The Joys and Financial Challenges of Parenthood. By John Jastremski

Children are special. There’s nothing like them. They can be our sweetest blessing, as well as our biggest frustration. Most of all, however, they are our greatest responsibility, as well as our most important–and expensive–commitment.

Whether you are a first-time parent or a veteran of refereeing sibling squabbles and who-put-the-empty-milk-carton-back-in-the-fridge inquisitions, parenthood can be both wonderfully rewarding and frighteningly challenging. Our children give us gifts only a parent can understand–from sticky-finger hugs to heartfelt pleas to tag along on Saturday morning errands. We raise them with a clear goal that we secretly dread will actually take place–that someday they will be grown, independent, ready to move out into the world on their own, and our work will be over. As our children travel this long and never-dull road from infancy to adulthood, we nurture them, worry about them, scold them, love them. Most of all, we try to protect them. We want them to grow up in a stable world, one in which they are physically safe, emotionally nurtured, and financially secure. Still, meeting expenses can be a challenge.

How expensive is raising a child?

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that the average nationwide cost of raising one child in a two-parent family from cradle to college entrance at age 18 ranges from $176,550 to $407,820 depending on income. (Source: Expenditures on Children by Families, 2013, released August 2014) Then, when they turn 18, add in college expenses, and your financial outlay can get even worse. How much worse? According to the College Board, for the 2014/2015 school year, the average cost of one year at a four-year public college is $23,410 (for in-state students), while the average cost for one year at a four-year private college is $46,272 (the total cost of attendance includes tuition and fees, room and board, books and supplies, transportation, and other miscellaneous costs). Even if those numbers don’t go up, that would come to $93,640 for a four-year degree at a public college, and $185,088 at a private university (and college costs have increased each year for decades). Oh, and don’t forget graduate school.

The bottom line: Children are expensive! Between raising them and educating them and making sure they get a good, strong start in life, one thing is obvious when it comes to children–they are a major responsibility. Fortunately, as long as we remain alive and healthy, we manage to somehow meet these expenses.  It’s part of what parenthood is all about.

Have you taken steps to protect them?

But here’s a question you need to consider: What would happen to them if something happened to you? No, it’s not the kind of question we like to dwell on. But these matters are important. This is why many financial professionals recommend that, above and beyond the day-to-day efforts to provide for their children, parents should take specific steps to help protect their financial well-being.

Review your life insurance coverage

Life insurance is an effective way to protect your family from the uncertainty of premature death. Life insurance can help assure that a preselected amount of money will be on hand to replace your income and help your family members–your children and your spouse–maintain their standard of living. With life insurance, you can select an amount that will help your family meet living expenses, pay the mortgage, and even provide a college fund for your children. Best of all, life insurance proceeds are generally not taxable as income. Keep in mind, though, that the cost and availability of life insurance depend on factors such as age, health, and the type and amount of insurance purchased. As with most financial decisions, there are expenses associated with the purchase of life insurance.

Consider purchasing disability income insurance

If you become disabled and unable to work, disability income insurance can pay benefits–a specific percentage of your income–so you can continue meeting your financial obligations until you are back on your feet. What about Social Security? If you do become permanently and totally disabled and are unable to do work of any kind, you may be eligible for benefits, but qualifying isn’t easy. For more flexible and comprehensive protection, consider buying disability income insurance.

Start building a college fund now

College costs may seem daunting (and they are expected to continue increasing), but you have about 18 years before your newborn will be a college freshman. By starting today, you can help your children become debt-free college grads. The secret is to save a little each month, take advantage of compound interest, and have a sum waiting for you when your child is ready for college.

The following chart shows how much money might be available for college when your child turns 18, if you save a certain amount each month.

Child’s Age Now $100/month $200/month $300/month $400/month
Newborn $38,735 $77,741 $116,08 $154,941
4 $26,231 $52,462 $78,693 $104,924
8 $16,388 $32,776 $49,164 $65,552
10 $12,283 $24,566 $36,849 $49,132
14 $5,410 $10,820 $16,230 $21,640
16 $2,543 $5,086 $7,629 $10,172
Table assumes an after-tax return of 6%, compounded monthly. This is a hypothetical example and is not intended to reflect the actual performance of any investment.

 

But keep saving for your own retirement, too. Many well-intentioned parents put their own retirement savings on hold while they save for their children’s college education. But if you do so, you’re potentially sacrificing your own financial well-being. Finally, enjoy watching your children grow up. And remember, just as they are important to you, you are important to them. Make sure they’re protected financially.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of John Jastremski, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

John Jastremski is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

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Coping With College Loans. By John Jastremski

Paying them down, managing their financial impact.

Are student loans holding our economy back? Certainly America has recovered from the last recession, but this is an interesting question nonetheless.

In a November 2013 address before the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Assistant Director Rohit Chopra expressed that college loan debt “may prove to be one of the more painful aftershocks of the Great Recession.” In fact, outstanding education debt in America doubled from 2007 to 2013, topping $1 trillion.1

More than 60% of this debt is held by people over the age of 30 and about 15% is carried by people older than 50. The housing sector feels the strain: in a November National Association of Realtors survey, 54% of the first-time homebuyers who had difficulty saving up a down payment cited their college loan expenses as the main obstacle. The ProgressNow think tank believes that education debt siphons $6 billion of new car purchasing power out of the economy per year.2,3

As the Detroit Free Press notes, the average 2012 college graduate is burdened with $29,400 in education loans. If you carry five-figure (or greater) education debt, what do you do to pay it down faster?4

How can you overcome student loans to move forward financially? If you are young (or not so young), budgeting is key. Even if you get a second job, a promotion, or an inheritance, you won’t be able to erase any debt if your expenses consistently exceed your income. Smartphone apps and other online budget tools can help you live within your budget day to day, or even at the point of purchase for goods and services.

After that first step, you can use a few different strategies to whittle away at college loans.

*The local economy permitting, a couple can live on one salary and use the wages of the other earner to pay off the loan balance(s).

*You could use your tax refund to attack the debt.

*You can hold off on a major purchase or two. (Yes, this is a sad effect of college debt, but backhandedly it could also help you reduce it by freeing up more cash to apply to the loan.)

*You can sell something of significant value – a car or truck, a motorbike, jewelry, collectibles – and turn the cash on the debt.

