recent market volatility – the tale of the perfect storm

October is traditionally a rough month for stocks. And October 2018 proved it.

S&P 500 went down -6.9% in October after gaining as much as 10.37% in the first nine months of the year. Despite recouping some its losses in early November, the market continues to be volatile with large daily swings in both directions. On top of that, Small Cap stocks which were leading the way till late September went down almost 10% in the span of a few weeks.

So what lead to this rout?

The market outlook in September was very positive. Consumer sentiment and business optimism were at a record high. Unemployment hit a record low. And the market didn’t really worry about tariffs.

I compiled a list of factors which had a meaningful impact on the recent market volatility. As the headline suggested, I don’t believe there was a single catalyst that drove the market down but a sequence of events creating a perfect storm for the equities to go down.

IndexQ1 2018Q2 2018Q3 2018Q3 YTD 2018Oct – Nov 2018Nov 2018 YTD
S&P 500 Large-Cap (SPY)-1.00%3.55%7.65%10.37%-4.91%5.45%
S&P 600 Small-Cap (IJR)0.57%8.69%4.87%14.64%-9.54%5.09%
MSCI EAFE (VEA)-0.90%-1.96%1.23%-1.62%-7.06%-8.68%
Barclays US Aggregate Bond (AGG)-1.47%-0.18%-0.08%-1.73%-0.81%-2.54%
Gold (GLD)1.73%-5.68%-4.96%-8.81%1.39%-7.42%
Source: Morningstar

1. Share buybacks

The month of October is earnings season. Companies are not allowed to buy back shares as they announce their earnings. The rationale is that they possess significant insider information that could influence the market in each direction. As it turned out, 2018 was a big year for share buybacks. Earlier in the year, S&P estimated $1 trillion worth of share buybacks to be returned to shareholders. So, in October, the market lost a big buyer – the companies who were buying their own shares. And no one stepped in to take their place.

The explosion of share buyback was prompted by the TCJA law last year which lowered the tax rate of US companies from 35% to 21%. Additionally, the new law imposed a one-time tax on pre-2018 profits of foreign affiliates at rates of 15.5% for cash and 8% for non-cash assets. Within a few months, many US mega-cap corporations brought billions of cash from overseas and became buyers of their stock.

2. High valuations

With the bull market is going on its ninth year, equity valuations remain high even after the October market selloff.

Currently, the S&P 500 is trading at 22.2, above the average level of 15.7. Its dividend yield is 1.9%, well below the historical average of 4.34%.

Furthermore, the current Shiller PE Ratio stands at 30.73, one of the highest levels in history. While the traditional Price to Earnings ratio is calculated based on current or estimated earning levels, the Schiller ratio calculates average inflation-adjusted earnings from the previous ten years. The ratio is also known as the Cyclically Adjusted PE Ratio (CAPE Ratio) or PE10.

Current Shiller PE Ratio: 2:00 PM EST, Tue Nov 13
Current Shiller PE Ratio:
2:00 PM EST, Tue Nov 13
Source: https://www.multpl.com/shiller-pe/ 

While a coordinated global growth and low-interest rate environment had previously supported the thesis that high valuation ratios were justified, this may not be the case for much longer.

3. The divergence between US and international stocks

The performance of International Developed and Emerging Market remains disappointing. While the US markets are still in positive territory, International Developed and EM stocks have plunged by -8% and -15% respectively so far in 2018.  Higher tariffs imposed by the US, negative Brexit news, growing domestic debt in China, and slower GDP growth in both the Eurozone and China have spurred fears of an upcoming recession. Despite attractive valuations, international markets remain in correction territory, The dividend yield of MSCI EAFE is 3.34%, while MSCI EM is paying 2.5%, both higher than 1.9% for S&P 500.

4. The gap between growth and value stocks

The performance gap between growth and value stocks is still huge. Growths stocks like Apple, Amazon, Google, Visa, MasterCard, UnitedHealth, Boeing, Nvidia, Adobe, Salesforce, and Netflix have delivered 10% return so far this year. At the same time value strategies dominated by Financials, Consumer Staples and Energy companies are barely breaking even.

IndexQ1 2018Q2 2018Q3 2018Q3 YTD 2018Oct – Nov 2018Nov 2018 YTD P/E Ratio
S&P 500 Large Cap Growth (IVW)1.81%5.17%9.25%16.97%-6.95%10.01%29.90
S&P 500 Large Cap Value (IVE)-3.53%1.38%5.80%3.26%-2.59%0.67%19.44

 

5. Tempering earnings growth

So far in Q3 2018, 90% of the companies have announced earnings. 78% of them have reported better than expected actual earnings with an average earnings growth rate of 25.2%. 61% of the companies have reported a positive sales surprise. However, 58 companies in the S&P 500 (12%) have issued negative earnings guidance for Q4 2018. And the list of stocks that tumbled due to cautious outlook keeps growing – JP Morgan, Facebook, Home Depot, Sysco, DR Horton, United Rentals, Texas Instruments, Carvana, Zillow, Shake Shack, Skyworks Solutions, Michael Kors, Oracle, GE, Cerner, Activision, etc.

Despite the high consumer optimism and growing earnings, most companies’ CFOs are taking a defensive approach. Business investment grew at a 0.8% annual rate in the third quarter, down from 8.7% in the second quarter. This was the slowest pace since the fourth quarter of 2016.

The investment bank Nomura also came out with the forecast expecting global growth to slow down. Their economists predicted that global growth in 2019 would hit 3.7% and temper to 3.5% in 2020 from 3.9% in 2018. According to Nomura, the drivers for the slowdown include waning fiscal stimulus in the U.S., tighter monetary policy from the Federal Reserve, increased supply constraints and elevated risk of a partial government shutdown.

 

6. Inflation is creeping up

Almost a decade since the Credit Crisis in 2008-2009, inflation has been hovering below 2%. However, in 2018, the inflation has finally made a comeback. In September 2018, monthly inflation was 2.3% down from 2.9% in July and 2.7% in August.

One winner of the higher prices is the consumer staples like Procter & Gamble, Unilever, and Kimberly-Clark. Most of these companies took advantage of higher consumer confidence and rising wages to pass the cost of higher commodity prices to their customers.

7. Higher interests are starting to bite

After years of near-zero levels, interest rates are starting to go higher. 10-year treasury rate reached 3.2%, while the 2-year rate is slowly approaching the 3% level. While savers are finally beginning to receive a decent interest on their cash, CDs and saving accounts, higher interest rates will hurt other areas of the economy.

10 year versus 2 year treasury rate

With household debt approaching $13.4 trillion, borrowers will pay higher interest for home, auto and student loans and credit card debt. At the same time, US government debt is approaching $1.4 trillion. Soon, the US government will pay more for interest than it is spending on the military.  The total annual interest payment will hit $390 billion next year, nearly 50 percent more than in 2017, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The higher interest rates are hurting the Financial sectors. Most big banks have enjoyed a long period of paying almost nothing on their client deposits and savings accounts. The rising interest rates though have increased the competition from smaller banks and online competitors offering attractive rates to their customers.

We are also monitoring the spread between 2 and 10-year treasury note, which is coming very close together. The scenario when two-year interest rates go above ten-year rates causes an inverted yield curve, which has often signaled an upcoming recession.

8. The housing market is slowing down

Both existing and new home sales have come down this year.  Rising interest rates, higher cost of materials, labor shortage and high real estate prices in major urban areas have led to a housing market slow down.  Existing home sales dropped 3.4% in September coming down for six months in a row this year. New building permits are down 5.5% over 2017.

Markets have taken a negative view on the housing market. As a result, most homebuilders are trading at a 52-week low.

9. Fear of trade war

Some 33% of the public companies have mentioned tariffs in their earnings announcements in Q3.  9% of them have negatively mentioned tariffs. According to the chart below, Industrials, Information Technology, Consumer Dictionary, and Materials are the leading sectors showing some level of concern about tariffs.

