Does “Bucket Investing” Achieve Goals or Destroy Wealth?

Many investors, and advisors, like it; but there are some experts who apparently aren’t too sure.

iStock Images

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Does the ‘bucket’ approach to allocating assets to life goals make sense—or does it actually destroy wealth?   Mentally, bucket investing is simply assigning money to ‘buckets’, i.e. goals.  Advisors utilizing this  approach use a variety of buckets.  Even some celebrated elite advisors have used this method.  One uses a two bucket approach:  Bucket #1 contains a five-year cash reserve and  bucket #2 is then free to invest in longer-term investments, typically stocks, stock funds or exchange-traded funds (ETFs).

Many people find the approach appealing for several reasons:

  • No need to  wrestle with sequence-of-returns risk 
  • No need to worry about liquidating assets during a  down market
  • Comfort:  It comports comfortably with the well-know behavioral bias of mental  accounting.  It’s easy to understand having a withdrawal account and a long-term investment account.

Javier Estrada, a professor of financial management at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain conducted a research study, some time back, on the merits of the ‘bucket approach’ to investing for achieving long-term financial goals.  His study included highly-detailed back-testing of both Monte Carlo and  bucket strategies, back-tested over a variety of time periods and methodologies.    His study uses\d a risk-adjusted success (RAS) measurement—it’s defined as the ratio between the mean-expected value of outcomes  and the standard deviation of outcomes

Are you asleep, yet?

Basically, he’s measuring downside risk-adjusted success—measuring only downside volatility—the dispersion of only failed outcomes as opposed to simply looking at the disparity of upside to downside outcomes.  

Okay, enough of the weeds.  His extensive research shows that while the bucket approach may have psychological  benefits, it doesn’t perform so well when tested  for the highest  likelihood of success.   It failed in all performance tests to provide enough money to cover the needed  withdrawals.  Estrada found that as he extended  the number of years for withdrawals to occur, the worse the strategy became.

Reasons for the failure?  Estrada explained:  “Most implementations of the bucket approach… distribute funds from more aggressive buckets into more conservative buckets, but not the other way around.  Put differently, although bucket strategies avoid selling low by withdrawing from bucket #1 after stocks performed badly, they do not take advantage of also buying low as static strategies do with rebalancing.”

The bucket approach is popular due chiefly to a lack of knowledge.  Surrendering to the mental  accounting bias allows investors to conveniently stop worrying.  While increasing the amount of money allocated to bucket #1 might allow them to sleep better, it also increases the odds of running out of money.

Oops.  Not good.

Jim

————————————

Interested in becoming an IFG client?  Why play phone tag?  Schedule your 15-minute introductory phone call!

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and An Accredited Investment Fiduciary® in his 21st year of private practice as Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located in New York, Florida, and California. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742.  IFG helps specializes in crafting wealth design strategies around life goals by using a proven planning process coupled with a cost-conscious objective and non-conflicted risk management philosophy.

Opinions expressed are those of the author.  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.

Hidden Surrender Charges

You could be paying them without knowing it. It pays to do some math.

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

I don’t know anyone, certified financial planner professionals included, who is a fan of surrender charges; but, economically they are a fact of life for many products simply to make the offering available and viable for the investment or financial product provider.

For consumers, the surrender charge represents an obstacle that stands between them and having total liquidity—and the charge itself reduces the value of the product should that liquidity be required at some future date.   Sometimes, however, consumers are already paying for the liquidity they desire even if they never need or use it!

Hypothetical example:   Mary and John have $150,000 “just in case”  money set-aside in savings.  They have no particular purpose for it but they like knowing it’s there if they should need it.  They’re not making much interest, of course, probably less than 2% – but they like the liquidity.   They’ve heard about another investment that in all likelihood could help them achieve a 5% return, but it has a surrender charge—something they would like to avoid—so they’re staying with their savings account.    In effect, due to the return difference, they’re paying 3% per year for their liquidity right now.  In three years, they will have paid 9% – $13,500!   In five years the liquidity/opportunity cost will be 15% – $22,500—even without growth. 

