As we come upon a new year it is a good time to reflect on your finances and set goals.
Video Recap: https://youtu.be/yKdGYEjhTB0
In this episode, we discuss 12 steps you can take action on to improve your financial outlook. If you’re looking to get off on the right foot in 2021, print out this checklist and run through it to find improvements you can make now.
12 easy steps you can take to improve your finances
Record your financial goals and positive habits. Writing things down is a great way to hold yourself accountable and see how far you have come. When you write down your goals you can refer back to them later. Our clients have the added benefit of using our Global Dashboard to help them keep track of their financial goals and habits.
Check your estate documents. This is something that we all push off until later. Do your heirs a favor and review your estate documents now. Are they up to date? This can save your family a lot of headaches.
Set up an income and expense tracking tool. You need to have an understanding of how much money is coming in and going out each month. When you start tracking your income and expenses you may discover a lot about yourself. It’s also a good idea to compare your cashflow this year with years past. What has changed?
Make sure you have emergency savings. The general recommendation is to have 3-6 months in an emergency fund, however, this can be specific to you and your situation. You may need more. If Covid-19 has taught us anything, it’s that the world can throw you some unexpected situations and it is important to be ready. Where is your emergency savings fund?
Match and max your 401K. Are you taking advantage of the company match in your 401K? Can you amp up your 401K? It is important to remember that the company match amount is not the maximum that you can save. $19,500 is the IRS maximum per year. Are you maxing out your 401K this year? Did you have to make any adjustments to your savings?
Review your investment strategy. There have been so many changes this year in the stock market this year. Your stock allocation may have grown so it is a good time to check whether your allocation is in line with your investment strategy. Remember that investment behavior is much more important than individual stock picks.
Make sure you are maximizing tax efficiency. Are your assets the most tax-efficient? All accounts are taxed differently. Think about what assets are best to hold across which accounts.
Pay down high-interest debt. Many times we tend to ignore our high-interest debt, but it is important to understand how often you use debt. Focus on the interest rate and balance of your debts. What is your overall debt? Is it good debt or bad debt? Listen in to hear what we think of different types of debt. Our thoughts may surprise you.
Order your free credit report. Every year around the holidays there is an increase in fraud. Try using Credit Karma to keep track of your credit score.
Review your insurance policies. Do you still need life insurance, disability, or an umbrella policy? You may be carrying too much insurance.
Show me the money! Understand where your accounts are and how they are structured. Keep an inventory of where your accounts are and consolidate them if needed. Its easier to make decisions when you are organized
Communicate with your spouse. Are you both on the same page financially? Has your financial situation changed this year?
After listening to this episode feel free to download this sheet and print it off to use it as a checklist.
Read the full post here:
Motivated by the new book, How I Invest My Money, I (Mike Eklund) wanted to communicate how I manage my own money. In our recent podcast, we discuss my approach with investments, savings, spending, debt, insurance, and what the money is for (goals). We also review some of my core beliefs which include:
Near the end of the podcast, we discuss one of the best investments I’ve ever made. As a married father of four kids, it is our purchase of a lake cabin where we create many family memories. This investment return is determined based on actual experiences as they far outweigh any financial return.
Finally, we finish with what the money is for. Primarily three things:
I hope you enjoy the podcast!
Growth stocks have been on a tear over the past several years. However, traditionally value stocks have been the big performers in the long-term. But with the rapid rise in growth over the last 10 years, are value stocks still worth it?
Video recap: https://youtu.be/qthoQhw9IxA
Today we explore the question: can value stocks still outperform in today’s environment? We’ll look at the data, provide you with the information, and then lay out action steps that you can take to act on what you learn.
Before we begin to explore our question we need to clarify the difference between growth stocks and value stocks. Growth stocks are faster growing, more expensive, and have a lower dividend yield. They are those stocks that you hear about on the news: Facebook, Tesla, and Google are a few. Value stocks have slower growth, are cheaper, and have a higher dividend yield. These are the ‘boring’ stocks and include Berkshire Hathaway, JP Morgan, and Wal-Mart.