Companies Citing Tariffs Compared to Q2 2018

10. Strong dollar

Fed’s hiking of interest rates in the US has not been matched by its counterparts in the Eurozone, the UK, and Japan. The German 10-year bund now yields 0.4%, while Japanese 10-year government bond pays 0.11%. Combining the higher rates with negative Brexit talks, Italian budget crisis and trade war fears have led to a strong US dollar reaching a 17-month high versus other major currencies.

Given that 40% of S&P 500 companies’ revenue comes from foreign countries, the strong dollar is making Americans goods and services more expensive and less competitive abroad. Furthermore, US companies generating earnings in foreign currency will report lower US-dollar denominated numbers.

11. Consumer debt is at a record high

The US consumer debt is reaching 4 trillion dollars. Consumer debt includes non-mortgage debts such as credit cards, personal loans, auto loans, and student loans. Student loans are equal to $1.5 trillion while auto debt is $1.1 trillion and credit card debt is close to $1.05 trillion. Furthermore, the US housing dent also hit a record high. In June, the combined mortgage and home equity debt were equal to $9.43 trillion, according to the NY Fed.

The rising debt has been supported by low delinquencies, high property values, rising wages, and low unemployment. However, a slowdown in the economy and the increasing inflation and interest rates can hurt US consumer spending.

12. High Yield and BBB-rated debt is growing

The size of the US corporate debt market has reached $7.5 trillion. The size of the BBB rated debt now exceeds 50% of the entire investment grade market. The BBB-rated debt is just one notch above junk status. Bloomberg explains that, in 2000, when BBB bonds were a mere third of the market, net leverage (total debt minus cash and short-term investments divided by earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) was 1.7 times. By the end of last year, the ratio had ballooned to 2.9 times. Source: Bloomberg

Further on, the bond powerhouse PIMCO commented: “This suggests a greater tolerance from the credit rating agencies for higher leverage, which in turn warrants extra caution when investing in lower-rated IG names, especially in sectors where earnings are more closely tied to the business cycle.”

13. Oil remains volatile

After reaching $74.15 per barrel in October, US crude oil tumbled to $55, a 24% drop. While lower crude prices are pushing down on inflation, they are hurting energy companies, which are already trading in value territory.

According to WSJ, the oil’s rapid decline is fueling fears for global oversupply and slowing economic growth. Furthermore, the outlook for supply and demand shifted last month as top oil producers, began ramping up output to offset the expected drop in Iranian exports. However, earlier this month Washington decided to soften its sanctions on Iran and grant waivers to some buyers of Iranian crude—driving oil prices down. Another factor pushing down on oil was the strong dollar.

14. Global political uncertainty

The Brexit negotiations, Italian budget crisis, Trump’s threats to pull out of WTO, the EU immigrant crisis, higher tariffs, new elections in Brazil, Malaysian corruption scandal and alleged Saudi Arabia killing of a journalist have kept the global markets on their toes. Foreign markets have underperformed the US since the beginning of the year with no sign of hope coming soon.

15. The US Election results

A lot has been said about the US elections results, so I will not dig in further. In the next two year, we will have a divided Congress. The Democrats will control the house, while the Republicans will control the Senate and the executive branch. The initial market reaction was positive. Most investors are predicting a gridlock with no major legislature until 2020. Furthermore, we could have intense budget negotiations and even another government shutdown. Few potential areas where parties could try to work together are infrastructure and healthcare. However, any bi-partisan efforts might be clouded by the upcoming presidential elections and Mueller investigation results.

In Conclusion

There is never a right time to get in the market, start investing and saving for retirement. While market volatility will continue to prevail the news, there is also an opportunity for diligent investors to capitalize on their long-term view and patience. For these investors, it is essential to diversify and rebalance your portfolio.

In the near term, consumer confidence in the economy remains strong. Rising wages and low unemployment will drive consumer spending. My prediction is that we will see a record high shopping season. Many of these fifteen headwinds will remain. Some will soften while others will stay in the headlines.

If you have any questions about your existing investment portfolio or how to start investing for retirement and other financial goals, reach out to me at [email protected] or +925-448-9880.

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

About the author:

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

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

Market Outlook December 2017

Market Outlook December 2017

Market Outlook December 2017

As we approach 2018, it‘s time to reconcile the past 365 days of 2017. We are sending off a very exciting and tempestuous year. The stock market is at an all-time high. Volatility is at a record low. Consumer spending and confidence have passed pre-recession levels.

I would like to wish all my readers and friends a happy and prosperous 2018. I guarantee you that the coming year will be as electrifying and eventful as the previous one.

 

The new tax plan

The new tax plan is finally here. After heated debates and speculations, president Trump and the GOP achieved their biggest win of 2017. In late December, they introduced the largest tax overhaul in 30 years. The new plan will reduce the corporate tax rate to 21% and add significant deductions to pass-through entities. It is also estimated to add $1.5 trillion to the budget deficit in 10 years before accounting for economic growth.

The impact on the individual taxes, however, remains to be seen. The new law reduces the State and Local Tax (SALT) deductions to $10,000. Also, it limits the deductible mortgage interest for loans up to $750,000 (from $1m). The plan introduces new tax brackets and softens the marriage penalty for couples making less than $500k a year. The exact scale of changes will depend on a blend of factors including marital status, the number of dependents, state of residency, homeownership, employment versus self-employment status. While most people are expected to receive a tax-break, certain families and individuals from high tax states such as New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and California may see their taxes higher.

 

Affordable Care Act

The future of Obamacare remains uncertain. The new GOP tax bill removes the individual mandate, which is at the core of the Affordable Care Act. We hope to see a bi-partisan agreement that will address the flaws of ACA and the ever-rising cost of healthcare. However, political battles between republicans and democrats and various fractions can lead to another year of chaos in the healthcare system.

 

Equity Markets

The euphoria around the new corporate tax cuts will continue to drive the markets in 2018. Many US-based firms with domestic revenue will see a boost in their earnings per share due to lower taxes.

We expect the impact of the new tax law to unfold fully in the next two years. However, in the long run, the primary driver for returns will continue to be a robust business model, revenue growth, and a strong balance sheet.

Momentum

Momentum was the king of the markets in 2017. The strategy brought +38% gain in one of its best years ever. While we still believe in the merits of momentum investing, we are expecting more modest returns in 2018.

Value

Value stocks were the big laggard in 2017 with a return of 15%. While their gain is still above average historical rates, it’s substantially lower than other equity strategies.  Value investing tends to come back with a big bang. In the light of the new tax bill, we believe that many value stocks will benefit from the lower corporate rate of 21%. And as S&P 500 P/E continues to hover above historical levels, we could see investors’ attention shifting to stocks with more attractive valuations.

Small Cap

With a return of 14%, small-cap stocks trailed the large and mega-cap stocks by a substantial margin. We think that their performance was negatively impacted by the instability in Washington. As most small-cap stocks derive their revenue domestically, many of them will see a boost in earnings from the lower corporate tax rate and the higher consumer income.

International Stocks

It was the first time since 2012 when International stocks (+25%) outperformed US stocks. After years of sluggish growth, bank crisis, Grexit (which did not happen), Brexit (which will probably happen), quantitative easing, and negative interest rates, the EU region and Japan are finally reporting healthy GDP growth.

It is also the first time in more than a decade that we experienced a coordinated global growth and synchronization between central banks. We hope to continue to see this trend and remain bullish on foreign markets.

Emerging Markets

If you had invested in Emerging Markets 10-years ago, you would have essentially earned zero return on your investments. Unfortunately, the last ten years were a lost decade for EM stocks. We believe that the tide is finally turning. This year emerging markets stocks brought a hefty 30% return and passed the zero mark. With their massive population under 30, growing middle class, and almost 5% annual GDP growth, EM will be the main driver of global consumption.

 

Fixed Income

It was a turbulent year for fixed income markets. The Fed increased its short-term interest rate three times in 2017 and promised to hike it three more times in 2018. The markets, however, did not respond positively to the higher rates. The yield curve continued to flatten in 2017. And inflation remained under the Fed target of 2%.

After a decade of low interest, the consumer and corporate indebtedness has reached record levels. While the Dodd-Frank Act imposed strict regulations on the mortgage market, there are many areas such as student and auto loans that have hit alarming levels. Our concern is that high-interest rates can trigger high default rates in those areas which can subsequently drive down the market.