Maybe the alternative might be a better bet—especially if other questions result in favorable  answers:  Is the tax treatment different?  How much of the money is even subject to surrender charges and how much might be liquid without surrender charges?   Does it make sense to pay 3% in opportunity cost up front for liquidity they may not even use—or does it make more sense to pay for it when it’s needed?  And how much would it even be?

It pays  to do the math and examine all alternatives.

Jim

————————————

Interested in becoming an IFG client?  Why play phone tag?  Schedule your 15-minute introductory phone call!

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and An Accredited Investment Fiduciary® in his 21st year of private practice as Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located in New York, Florida, and California. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742.  IFG helps specializes in crafting wealth design strategies around life goals by using a proven planning process coupled with a cost-conscious objective and non-conflicted risk management philosophy.

Opinions expressed are those of the author.  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.

No RMDs for 2020!

But, you may want to take IRA withdrawals anyway. The reason is simple: Taxes are On Sale!

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Required minimum distributions (RMDs) have been eliminated for 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic; but, you just might want to consider taking a distribution anyway.   Why?

Taxes are on sale!  

The dirty little secret is that all that money in your IRA isn’t yours, unless you have so many deductions or credits that you can zero out all your income – not likely.   We have a tendency to look at our statement’s IRA balance and think all that money is ours.  It isn’t .  At some point, Uncle Sam will take a chunk of it.  It will happen when you begin withdrawing it.  So, the only question is at what rate?

Few people are aware that the current tax laws is set to expire – it ‘sunsets’ – on December 31,2025, about 5 years from now (that allows for tax increases without anyone in Congress having to vote for it, though many would happily do it earlier anyway).

So, you can take your IRA money now at ‘sale prices’ or take it later at higher prices.  Why would you want to do that (besides the obvious)?

The SECURE Act has eliminated the stretch IRA.  This means your heirs could have a big problem when you and your spouse pass away.  Odds are it will happen when your kids are in their peak earning years; want to guess what taxes might look like then?  When they inherit your IRA(s), they will be required fully liquidate those IRAs by the end of the 10th year – ouch!  Big tax bite.

What can you do?  Begin withdrawing your IRA money while taxes are on sale over the next five years and do a Roth conversion on the money each year.   You’ll pay taxes now at ‘sale prices’ and the money will grow inside the Roth IRAs tax-free.   Now, there’s no RMDs.   And, when the time comes, your kids will have to liquidate by the end of the 10th year – but the money will be tax free!

There’s a hidden benefit for you, too:  Taxable income is used to determine what percentage of your Social Security is deemed taxable; it’s also used to determine Medicare premiums.   The less money you have in your traditional IRAs, the less the RMDs – and the less taxable income you have.   Hmmm.

If you have a comprehensive financial plan, a Roth conversion analysis should be a normal part of your planning process.   The savings over the life of your plan, and to your kids, could be substantial.   There are a number of issues to be considered, age, possible penalties, etc., so be sure to talk with your financial advisor.  Don’t have one?  See below!

 

Is there a subject you would like to learn more about?  Let me know in just 1 minute!  You can do it here.

Jim

————————————

Interested in becoming an IFG client?  Why play phone tag?  Schedule your 15-minute introductory phone call!

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and An Accredited Investment Fiduciary® in his 21st year of private practice as Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located in New York, Florida, and California. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742.  IFG helps specializes in crafting wealth design strategies around life goals by using a proven planning process coupled with a cost-conscious objective and non-conflicted risk management philosophy.

Opinions expressed are those of the author.  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.

Three Tips for Building Family Wealth

There is more you can do, of course; but, these will get you on your way: 

Getty Images

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Most people work long hours for 30+ years trying to build wealth for themselves and their families  –  okay, it’s really for the vacation home and a nicer car, but the first part sounds better.

