There’s More than One Path to Retirement Security

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Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

People often think investment strategies for retirement security involve a either/or choices, i.e, risky stocks or savings as a zero-sum choice, or active vs. passive investing as an either/or choice; Believe it or not, there’s more than one path to retirement security.  Sometimes (often) they can be blended.

Active vs. Passive

Vanguard on active vs. passive investingFor example, low-cost passive investments are attractive simply because it’s widely believed that active managers can’t beat their relevant indexes’ average return on a consistent basis.

That’s probably true, however the argument often ignores the downside protection active management can offer – something index investing doesn’t provide, and something important to investors for retirement security.

Does that mean there’s only one path to financial security… that active is better?  No – it’s just different.  Sometimes, the extra fee an active manager charges can be worth far more than the alternative downside exposure.   Vanguard has created a client education piece about active and index investing that you might find helpful.  You can download it here.

Active Institutional Management

Investors with smaller accounts often achieve diversification by investing in mutual funds.  While these investors can benefit from the diversification they offer, those with larger accounts can be penalized.  The reason is simple:  Mutual fund costs don’t scale.

For example, if you have $50,000 invested in a mutual fund that carries a 1.25% expense ratio (just to pick a number), you’re paying $625 a year in annual expenses.  Not too bad.  But, suppose your investment is $500,000 and you have a basket of mutual funds and all charge about the same 1.25%.  Your annual expenses would now total $6,250 per year.

Fund expenses don’t go down as the asset level increases.  1.25%, in our example, would stay 1.25%, regardless of how much your account increases in value.  And, those aren’t the only expenses!  You can learn about the other hidden expenses in another report, Understanding Mutual Funds, which you can also download instantly, right here.

Institutional money managers – at least all those I use – have fully disclosed fees; but, furthermore, their fee percentage actually declines as the investor’s asset level grows.  They can also provide tax-managed benefits not available in mutual funds.

Institutional managers seem to do far better than the individual investor.  As you can see from this independent Dalbar study, individual investors didn’t even come close- and the time period for the study included the famous ‘meltdown’ of 2008.

Institutional investors tend to outperform individual investors.

Screening for investment managersThe selection process for institutional managers, of course, is important, if not critical.

If you’d like to see the process I have been using here at IFG, you can get it here.

Of course, it’s not an either/or proposition:  Blending active institutional management with passive indexes can be quite effective.

It begins with a philosophy.

The key to successDo you know your investment philosophy? By the way, “I don’t want to lose money” is not a philosophy; it’s a wish.  A philosophy goes deeper – it’s the roadmap that helps you as you go through the investment/manager selection process.  IFG’s can be accessed immediately here.

Managing the Downside.

There’s a tv commercial sponsored by a mutual fund/insurance complex that asks the question, “Do you know your number?

While it’s a good question, it doesn’t go far enough.  The real question may not be how much you have, but how long it will last!   After all, that’s the key to almost everyone’s definition of retirement security.

Longevity risk – “Will I run out of money?”

This is the key issue for most Americans; even those with $1,000,000+ who want to maintain their standard of living, let alone the vast majority of Americans who have less.  You might enjoy getting our Money or Income report when you sign-up for the IFG ezine (you can always unsubscribe later).   You can get the report here.

 

 

What’s right for you is likely no one strategy, but a blend of this – and other strategies not even covered here – that best fits your particular needs and desires.

If you would like help, of course, we can always visit by phone.

Enjoy!

Jim


Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and An Accredited Investment Fiduciary® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

MONEY OR INCOME: Which is most important to you?- Part 3

Rising Inflation ScreenJim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

An income for life – a lifetime retirement income strategy is what most people want – but are they willing to do what’s required?

For most, if not many, the idea of ‘bucketing’ money into categories – current needs, emergency needs, and future needs – is intuitive.  An that’s the ‘secret’ behind having a retirement income for life!  It’s not a secret, really; just a common sense strategy for creating a stress-free lifetime retirement income.