Now in the big picture of your budget, you could try the “snowball method” where you focus on paying off your smallest debt first, then the next smallest, etc. on to the largest. Or, you could try the “debt ladder” tactic, where you attack the debt(s) with the highest interest rate(s) to start. That will permit you to gradually devote more and more money toward the goal of wiping out that existing student loan balance.

Even just paying more than the minimum each month on your loan will help. Making payments every two weeks rather than every month can also have a big impact.

If the lender presents you with a choice of repayment plans, weigh the one you currently use against the others; the others might be better. Signing up for automatic payments can help, too. You avoid the risk of penalty for late payment, and student loan issuers commonly reward the move: many will lower the interest rate on a loan by a quarter-point or so in thanks.5

What if you have multiple outstanding college loans? Should one of those loans have a variable interest rate (about 15% of education loans do), try addressing that debt first. Why? Think about what could happen with interest rates as this decade progresses. They are already rising.5

Also, how about combining multiple federal student loan balances into one? If you graduated college before July 1, 2006, the interest rate you’ll lock in on the single balance will be lower than that paid on each separate federal education loan.5

Maybe your boss could pay down the loan. Don’t laugh: there are college grads who manage to negotiate just such agreements. In fact, there are small and mid-sized businesses that offer them simply to be competitive today. They can’t offer a young hire what the Fortune 500 can when it comes to salary, so they pitch another perk: a lump sum that the new employee can use to reduce a college loan.5

To reduce your student debt, live within your means and use your financial creativity. It may disappear faster than you think.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – consumerfinance.gov/newsroom/student-loan-ombudsman-rohit-chopra-before-the-federal-reserve-bank-of-st-louis/ [11/18/13]

2 – forbes.com/sites/halahtouryalai/2013/06/26/backlash-student-loans-keep-borrowers-from-buying-homes-cars/ [6/26/13]

3 – realtor.org/news-releases/2013/11/home-buyers-and-sellers-survey-shows-lingering-impact-of-tight-credit [11/13]

4 – tinyurl.com/nouty3k [4/19/14]

5 – tinyurl.com/k29m48y [5/1/14]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of John Jastremski, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, AT&T, Qwest,  ING Retirement,Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

John Jastremski is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

 

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Long-Term Investment Truths. By John Jastremski

Key lessons for retirement savers.

You learn lessons as you invest in pursuit of long-run goals. Some of these lessons are conveyed and reinforced when you begin saving for retirement, and others you glean along the way.

First & foremost, you learn to shut out much of the “noise.” News outlets take the temperature of global markets five days a week (and even on the weekends), and fundamental indicators serve as barometers of the economy each month. The longer you invest, the more you learn to ride through the turbulence caused by all the breaking news alerts and short-term statistical variations. While the day trader sells or buys in reaction to immediate economic or market news, the buy-and-hold investor waits for selloffs, corrections and bear markets to pass.

You learn how much volatility you can stomach. Volatility (also known as market risk) is measured in shorthand as the standard deviation for the S&P 500. Across 1926-2014, the yearly total return for the S&P averaged 10.2%. If you want to be very casual about it, you could simply say that stocks go up about 10% a year – but that discounts some pronounced volatility. The S&P had a standard deviation of 20.2 from its mean total return in this time frame, which means that if you add or subtract 20.2 from 10.2, you get the range of the index’s yearly total return that could be expected 67% of the time. So in any given year from 1926-2014, there was a 67% chance that the yearly total return of the S&P might vary from +30.4% to -10.0%. Some investors dislike putting up with that kind of volatility, others more or less embrace it.1

You learn why liquidity matters. The older you get, the more you appreciate being able to quickly access your money. A family emergency might require you to tap into your investment accounts. An early retirement might prompt you to withdraw from retirement funds sooner than you anticipate. If you have a fair amount of your savings in illiquid investments, you have a problem – those dollars are “locked up” and you cannot access those assets without paying penalties. In a similar vein, there are some investments that are harder to sell than others.

Should you misgauge your need for liquidity, you can end up selling at the wrong time as a consequence. It hurts to let go of an investment when the expected gain is high and the P/E ratio is low.

You learn the merits of rebalancing your portfolio. To the neophyte investor, rebalancing when the market is hot may seem illogical. If your portfolio is disproportionately weighted in equities, is that a problem? It could be.

Across a sustained bull market, it is common to see your level of risk rise parallel to your return. When equities return more than other asset classes, they end up representing an increasingly large percentage of your portfolio’s total assets. Correspondingly, your cash allocation shrinks as well.

The closer you get to retirement, the less risk you will likely want to assume. Even if you are strongly committed to growth investing, approaching retirement while taking on more risk than you feel comfortable with is problematic, as is approaching retirement with an inadequate cash position. Rebalancing a portfolio restores the original asset allocation, realigning it with your long-term risk tolerance and investment strategy. It may seem counterproductive to sell “winners” and buy “losers” as an effect of rebalancing, but as you do so, remember that you are also saying goodbye to some assets that may have peaked while saying hello to others that you may be buying at the right time.

You learn not to get too attached to certain types of investments. Sometimes an investor will succumb to familiarity bias, which is the rejection of diversification for familiar investments. Why does he or she have 13% of the portfolio invested in just two Dow components? The investor just likes what those firms stand for, or has worked for them. The inherent problem is that the performance of those companies exerts a measurable influence on the overall portfolio performance.

Sometimes you see people invest heavily in sectors that include their own industry or career field. An investor works for an oil company, so he or she gets heavily into the energy sector. When energy companies go through a rough patch, that investor’s portfolio may be in for a rough ride. Correspondingly, that investor has less capacity to tolerate stock market risk than a faculty surgeon at a university hospital, a federal prosecutor, or someone else whose career field or industry will be less buffeted by the winds of economic change.

You learn to be patient. Even if you prefer a tactical asset allocation strategy over the standard buy-and-hold approach, time teaches you how quickly the markets rebound from downturns and why you should stay invested even through systemic shocks. The pursuit of your long-term financial objectives should not falter – your future and your quality of life may depend on realizing them.

This material was prepared by MarketingPro, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of the presenting party, nor their affiliates. This information has been derived from sources believed to be accurate. Please note – investing involves risk, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. This information should not be construed as investment, tax or legal advice and may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any Federal tax penalty. This is neither a solicitation nor recommendation to purchase or sell any investment or insurance product or service, and should not be relied upon as such. All indices are unmanaged and are not illustrative of any particular investment.

Citations.