The truth is building family – inter-generational wealth – really isn’t that hard to do.  If you REALLY want to do that, these simple steps will get you started.

  1. Choose your beneficiaries wisely when allocating inheritance money.   Leave tax-deferred accounts (IRAs and non-qualified annuities, for example) to younger family members.  They’re likely in a lower tax bracket and have longer life expectancies for taking the required minimum distributions, which means the distributions will be smaller, as well.    Highly appreciated assets are best left to beneficiaries in higher tax brackets as long as the cost-basis can be stepped up to the current price levels.  This means wealthier recipients can sell the asset with little or no tax consequences.  The high-income beneficiaries would most benefit from the tax-free benefits from life insurance policies.   Life insurance is the most overlooked, yet one of the most valuable tools in the toolbox.   Where else could you create an estate with the stroke of a pen?

  2. Don’t be too eager to drop older life insurance policies.  Some may wonder why keep the policy if they no longer need it.  Those older policies may be paying an attractive interest rate, which is accumulating tax-deferred.  Secondly, those small premiums may well be worth the much larger tax-free payoff down the road.   How to tell?  Start by dividing the premium into the death benefit.  Got the answer?  If you think you’ll pass away before that number (in years), you probably should keep paying.   Remember, death benefits generally pass tax-free!

  3. Convert Grandpa’s IRA to a Roth IRA.    When grandpa passes away, his IRA assets will likely be passed down to children and grandchildren, which means they’ll have to begin taking taxable required minimum distributions (RMDs) – which means they’ll probably be taxed at a higher rate than grandpa would have paid on his own withdrawals (when grandpa passes away, the grandkids are probably in their peak earning years, paying higher taxes anyway.  Why force them into a higher bracket still?).  If grandpa converted some or all of his traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs while alive, this problem wouldn’t happen.  Smart kids might want to encourage this and even offer to pay the tax bill on the conversion now!

Review your financial plan with your advisor?  Don’t have an advisor or a plan?   Hmmmm.  See below.

Jim

————————————

Interested in becoming an IFG client?  Why play phone tag?  Schedule your 15-minute introductory phone call!

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and An Accredited Investment Fiduciary® in his 21st year of private practice as Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located in New York, Florida, and California. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742.  IFG helps specializes in crafting wealth design strategies around life goals by using a proven planning process coupled with a cost-conscious objective and non-conflicted risk management philosophy.

Opinions expressed are those of the author.  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.

How Social Security and Pensions Might Impact How You Arrange Your Nest-Egg.

Few people think about this, but you might want to.

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Everyone intuitively understands the need to have a balanced approach to meet retirement needs; however, it’s also important to address risk in light of the long term inflation risk.  

Let’s take a hypothetical example using simple numbers.  And, suppose after all the data gathering, goal setting, and risk assessments have been completed in the financial planning process, June and Ward Cleaver (yes, I am that old) have decided they feel comfortable with a portfolio that’s comprised of 60% bonds and cash and 40% in stocks.  

June and Ward are retiring today after over thirty years of working and saving—they’ve done a lot of thing right—and have accumulated a nest-egg of $1 million.   So, in our simple example, that would indicate their money should be arranged with $600,000 allocated to bonds and cash, and $400,000 to stocks.  Simple.

But, suppose the two of them also have Social Security income—maybe even pension income, as well.  This additional ongoing cash flow shouldn’t be ignored in constructing their allocation.    Again, to keep numbers simple (I’m highly qualified for simple numbers).  Let’s say Ward and June have an additional $30,000 in annual ongoing income to augment their savings.   

What does that $30,000 annual income represent?  How much would someone need to have invested to provide the same income?

Assuming a 4% annual withdrawal rate on assets  – we’ll say that fits June and Ward’s situation  –  that $30,000 represents income on an additional $750,000 in assets… except these assets are illiquid:   June and Ward can only take the income, they can’t ‘cash in’ the principal.   It is like, in effect, an annuity, something some people use to simply ‘purchase’ a lifetime income.   I’m not a big proponent, but they do have their place in some situations—but that’s another story.

