0 comments on “Freedom and Financial Security”

Freedom and Financial Security

Wouldn’t it be nice to have complete control over your life?

Quit the job you hate. Travel for a year or two. Work for a non-profit despite the lower pay. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to do these things, or whatever else is on your list, without fear?

You don’t have to be rich to live your life on your terms. Saving in a retirement account can give you this freedom. I’ve talked to many people who have been able to do all these things because they had retirement savings. And they didn’t even have to touch their accounts.

One couple I know took two years off work and traveled the country in their RV. They weren’t rich. One was a public school teacher and the other was an IT manager at a financial services firm. Yet they were comfortable giving up their jobs to see the country while they were still young enough to enjoy it.

They were diligent savers. They had no debt, their retirement savings were on track, and they had money for emergencies. While they traveled, they took part-time, minimum wage jobs to cover their costs. They didn’t need to draw on their savings, and because they had retirement savings, it was not a setback for them to skip contributing for a while.

A woman I met with recently, plans to leave her career early and work for a non-profit in a field for which she is passionate. She’s not rich either. She is a project manager now, but she’ll spend the last decade or so of her working career doing something she loves.

It doesn’t matter that she won’t be bringing down the same pay, because she’s already built up her retirement account. Her low living expenses will allow her to maintain her lifestyle with less income, and she won’t need to dip into savings. She won’t need to contribute to retirement savings either, because what she has will continue to grow.

Saving for retirement early in your career is more valuable than saving later in your career. The early money you invest earns investment returns longer, and grows larger, than money you invest later in your life.

Saving early gives you a cushion that can allow you to stop saving sooner. With a 7 percent average annual rate of return, you would only need to save half as much per month now as you would ten years from now to accumulate the same amount of money at a traditional retirement age. The earnings on your money’s earnings will carry you.

If retirement seems a long way off, or you can’t imagine what you would do if you weren’t working, it still pays to save for it. Your retirement account can give you the flexibility to do the things you want without touching it. It frees you to save less, or take a break from savings all together. It gives you both freedom and financial security.

 

 

0 comments on “Double Your Salary in Savings by Age 35 or Double Your Savings from Salary”

Double Your Salary in Savings by Age 35 or Double Your Savings from Salary

This last Monday (May 21st, 2018), Buzzfeed highlighted the Twitter responses to a recent Marketwatch article that said by the time you are 35 you should have saved twice your salary. Some of the Twitter comments were very funny. Here are a few from the Buzzfeed article.

By the time you’re 35 you should have saved at least half your sandwich for lunchtime instead of noming it at 10am.

By age 35 you should have approximately 10 times the existential dread you had when you graduated high school.

By age 35 you should stop paying attention to condescending life advice from strangers writing think pieces.

While accomplishing such a feat seems incredible, there are reasons why it is a good benchmark. First, it is a reasonable savings rate for anyone leaving college. The math follows. Second, it’s necessary unless you want to give up much more of your income later.

To have twice your salary in savings in ten years, with a reasonable rate of return, you would  need to save 15.0 percent of it. That is common advice for those beginning to save in their twenties. If your employer matches your contribution to your retirement account, you could save less.

Say your starting salary when you left college was $45,000. With annual increases, you now make about $54,000. Your employer would contribute 5.0 percent to your company 401(k) if you contributed at least that much. You only have to contribute 10.0 percent of your salary to save 15.0 percent. You would contribute $375 each month to start, and your employer would contribute $187.50. Your and your employer’s dollar contribution would grow with your salary.

Your share of the contribution would be less if you contribute pretax dollars in a traditional 401(k). With a combined state and federal tax rate of 24 percent, your paycheck would only have been reduced by $285 per month to start. For $285, you would be saving $563 every month with your employer match.

At the end of ten years, assuming a 7.0 percent rate of return, your balance would have grown to over $105,000, which is almost double your current salary. Your contributions would have totaled $48,781 before tax and $37,073 after tax. With the employer match and market returns, doubling your money in ten years is very possible.