1 – fc.standardandpoors.com/sites/client/generic/axa/axa4/Article.vm?topic=5991&siteContent=8088 [6/4/15]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of John Jastremski, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

John Jastremski is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

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Are You Underprepared for Retirement? By John Jastremski

A university study serves as a wake-up call.

Financially speaking, how many Americans are truly on track to retire? A recently published white paper suggests that about half of us are approaching our “third acts” with faulty assumptions.

Perception differs from reality. Researchers from the University of Alabama and Ohio State University looked at the Federal Reserve’s Survey of Consumer Finances and assessed the retirement readiness of its 2,300-odd respondents. They determined that 58% of these workers (age 35-60) were saving too little for the future, with a near-majority of that 58% failing to recognize the gravity of their situation. Only 42% of households were sufficiently prepared for retirement, but 46% of households believed they were.1,2   

The researchers discovered two other interesting disconnects. One, a slight majority of those who were saving adequately for retirement believed they were not saving enough. Two, the insufficiently prepared workers who were in line to receive old-school pensions were more likely to have flawed assumptions about their retirement readiness than workers without future pensions.1

Just how much money do you really need for retirement? The answer to that question varies per household, but many households could stand to save more. One old rule of thumb says you should save the equivalent of 12 times your end salary for a comfortable retirement. If you retire earning $150,000 a year, that means $1.8 million.3

Very few IRAs or workplace retirement plan accounts contain that much – so if your retirement nest egg needs to be that large, other sources of funding for your retirement probably need to emerge.

A household with either or both spouses earning $150,000 may have those resources. A middle class household may need to dedicate 10% or more of its income to retirement savings accounts.

Saving 5% of your salary for retirement probably means saving too little. Take the case of someone who starts saving for retirement at age 30 while earning $40,000. Hypothetically, assume that this person gets a 3.8% raise annually (which may be optimistic) and gets a consistent 6% yield from his or her retirement accounts (this is a hypothetical example). What if this person works until full retirement age (67)? In 2052, 37 years from now, this worker will have, under these conditions, a retirement nest egg of $423,754. Not bad, but not fantastic.3

Another old rule of thumb says living comfortably in retirement requires 85% of your end salary. A nest egg of $423,754 is clearly too small to provide that for most of us, even with income withdrawn from it supplemented by Social Security payments.3

If you save and invest ably over 30 or 40 years, you might end up a millionaire with the help of strong yields and compounding. You may need to be a millionaire to retire.

What if interruptions mar your retirement savings effort? They may mar it, but they should never halt it. Divorce, medical issues, prolonged joblessness – these and other events may impede your progress toward your savings goals, but the effort to save must still be made as you want time on your side.

If you are able to anticipate such an interruption, there are ways to plan to possibly make up the slack. You could explore investing more aggressively during that time period – but you invite greater market risk. You could cut back on household expenses (or inessential expenses) to free up more money to sustain your pace of retirement saving. Or, you could determine potential strategies far ahead of such disruptions by sitting down with a financial professional to run some scenarios (laid off at 60, taking three years out of the workforce at age 35 or 40 to be a stay-at-home mom or dad, and so forth).

You should strive to be financially prepared for your retirement, and for the unexpected life events or financial surprises that may occur before it arrives.

Citations.

1 – time.com/money/3764455/retirement-readiness/ [4/1/15]

2 – plansponsor.com/Who-Has-a-Realistic-View-of-Retirement-Readiness/ [2/20/15]

3 – investopedia.com/articles/professionals/011215/retirement-savings-how-much-enough.asp [1/12/15]

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Merck, Pfizer, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of John Jastremski, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

John Jastremski is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

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Lump Sum vs. Dollar Cost Averaging: Which Is Better? By John Jastremski

Some people go swimming by diving into the pool; others prefer to edge into the water gradually, especially if the water’s cold. A decision about putting money into an investment can be somewhat similar. Is it best to invest your money all at once, putting a lump sum into something you believe will do well? Or should you invest smaller amounts regularly over time to try to minimize the risk that you might invest at precisely the wrong moment? Periodic investing and lump-sum investing both have their advocates. Understanding the merits and drawbacks of each can help you make a more informed decision.

What is dollar cost averaging?

Periodic investing is the process of making regular investments on an ongoing basis (for example, buying 100 shares of stock each month for a year). Dollar cost averaging is one of the most common forms of periodic investing. It involves continuous investment of the same dollar amount into a security at predetermined intervals–usually monthly, quarterly, or annually–regardless of the investment’s fluctuating price levels.

Because you’re investing the same amount of money each time when you dollar cost average, you’re automatically buying more shares of a security when its share price is low, and fewer shares when its price is high. Over time, this strategy can provide an average cost per share that’s lower than the average market price (though it can’t guarantee a profit or protect against a loss in a declining market).

The accompanying graph illustrates how share price fluctuations can yield a lower average cost per share through dollar cost averaging. In this hypothetical example, ABC Company’s stock price is $30 a share in January, $10 a share in February, $20 a share in March, $15 a share in April, and $25 a share in May. If you invest $300 a month for 5 months, the number of shares you would buy each month would range from 10 shares when the price is at a peak of $30 to 30 shares when the price is only $10. The average market price is $20 a share ($30+$10+$20+$15+$25 = $100 divided by 5 = $20). However, because your $300 bought more shares at the lower share prices, the average purchase price is $17.24 ($300 x 5 months = $1,500 invested divided by 87 shares purchased = $17.24).

The merits of dollar cost averaging

In addition to potentially lowering the average cost per share, investing a predetermined amount regularly automates your decision-making, and can help take emotion out of your investment decisions.

And if your goal is to buy low and sell high, as it should be, dollar cost averaging brings some discipline to that process. Though it can’t help you know when to sell, this strategy can help you pursue the “buy low” portion of the equation.

Also, many people don’t have a lump sum to invest all at once; any investments come out of their income stream–for example, as contributions to their workplace retirement savings account. In such cases, dollar cost averaging may not only be an easy strategy; it may be the most realistic option.

The case for investing a lump sum

Maybe you’re considering rolling over an IRA or have just received a pension payout. Perhaps you’ve inherited a large amount of money, or the mail-order sweepstakes’ prize patrol has finally shown up at your door. You might be thinking about the best way to shift your asset allocation or how to invest the proceeds of a certificate of deposit. Or maybe you’ve been parking some money in cash alternatives and now want to invest it.