 

Gold

2017 was the best year for gold since 2010. Gold reported 11% return and reached its lowest volatility in 10 years.  The shiny metal lost its momentum in Q4 as investors and speculators shifted their attention to Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. In our view gold continues to be a solid long-term investment with its low correlation to equities and fixed income assets.

 

Real Estate

It was a tough year for REITs and real estate in general. While demand for residential housing continues to climb at a modest pace, the retail-linked real estate is suffering permanent losses due to the bankruptcies of several major retailers. This trend is driven on one side by the growing digital economy and another side by the rising interest rates and the struggle of highly-leveraged retailers to refinance their debt. Many small and mid-size retail chains were acquired by Private Equity firms in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 credit crisis. Those acquisitions were financed with low-interest rate debt, which will gradually start to mature in 2019 and peak in 2023 as the credit market continues to tighten.

Market Outlook December 2017

In the long-run, we expect that most public retail REITs will expand and reposition themselves into the experiential economy by replacing poor performing retailers with restaurants and other forms of entertainment.

On a positive note, we believe that the new tax bill will boost the performance of many US-based real estate and pass-through entities.  Under the new law, investors in pass-through entities will benefit from a further 20% deduction and a shortened depreciation schedule.

 

What to expect in 2018

  • After passing the new tax bill, the Congress will turn its attention to other topics of its agenda – improving infrastructure, and amending entitlements. Further, we will continue to see more congressional budget deficit battles.
  • Talk to your CPA and find out how the new bill will impact your taxes.
  • With markets at a record high, we recommend that you take in some of your capital gains and look into diversifying your portfolio between major asset classes.
  • We might see a rotation into value and small-cap. However, the market is always unpredictable and can remain such for extended periods.
  • We will monitor the Treasury Yield curve. In December 2017 the spread between 10-year and 2-year treasury bonds reached a decade low at 50 bps. While not always a flattening yield has often predicted an upcoming recession.
  • Index and passive investing will continue to dominate as investment talent is evermore scarce. Mega large investment managers like iShares and Vanguard will continue to drop their fees.

 

Happy New Year!

 

Final words

If you have any questions about your existing investment portfolio, reach out to me at [email protected] or +925-448-9880.

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

About the author:

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

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

 

6 Saving & Investment Practices All Business Owners Should Follow

6 Saving & Investment Practices All Business Owners Should Follow

In my practice, I often meet with small business owners who have the entire life savings and family fortune tied up to their company. For many of them, their business is the only way out to retirement. With this post, I would like to offer 6 saving & investment practices all business owners should follow.

Having all your eggs in one basket, however, may not be the best way to manage your finances and family fortune. Think about bookstores. If you owned one 20-30 years ago, you probably earned a decent living. Now, bookstores are luxuries even in major cities like New York and San Francisco. Technology, markets, consumer sentiments, and laws change all the time. And that is why it is vital that you build healthy saving and investment routines to grow your wealth, protect your loved ones, and prepare yourself for the years during retirement.

Start Early

I always advise my clients to start saving early and make it a habit. Saving 10-20 percent of your monthly income will help you build and grow your wealth. For instance, by starting with $20,000 today, with an average stock market return of 6 percent, your investments can potentially accumulate to $115,000 in 30 years or even $205,000 in 40 years.

Saving and investing early in your career can build a buffer to correct for any sidesteps or slip-ups. Starting to build your wealth early will provide the necessary protection against market drops and economic recessions and prepare you for large purchases like a new home, college tuition, a new car or even expanding your business.

Build a Safety Net

Life can often be unpredictable in good and bad ways. Having an emergency fund is the best way to guard your wealth and maintain liquidity for your business. I typically recommend keeping 6 to 12 months of basic living expenses in your savings account.

Even though my firm does not offer insurance, I often advise my clients especially those who are sole bread earners or work in industries prone to accidents to consider getting life and disability insurance. Good insurance will guarantee protection and supplemental income for yourself and your loved ones in case of unexpected work or life events.

Manage Your Debt

The last eight years of a friendly interest environment has brought record levels of debt in almost every single category. Americans now owe more than $8.26 trillion in mortgages, $1.14 trillion in auto loans, and $747 billion in credit cards debt. If you are like me, you probably don’t like owing money to anyone.

That’s great, however, taking loans is an essential part of any enterprise. Expanding your business, building a new facility or buying a competitor will often require external financing. Keeping track of your loans and prioritizing on paying off your high-interest debt can save you and your business a lot of money. It may also boost your credit score.

Set-up a Company Retirement Plan

The US Government provides a variety of options for businesses to create retirement plans for both employees and owners. Some of the most popular ones are employer-sponsored 401k, self-employed 401k, profit-sharing, SIMPLE IRA, and SEP IRA.

Having a company retirement plan is an excellent way to save money in the long run. Plan contributions could reduce current taxes and boost your employees’ loyalty and morale.

Of the many alternatives, I am a big supporter of 401(k) plans. Although they are a little more expensive to establish and run, they provide the highest contribution allowance over all other options.

The maximum employee contribution to 401(k) plans for 2017 is $18,000. The employer can match up to $36,000 for a total of $54,000. Individuals over 50 can add a catch-up contribution of $6,000. Also, 401k and other ERISA Plans offer an added benefit. They have the highest protection to creditors.

Even if you already have an up-and-running 401k plan, your job is not done. Have your plan administrator or an independent advisor regularly review your investment options.

I frequently see old 401k plans that have been ignored and forgotten since they were first established. Some of these plans often contain high-fee mutual funds that have consistently underperformed their benchmarks for many consecutive years. I typically recommend replacing some of these funds with low-fee alternatives like index funds and ETFs. Paying low fees will keep more money in your pocket.

Diversify

Many business owners hold a substantial amount of their wealth locked in their business. By doing so, they expose themselves to what we call a concentrated risk. Any economic, legal and market developments that can adversely impact your industry can also hurt your personal wealth.

The best way to protect yourself is by diversification. Investing in uncorrelated assets can decrease the overall risk of your portfolio. A typical diversified portfolio may include large-, mid-, small-cap, and international stocks, real estate, gold, government, and corporate fixed income.

Plan Your Exit

Whether you are planning to transfer your business to the next generation in your family or cash it in, this can have serious tax and legal consequences. Sometimes it pays off to speak to a pro.

Partnering with someone who understands your industry and your particular needs and circumstances, can offer substantial value to your business and build a robust plan to execute your future financial strategy.

 

The article was previously published in HVACR Business Magazine on March 1, 2017

10 ways to grow your savings during medical residency

Grow your savings during medical residency

As someone married to a physician, I happen to have many friends in the medical field. Most doctors have to go through a brutal residency program. The medical residency takes between three and five years. Residents have a hectic working schedule, aggressive learning plan and spend long hours in the hospital. They shift every 3 to 6 months between different subjects and medical practices. Their salaries are usually in the 40-60k range, while their student loan balance is still growing with compounding interest. As a financial advisor, I would like to suggest ten ways to grow your savings during medical residency.  Naturally, I have to give credit to my wife for contributing to this article.

Learn more about our Private Client Services

1. Consider a location with low cost of living

When you apply for medical residency, one way to save money is to pick an area with a low cost of living. If you decide on a residency in New York City or San Francisco, you can expect your living expenses like rent and food to be much higher than if you are in Charlotte or Denver for example. $10 bucks don’t go a long way in the Big Apple but might fit your daily budget in a smaller town.

2. Find out if your hospital provides subsidized housing

Many hospitals offer subsidized housing. A lot of these apartments are conveniently located near your hospital, and you will save money on rent and transportation. Also, you might be able to get an extra 15-20 minutes of sleep just because you are right next door.

Often these spots are limited. Check if you qualify and apply early. Don’t wait until the last minute.

3. Get a roomy

If you spend six out of seven days in the hospital, you might as well have a roommate. You can split the bills. If you are on good terms with your roommate, you can even shop together at Costco or Sam’s club. They sell in bulk at very competitive prices. If you have a buddy to split the large packages, you can save a lot of money on your meals and other necessities.