If you haven’t been saving a total of 15.0 percent of your income, between you and your employer, prior to reaching age 35, you’ll need to save much more after to be able to maintain your current lifestyle when you eventually do retire.

If you begin saving in your 36th year, to accumulate the same amount of money by age 65 as you would have if you started saving at age 25, you would need to save a total of 28.0 percent of your salary, using the 7.0 percent return assumption. If your employer matches 5.0 percent, you still have to contribute 23.0 percent of your salary. You would need to give up more than twice as much of your take home pay to arrive at the same balance.

On the surface, to have saved twice your salary by the time you’re 35 seems outlandish. Who could save that much? But if you take into account market returns, it’s not as crazy as you first thought. Add in typical employer matching contributions, and it is down right doable. If you didn’t manage it, you can still get to where you need to be. You’ll simply need to save more.

0 comments on “When to Take Social Security”

When to Take Social Security

My husband, Jeff, recently turned 60. It’s an interesting age. It’s as if you’ve crested some hill, and can now see retirement laid out before you. Jeff has been retired for five years, but his friends who are still working are starting to think seriously about what’s next. Conversations on the topic inevitably turn to Social Security claiming strategies.

Should I take it early, at age 62, is the usual question. A few have done some math to arrive at a dubious conclusion. If you assume you live to a certain age, say 80, you will get the same amount, in total, from Social Security whether you claim it at 62 or the normal retirement age of 67, despite the larger benefit. If you wait until you are 70, you’ll actually get less money. Here is an example of the calculation.

SS Claim Strat

The first problem is you’re not likely to die at age 80. In the absence of some known health issue, at the age of 62, men can expect to live to be 84, and women can expect to live to be 87, according to the Social Security Life Expectancy Calculator. That change alone makes a significant difference in the total benefit you can expect to receive, and claiming at 62 no longer makes sense, if your goal is to maximize your life time total benefits.

SS at Life

If you live to be 80, it turns out you are likely to live to be 89 if you are a man and 90 if you are a woman. At those ages, the difference in life time benefits between claiming early and claiming at the full retirement age grows to $52,000 and $58,000 respectively.

But all of these calculations miss an important purpose of Social Security. It is a guaranteed income that supplements your retirement savings. If you wait to claim Social Security until your full retirement age, or later, the larger benefit will allow you to take less from your savings, and therefore your savings will last longer. Since you really don’t know how long you will live, you need your savings to last as long as possible.

Say that you have $1 million saved for retirement and you need $60,000 per year to maintain your current lifestyle. Also assume your savings will earn 5.0 percent per year. If you claim Social Security at age 62, your savings will only last until you are 92, whereas if you wait until age 67 to retire and claim Social Security, the higher benefit means you are not likely to run out of money ever.

If you consider that things may not work out as planned, that extra buffer is even more important. About two thirds of people over the age of 65 are expected to need long term care sometime in their life, according to a paper by the Society of Actuaries. Long term care will sap your savings quickly. The higher social security benefit you receive at the full retirement age will leave you with more savings to deal with these higher expenses.

A higher benefit will also provide you a buffer against the vagaries of the market. Your savings won’t earn 5.0 percent every year. Some years it will earn more and some less. The larger your Social Security benefit the better you will be able to maintain your lifestyle in the event returns aren’t as high as expected.

Maximizing your lifetime Social Security benefit shouldn’t be your primary goal. Making sure you have enough money to last your lifetime should be. You are more likely to realize the latter goal if you wait to take Social Security until your benefit is higher.

 

 

 

1 comment on “Four Things Retirement Savings and Going to the Olympics Have in Common”

Four Things Retirement Savings and Going to the Olympics Have in Common

I love the Olympics. Amazing people from all over the world converge to do amazing things. Things that most of us haven’t even dreamed of. But those athletes did. And that is the main reason they are in Pyeongchang.

Their dreams were so important that they set aside hours a day to train. They gave up everyday comforts. In an interview, Adam Rippon, from the men’s figure skating team, talked about living on apples he snuck from the gym, because he didn’t have enough money for groceries. Yet their dreams were so important the sacrifice was worth it.