In cases like these, you may want to at least investigate the merits of lump-sum investing. Several academic studies have compared dollar cost averaging to lump-sum investing and concluded that, because markets have risen over the long term in the past, investing in the market today tends to be better than waiting until tomorrow, since you have a longer opportunity to benefit from any increase in prices over time.

For example, a 2009 study by the Association of Investment Companies found that an investor who put a lump sum into the average British investment company at the end of April 2008 (talk about bad timing!) would have been down 30% one year later. Someone who invested the same total amount divided over 12 months would have been down only 7%. However, when the study examined the previous 5 years rather than a single year, the lump-sum investment made in April 2004 would have been up 26% by April 2009, compared to the periodic investment strategy’s loss of 10% over the same time. Several U.S. studies over several decades reviewed overall stock market performance and reached a similar conclusion: the longer your time frame, the greater the odds that a lump-sum investment will outperform dollar cost averaging.

Caution: Past performance is no guarantee of future results.

Considerations about dollar cost averaging

• Think about whether you’ll be able to continue your investing program during a down market. The return and principal value of stocks fluctuate with changes in market conditions. If you stop when prices are low, you’ll lose much of the benefit of dollar cost averaging. Consider both your financial and emotional ability to continue making purchases through periods of low and high price levels. Plan ahead for how you’ll manage the temptation to stop investing when the chips are down, and remember that shares may be worth more or less than their original cost when you sell them.

• The cost benefits of dollar cost averaging tend to diminish a bit over very long periods of time, because time alone also can help average out the market’s ups and downs.

• Don’t forget to consider the cost of transaction fees, which can mount up over time with periodic investing.

Considerations about investing a lump sum

• The lump-sum studies reflect the long-term historical direction of the stock market since record-keeping began in 1925. That doesn’t mean the markets will behave in the future as they have in the past, or that there won’t be extended periods in which stock prices don’t rise. Even if they do move up, they may not do so immediately and forever once you invest.

• Even if you don’t have a large lump sum to invest now, you may be able to save smaller amounts and invest the total in a lump sum later. However, many people simply aren’t disciplined enough to keep their hands off that money. Unless the money is invested automatically, you may be more tempted to spend your savings rather than investing them, or skip a month–or two or three.

• Even seasoned investors have difficulty timing the market, so ignoring fluctuations and continuing to invest regularly may still be an improvement over postponing a decision indefinitely while you wait for the “right time” to invest.

• Don’t forget that though diversification alone can’t guarantee a profit or prevent the possibility of loss, a lump sum invested in a single security generally involves more risk than a lump sum put into a diversified portfolio, regardless of your time frame.

In the end, deciding between lump-sum investing and dollar cost averaging illustrates the classic risk-reward tradeoff that all investments entail. Even if you’re convinced a lump-sum investment might produce a higher net return over time, are you comfortable with the uncertainty and level of risk involved? Or are you increasing the odds that you won’t be able to handle short-term losses–especially if they occur shortly after you invest your lump sum–and sell at the wrong time?

It’s important to know yourself and your limitations as an investor. Understanding the pros and cons of each approach can help you make the decision that best suits your personality and circumstances.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of John Jastremski, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Verizon, Bank of America, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

John Jastremski is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

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The Tax Benefits of Your Retirement Savings Plan. By John Jastremski

Taxes can take a big bite out of your total investment returns, so it’s encouraging to know that your employer-sponsored retirement savings plan may offer a variety of tax benefits. Depending on the type of plan your employer offers, you may be able to benefit from current tax savings; tax deferral on any investment returns you earn on the road to retirement; and possibly even tax-free income in retirement.

Lower your taxes now

When you contribute to a traditional retirement savings plan, such as a 401(k) or 403(b), your plan contributions are deducted from your pay before income taxes are assessed. These “pretax contributions” reduce your current taxable income, which in turn reduces the amount of income tax you pay to Uncle Sam each year that you participate. Consider the following example, which compares two different employees.

Example: Let’s assume Employee 1 gets paid every two weeks, with gross pay of $2,000 and a 25% federal tax rate. In this case, Employee 1 would pay about $500 in taxes each pay period. Now let’s assume Employee 2, who earns the same gross pay and has the same tax rate, contributes 6% of his salary each year to a retirement savings plan. In this instance, his gross pay would be reduced by $120 each pay period, resulting in a taxable income of $1,880. In this case, taxes would be $470–or $30 less than the previous scenario. So Employee 2 would have invested $120 in a retirement savings plan and saved $30 in current income taxes.

  Employee 1 Employee 2
Biweekly Pay $2,000 $2,000
Plan Contribution $0 $120
Taxable Pay $2,000 $1,800
Taxes Paid $500 $470

 

Amount invested: $120

Immediate Tax Savings: $30

Keep in mind that this example is hypothetical and has been simplified for illustrative purposes only. Your actual situation will differ. Withdrawals would be taxed at then-current rates. Early withdrawals prior to age 59½ will be subject to a 10% penalty tax, unless an exception applies.

Tax-deferred growth potential

Tax deferral is the process of delaying (but not necessarily eliminating) the payment of income taxes on returns you earn. Whereas in taxable investment accounts, you would have to pay taxes on your earnings–even if you reinvest them–in a tax-deferred account, you can delay paying taxes on your returns until you withdraw money. For example, the money you put into your employer-sponsored retirement account isn’t taxed until you withdraw it, which might be 30 or 40 years down the road!

Tax deferral can be beneficial because:

• The money you would have spent on taxes remains invested

• You may be in a lower tax bracket when you make withdrawals from your accounts (for example, when you’re retired), and

• You can potentially accumulate more dollars in your accounts due to compounding

Compounding means that your earnings become part of your investment dollars, and they in turn can potentially earn returns. In the early years of an investment, the benefit of compounding may not be that significant. But as the years go by, the long-term boost to your total return can be dramatic. Keep in mind that returns cannot be guaranteed. Your investments will fluctuate through the years. Also, withdrawals prior to age 59½ will be subject to a 10% penalty tax in addition to regular income taxes unless an exception applies.