Let’s look back at history to compare the two types of stocks. From 1926-2010 value stocks grew 12.4% per year whereas growth companies returned 9.8% per year. However, the last ten years have been very different.
Over the last 3 years, growth stocks have outperformed value stocks by 21% per year. This is the highest 3-year difference on record. Which begs the question, is this time different? Listen in to hear about a similar time period in history.
Much of the growth that we have seen over the past 3 years has been driven by FAANG stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google). It seems like these stocks could keep growing forever without any competition. And most recently they have all accelerated their growth with the Covid situation. On the flip side, value stocks have been hit hard by the pandemic.
But are the growth stocks becoming overvalued? Will this growth end up collapsing like the tech bubble of the late 90s?
Do you have an investment strategy? It is important to implement a disciplined, rules-based process. Have a process, have a plan, and stick with it. At the end of the day, investor behavior is the key to success.
We’re not saying that you shouldn’t own growth companies, we simply recommend a using diversified approach. We like to say that something in your portfolio should always stink. What does your investment strategy look like? Do you have a hard time hanging on to the losers?
If you are interested in working with a professional to help you come up with an investment strategy, consider using a fee-only financial advisor. Learn what makes fee-only financial advisors different by visiting our website https://www.financialsymmetry.com/.
Have you been offered an early retirement package?
Video recap: https://youtu.be/jpIfdhYVx6Y
Early retirement packages are on the rise. Companies are often looking for ways to cut costs and one way to do that is to give highly compensated employees an incentive to ease into retirement. Usually, these packages offer a one-time payment and sometimes they come with a period of additional healthcare coverage.
If you are offered an early retirement package many questions will arise. Is this a good deal? Is the package negotiable? What will I do about health insurance? And, of course, should I take it?
On this episode, Mike and I will give you the tools to create a framework to think about the questions that early retirement packages bring. Listen in to learn how to weigh this huge decision.
Before you consider anything else you need to think about how this package fits into your long-term financial plan. Receiving a lump sum can give you a lottery mindset, so you’ll need to consider what is most important to you. How would this package fit into the bigger picture of retirement?
This is a good time to ask a professional for help. If you are working with a financial advisor, you’ll definitely want to ask their opinion. A financial advisor can help you spot risks and opportunities that you may not have otherwise seen. Mike has some questions you may not have asked yourself about this early retirement package, so make sure you listen in to hear all the questions.
The main reason that many people decline an early retirement package is due to insurance. You may want to see if health insurance is a negotiable part of the package. Sometimes the company will offer to pay for your health insurance for a certain period of time.
You can also check into COBRA coverage which will guarantee you 18 months of health insurance coverage under your old plan--just be prepared for a bit of sticker shock.
Another way to cover your health insurance is to check into the ACA healthcare exchange. Be sure to weigh all of your healthcare options before signing the deal.
So many tax opportunities pop up with an early retirement package. You’ll want to consider all the ways that you can save on taxes if you do decide to accept it. Do you have a health savings account? If so, make sure to max it out. Have you maxed out your 401K for the year? What about your company stock?
If you are under 59 ½, where will your income come from? When do you plan on taking Social Security? Now is the time to plan how to build your ultimate retirement withdrawal strategy.
Will you be able to transition into retirement successfully? The answer to this may be dependent upon whether you are retiring from something or to something. This is why it is important to consider what’s next.
Will you relax on a beach somewhere, find another job, become a consultant, or try your hand at entrepreneurship? An early retirement package can bring about myriad choices, but you need to make sure that you are financially prepared to accept them.
While the FAANG stocks have been the most obvious enviable stock positions over the past decade, there are always success stories readily available to raise feelings of doubt and FOMO in even the most disciplined long-term investors.