4. Set up a budget

This is an important one. Medical residents get an average salary for the number of hours spent in the job.  Since you won’t have much time later on, before you start your residency, do your budget. Go over your salary from the hospital and your necessary expenses. Make sure that all numbers add up. Also, start setting up an emergency fund. You never know what life will present.

5. Manage your student loans

Do not ignore your student loans. If you are not required to pay them during residency the interest on the loan will still accrue and add to the amount you have to pay later. Try to refinance your high-interest loan with a lower rate one. If you can’t refinance it, try to pay the interest regularly.

Not paying your interest will have a huge compounding effect on your loan balance, which will substantially increase the amount you owe once you leave residency.

6. Manage your credit card debt

Now when you finally started making some money, you can look at your credit card debt. Credit cards are a convenient way to pay for things, but they often carry a huge interest. I hope you don’t carry any credit card debt, but if you do, now is an excellent opportunity to start refinancing or repaying the high-interest balances.

7. Maintain a good credit

A good FICO score will save you a lot of money in the long run. People with high credit score get lower interest on their personal, car loans, and mortgages. A lousy credit score can even hurt your job search. Yes, many employers check that.

8. Don’t splurge on expensive furniture. Go to Ikea or Craigslist

If you must buy new furniture, do not splurge on expensive ones. Remember, you will spend the next four years in the hospital. You don’t need expensive furniture to collect dust. If you want to have something decent go to Ikea, look on Craigslist or ask other senior residents, who are graduating soon.

9. Start retirement savings

This recommendation is critical. Doctors launch their career at least ten years after the average person. Therefore they start saving for retirement much later. The new physicians miss ten years of potential retirement savings. You don’t have to be that person.

401k / 403b

Most health systems offer some variation of a 401k or 403b plans. Take full advantage of them. Your contributions are tax deductible. You won’t owe any taxes on your savings until you start withdrawing money from the plan.

Roth IRA

If your hospital does not offer any retirement saving plans (very unlikely but possible), you can always open a Roth IRA account. Roth IRA allows you to invest up to $5,500 every year which will grow tax-free until retirement. You will never pay any taxes on your gains and dividends as long as you keep the money in the account until you retire. Roth IRA has one caveat. You can only contribute the maximum amount if you make less than $117,000 per year. The chances are high that you will make a lot more after leaving residency and starting your practice. Therefore, you won’t qualify for Roth IRA later in your career.

 

10. Find freebies

Look for free stuff. There is no shame in that. There are many local free concerts, free museum nights, restaurant specials and happy hours. Look for them in your area or local newspaper or website.

Your hospital will regularly offer sponsored programs with free lunches or dinners. Go to some of them. You may learn something new, meet interesting people and get a free meal.

Find out if your hospital has a gym. Regular workouts will keep you in shape and help you get through the long hours.

 

Final words

If you have any questions about how to grow your savings during medical residency or how to start investing for retirement and other financial goals, reach out to me at [email protected] or +925-448-9880.

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

 

About the author:

Stoyan Panayotov, CFA is married to a physician. He is the founder and CEO of Babylon Wealth Management, a fee-only investment advisory firm based in Walnut Creek, CA. Babylon Wealth Management offers personalized wealth management and financial planning services to healthcare professionals and their families.  To learn more about our Private Client Services and how to grow your savings during medical residency visit out page here

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Top 5 Strategies to Protect Your Portfolio from Inflation

Top 5 Strategies to Protect Your Portfolio from Inflation

Protecting Your Portfolio from Inflation

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

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

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

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

Cash

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

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

Equities

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

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

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

 Real estate

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

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

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

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

Commodities

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

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

Bonds

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

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

Municipal Bond Investing

Municipal Bond Investing

What is a Municipal Bond?

Municipal bond investing is a popular income choice for many American.  The muni bonds are debt securities issued by municipal authorities like States, Counties, Cities and their related companies. Municipal bonds or “munis” are issued to fund general activities or capital projects like building schools, roads, hospitals and sewer systems. The size of the muni bond market reaches $3.7 trillion dollars. There are about $350 billion dollars of Muni bond issuance available every year.

In order to encourage Americans to invest in Municipal Bonds, US authorities had exempted the interest (coupon income) of the muni bonds from Federal taxes. In some cases when the bondholders reside in the same state where the bond was issued, they can be exempted from state taxes too.

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Types of Municipal Bonds

General obligation bonds are issued by municipal entities to finance various public projects like roads, bridges, and parks. General obligation bonds are backed by the full faith and credit of the issuing municipality.  Usually, they do not have a dedicated revenue source. The local authorities commit their abundant resources to pay off the bonds. Municipals rely on their unlimited power to tax residents to pay back bondholders.

Revenue bonds are backed by income from a particular project or source. There is a wide diversity of types of revenue bonds, each with unique credit characteristics. Municipal entities frequently issue securities on behalf of other borrowers such as water and sewer service, toll bridges, non-profit colleges or hospitals. These underlying borrowers typically agree to repay the issuer, who pays the interest and principal on the securities solely from the revenue provided by the conduit borrower.

Taxable Bonds. There is a smaller but growing niche of taxable municipal bonds. These bonds exist because the federal government will not subsidize the financing of certain activities, which do not provide a significant benefit to the general public. Investor-led housing, local sports facilities, refunding of a refunded issue and borrowing to replenish a municipality’s underfunded pension plan, Build America Bonds (BABs) are types of bond issues that are federally taxable. Taxable municipals offer higher yields comparable to those of other taxable sectors, such as corporate or government agency bonds.

 

Investment and Tax Considerations

Tax Exempt Status

With their tax-exempt status, muni bonds are a powerful tool to optimize your portfolio return on an after-tax basis.

Muni Tax Adjusted Yield

So why certain investors are flocking into buying muni bonds? Let’s have an example:

An individual investor with a 35% tax rate is considering between AA-rated corporate bond offering 4% annual yield and AA-rated municipal bond offering 3% annual yield. All else equal which investment will be more financially attractive?

Since the investors pays 35% on the received interest from the corporate bonds she will pay 1.4% of the 4% yield to taxes (4% x 0.35% = 1.4%) having an effective after-tax interest of 2.6% (4% – 1.4% = 2.6%). In other words, the investor will only be able to take 2.6% of the 4% as the remaining 1.4% will go for taxes. With the muni bond at 3% and no federal taxes, the investor will be better off buying the muni bond.

Another way to make the comparison is by adjusting the muni yield by the tax rate. Here is the formula.

Muni Tax Adjusted Yield = Muni Yield / (1 – tax rate) = 4% / (1 – 0.35%) = 4.615%

The result provides the tax adjusted interest of the muni bond as if it was a regular taxable bond. In this case, the muni bond has 4.615% tax adjusted interest which is higher than the 4% offered by the corporate bond.

 Effective state tax rate

Another consideration for municipal bond investors is the state tax rate. Most in-state municipal bonds are exempt from state taxes while out-of-state bonds are taxable at state tax level. Investors from states with higher state tax rates will be interested in comparing the yields of both in and out-of-state bonds to achieve the highest after-tax net return. Since under federal tax law, taxes paid at the state level are deductible on a federal income tax return, investors should, in fact, consider their effective state tax rate instead of their actual tax rate. The formula is:

Effective state tax rate = State Income Tax rate x (1 – Federal Income Tax Rate)

Example, if an investor resides in a state with 9% state tax and has 35% federal tax rate, what is the effective tax rate:

Effective state tax rate = 9% x (1 – .35) = 5.85%

If that same investor is comparing two in- and out-of-state bonds, all else equal she is more likely to pick the bond with the highest yield on net tax bases.

AMT status

One important consideration when purchasing muni bonds is their Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) status. Most municipal bond will be AMT-free. However, the interest from private activity bonds, which are issued to fund stadiums, hospitals, and housing projects, is included as part of the AMT calculation. If an investor is subject to AMT, the bond interest income could be taxable at a rate of 28%.