Nevertheless, if we consider that $30,000 annual income as actually representing an additional asset, June and Ward really effectively have $1,750,000 in assets, $750,000 of which we’ll consider illiquid and providing an income of $30,000 at 4%, but it never runs out of money.   If 60% of their total retirement ‘assets’ is to be allocated to bonds, their bond portfolio might now be $1,050,000 (60% of $1,750,000), $750,000 of which is already allocated and providing $30,000 in income. 

That leaves $300,000 ($1,050,000 – $750,000) to be allocated to bonds from their nest-egg.  This decreases their nest-egg bond and cash allocation from the original $600,000 to $300,000, and therefore raises their stock allocation from $400,000 to $700,000.   If long-term inflation is an issue – and it is – then were June and Ward really risking being under-allocated to stocks?

The ‘guaranteed’ $30,000 cash flow, representing an illiquid asset, provides them with the ability, i.e., gives them the freedom, to still address short-term needs and objectives with $300,000, while allowing more money, $700,000) to address long-term inflation risk.

Historically, stocks have performed, simply because they represent the economic engine of the United States.   And, it has never made sense to bet against the U.S.A.   Pistons drive the engine and the engine provides forward movement.

Jim

Interested in becoming an IFG client?  Why play phone tag?  Schedule your 15-minute introductory phone call!

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

Jim Lorenzen is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER® professional and An Accredited Investment Fiduciary® in his 21st year of private practice as Founding Principal of The Independent Financial Group, a fee-only registered investment advisor with clients located in New York, Florida, and California. He is also licensed for insurance as an independent agent under California license 0C00742.  IFG helps specializes in crafting wealth design strategies around life goals by using a proven planning process coupled with a cost-conscious objective and non-conflicted risk management philosophy.

Opinions expressed are those of the author.  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.

YOU Are an Acutary!

Bet you didn’t know that.

Fotila Images

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

There was a time – for those of you old enough to remember – when companies would promise you a pre-determined retirement benefit, then do all the calculations required to figure out just how much they would have to fund your plan in order to achieve the promised results. 

Not easy.  They had to start with the ending value and work backwards, making capital markets assumptions for expected portfolio returns, based on how their investment portfolio was allocated.

Problems arose, however, when their projections were too optimistic resulting in many under-funded pension plans and an inability to pay promised benefits.

Goodbye pensions; hello 401(k).  Companies decided they didn’t need the liability risk:  You figure it out.

Now you get to decide how much funding is required.   Can you calculate the time-value of money?   Pensions promised a fixed benefit; but, in the real world, we have inflation and tax-law changes.   Pensions never even considered those factors.

Not only do you need to factor-in additional inputs; you also need know how to manage portfolio risk, too!  You might find this report somewhat enlightening, if not helpful.

Enjoy,

Jim


Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

 

 

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.

Thinking of Buying An Annuity? Do Your Homework.

Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

 

If you’re thinking of purchasing an annuity, here’s a report you might find helpful.

I seldom use annuities for client portfolios; but, that doesn’t mean they’re bad.  Any financial instrument will have it’s good and bad points; the question is really whether the instrument in question is appropriate for a particular client, and given that I take fiduciary status for my clients, it MUST be in a client’s best interest.

Television commercials abound – some advisors telling you they have annuity strategies no one else has (uh huh) and others telling you they’d rather die before they’d ever sell one (neglecting to either differentiate what annuities they’re talking about – variable and fixed annuities are two entirely different animals with virtually nothing in common – or to tell the viewer they’re not licensed to sell annuities to begin with).   The truth is both types of commercials are misleading and tend to target those who don’t know what questions to ask – convenient.

If you’re considering purchasing an annuity, and I’m not recommending that you should,  you might find this report about the things you should consider helpful.  You can access it here.

Hope you find this helpful.

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


Jim Lorenzen, CFP®, AIF®

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.