Tax-free income in retirement

Tax deferred is not the same as tax free. “Tax free” means that no income taxes are due at all. Some employer-sponsored savings plans, like Roth 401(k)s, Roth 403(b)s, and Roth 457s, can generate tax-free income during retirement. When you contribute to a Roth account, you don’t receive a current tax benefit like you would with a traditional pretax savings account, but your earnings can still grow without having to pay taxes on them each year. Then, qualified withdrawals are tax free. (Nonqualified withdrawals are subject to regular income and penalty taxes.) In general, a withdrawal from a Roth account is qualified if it satisfies both of the following requirements:

• It’s made after the end of a five-year waiting period

• The payment is made after you turn 59½, become disabled, or die

Taxes make a big difference

Let’s assume two people have $5,000 to invest every year for a period of 30 years. One person invests in a tax-free account like a Roth 401(k) that earns 6% per year, and the other person invests in a taxable account (an investment account outside his or her retirement plan) that also earns 6% each year. Assuming a tax rate of 28%, in 30 years the tax-free account will be worth $395,291, while the taxable account will be worth $295,896. That’s a difference of $99,395.

This hypothetical example is for illustrative purposes only, and its results are not representative of any specific investment or mix of investments. Actual results will vary. The taxable account balance assumes that earnings are taxed as ordinary income and does not reflect possible lower maximum tax rates on capital gains and dividends, as well as the tax treatment of investment losses, which would make the taxable investment return more favorable, thereby reducing the difference in performance between the accounts shown. Investment fees and expenses have not been deducted. If they had been, the results would have been lower. You should consider your personal investment horizon and income tax brackets, both current and anticipated, when making an investment decision as these may further impact the results of the comparison. This illustration assumes a fixed annual rate of return; the rate of return on your actual investment portfolio will be different, and will vary over time, according to actual market performance. This is particularly true for long-term investments. It is important to note that investments offering the potential for higher rates of return also involve a higher degree of risk to principal.

How much can I contribute?

Individuals can contribute up to $18,000 (in 2015 and 2016) to a 401(k), 403(b), or 457 plan. The limit increases to $24,000 (in 2015 and 2016) for those age 50 or older.

If your plan offers a Roth option, you can split your contributions between the traditional and Roth plans, but the total amount cannot exceed these limits. Be sure to check your plan’s documents as some plans may impose lower limits.

Even if you cannot contribute the maximum amount, be sure to contribute what you can. Through the power of compounding, even small amounts have the potential to add up over time. Then, try to increase your contribution whenever possible–for example, as you receive raises or pay off debts.

A word about employer contributions

Your employer may also contribute to your plan account through matching or profit-sharing contributions. These contributions also benefit from tax deferral. In other words, you do not have to pay taxes on employer contributions or their earnings until you withdraw them. If your employer offers a matching contribution, try to contribute enough to receive the full amount. Employer matches are free money so try to take full advantage of them!

Bottom line

Though tax considerations shouldn’t be your only concern when investing for retirement, it’s a plus to know that participating in your employer-sponsored plan can help you keep more money in your own pocket and put less in Uncle Sam’s.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of John Jastremski, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

John Jastremski is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

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Balancing Your Investment Choices with Asset Allocation -by John Jastremski

A chocolate cake. Pasta. A pancake. They’re all very different, but they generally involve flour, eggs, and perhaps a liquid. Depending on how much of each ingredient you use, you can get very different outcomes. The same is true of your investments. Balancing a portfolio means combining various types of investments using a recipe that’s appropriate for you.

Getting an appropriate mix

The combination of investments you choose can be as important as your specific investments. The mix of various asset classes, such as stocks, bonds, and cash alternatives, accounts for most of the ups and downs of a portfolio’s returns.

There’s another reason to think about the mix of investments in your portfolio. Each type of investment has specific strengths and weaknesses that enable it to play a specific role in your overall investing strategy. Some investments may be chosen for their growth potential. Others may provide regular income. Still others may offer safety or simply serve as a temporary place to park your money. And some investments even try to fill more than one role. Because you probably have multiple needs and desires, you need some combination of investment types.

Balancing how much of each you should include is one of your most important tasks as an investor. That balance between growth, income, and safety is called your asset allocation, and it can help you manage the level and type of risks you face.

Balancing risk and return

Ideally, you should strive for an overall combination of investments that minimizes the risk you take in trying to achieve a targeted rate of return. This often means balancing more conservative investments against others that are designed to provide a higher return but that also involve more risk. For example, let’s say you want to get a 7.5% return on your money. Your financial professional tells you that in the past, stock market returns have averaged about 10% annually, and bonds roughly 5%. One way to try to achieve your 7.5% return would be by choosing a 50-50 mix of stocks and bonds. It might not work out that way, of course. This is only a hypothetical illustration, not a real portfolio, and there’s no guarantee that either stocks or bonds will perform as they have in the past. But asset allocation gives you a place to start.

Someone living on a fixed income, whose priority is having a regular stream of money coming in, will probably need a very different asset allocation than a young, well-to-do working professional whose priority is saving for a retirement that’s 30 years away. Many publications feature model investment portfolios that recommend generic asset allocations based on an investor’s age. These can help jump-start your thinking about how to divide up your investments. However, because they’re based on averages and hypothetical situations, they shouldn’t be seen as definitive. Your asset allocation is–or should be—as unique as you are. Even if two people are the same age and have similar incomes, they may have very different needs and goals. You should make sure your asset allocation is tailored to your individual circumstances.

Many ways to diversify

When financial professionals refer to asset allocation, they’re usually talking about overall classes: stocks, bonds, and cash or cash alternatives. However, there are others that also can be used to complement the major asset classes once you’ve got those basics covered. They include real estate and alternative investments such as hedge funds, private equity, metals, or collectibles. Because their returns don’t necessarily correlate closely with returns from major asset classes, they can provide additional diversification and balance in a portfolio.

Even within an asset class, consider how your assets are allocated. For example, if you’re investing in stocks, you could allocate a certain amount to large-cap stocks and a different percentage to stocks of smaller companies. Or you might allocate based on geography, putting some money in U.S. stocks and some in foreign companies. Bond investments might be allocated by various maturities, with some money in bonds that mature quickly and some in longer-term bonds. Or you might favor tax-free bonds over taxable ones, depending on your tax status and the type of account in which the bonds are held.

Asset allocation strategies

There are various approaches to calculating an asset allocation that makes sense for you.

The most popular approach is to look at what you’re investing for and how long you have to reach each goal. Those goals get balanced against your need for money to live on. The more secure your immediate income and the longer you have to pursue your investing goals, the more aggressively you might be able to invest for them. Your asset allocation might have a greater percentage of stocks than either bonds or cash, for example. Or you might be in the opposite situation. If you’re stretched financially and would have to tap your investments in an emergency, you’ll need to balance that fact against your longer-term goals. In addition to establishing an emergency fund, you may need to invest more conservatively than you might otherwise want to.