Social Security Benefits

If investors receive Medicare and Social Security benefits, their municipal bond tax-free interest could be subject to taxes. The IRS considers the muni bond interest as part of the “modified adjusted gross income” for determining how much of their Social Security benefits, if any, are taxable. For instance, if a couple earns half of their Social Security benefits plus other income, including tax-exempt muni bond interest, above $44,000 ($34,000 for single filers), up to 85% of their Social Security benefits are taxable.

 

Diversification

Muni bonds are good choice to boost diversification to the investment portfolio.  Historically they have a very low correlation with the other asset classes. Therefore,  municipal bonds returns have observed a smaller impact by developments in the broader stock and bond markets.

For example, municipal bonds’ correlation to the stock market is at 0.03%. Their correlation to the 10-year Treasury is at 0.37%.

 

Interest Rate Risk

Municipal bonds are sensitive to interest rate fluctuations. There is an inverse relationship between bond prices and interest rates. As the rate go up, muni bond prices will go down. And reversely, as the interest rates decline, the bond prices will rise. When you invest in muni bonds, you have to consider your overall interest rate sensitivity and risk tolerance.

Credit Risk

Similar to the corporate world, the municipal bonds and the bond issuers receive a credit rating by the major credit agencies like Moody’s, S&P 500 and Fitch. The credit rating shows the ability of the municipality to pay off the issued debt. The bonds receive a rating between AAA and C with AAA being the highest possible and C the lowest. BBB is the lowest investment grade rating, while all issuance under BBB are known as high-yield or “junk” bonds. The major credit agencies have different methodologies to determine the credit rating of each issuance. However, historically the ratings tend to be similar.

Unlike corporations, which can go bankrupt and disappear, municipals cannot go away. They have to continue serving their constituents. Therefore, many defaults end up with debt restructuring followed by continued debt service. Between 1970 and 2014 there were 95 municipal defaults. The vast majority of them belong to housing and health care projects.

In general, many investors consider municipal debt to be less risky. The historical default rates among municipal issuances is a lot smaller than those for comparable corporate bonds.

 

Limited secondary market

The secondary market for municipal bonds sets a lot of limitations for the individual investor. While institutional investors dominate the primary market, the secondary market for municipal bonds offers limited investment inventory and real-time pricing. Municipal bonds are less liquid than Treasury and corporate bonds. Municipal bond investing tends to be part of a buy and hold strategy as most investors look for their tax-exempt coupon.

Fragmentation

The municipal bond market is very fragmented due to issuances by different states and local authorities. MUB, the largest Municipal ETF holds 2,852 muni bonds with the highest individual bond weight at.45%. Top 5% holdings of the ETF make 1.84% of the total assets under management. For comparison, TLT, 20-year old Treasury ETF, has 32 holdings with the largest individual weight at 8.88%. Top 5% make up 38.14% of the assets under management.

 

 

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

 

Disclaimer: Past performance does not guarantee future performance. Nothing in this article should be construed as a solicitation or offer, or recommendation, to buy or sell any security. The content of this article is a sole opinion of the author and Babylon Wealth Management. The opinion and information provided are only valid at the time of publishing this article. Investing in these asset classes may not be appropriate for your investment portfolio. If you decide to invest in any of the instruments discussed in the posting, you have to consider your risk tolerance, investment objectives, asset allocation and overall financial situation. Different investors have different financial circumstances, and not all recommendations apply to everybody. Seek advice from your investment advisor before proceeding with any investment decisions. Various sources may provide different figures due to variations in methodology and timing, Copyright: <a href=’https://www.123rf.com/profile_designer491′>designer491 / 123RF Stock Photo</a>

14 Effective ways to take control of your taxes

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

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

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1. Primary residence mortgage deductions

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

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

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

 

2. Home office deductions

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

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

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

 

3. Charitable donations

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

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

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

 

4. Gifts

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

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

 

5. 529 Plans

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

7. Commuter benefits

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

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

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

 

8. Employer-sponsored health insurance premiums

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

 

9. Flexible Spending Account

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

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

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

 

10. Health Spending Account

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

 

11. Disability  insurance

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


12. Life insurance

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

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

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

13. Student Loan interest

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

14. Accounting and Investment advice expenses

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

What is a financial advisor?

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

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

So how to pick your financial advisor near you?

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

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

Are you fiduciary?

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

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

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

What is your education

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

Chartered Financial Analyst

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

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

Certified Financial Planner

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

Certified Public Accountant

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

Why is education important?

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

What is your work experience

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

Do you provide personalized service?

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

Can you describe your Investment Management Style?

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

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

What is your custodian

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

How big is your firm?

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

 Do you coach your clients?

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

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

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

How are you going to communicate with me?

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

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

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

What technology do you use?

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

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

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

Financial planning for physicians

Financial planning for physicians

Introduction to Financial planning for physicians

Being married to a physician has allowed me to obtain an understanding of the unique challenges of financial planning for physicians.   In this post, I will discuss several practices that can help physicians and other healthcare professionals achieve financial prosperity.

What sets financial planning for physicians apart?

Doctors begin their careers and start earning an income much later than the average person.  If a physician is accepted to a medical school immediately following completion of an undergraduate degree, she will be in her mid-20s when she graduates from medical school.   After medical school, physicians must continue clinical training in their chosen specialty.  The residency training period ranges from 3 to 7 years depending on the specialty.  During this time, new doctors make a modest salary, work long hours, and cover overnight on-call shifts in exchange for clinical training.

Once launching their career, doctors receive above-average compensation and have almost zero risks of unemployment. These privileges, however, come with some serious caveats.

As of 2015, graduating physicians start their careers with an average student loan of $183,000. This is equal to $1,897 of monthly payments over ten years or $927 over thirty years, at 4.5% interest. If I remove the lowest 20% of the medical students that come out of school with zero or small loan amounts, the average debt figure jumps to $230,000. Which is a total of $286,000 due on principal and interest on a 10-year loan and 420,000 on a 30-year one. Student loans become repayable after medical school graduation.

1. Start saving for retirement early.

Doctors have a shorter working life than the average person. They start their careers ten years after most people. During these ten years, doctors don’t earn a significant salary and accumulate a large amount of education-related debt.

It is critical that young doctors start saving for retirement while they are in residency. During residency, the new doctors receive a salary between $40,000 and $70,000. Many employers offer both tax-deferred 401k and Roth 401k accounts. Depending on your financial situation you should consider maximizing both plans with priority on your Roth over tax-deferred contributions.

2. Maximize your retirement contributions.  

You have to maximize their retirement contributions to compensate for the extra ten years of school and residency.

Physicians working in hospitals and large healthcare systems will very likely have the option to open a tax-deferred 401k plan. As of 2020, these programs allow their participants to contribute up to $19,500 a year. Most employers offer matching contributions for up to a certain amount.

Some health systems offer pension plans, which guarantee a pension after certain years of service. These plans are a great addition to your retirement savings if you are willing to commit to your employer for 10 or 20 years.

Additionally, some government and state-run hospitals even offer 457 plans in conjunction with a 401k plan, allowing participants to super save and defer a double

Doctors who run a private practice should consider investing in solo 401k plans. These plans allow for the maximum pretax contributions, once as an employee and once as an employer.

Doctors earning significant cash flow in private practice should also consider adding a defined benefit plan to their 401k. This combination is a powerful saving tool. However, it requires the help of an accredited actuary. Contact your financial advisor if you want to learn about this option.

In addition to contributing to employer-sponsored retirement plans, doctors should consider setting aside a portion of their earnings to taxable (brokerage or saving) accounts. The contributions to these accounts are made on an after taxes basis. Taxes are due on all dividends, interest, and capital gains.   The most significant benefit of these funds will be their liquidity and flexibility with no income restrictions.

 3. Manage your taxes.

High earning doctors need to consider managing their tax bill as one of their top priorities. Tax implication can vary depending on income level, family size, and property ownership. Hiring a CPA, a tax attorney or a financial planner may help you reduce or optimize some of your tax dues.

A successful tax planning strategy will include a combination of retirement savings, asset allocation, tax deductions, and estate planning.