Video recap: https://youtu.be/FN4xHoe8mHE
For example, investors who purchased $100,000 of Zoom stock at its IPO price of $36/share in April of 2019 would have earned a cumulative rate of return of about 590% and built a nest egg of ~$650k.
Zoom is one of the most recent examples of a company whose stock performance has exceeded expectations so wildly over the past 18 months that it is tempting to wish we were a part of the action and predict that those results will continue in the future, making us very wealthy in the process. After all, the path to extreme wealth is often created through very concentrated positions in individual companies. Examples include Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and many others. What made them so lucky? And why shouldn’t we be able to identify companies that will post results like these?
While individual stocks might not kill us, they do pose catastrophic risks that have the potential to be detrimental to our wealth. The nature of individual stock returns was studied in detail in Hendrik Besseminder’s 2018 study in the Journal of Financial Economics, “Do Stocks Outperform Treasury Bills?” which covered stock performance from 1926-2015. These are some of the key findings:
While the data is compelling that the odds are stacked against us on individual stocks, often the allure is just too strong. There is no reward without risk, right? Some of us may still want to take advantage of the growth potential of an individual stock position for any number of reasons. Maybe you want to have ownership in the company you work for or do business with frequently. You may have also inherited or been gifted individual stock positions. These might even have sentimental value for your family. Or you may just have a feeling about that company. If you find yourself in one of these situations, we recommend setting a decision-making framework for how you will buy, hold, and sell these positions:
For further reading on creating a decision-making framework and avoiding common investor pitfalls, we recommend Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow,” and“Decisive,” by Chip and Dan Heath. If you find yourself called by the Siren Song of an individual stock or deciding how to manage positions you may already own, please contact us to discuss the best approach for your personal situation in more detail.
Estate planning is one of the most overlooked and procrastinated upon areas of financial planning.
Video recap: https://youtu.be/NB2S1FWWH2s
While your legacy is important, it doesn’t generally take the front seat of your thoughts or your financial plan. There’s more to legacy planning than just having a will, but how much more depends on which stage of life you’re in. Find out what you should be doing to plan your legacy whether you’re in your 30s, 40s, 50s, or 60s by listening to this episode of Financial Symmetry.
When you’re in your 20s and 30s legacy planning starts with creating a will. A will gives you a good foundation and will get you thinking about electing your beneficiaries. You’ll also want to select your beneficiaries on your investment accounts.
Once you get married and start having children, then it’s important to keep your plans updated. It’s also a good time to get term life insurance. Make sure to revisit your will and the beneficiaries on your investment accounts periodically or with major life changes like a move or a new baby.
When you’re in your 40s you probably have more accounts and higher balances than you did in your 30s. Have you kept up with all of your retirement accounts from previous employers? The key to staying on the right track is to stay organized. Make sure to check in on your beneficiaries and estate documents from time to time.
If you are in your 50s and 60s you may be in the sandwich generation. This means you may have elderly parents and your own kids embarking on adulthood. This is an age when many really start thinking about their own legacy. It’s a good time to start thinking of Roth conversions. You can start tax planning not just for yourself but for your entire family. Think about how you can pass on your assets with the most after-tax value.
If you receive an inheritance there are different things to consider depending on your age and financial situation. You may want to consider paying off loans, buying a house, or even taking a mini-retirement. Having a financial plan in place can give you the confidence to do exactly what you want with those funds.
Estate planning is usually the last item on your financial planning list of things to do and it often takes another person to spur you on. A professional like an attorney or a financial planner often help guide you through this process. Let us know if you would like some help getting your estate planning in order. Plan today to make the most out of your retirement.
We know the COVID-19 global pandemic has affected everyone in unique ways. Today we want to discuss how this health crisis has affected women, specifically financially.
Video recap: https://youtu.be/beT8B1DSKZY
As working mothers, we have felt the impact of these daily changes acutely. According to Goldman Sachs “single parents, parents with young children and parents who can’t work from home are the groups most at risk to stop working entirely because they have no child care.”