We don’t want to take money from one to fund another unless we’re absolutely FORCED to, which we seldom are – yet, that’s what a lifetime retirement income strategy demands.

This likely explains why people generally hate the idea of annuitization, even though retirees routinely say their biggest fear is running out of assets  –  aha!  Assets!  Not income?

I’ve known people who’re retired with generous pensions (with cost-of-living adjustments) from the federal government and lived amazing retirements, living on Florida waterfront property with boats outside their back doors, even though they had only a couple hundred thousand dollars in savings… and loving it.  You couldn’t get them to trade those pensions for anything!   It was predictable – it would never stop – and they had COLAs built-in!

But, the rest of society seemingly isn’t willing to make the liquidity trade.  Research seems to back this up, finding that the size of liquid holdings is directly related to their sense of well-being and satisfaction.  Apparently if they can’t achieve their need for future income until they meet their need for current assets, they feel cash-strapped – or they’ll choose retirement solutions that are inferior but psychologically more satisfying..

Mental bucketing comes in two forms:

  • Time segmentation:  Cash, bonds, and stocks are segmented according to time frames.  Cash funding near term, laddering bonds for intermediate term and interest-rate risk, and stocks for long-term inflation-hedges.
  • Spending segmentation:  Using financial tools to put predictability into outlays – Using Social Security and immediate annuities to create an ‘income floor’ for meeting essential expenses, and using portfolio withdrawals throughout the entire retirement period to provide for discretionary expenses.

For many, however, the delineation between essential and discretionary expenses can be fuzzy.   When people prioritize their goals, some will classify travel and cable tv as a need, while others will find few needs beyond food, shelter, transportation, medical expenses, etc.   And, many neglect to think about the biggest outlay they’ll make during their entire retirement – the annual tax payment to the I.R.S.

The most straightforward solution to longevity risk

For most, the biggest risk is outliving their money.  In short, it means running out of income.  The straightforward solution is simple:  Trading a portion of liquidity to pay cash for a lifetime income – and transferring longevity risk to an insurance company in exchange for an immediate annuity.  For many, this is a tough sell because they aren’t willing to give up liquidity of current assets to secure a lifetime income, despite the fact all those retired federal retirees in Florida have been doing it for years – and loving it.  And, also despite the fact that an immediate annuity solution is far superior to that of using a variable annuity with a guaranteed lifetime withdrawal benefit.[1]

Not only that, retirees want the potential for an increasing standard of living, as well!  Others may have additional legacy goals!   Inflation-adjusted immediate annuities are available, but haven’t been too popular due to their lower initial payout

The Hybrid Time-Segmentation™ (HTS) solves many of the issues and may appeal to investors who need a greater degree of certainty for their income strategy.

 

The HTS strategy puts an ‘income floor’ under the segments – a floor that’s both predictable and expected to last a lifetime, while still preserving short-term liquidity needs and providing for long-term inflation concerns.  For example, one popular approach is to use a portion of assets to purchase a ten-year deferred income annuity that provides a lifetime retirement income beginning in year #11.  In this way, an additional guaranteed income source is added providing an increased floor as the rest of the portfolio grows for future years.[2]  The entire strategy, of course, should coordinate liquidity, security, inflation-protection, and income needs.

If you’d like to learn more – and it’s worth doing – we have a twenty-minute educational video that explains this lifetime retirement income strategy.  I think you’ll  like it!   Grab some coffee, sit back, and learn more here.

 

Enjoy!

Jim

[1] I must admit my own bias against variable annuities.  To me, using the stock portion of a portfolio to purchase a variable annuity is only turning a potential capital gain into taxable income – something that’s made little sense to me, expenses aside.

[2] Using an ‘investment grade’ insurance company is more important, in my view, than simply grabbing for the best-sounding promise of a slick marketing campaign.

If you would like help, of course, we can always visit by phone.


Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and An Accredited Investment Fiduciary® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

MONEY OR INCOME: Which is most important to you?- Part 2

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Last week I asked which was most important to you:

Never running out of money

Never running out of income

Whether you’re building a house or your ‘financial house’, it begins with a plan – that’s common sense.  Yet, I’ve seen more than a few people make major financial decisions BEFORE ever walking through my door for the first time:  Ready, fire, aim.