4. Balance your budget.

After ten years of vigorous study, sleepless nights, and no personal life, doctors are thrown back in the normal life where they can enjoy the perks of freedom and money. As much you are excited about your new life, do not start it with buying a Lamborghini or an expensive condo on South Beach. In other words, do not overspend. Even if you got a great job with an excellent salary and benefits, you need to remain disciplined in your spending habits. Stay focused on your long-term financial goals. Leave enough money aside for retirement savings, rent or mortgage payments, loan payments, living expenses, college savings for your children and an emergency fund.

5. Manage your student loans

The cost of a medical degree is one of the highest amonsgt other professions. For that reason many dpctors graduate with massive student loans. 0How to best manage your student debt depends on a combination of factors including your credit score, federal or private loan, loan maturity, interest rates, monthly payments, and current income. Stay on top of your student debt. Do not lose track of due dates and interest rates.

For those looking for help reducing their debt, here are some options:

  • Loan repayment options from employers. Many private, federal, state and city health care organizations offer loan repayment options as an incentive to retain their doctors. Those options are frequently dependent on years of service and commitment to work for a certain number of years. These programs vary from employer to employer.
  • Loan forgiveness. Under the Public service loan forgiveness program (PSLF) launched in 2007, full-time employees at federal, state or local government agencies, as well as nonprofit workers at an organization with a 501(c)(3) designation, are eligible for loan forgiveness after paying 120 monthly payments. The first applicants will be able to benefit from this program in 2017.
  • Working in underserved areas. Some states offer loans forgiveness for doctors working in underserved areas. The conditions and benefits vary state by state but in essence, works similar to the PLSF program.
  • Loan consolidation and refinancing. If you have two or more private student loans, you may want to consider loan consolidation. If you pay high interest on your current loans, think about refinancing it at a lower rate. Your new loan availability depends on your credit history, income, and general macroeconomic factors.

Under the current tax law, all forgiven loans are subject to taxes as ordinary income. Take it into consideration when applying for loan forgiveness.

6. Watch your credit score.

Physicians need to monitor and understand their credit score. Known also as the FICO score, it is a measure that goes between 300 and 850 points. Higher scores indicate lower credit risk. Each of the three national credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, has a proprietary database, methodology, and scoring system. It is not uncommon to find small or even substantial differences in credit scores issued by three agencies. Many times, creditors will use the average of the three value to assess your creditworthiness.

Your FICO score is a sum of 64 different measurements. And each agency calculates it slightly differently. As a general rule, your FICO score depends mostly on the actual dollar amount of your debt, the debt to credit ratio and your payment history. Being late on or missing your loan payments and maximizing your credit limits can negatively impact your credit score.

You can get your score for free from each one of the bureaus once a year. Additionally, many credit cards provide it for free. Keep in mind that their FICO score will come from one of these three agencies. Don’t be surprised if your second credit card shows a different value.  Your other bank is probably using a different credit agency.

7. Take calculated risks.

Doctors are notorious for their high-risk tolerance and attitude toward investing in very uncertain endeavors. While this is not always a bad thing, make sure that your investments fit into your overall long-term financial plan. Do not bet all your savings on one risky venture. Use your best judgment in evaluating any risky investments presented to you. High returns always come with high risk for a loss.

8. Get insurance.

Having insurance should be your top priority to take care of yourself and your family in case of unforeseen events. There is an extensive list of risks you have to consider,  for instance – health, disability, life, unemployment, personal umbrella, and malpractice insurance.

Fortunately, some of them might be covered by your employer. A lot of organizations offer a basic package at no cost and premium package at added subsidized price. Take advantage of these insurance packages to buy yourself protection in times of emergency.

For instance, if you are a surgeon or dentist and get a hand injury, you may not be able to work for a long time. Having disability insurance can help you have an additional income while you recover.

If you run your practice, having malpractice insurance will help cover the cost if you get sued by your patients.

Final words

If you have any questions about your existing investment portfolio or how to start investing for retirement and other financial goals, reach out to me at [email protected] or +925-448-9880.

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

4 Steps to determine your target asset allocation

4 Steps to Determine your target asset allocation

One of the financial advisors’ primary responsibilities is to determine and document their clients’ target asset allocation. The target allocation serves as a starting point and guideline in diversifying the client portfolio and building future wealth. Clients’ unique financial goals, lifestyle, investment horizon, current and expected income, and emotional tolerance to market turbulence will impact their future asset allocation.

The target investment mix is not constant. It can shift from more aggressive to more conservative or vice versa with substantial changes in lifestyle, family status, personal wealth, employment, and age.

Assess your risk tolerance

Most advisors use questionnaires to evaluate their client’s risk tolerance. The length of these surveys varies from advisor to advisor. Furthermore, some assessments are available online for free. The idea behind all of them is to determine the investor’s tolerance to market volatility, and unpredictable macroeconomic and life events.

Individuals with high-risk tolerance have the emotional capacity to take on more risk. They can endure significant market swings in order to achieve a higher future return.

On the opposite side, investors with low-risk tolerance are willing to sacrifice higher returns for safer, low volatility assets which will have smaller swings during turbulent markets.

A free risk tolerance test is available here:

https://www.calcxml.com/calculators/inv01?skn=#top

Regardless of which test you take, if you answer all questions consistently, you should expect to get similar results.

Advisors, of course, should not rely solely on test results. They need to know and understand their clients. Advisors must have a holistic view of all aspects of client’s life and investment portfolio.

 

Set your financial goals

Your financial goals are another critical input to determine your target investment mix. Your goals can stretch anywhere from a couple of months to several decades. They can be anything from paying off your debt, buying a house, planning for a college fund, saving for a wedding, a trip or retirement, making a large charitable donation, and so on.

Each one of your goals will require a different amount of money for completion.

Having your goals in place will define how much money you need to save in order to reach them. The range of your goals versus your current wealth and saving habits will determine your target asset allocation.

More aggressive goals will require more aggressive investment mix.

More balanced goals will call for more balanced investment portfolio.

Sometimes, investors can have a conflict between their financial goals and risk tolerance. An investor may have low to moderate risk tolerance but very aggressive financial goals. Such conflict will ultimately require certain sacrifices – either revising down the investor’s financial goals or adjusting his or her willingness to take on more risk.

Define your investment horizon

Your investment horizon and the time remaining to your next milestone will significantly impact your investment mix.

529 college fund plan is an excellent example of how the investment horizon changes the future asset mix. Traditional 529 plans offer age-based investment allocation. The fund is initially invested in a higher percentage of equity securities. This original investment relies on the equities’ higher expected return, which can potentially bring higher growth to the portfolio. Over time, as the primary beneficiary (the future student), approaches the first year in college, the money in the 529 plan will gradually be re-allocated to a broadly diversified portfolio with a large allocation to fixed income investments. The new target mix can provide more safety and predictable returns as the completion of the goal approaches.

The same example can apply for retirement and home purchase savings or any other time-sensitive goal. The further away in time is your goal; the stronger will be your ability to take on more risk. You will also have enough time to recover your losses in case of market turmoil. In that case, your portfolio will focus on capital growth.

As the completion time of your goal approaches, your affinity to risk will decrease substantially. You also won’t have enough time to recover your losses if the market goes down considerably. In this situation, you will need a broadly diversified portfolio with refocusing on capital preservation.

 

 Know your tax bracket

The investors’ tax bracket is sometimes a secondary but often crucial factor in determining asset allocation. The US Federal tax rate ranges from 10% to 39.6% depending on income level and filing status. In addition to Federal taxes, individuals may have to pay state and city taxes.

Investors can aim to build a tax-efficient asset allocation.  They can take advantage of the preferential tax treatment of different financial securities among various investment account types – taxable, tax-deferred, and tax-exempt accounts. 

For instance, they may want to allocate tax-efficient investments like Municipal bonds, MLPs, ETFs and Index funds to taxable accounts and higher tax bearing investments like Gold, Bonds, and REITs into tax-advantaged accounts.

In any case, investors should attempt to achieve the highest possible return on an after-tax basis. Building a tax-efficient investment portfolio can add up to 1% or more in performance over an extended period.