Pre-pandemic the US labor force was split roughly 50/50 between men and women. However, women’s participation rate has always been directly tied to accessible childcare and pandemic-related job losses have disproportionately impacted women. With most schools resorting to distance learning and many childcare options off the table, families are struggling. Many solutions include working mothers putting their careers on hold. According to a study by the US Census Bureau, women are 3 times more likely than men to have left their job due to child care issues during the pandemic. This has negative implications for both the economic recovery and women’s future financial health.
We already know women face unique financial challenges due to three main issues:
In the current health crisis, these disparities have had more severe implications for women of color and millennial women. Sadly, these financial differences compound over time and can have devastating effects. As women grow older, they are also more likely to face poverty. According to the Social Security Administration 17.3% of nonmarried elderly women are living in poverty today. The figure below illustrates the higher poverty rates women over 65 experience in almost every category:
An article in the New York Times posited that this “Pandemic Could Scar a Generation of Working Mothers.” If that happens it also has the potential to increase the pre-existing retirement challenges women face later in life. While these trends are discouraging, the stakes are higher than ever for women to take control of their financial futures. The current situation also presents new opportunities as companies are more open to hiring a diverse workforce outside their local network. This is one silver lining of the pandemic: companies now have an expanded talent pool to choose from. If your current employer does not allow the necessary flexibility, you may be able to find a better fit. We recommend the following checklist to help you stay sane, maintain your earning power, and safeguard your finances:
We recognize there are no easy answers right now when it comes to meeting increased care giving demands while balancing career aspirations and financial stress. If you have questions about the best way to balance these changing demands with your long term financial goals, please contact us to speak with one of our financial advisors. We have four female advisors who are passionate about these issues and would love to help you position yourself for financial success.
Every 4 years it happens: an election comes along and threatens everything. Or so it seems.
Video recap: https://youtu.be/7SkvyKEXH6s
Regardless of how you feel about the candidates, we’re here to discourage you from making fear-based financial moves. Learn how to overcome your emotions so that you don’t derail your careful long-term investment strategy.
It’s hard to get away from the drama of the election coverage. It’s everywhere you look: on the TV, in the newspapers, and even from the notifications on your phone. This kind of round the clock, in your face news coverage can heighten your anxiety about the state of the world and even make you worry about your investments. It is important to remember that the media is not there to help you. Its goal is to sell advertising, not to help you achieve your financial goals.
While 2016 may seem like a distant memory, many investors were concerned at the time that a Trump victory would surely tank the stock market. We fielded a lot of calls leading up to the 2016 election discussing if a more conservative approach should be taken, at least until we had more certainty.
While Trump’s victory was a surprise to many 4 years ago, it certainly was not devastating for the stock market. In fact, the S&P 500 with dividends returned 21.83% in the following calendar year of 2017.
Investors who moved into cash to await more clarity would have swiftly regretted their decision. Check out the chart linked below which shows annualized returns for each president dating back to 1969 with the red and blue bars depicting results for Republicans and Democrats.
Staying focused on your long-term financial goals can be a challenge when the short-term seems so uncertain. People often feel tempted to time the market when the world feels up in the air. It’s important to remember that the market is influenced by many other events, not solely the election. So even if it seems that the election is the only thing going on, you need to stay focused on your long-term financial goals, stick with your investment plan, and avoid market timing.
One way to help you stay focused on your long-term financial goals is by looking at the facts. If you were thinking that this might be a good year to sit out the stock market, you may want to think again. On average, the stock market return in an election year is 11%, which is well above average.
Another surprising fact is that it doesn’t matter to your portfolio who is in the White House. There is actually no correlation between stock market performance and which party leads the country. Listen in to find out which two presidents saw the same economic growth during their first three years in the Oval Office, the answer will surprise you.