You may not have your eyes on an Olympic medal, but some of your goals can be just as daunting. Having the financial security to one day leave your job and not worry about money is likely one of them. That goal requires many of the same disciplines as an Olympic dream.

First you must define your goal. Olympic athletes don’t get to there by wanting to be Olympians. They get there by wanting to be the best at short track speed skating, or half pipe snowboarding or cross country skiing. You must define your retirement goal in terms of how you want to live when you stop working for pay.

That can be a tall order. Who knows how you’ll want to live decades in the future. Some may have a vision of it, but if you don’t, how you live today may be a good starting place. From that you can get an estimate of how much money you need to fund your lifestyle. Fortunately there are many free resources on-line to help you do the math. The following are a few you can try.

Bankrate Retirement Calculator

Nerdwallet Retirement Calculator

CalcXML Retirement Calculator

Next you need a strategy. Athletes have training and diet regimens. Similarly, you need to decide what you will do so you can save for the future. Where is the money for savings going to come from?

For some, simply taking the money out of the picture, through an automated savings program like your company retirement savings plan, is all that’s needed. Others may have to figure out how to free up some money first so it can be saved. Creating a spending plan, otherwise known as a budget, will help you sort out what you value and what you don’t in your current spending. Goals have a way of shining a light on your trade offs.

Then you need to practice and monitor your progress. Olympic athletes only get where they are through practicing their skills. They enter competitions to see how they are progressing toward their goals. They compare their performance to other athletes in the same field to learn what they need to improve to be better than them.

You also need to practice and measure your progress. Decisions you make every day will help you stay on your spending plan. Checking your actual spending relative to your plan and regularly reviewing your balance against shorter term savings goals will allow you to make adjustments so you can improve your progress.

You don’t have to do it alone. Olympic athletes usually have a family that supports their dreams and a good coach. Get help with achieving your goal. Make sure your family is on board with saving for your future, and enlist the help of a financial planner if you are not making the progress you want. To find a Certified Financial Planner in your area search letsmakeaplan.org.

Big goals are daunting. Your future financial security is no less of an endeavor than pursuing an Olympic medal, and the path to success is the same. You have to know what you want, develop a strategy for achieving it, practice your skills, monitor your progress and get help when you need it. It takes a long time, so the earlier you begin the better off you are. Decide today to begin pursuing your own dream.

Image courtesy of franky242 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

2 comments on “The 12 Days of Financial Security for Christmas”

The 12 Days of Financial Security for Christmas

 

Forget the birds and performing artists. These are the 12 gifts of financial security!

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me a fund for emergencies

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me a budget for expenses and a fund for emergencies

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me a maxed out retirement, a budget for expenses and a fund for emergencies

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me a pay-down on my visa, a maxed out retirement, a budget for expenses and a fund for emergencies

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me a Roth IRA, a pay-down on my visa, a maxed out retirement, a budget for expenses and a fund for emergencies

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me full estate planning, a Roth IRA, a pay-down on my visa, a maxed out retirement, a budget for expenses and a fund for emergencies

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me insurance for disabilities, full estate planning, a Roth IRA, a pay-down on my visa, a maxed out retirement, a budget for expenses and a fund for emergencies

On the eighth day of Christmas my true love gave to me a 529 for my kids, insurance for disabilities, full estate planning, a Roth IRA, a pay-down on my visa, a maxed out retirement, a budget for expenses and a fund for emergencies

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me a pay-down on my student loans, a 529 for my kids, insurance for disabilities, full estate planning, a Roth IRA, a pay-down on my visa, a maxed out retirement, a budget for expenses and a fund for emergencies

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me a sound investment strategy, a pay-down on my student loans, a 529 for my kids, insurance for disabilities, full estate planning, a Roth IRA, a pay-down on my visa, a maxed out retirement, a budget for expenses and a fund for emergencies.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me a long-term care policy, a sound investment strategy, a pay-down on my student loans, a 529 for my kids, insurance for disabilities, full estate planning, a Roth IRA, a pay-down on my visa, a maxed out retirement, a budget for expenses and a fund for emergencies.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a pledge to be mortgage free, a long-term care policy, a sound investment strategy, a pay-down on my student loans, a 529 for my kids, insurance for disabilities, full estate planning, a Roth IRA, a pay-down on my visa, a maxed out retirement, a budget for expenses and a fund for emergencies.