How to build your 401k plan

How to build your 401k plan

401k plans are a powerful savings tool for retirement

With total assets reaching $4.8 trillion dollars 401k plans are the most popular retirement vehicle and are increasingly used by employers to recruit and retain key talent.  401k accounts allow employees to build their retirement savings by investing a portion of their salary. Contributions to the plan are tax-deductible, thus reducing your taxable income,  and the money allocated grows tax-free. Taxes are due upon withdrawal of funds during retirement years. In this article, I will discuss how to build your 401k plan.

Does your employer offer a 401k plan?

If you recently joined a new company, find out whether they offer a 401k plan. Some employers offer automatic enrollment, and others require individual registration.

Many companies offer a matching contribution up to a set dollar amount or percentage.

Contributions are usually deducted from each paycheck, but employees can also opt to contribute a lump sum.  The 2016 limit is $18,000 plus a $6,000 “catch-up” contribution for people age 50 and above.

How to decide on your investment choices

Employers must provide ongoing education and training materials about retirement savings plans.

401k plans can offer anywhere between 5 and 20 different mutual funds which invest in various asset classes and strategies.  Your choice will be limited to the funds in your plan. Hence you can not invest in stocks or other financial instruments.

The fundamental goal is to build a diversified and disciplined portfolio with your investment choices. Markets will go up and down, but your diversified portfolio will moderate your risk in times of market turmoil.

Index Funds

Index Funds are passively managed mutual funds. They track a particular index by mirroring its performance. The index funds hold the same proportion of underlying stocks as the index they follow. Many indexes are tracking large-cap, mid-cap, small-cap, international and bond indices. One of the most popular categories is the S&P 500 Index funds.

Due to their passive nature index funds are usually offered at a lower cost compared to actively managed funds. They provide broad diversification with low portfolio turnover. Index funds do not actively trade in and out of their positions and only replace stocks when their benchmark changes. Index funds are easy to buy, sell and rebalance.

Actively Managed Mutual Funds

Actively managed mutual funds are the complete opposite of index funds. A management team usually runs each fund. The mutual funds have a designated benchmark, such as the S & P 500, Russell 2000,  and MSI World. Often the management team aims to beat the benchmark either by a greater absolute or risk-adjusted return. Overall active funds trade more often than index funds. Their portfolio turnover (frequency of trading) is bigger because managers take an active approach and invest in companies or bonds with the goal of beating their benchmark.

There is a broad range of funds with different strategies and asset classes. Some funds trade more actively than others. Even funds that follow the same benchmark can gravitate towards a particular sector, country or niche. For instance, a total bond fund might be more concentrated into government bonds, while another fund may invest heavily in corporate bonds.

Active funds charge higher fees than comparable index funds. These fees cover salaries, management, administrative, research, marketing, and trading costs. Funds investing in niche markets like small-cap and emerging market will have higher costs. Fees are also dependent on the size of the fund and its turnover strategy.

It’s critical to do at least a basic research before you decide which fund to purchase. Morningstar.com is a great website for mutual fund information and stats.

Target Retirement funds

These are mutual funds that invest your retirement assets according to a target allocation based on your expected year of retirement. The further away you are from retirement, the more your target fund asset allocation will lean toward equity investments. As you get closer to retirement, the portion of equity will go down and will be replaced by fixed income investments. The reason behind target retirement funds is to maintain a disciplined investment approach over time without being impacted by market trends.

One significant drawback of the retirement funds is that they assume your risk tolerance is based on your age. If you are a risk taker or risk averse, these funds may not represent your actual financial goals and willingness to take the risk.

In addition to that, investors also need to consider how target retirement funds fit within their overall investment portfolio in both taxable and tax-advantaged accounts.

Most large fund managers offer target retirement funds. However, there are some large differences between fund families. Some of the discrepancies come from the choice of active versus passive investment strategies and fees.

Without endorsing any of the two providers below I will illustrate some of the fundamental differences between Vanguard and T. Rowe Price Target Retirement funds.

Vanguard Target Retirement funds

Vanguard Target Retirement funds offer low-cost retirement fund at an expense ratio of 0.15%. All funds allocate holdings into five passively managed broadly diversified Vanguard index fund.

Vanguard Target Retirement2015202520352045
Total Stock Market Index28.4439.8648.7554.07
Total Intl Stock Index19.0126.5632.4535.9
Total Bond Market II Index30.3223.6613.237.05
Total Intl Bond Index13.379.925.572.98
Short-Term Infl-Protected Sec Index8.86
% Assets100.00100.00100.00100.00
By asset class
Equity47.4566.4281.289.97
Fixed Income52.5533.5818.810.03

T. Rowe Target Retirement funds

On the other spectrum are T. Rowe retirement funds. Their funds have a higher expense ratio. They charge between 0.65% and 0.75%. All target funds invest in active T. Rowe mutual funds in 18 different categories. T. Rowe target funds are a bit more aggressive. They have a higher allocation to equity and offer a wider range of investment strategies.

T. Rowe Target Retirement Fund2015202520352045
New Income24.3817.3410.646.74
Equity Index 50022.1514.859.317.41
Ltd Dur Infl Focus Bd11.013.530.540.53
International Gr & Inc5.046.687.858.35
Overseas Stock5.016.647.828.3
International Stock4.425.786.87.26
Emerging Markets Bond3.552.471.431.01
Growth Stock3.4311.7417.8420.26
International Bond3.422.441.510.98
High Yield3.262.321.420.91
Value3.111.3117.3619.75
Emerging Markets Stock2.883.874.494.71
Real Assets2.12.783.283.5
Mid-Cap Value1.852.462.953.12
Mid-Cap Growth1.782.352.732.9
Small-Cap Value0.931.231.481.55
Small-Cap Stock0.881.151.411.53
New Horizons0.720.941.11.12
% Assets100100100100
By Asset Class
Equity54.2971.7884.4289.76
Fixed Income45.6228.115.5410.17

Which approach is better? There is no distinctive winner. It depends on your risk tolerance.

Vanguard funds have lower expense ratio and a lower 10-year return. However, they have a lower risk.

T. Rowe funds have higher absolute and risk-adjusted return but also carry more risk.

10-year Performance Analysis, 2045 Target Retirement Fund

 Standard10-yearSharpe
FundNameDeviationReturn Ratio
VTIVXVanguard Target 204514.655.480.36
TRRKXT. Rowe Target 204515.825.890.38

 *** Data provided by Morningstar

Most 401k plans will offer only one family of target funds, so you don’t have to decide between Vanguard, T. Rowe or another manager. You will have to decide whether to invest in any of them at all or put your money in the index or active funds. For further information, check out our dedicated article on target date funds

ETFs

ETFs are a great alternative to index and active mutual funds. They are liquid and actively trade on the exchange throughout the day.

As of now, very few plans offer ETFs. One of the main concerns for adding them to retirement plans is the timeliness of trade execution. Right now this problem is shifted to the fund managers who only issue end of day price once all trades are complete.

I expect that ETFs will become a more common choice as they grow in popularity and liquidity. Many small and mid-size companies that look for low-cost solutions can use them for them as an alternative to their for their workplace retirement plans.

Company stock

Many companies offer their stock as a matching contribution or profit sharing incentive in their employee 401k plan. Doing so aligns employees’ objectives with the company’s success.  While this may have positive intentions, current or former employees run the risk of having a large concentrated position in their portfolios.  Even if your company has a record of high returns, holding significant amounts of company stock creates substantial financial risk during periods of crisis because one is both employee and shareholder.  Enron and Lehman Brothers are great examples of this danger.  Being overinvested in your company shares can lead to simultaneous unemployment and depletion of retirement savings if the business fails.

Allocation mix

You will most likely have a choice between a family of target retirement funds and a group of large-cap, mid-cap, small-cap, international developed, emerging markets stocks, a REIT, US government, corporate, high yield and international bond funds.

Your final selection should reflect your risk tolerance and financial goals. You should consider your age, family size, years to retirement, risk sensitivity, total wealth, saving and spending habits, significant future spending and so on.