I’ve seen them retire, make Social Security claiming decisions and even pension decisions… then seek out financial advice – moves that often put them behind the 8-ball before they start.

So, what are the hazards retirees face?

  • Being underfunded.   It’s not uncommon today for people to live thirty years in retirement – one good reason why so many are opting to continue working after their ‘formal’ retirement.  It takes a lot of capital to fund thirty years of income after taxes and inflation – for two lives.  The problem with this hazard is that it’s extremely difficult, if not impossible, for an advisor to change at the point of retirement.
  • Bad timing.  This is something we call ‘sequence of returns’ risk.   To illustrate using simple numbers and ignoring taxes, imagine this scenario:  You retire with $1 million and plan to withdraw 4% annually.  That $40,000 combined with Social Security should meet your needs.

If the market goes up 20% and you withdraw 4%, you should have $1,160,000 after the first year.   Allowing for a 3% inflation rate, you can withdraw $40,000 + inflation = $41,200 in your second year, which computes to 3.55% of the second year’s beginning balance.  Not bad.  If the market does that every year forever, you’re fine!

What if the market goes down 20% in the first year as you withdrew your $40,000 (4% of the original balance)?  The market loss was $200,000 and you withdrew $40,000.  At the end of year #1, you’re down $240,000 and your new balance is $760,000 at the beginning of year #2.    And, of course, prices are higher – inflation has driven your living costs up by 3%!  You’ll need to take $41,200 in the second year, just as in the first scenario above, but now it’s coming from a starting balance of $760,000, which means your withdrawals now represent  5.42% of assets.  Another down year could be disasterous.

Diversification can help[1].   Diversification is all about using asset classes that have low correlation in their movements.  Think of pistons in a car:  If they all went up and down and down at the same time, where would they all be if the engine were to shut down?  Oddly enough, you may not want a portfolio that contains investments that all go up – the opposite could happen, too!

  • Withdrawing too much too soon.

Some people may simply not know how much they can, or should, withdraw.  With longevity risk becoming greater with our medical advances, knowing how much we can withdraw presents a problem for many.

How do you know how much you CAN withdraw and never run out of money?  The government has the answer!   They even publish it!  It’s the IRS required minimum distribution rules!  Just plug your numbers into the calculator[2] and that shows how much can be withdrawn!  The RMD rules apply to all qualified plans, but not to Roth IRAs while the owner is alive, and can be used for other accounts as a guide to avoiding longevity risk.

The good news:  RMD math virtually guarantees against running out of money within 45 years if the amount withdrawn is that calculated and no more.   There’s a practical weakness in this method as a guide for annual income, as well:   Remember our sample $1 million portfolio?

Practical:  Withdraw 4% of the original account balance each year, adjusted for inflation, regardless of market returns, i.e., $40,000 base adjusted only for COLAs each year.  Weakness:  Could lead to early depletion of assets if there are continuous market declines.

Not practical:  The RMD calculation is based on a percentage of the account value.  If the market declines, the percentage could result in a declining income for one or more years.

The bad news:  The RMD amount might be less than what’s needed to meet living expenses and, as noted, could even decline!  So, asset allocation, using the RMD rules, does not affect portfolio survival; but it does affect how much the retiree might receive each year – an unpredictable income.

How do we create a sustainable LIFETIME income?

That’s our subject for next time.

[1] You might want to access our report, Understanding the Diversification Puzzle.

[2] http://apps.finra.org/calcs/1/retirement

Enjoy!

Jim

If you would like help, of course, we can always visit by phone.


Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and An Accredited Investment Fiduciary® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.

MONEY OR INCOME: Which is most important to you?

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Which goal is most important to you?

–   Never running out of retirement money

–   Never running out of retirement income

–   Both

Sure, you said both.  And, maybe that’s possible!