Some investors believe in shifting their assets among asset classes based on which types of investments they expect will do well or poorly in the near term. However, this approach, called “market timing,” is extremely difficult even for experienced investors. If you’re determined to try this, you should probably get some expert advice–and recognize that no one really knows where markets are headed.

Some people try to match market returns with an overall “core” strategy for most of their portfolio. They then put a smaller portion in very targeted investments that may behave very differently from those in the core and provide greater overall diversification. These often are asset classes that an investor thinks could benefit from more active management.

Just as you allocate your assets in an overall portfolio, you can also allocate assets for a specific goal. For example, you might have one asset allocation for retirement savings and another for college tuition bills. A retired professional with a conservative overall portfolio might still be comfortable investing more aggressively with money intended to be a grandchild’s inheritance. Someone who has taken the risk of starting a business might decide to be more conservative with his or her personal portfolio.

Things to think about

• Don’t forget about the impact of inflation on your savings. As time goes by, your money will probably buy less and less unless your portfolio at least keeps pace with the inflation rate. Even if you think of yourself as a conservative investor, your asset allocation should take long-term inflation into account.

• Your asset allocation should balance your financial goals with your emotional needs. If the way your money is invested keeps you awake worrying at night, you may need to rethink your investing goals and whether the strategy you’re pursuing is worth the lost sleep.

• Your tax status might affect your asset allocation, though your decisions shouldn’t be based solely on tax concerns.

Even if your asset allocation was right for you when you chose it, it may not be appropriate for you now. It should change as your circumstances do and as new ways to invest are introduced. A piece of clothing you wore 10 years ago may not fit now; you just might need to update your asset allocation, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of John Jastremski, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

John Jastremski is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

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Changing Jobs? Take Your 401(k) and Roll It. By John Jastremski

If you’ve lost your job, or are changing jobs, you may be wondering what to do with your 401(k) plan account. It’s important to understand your options.

What will I be entitled to?

If you leave your job (voluntarily or involuntarily), you’ll be entitled to a distribution of your vested balance. Your vested balance always includes your own contributions (pretax, after-tax, and Roth) and typically any investment earnings on those amounts. It also includes employer contributions (and earnings) that have satisfied your plan’s vesting schedule.

In general, you must be 100% vested in your employer’s contributions after 3 years of service (“cliff vesting”), or you must vest gradually, 20% per year until you’re fully vested after 6 years (“graded vesting”). Plans can have faster vesting schedules, and some even have 100% immediate vesting. You’ll also be 100% vested once you’ve reached your plan’s normal retirement age.

It’s important for you to understand how your particular plan’s vesting schedule works, because you’ll forfeit any employer contributions that haven’t vested by the time you leave your job. Your summary plan description (SPD) will spell out how the vesting schedule for your particular plan works. If you don’t have one, ask your plan administrator for it. If you’re on the cusp of vesting, it may make sense to wait a bit before leaving, if you have that luxury.

Don’t spend it, roll it!

While this pool of dollars may look attractive, don’t spend it unless you absolutely need to. If you take a distribution you’ll be taxed, at ordinary income tax rates, on the entire value of your account except for any after-tax or Roth 401(k) contributions you’ve made. And, if you’re not yet age 55, an additional 10% penalty may apply to the taxable portion of your payout. (Special rules may apply if you receive a lump-sum distribution and you were born before 1936, or if the lump-sum includes employer stock.)

If your vested balance is more than $5,000, you can leave your money in your employer’s plan until you reach normal retirement age. But your employer must also allow you to make a direct rollover to an IRA or to another employer’s 401(k) plan. As the name suggests, in a direct rollover the money passes directly from your 401(k) plan account to the IRA or other plan. This is preferable to a “60-day rollover,” where you get the check and then roll the money over yourself, because your employer has to withhold 20% of the taxable portion of a 60-day rollover. You can still roll over the entire amount of your distribution, but you’ll need to come up with the 20% that’s been withheld until you recapture that amount when you file your income tax return.

Should I roll over to my new employer’s 401(k) plan or to an IRA?

Assuming both options are available to you, there’s no right or wrong answer to this question. There are strong arguments to be made on both sides. You need to weigh all of the factors, and make a decision based on your own needs and priorities. It’s best to have a professional assist you with this, since the decision you make may have significant consequences–both now and in the future.

Reasons to roll over to an IRA:

• You generally have more investment choices with an IRA than with an employer’s 401(k) plan. You typically may freely move your money around to the various investments offered by your IRA trustee, and you may divide up your balance among as many of those investments as you want. By contrast, employer-sponsored plans typically give you a limited menu of investments (usually mutual funds) from which to choose.

• You can freely allocate your IRA dollars among different IRA trustees/custodians. There’s no limit on how many direct, trustee-to-trustee IRA transfers you can do in a year. This gives you flexibility to change trustees often if you are dissatisfied with investment performance or customer service. It can also allow you to have IRA accounts with more than one institution for added diversification. With an employer’s plan, you can’t move the funds to a different trustee unless you leave your job and roll over the funds.

• An IRA may give you more flexibility with distributions. Your distribution options in a 401(k) plan depend on the terms of that particular plan, and your options may be limited. However, with an IRA, the timing and amount of distributions is generally at your discretion (until you reach age 70½ and must start taking required minimum distributions in the case of a traditional IRA).

• You can roll over (essentially “convert”) your 401(k) plan distribution to a Roth IRA. You’ll generally have to pay taxes on the amount you roll over (minus any after-tax contributions you’ve made), but any qualified distributions from the Roth IRA in the future will be tax free.

Reasons to roll over to your new employer’s 401(k) plan:

• Many employer-sponsored plans have loan provisions. If you roll over your retirement funds to a new employer’s plan that permits loans, you may be able to borrow up to 50% of the amount you roll over if you need the money. You can’t borrow from an IRA–you can only access the money in an IRA by taking a distribution, which may be subject to income tax and penalties. (You can, however, give yourself a short-term loan from an IRA by taking a distribution, and then rolling the dollars back to an IRA within 60 days.)