You can use the table below as a high-level guidance.

401k asset allocation mix

Data source: Ibbotson Associates, 2016, (1926-2015). Past performance is no guarantee of future results. Returns include the reinvestment of dividends and other earnings. This chart is for illustrative purposes only. It is not possible to invest directly in an index. For information on the indexes used to construct this table, see footnote 1. The purpose of the target asset mixes is to show how target asset mixes may be created with different risk and return characteristics to help meet an investor’s goals. You should choose your investments based on your particular objectives and situation. Be sure to review your decisions periodically to make sure they are still consistent with your goals.
Source: https://www.fidelity.com/viewpoints/retirement/ira-portfolio?ccsource=email_monthly

Final recommendations

Here are some finals ideas how to make the best out of your 401k savings:

  • At a minimum, you should set aside enough money in your 401k plan to take advantage of your employer’s matching contribution. It’s free money after all. However, the vesting usually comes with certain conditions. So definitely pay attention to these rules. They can be tricky.
  • 2016 maximum contribution to 401k is $18,000 plus $6,000 for individuals over 50. If you can afford to set aside this amount, you will maximize the full potential of retirement savings.
  • If your 401k plan is your only retirement saving, you need to have a broad diversification of your assets. Invest in a target retirement fund or mix of individual mutual funds to avoid concentration of your investments in one asset class or security.
  • If your 401k plan is one of many retirement saving options – taxable account, real estate, saving accounts, annuity, Roth IRA, SEP-IRA, Rollover IRA or a prior employer’s 401k plan, you will need to have a holistic view of your assets in order to achieve a comprehensive and tax optimized asset allocation.
  • Beware of hidden trading costs in your plan choices. Most no-load mutual funds will charge anywhere between 0.15% and 1.5% to manage your money. This fee will cover their management, administrative, research and trading costs. Some funds also charge upfront and backload fees. As you invest in those funds your purchase cost will be higher compared to no-load funds.
  • If you hold large concentrated positions of your current or former employer’s stock, you need to mitigate your risk by diversifying the remainder of your portfolio.

If you have any questions about your existing investment portfolio or how to start investing for retirement and other financial goals, reach out to me at [email protected] or +925-448-9880.

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

About the author:

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

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

A beginner’s guide to retirement planning

uide to retirement planning

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

Start Early 

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

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

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

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

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

Know your tax rate

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

See below table for 2016 tax brackets.

Guide to retirement planning

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Know your  State and City Income Tax

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

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

California income tax rates for 2016:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

New York State tax rates for 2016:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

City Tax

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

Create an emergency fund

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

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

Maximize your 401k contributions

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

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

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

401K withdrawals

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

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

Read the fine print

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

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

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

Maximize your Roth IRA

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

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

 

How to decide between Roth IRA and 401k

Ideally, you want to maximize contributions to both plans.

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

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

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

I suggest prioritizing retirement contributions in the following order:

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

 

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

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

A beginner’s guide to ETF Investing

Guide to ETFs

What is an ETF?

ETF stands for an exchange-traded fund. The fund is a passively managed marketable security that tracks an index, a commodity, or a pool of bonds. ETFs trade on the stock exchange, and their price fluctuate throughout the day.

By design, ETFs do not produce positive alpha. Alpha is the difference between the fund and the benchmark performance.  They strictly follow their index, and as a result, their alpha is always zero.

ETFs popularity spiked in the past several years due to the rise of robo-advisers, an increase in competiton, and lowe management fees. At the same time, many emblematic active managers underperformed their benchmarks and saw significant fund outflows.

ETF history

The ETF industry was born as a result of the market crash in October 1987. The initial goal behind ETFs was to provide liquidity and mitigate volatility for market participants. Over the last 20 years, they became a favorite investment vehicle for individual investors and asset managers. Today, globally, there are 6,870 ETF products on 60 exchanges and over $5 trillion of assets under management.

ETF vs. Mutual Fund

The media and investors often compare ETFs with mutual funds.  In contrast with ETFs, the mutual fund managers actively look for securities in an attempt to beat their designated benchmark.

ETFs typically have higher daily liquidity and lower fees than most mutual funds.  This makes them an attractive alternative for many individual investors.

Underlying Index

There are significant variations in the index composition between indices tracking the same asset class.  The ETFs structure and performance reflect these differences.

In the small-cap space, for example, IJR tracks the S&P 600 Small-Cap index, and IWM follows Russell 2000 Small Cap index. As the name suggests, the S&P index has 600 constituents, while the Russell index has 2,000 members. While there are many similarities and overlaps between the two, there are also significant variations in their returns, risk, and sector exposure.

In the Emerging market space, indices provided by MSCI include South Korea in their list of emerging market countries. At the same time, indices run by FTSE exclude South Korea and have it in their developed country list.

Investors seeking to manage their exposure to a particular asset class through ETFs need to consider the index differences and suitability against their overall portfolio.

 Fees

The fees are the cost associated with managing the fund – transaction cost, exchange fees, administrative, legal, and accounting expenses. They are subtracted from the fund performance. The costs are reported in the fund prospectus as an expense ratio. They can be as low as 0.08% and as high as 2% and more. The percentage represents the total amount of management fees over the value of assets under management.

Consider two ETFs that follow the same index.  All else equal, the ETF with the lower fee will always outperform the ETF with the higher one.

Liquidity

The ETF liquidity is critical in volatile markets and flash-sales when investors want to exit their position.

Asset under management, daily volume, and bid/ask spread drive the ETF liquidity. Larger funds offer better liquidity and lower spread.

The liquidity and the spread will impact the cost to buy or sell the fund. The spread will determine the premium you will pay to purchase these funds on the stock exchange. The discount is what you will need to give up to sell the ETFs. The lower the spread, the smaller difference between purchase and sale price will be. Funds with less spread will have lower exit costs.

Exchange Traded Notes

Exchange Traded Notes are an offshoot of the ETFs products. ETNs are structured debt instruments that promise to pay the return on the tracking assets. This structure is very popular for Oil, Commodity, and Volatility trading. They offer flexibility and easy access for investors to trade in and out of the products.

I believe that long-term investors should avoid Exchange Traded Notes (ETNs), volatility (VIX) ETFs, inverse, and leveraged (2x and 3x Index) ETFs and ETNs products. While increasing in popularity and liquidity, they are not appropriate for long-term investing and retirement planning. These types of funds are more suitable for daily and short-term trading. They incur a higher cost and have a higher risk profile.

Smart Beta ETFs

Smart Beta ETFs are also increasing in popularity. While the name was given for marketing purposes, this particular breed of ETFs uses a single or multi-factor approach to select securities from a pre-defined pool – S&P 500, Russell 2000, MSCI world index, or others.

The Single Factor ETFs like Low Volatility or High Dividend are strictly focusing on one particular characteristic. They offer a low-cost alternative to investing in a portfolio of income generating or less volatile stocks.

The multi-factor ETFs are a hybrid of active and index management. ETF providers have established an in-house index that will follow the rules of their multi-factor model. The model will select securities from an index following specific parameters with the intention of outperforming the index. The fund will buy only the securities provided by the model. The multi-factor ETFs are competing directly with mutual funds, which use similar techniques to select securities. However, they have a lower cost, better transparency, and an  easy entry point.

Currency Hedged

Currency Hedged International ETFs is another newcomer in the space. Their goal is to track a foreign equity index by neutralizing the currency exposure. They can be attractive to investors with interest in international markets who are concerned about their FX risk.  Some of the more popular funds in this category include HEDJ, which tracks Europe developed markets, and DXJ, which follows Japan exporting companies.

How to invest?

ETFs are a great alternative to all investment accounts. Due to their passive management, low turnover, and tax-advantaged structure, they are a great option for taxable and brokerage accounts.

For now, they have not made their way to corporate 401k plans, where mutual funds are still dominating. I am expecting this to change as more small and mid-size companies are looking for low-cost solutions for their workplace retirement plans.

Tax-sensitive investors, however, need to consider all circumstances before adding ETF holdings to their portfolio. Their tax treatment follows the tax treatment of their underlying assets.