Merry Christmas everyone!

2 comments on “4 Things To Review on Your Retirement Plan During Open Enrollment”

4 Things To Review on Your Retirement Plan During Open Enrollment

Every year after Halloween, time begins to accelerate as the year hurtles through the holidays and to its eventual end. But before you brace yourself for the feasts and family, you have some business of your own to take care of. For most employers, November 1st marks the beginning of open enrollment for company benefits.

While the centerpiece of open enrollment is healthcare benefits, its also a good time to pay some attention to your retirement account. You should revisit your contributions and your investments, consider switching your contributions to a Roth option and update your beneficiaries.

Contributions

Your minimum contribution should be enough to get your company’s match. Most employers require you to contribute 6.0 percent to get the full company match. If you are contributing the minimum, you aren’t saving enough for retirement. Make an effort to increase your contributions this year, and each year from here on out, until you hit the maximum.

The 2018 contribution limits for employer sponsored retirement accounts, such as 401(k)s, has gone up. It is now $18,500 and if you are over 50, you can contribute up to $24,500. If your goal is to contribute the maximum to your account, you may need to adjust your contributions.

Rebalancing

With the stock market up, you may find that you have more money in mutual funds investing in stocks than you intend. Now is a good time to sell some of your stock market investments and buy more conservative investments to rebalance your account to its target allocation. If your company’s plan offers an auto rebalancing feature, where your account could be automatically rebalanced to its target allocation, now would be a good time to turn it on.

Not sure what your allocation should be? Most plans offer help with figuring this out, whether its through planning tools available on the web site or some form of professionally managed investment option.

In the professionally managed category, target date retirement funds are now widely available. You can tell which ones these are, because they have a year in the name of the fund, such as target retirement 2045.

Target date funds are fully diversified investment options. The fund’s manager gradually reduces the fund’s allocation to risky stock market investments as the target date approaches. All you have to do is select this investment option, and your retirement account will be managed in a reasonable way for your age and the time remaining before you stop working.

If your company’s plan doesn’t offer target date retirement funds, they may offer a managed account option. With a managed account option, your investments will be managed for you by an investment adviser based on information you provide, usually through an on-line questionnaire.

If none of these are available to you, one easy rule of thumb is to subtract your age from 120 and invest that percentage in stock mutual funds. Then invest the rest in bond funds.Asset Allocation

Roth Accounts

Now is also a good time to check whether your company offers a Roth retirement account option. Both accounts allow your investments to grow tax free while you are saving for retirement, but they differ in the tax treatment on both the front and back ends.

With a Roth option, your contributions are after tax, whereas with a traditional account, your contributions are before tax. While the before tax contributions make the traditional accounts appealing on the front end, Roth accounts have more advantages on the back end, when you are withdrawing your money.

When you want to spend your money in retirement, withdrawals from a traditional account will be fully taxable, while withdrawals from a Roth account will be fully tax-exempt. The following table shows the advantage of the Roth account over a traditional account with a single year’s contribution.

roth example

Because the growth in your investments will be far greater than your contributions, your tax bill on withdrawal from a traditional account will be higher than the tax advantage you gained on deposit. That makes the Roth option, with no tax obligations on withdrawal, more attractive.

Roth accounts have other advantages. You can withdraw your contributions, though not your earnings, at any time without paying taxes. This comes in handy if you plan to retire before you are 59 ½. You also won’t be required to take a minimum distribution when you turn 70. Finally, withdrawals from a Roth account are not included in your income calculation for determining whether your social security benefits are taxable.

Anyone can contribute to a Roth retirement account through work. There are no income limitations as there are with Roth IRAs. If your employer matches your contribution, they will match your Roth contribution by making a contribution to a traditional account. So you will wind up with two retirement accounts through work.