• A rollover to your new employer’s 401(k) plan may provide greater creditor protection than a rollover to an IRA. Most 401(k) plans receive unlimited protection from your creditors under federal law. Your creditors (with certain exceptions) cannot attach your plan funds to satisfy any of your debts and obligations, regardless of whether you’ve declared bankruptcy. In contrast, any amounts you roll over to a traditional or Roth IRA are generally protected under federal law only if you declare bankruptcy. Any creditor protection your IRA may receive in cases outside of bankruptcy will generally depend on the laws of your particular state. If you are concerned about asset protection, be sure to seek the assistance of a qualified professional.

• You may be able to postpone required minimum distributions. For traditional IRAs, these distributions must begin by April 1 following the year you reach age 70½. However, if you work past that age and are still participating in your employer’s 401(k) plan, you can delay your first distribution from that plan until April 1 following the year of your retirement. (You also must own no more than 5% of the company.)

• If your distribution includes Roth 401(k) contributions and earnings, you can roll those amounts over to either a Roth IRA or your new employer’s Roth 401(k) plan (if it accepts rollovers). If you roll the funds over to a Roth IRA, the Roth IRA holding period will determine when you can begin receiving tax-free qualified distributions from the IRA. So if you’re establishing a Roth IRA for the first time, your Roth 401(k) dollars will be subject to a brand new 5-year holding period. On the other hand, if you roll the dollars over to your new employer’s Roth 401 (k) plan, your existing 5-year holding period will carry over to the new plan. This may enable you to receive tax-free qualified distributions sooner.

When evaluating whether to initiate a rollover always be sure to (1) ask about possible surrender charges that may be imposed by your employer plan, or new surrender charges that your IRA may impose, (2) compare investment fees and expenses charged by your IRA (and investment funds) with those charged by your employer plan (if any), and (3) understand any accumulated rights or guarantees that you may be giving up by transferring funds out of your employer plan.

What about outstanding plan loans?

In general, if you have an outstanding plan loan, you’ll need to pay it back, or the outstanding balance will be taxed as if it had been distributed to you in cash. If you can’t pay the loan back before you leave, you’ll still have 60 days to roll over the amount that’s been treated as a distribution to your IRA. Of course, you’ll need to come up with the dollars from other sources.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of John Jastremski, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

John Jastremski is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

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Converting Savings to Retirement Income. By John Jastremski

During your working years, you’ve probably set aside funds in retirement accounts such as IRAs, 401(k)s, or other workplace savings plans, as well as in taxable accounts. Your challenge during retirement is to convert those savings into an ongoing income stream that will provide adequate income throughout your retirement years.

Setting a withdrawal rate

The retirement lifestyle you can afford will depend not only on your assets and investment choices, but also on how quickly you draw down your retirement portfolio. The annual percentage that you take out of your portfolio, whether from returns or both returns and principal, is known as your withdrawal rate. Figuring out an appropriate initial withdrawal rate is a key issue in retirement planning and presents many challenges. Why? Take out too much too soon, and you might run out of money in your later years. Take out too little, and you might not enjoy your retirement years as much as you could. Your withdrawal rate is especially important in the early years of your retirement, as it will have a lasting impact on how long your savings last.

One widely used rule of thumb on withdrawal rates for tax-deferred retirement accounts states that withdrawing slightly more than 4% annually from a balanced portfolio of large-cap equities and bonds would provide inflation-adjusted income for at least 30 years. However, some experts contend that a higher withdrawal rate (closer to 5%) may be possible in the early, active retirement years if later withdrawals grow more slowly than inflation. Others contend that portfolios can last longer by adding asset classes and freezing the withdrawal amount during years of poor performance. By doing so, they argue, “safe” initial withdrawal rates above 5% might be possible. (Sources: William P. Bengen, “Determining Withdrawal Rates Using Historical Data,” Journal of Financial Planning, October 1994; Jonathan Guyton, “Decision Rules and Portfolio Management for Retirees: Is the ‘Safe’ Initial Withdrawal Rate Too Safe?,” Journal of Financial Planning, October 2004.) Don’t forget that these hypotheses were based on historical data about various types of investments, and past results don’t guarantee future performance. There is no standard rule of thumb that works for everyone–your particular withdrawal rate needs to take into account many factors, including, but not limited to, your asset allocation and projected rate of return, annual income targets (accounting for inflation as desired), and investment horizon.

Which assets should you draw from first? 

You may have assets in accounts that are taxable (e.g., CDs, mutual funds), tax deferred (e.g., traditional IRAs), and tax free (e.g., Roth IRAs). Given a choice, which type of account should you withdraw from first? The answer is–it depends.

For retirees who don’t care about leaving an estate to beneficiaries, the answer is simple in theory: withdraw money from taxable accounts first, then tax-deferred accounts, and lastly, tax-free accounts. By using your tax-favored accounts last, and avoiding taxes as long as possible, you’ll keep more of your retirement dollars working for you.

For retirees who intend to leave assets to beneficiaries, the analysis is more complicated. You need to coordinate your retirement planning with your estate plan. For example, if you have appreciated or rapidly appreciating assets, it may be more advantageous for you to withdraw from tax-deferred and tax-free accounts first. This is because these accounts will not receive a step-up in basis at your death, as many of your other assets will.

However, this may not always be the best strategy. For example, if you intend to leave your entire estate to your spouse, it may make sense to withdraw from taxable accounts first. This is because spouses are given preferential tax treatment with regard to retirement plans. A surviving spouse can roll over retirement plan funds to his or her own IRA or retirement plan, or, in some cases, may continue the deceased spouse’s plan as his or her own. The funds in the plan continue to grow tax deferred, and distributions need not begin until the spouse’s own required beginning date.

The bottom line is that this decision is also a complicated one. A financial professional can help you determine the best course based on your individual circumstances.

Certain distributions are required 

In practice, your choice of which assets to draw first may, to some extent, be directed by tax rules. You can’t keep your money in tax-deferred retirement accounts forever. The law requires you to start taking distributions–called “required minimum distributions” or RMDs–from traditional IRAs by April 1 of the year following the year you turn age 70½, whether you need the money or not. For employer plans, RMDs must begin by April 1 of the year following the year you turn 70½ or, if later, the year you retire. Roth IRAs aren’t subject to the lifetime RMD rules. (Beneficiaries of either type of IRA are required to take RMDs after the IRA owner’s death.)

If you have more than one IRA, a required distribution is calculated separately for each IRA. These amounts are then added together to determine your RMD for the year. You can withdraw your RMD from any one or more of your IRAs. (Your traditional IRA trustee or custodian must tell you how much you’re required to take out each year, or offer to calculate it for you.) For employer retirement plans, your plan will calculate the RMD, and distribute it to you. (If you participate in more than one employer plan, your RMD will be determined separately for each plan.)