The problem for many is that not only are substantial assets required to provide a comfortable retirement income – you also have to live a lifestyle below what many would believe you could afford.

I have a client couple who have done just that.  They’ve worked hard, invested responsibly, and lived well within their means allowing them to save at a rate greater than what would appeal to many others.  The result:  They’ve been able to retire in their late ‘50s in a beautiful area  – and doing it at a time their son graduated from college and is now entering grad school.  How many parents could afford to retire with a child entering grad school?   In short, they’re set!  They’ve taken all the right steps to insure their future, even into their 80’s and 90s… and even if everything in “the markets” went south on them.

I’ve also seen others who have amassed ten times that couple’s assets, but are living at a lifestyle that keeps them in perpetual jeopardy.  They’re constantly in danger of running out of money.   Their lives are like a hamster running on the spinning wheel, constantly chasing the cheese.  The lesson:  Even people with $30 million dollars can still be on the edge of disaster.  Think of all the multi-million dollar sports and entertainment figures who’ve ended-up broke, sometimes due to poor management, sometimes due to overspending, sometimes both, virtually always because of ignorance…. either on their part or the part of their ‘managers’, or both.

Choosing the right strategy

What kind of retirement income or wealth management strategy makes sense any given investor?  Naturally, it depends on age, goals, asset level and lifestyle.  It also depends upon what type of strategy the individual is open to considering – most of us have built-in biases based on how we’ve been programmed.

Given the level of financial literacy in America today, it’s a real concern.  Most of what people know about financial instruments they’ve learned from entertainment gurus, their parents, or their friends.  I saw a recent study that revealed more than 31% of Americans didn’t know they could lose money in fixed income investments; and 68%  thought rising interest rates would be good for bonds… all while 60% said they don’t consider themselves knowledgeable regarding fixed income, the market, or economic forces that drive bond pricing.

Generalizations are always dangerous; but hey, you’ve have to start somewhere, right?   So, let’s begin, as a starting point, with this basic admittedly oversimplified outline of what an overall retirement strategy might be:

Retirement Strategy

You might be wondering why those below age 45 aren’t included in my little over-generalized grid.  The answer is simple:  In 25 years’ of practice, only ONCE has someone below age 45 come to my office.  That was almost 20 years ago and I haven’t seen anyone in their 40s come to my office since – they’re still watching Kramer – but, I’ll see them after they turn 50 and finally figured something out they don’t know today.

Back to our grid:

The definitions of “modest” and “substantial” are somewhat squishy.  It’s like trying to define what a ‘middle-market’ company is – you can ask a hundred people and get a hundred different answers.  So, let’s just say the definition is whatever you think it is.

If you’re worried about running out of money, you might consider yourself to be a “constrained investor” – and you probably shouldn’t be trying to ‘make up for lost time’ by making risky bets.

If you’re like the couple who’s sitting pretty and just doesn’t want to blow it, you might be preservation minded – someone who wants to maintain their lifestyle after inflation and taxes and not do anything stupid.   [See my blog post, “Inflation and Stockshere.]

Back to our initial quiz:

Which worries you most:  Running out of money or running out of income?

Long-term plans don’t change just because temporary conditions do.

You can have an income forever; but, it may not be enough to even pay your utility bill if the asset base is too small; and, if you

run out of money, there’s no income.

Navigating it all is much like navigating a ship at sea, surrounded by all sorts of potential hazards.

Too much to cover in a single post, as you might imagine; so, we’ll be covering the issues and strategies you can use in upcoming installments.  I hope you’ll find them helpful.

If you would like help, of course, we can always visit by phone.

Enjoy!

Jim


Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and An Accredited Investment Fiduciary® serving private clients since 1991.   Jim is Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a  registered investment advisor with clients located across the U.S.. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742. The Independent Financial Group does not provide legal or tax advice and nothing contained herein should be construed as securities or investment advice, nor an opinion regarding the appropriateness of any investment to the individual reader. The general information provided should not be acted upon without obtaining specific legal, tax, and investment advice from an appropriate licensed professional.