If you move your balance in your traditional account to the Roth account you will be taxed on the amount transferred, so don’t do that unless you’ve checked with a tax professional and know what you’re in for. However, your future contributions can go toward a Roth account.

Beneficiaries

Review your beneficiaries. Regardless of any other documents you may have, such as a will, financial institutions rely solely on your beneficiary designations to distribute your account in the event of your untimely demise.

If your spouse has changed, make sure your prior partner is not still your beneficiary. Do not make minor children beneficiaries, because financial institutions cannot distribute money directly to them until they turn 18. Consider establishing a family trust, and making it your beneficiary, to allow your children’s guardians easier access to the money needed to raise your kids.

There is no time like open enrollment to focus your attention on financial matters. Before things get hectic with the holidays, take advantage of this annual checkpoint to make sure you are on the right track with your retirement benefits. Your work related retirement plan may well make up the bulk of your retirement savings, so take advantage of what is available to you.

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

0 comments on “The Stock Market is at Record Highs. Should You Get Out?”

The Stock Market is at Record Highs. Should You Get Out?

Both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500, the venerable U.S. stock market indices, closed near record highs on Friday, October 13th. Both indices have been steadily climbing all year. The Dow, including dividends, is up 17.92 percent and the S&P, also including dividends, is up 15.86 percent just this year.

The run up has investors waiting for the other shoe to drop. Surely the next move can only be down. Every week there are articles discussing whether we are on the verge of another stock market bubble bursting. You’ve worked hard for your savings, and nothing is worse than seeing a big hole in the value of your nest egg. So should you sell your stock market investments to avoid that?

To see how it might turn out, look at what happened following the last stock market peak, in September of 2007, just before the financial crisis. If you had perfect foresight you would have sold then, and avoided the following drop in value of 51 percent. Then you would have bought back your investment at the low in February of 2009. By now your investment would have more than tripled.

But let’s be realistic. We only have perfect hindsight. We know nothing about the future. We can’t tell whether we are at a peak or just a nice view point along the way. And we certainly won’t be able to tell when the market has hit bottom.

To get a sense of what most investors did following the stock market peak in 2007, we can look at investor net buys or sales of mutual funds and exchange traded funds investing in the stock market during the time period. In the following chart, fund net buys (actually sales because they are negative) are in blue and the S&P 500 Total Return Index is in orange.

Funds flows and performance

Yes, investors began taking money out of the stock market as it began to decline from it’s highs. But they continued to take money out even as it rebounded. As the market surpassed it’s previous peak investors were still withdrawing money. It wasn’t until the end of 2012 that stock funds began to see steady net buys.

The biggest monthly net sale was in October of 2008 and the biggest monthly net buy following that was January of 2013. If you had sold and bought back in those months your return from September of 2007 through October 13, 2017 would have been just 11.89 percent, or about 1.3 percent per year.

Even being off by a few months would have cost your returns. If you didn’t sell until December 2007 and didn’t buy until May 2009, your money would have only doubled instead of tripled. If you had waited another six months on both ends, your money would be only 1.5 times more than at the 2007 peak.

What if you had done nothing? If you had not touched your stock market investments, by now your money would have more than doubled. Doing nothing is certainly easier than picking both the top and bottom of the stock market. Steadily adding to your investments, as you would in your retirement account, would have been even better.

Where stock market declines become devastating is when you have to withdraw your money during the decline to meet expenses.  To avoid that, don’t invest any money you will need to spend in the next ten years there. Anything that you won’t need for more than ten years can stay invested in the stock market. Historically, the S&P 500 has finished higher than it started in 26 out of every 27 ten-year periods.

Of course there will be another market down-turn. But no one knows when or how severe it will be. In the mean time you need your savings to grow for your long term goals, like retirement. So no, don’t get out of your stock market investments now and in fact keep adding to them. If you have more than ten years before you need to spend your money, you have plenty of time for your savings to recover from the next down-turn, whenever that is.

Sources: Yahoo Finance S&P 500 Total Return Index and Data Hub US Investor Flow of Funds

Image courtesy of Idea go at FreeDigitalPhotos.net