It’s important to take RMDs into account when contemplating how you’ll withdraw money from your savings. Why? If you withdraw less than your RMD, you will pay a penalty tax equal to 50% of the amount you failed to withdraw. The good news: you can always withdraw more than your RMD amount.

Annuity distributions 

If you’ve used an annuity for part of your retirement savings, at some point you’ll need to consider your options for converting the annuity into income. You can choose to simply withdraw earnings (or earnings and principal) from the annuity. There are several ways of doing this. You can withdraw all of the money in the annuity (both the principal and earnings) in one lump sum. You can also withdraw the money over a period of time through regular or irregular withdrawals. By choosing to make withdrawals from your annuity, you continue to have control over money you have invested in the annuity. However, if you systematically withdraw the principal and the earnings from the annuity, there is no guarantee that the funds in the annuity will last for your entire lifetime, unless you have separately purchased a rider that provides guaranteed minimum income payments for life (without annuitization).

In general, your withdrawals will be subject to income tax–on an “income-first” basis–to the extent your cash surrender value exceeds your investment in the contract. The taxable portion of your withdrawal may also be subject to a 10% early distribution penalty if you haven’t reached age 59½, unless an exception applies.

A second distribution option is called the guaranteed* income (or annuitization) option. If you select this option, your annuity will be “annuitized,” which means that the current value of your annuity is converted into a stream of payments. This allows you to receive a guaranteed* income stream from the annuity. The annuity issuer promises to pay you an amount of money on a periodic basis (e.g., monthly, yearly, etc).

If you elect to annuitize, the periodic payments you receive are called annuity payouts. You can elect to receive either a fixed amount for each payment period or a variable amount for each period. You can receive the income stream for your entire lifetime (no matter how long you live), or you can receive the income stream for a specific time period (ten years, for example). You can also elect to receive annuity payouts over your lifetime and the lifetime of another person (called a “joint and survivor annuity”). The amount you receive for each payment period will depend on the cash value of the annuity, how earnings are credited to your account (whether fixed or variable), and the age at which you begin receiving annuity payments. The length of the distribution period will also affect how much you receive. For example, if you are 65 years old and elect to receive annuity payments over your entire lifetime, the amount of each payment you’ll receive will be less than if you had elected to receive annuity payouts over five years.

Each annuity payment is part nontaxable return of your investment in the contract and part payment of taxable accumulated earnings (until the investment in the contract is exhausted).

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of John Jastremski, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

John Jastremski is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

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Do Our Biases Affect Our Financial Choices? -by John Jastremski

Even the most seasoned investors are prone to their influence.

 

Investors are routinely warned about allowing their emotions to influence their decisions.  They are less routinely cautioned about letting their preconceptions and biases color their financial choices.

 

In a battle between the facts & our preconceptions, our preconceptions may win. If we acknowledge this tendency, we may be able to avoid some unexamined choices when it comes to personal finance. So it may actually “pay” us to recognize our biases as we invest. Here are some common examples of bias creeping into our financial lives.

Valuing outcomes of investment decisions more than the quality of those decisions. An investor thinks, “I got a great return off of that decision” instead of thinking, “that was a good decision because ______.”

How many investment decisions do we make that have a predictable outcome? Hardly any. In retrospect, it is all too easy to prize the gain from a decision over the wisdom of the decision, and to therefore believe that the decisions with the best outcomes were in fact the best decisions (not necessarily true).

Valuing facts we “know” & “see” more than “abstract” facts. Information that seems abstract may seem less valid or valuable than information that relates to personal experience. This is true when we consider different types of investments, the state of the markets, and the health of the economy.

On Main Street, we find a classic example in Gallup’s U.S. Economic Confidence Index. In the August edition of this monthly poll of more than 3,500 U.S. adults, 55% of respondents said the American economy is “getting worse” instead of better. In fact, more Americans have told Gallup that the economy is getting worse rather than better since March.1

This flies in the face of the declining jobless rate, the strong hiring of 2015, the comeback of the housing market, and key surveys showing years of consistent monthly growth in the manufacturing and service sectors – but in all probability, these poll respondents are not looking at economic indicators when they make such a judgment. Their neighbor was laid off, or there was a story on the nightly news about a new homeless camp growing in size. These are facts they can “see” – and therefore, in their minds the economy is getting worse.1

Valuing the latest information most. In the investment world, the latest news is almost always more valuable than old news… but when the latest news is consistently good (or consistently bad), memories of previous market climate(s) may become too distant. If we are not careful, our minds may subconsciously dismiss the eventual emergence of the next bear (or bull) market.

Being overconfident. The more experienced we are at investing, the more confidence we have about our investment choices. When the market is going up and a clear majority of our investment choices work out well, this reinforces our confidence, sometimes to a point where we may start to feel we can do little wrong thanks to the state of the market, our investing acumen or both. This can be dangerous.

 

The herd mentality. You know how this goes: if everyone is doing something, they must be doing it for sound and logical reasons. If most investors are getting out of equities, or getting back into equities, it follows that you should follow them. The herd mentality is what leads many investors to buy high (and sell low). It can also promote panic selling. Above all, it encourages market timing – and when investors try to time the market, they frequently realize subpar returns.

 

Did you know that American retail investors held equity shares for an average of 6.3 years during the 1950s? That duration kept shortening until the 2000s, when it was reduced to roughly six months – which is still the average today. We have exponentially greater media coverage of Wall Street today than we had in the 1950s, and that may be the big factor in that difference – but still, you have to wonder how much better the typical investor’s return would be if he or she had the patience of the investors of the past.2

 

Extreme aversion to risk. Some investors want zero risk, or close. What price do they pay in pursuit of that goal? The opportunity cost may be sizable. In building an extremely risk-averse portfolio, they thwart their potential for significant gains when the equity markets advance.

 

Everyone loves to be certain about things. Sometimes, however, we need to ask ourselves what that certainty is based on, and what it reflects about ourselves. Examining our preconceptions may help us as we invest.  

 

Citations.

1 – gallup.com/poll/184640/economic-confidence-index-stable.aspx [8/18/15]

2 – nytimes.com/2014/01/13/your-money/stocks-and-bonds/why-we-buy-in-a-marked-up-market.html [1/13/14]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of John Jastremski, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

John Jastremski is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

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