In investing, there are many factors that are beyond your control. However, that does not mean that your entire financial life is uncontrollable. Actually, the factors that you can control have a lot more to do with your financial success than which investments you choose. Think about all you can control: your cash flow, when you need money, when you stop earning income, what your income sources in retirement will be, how you pay for healthcare, and your estate planning. These controllables are much more important to your financial well being.
2020 has been a year of change. The pandemic has given people an opportunity to rethink their lives and many have been rethinking their career.
Video recap: https://youtu.be/0RCME_Y8bdI
Whether you are one of the millions of people that have been forced into a job change or whether you are considering a professional pivot on your own, there is a lot to think about when changing jobs.
On this episode, Grayson Blazek and I will walk you through all the considerations when taking on a new job. If you are rethinking your career listen in to hear how you can take advantage of your human capital.
Often when we consider a job offer there is only one number we look at. But there is more to a job than the base salary; it is important to consider the total compensation. The base salary helps you plan your monthly expenses but understanding the bonus and stock compensation is also important.
When thinking about the bonus structure of a potential job you’ll want to consider the target. Ask what the confidence in that target is. You’ll also need to understand how the bonus incentive works. How often does it payout? Is the bonus based on your personal performance or on the performance of the team?
Some other financial considerations are the stock options and the sign-on bonus. That hiring bonus can be enticing, but don’t let it cloud your judgment. Remember a hiring bonus is only a one-time payment.
When comparing job offers you’ll also want to compare the benefits package. Make sure to request an employee benefits brochure if they haven’t given you one. The benefits package is often seen as secondary to the financial compensation but those benefits can add a lot of value to your life.
First of all, you’ll want to consider the healthcare plan. Does the company offer one? How does it compare with your current plan? How much of the plan is covered by the employer? Do they offer an HSA?
Healthcare isn’t the only benefit to consider. What about life insurance and disability? Does the company offer a student loan repayment program? How about a fitness membership. Consider the entire benefits package and how it could add value to your life.
In addition to the health benefits and salary, you’ll also want to investigate the retirement plan that comes with this new position. Do they offer a 401K? Will they match your contribution? What are the plan costs? What about vesting, will you actually realize that vesting period? Do they offer other ways to save for retirement?
Your human capital is one of the biggest assets you have and the way you spend it will greatly impact your financial future. So when considering a job transition, there is much more to think about than the base salary. Tune in to this episode to discover all the details you need to consider when evaluating a job change.
We know how important it is to save for retirement, but at the same time, it’s important to enjoy life now. In this episode, we’ll walk you through how to set up a framework for your investment strategy.
Short Youtube Recap: https://youtu.be/LRcH7hwbUYY
You’ll learn how important your behavior is to your investment success, how to think through your asset allocation choices and finally how to select the investments themselves.
What is your investment approach? How you make decisions with your investments can make or break your investment success. You may think that your returns are solely based upon which investments you choose, but the reality is that your investment behavior figures into your returns much more than any specific investment that you choose.
Think about last March. What was your reaction to that volatile market? Did you buy, sell, or do nothing? Even though it’s challenging to know how to react in those moments, in a volatile market every move you make counts.
The dominant determinant of long-term, real-life financial outcomes isn’t investment performance; it’s investor behavior. –Around The Year with Nick Murray
The second driver to success in investing is your asset allocation. Asset allocation is simply the measure of how your portfolio is dispersed. How much do you have invested in stock and bonds? What percentage of your stocks are US-based? What percentage are international? Asset allocation also takes into account whether your stocks are large-cap, small-cap, etc. Your asset allocation is an important part of realizing your investment returns.
It’s important to have an independent mindset to help you pick your stocks. You don’t want to just follow the pack and do what everyone else is doing. There are several key areas that help us choose stocks at Financial Symmetry. The areas are ethical company culture, low costs, evidence-based, tax-efficient, and whether it is repeatable. We continually ask questions about the investments we choose. And if we don’t like the answers, we don’t invest in those companies.
What is your investment plan? Think about the strategy that you have used to make decisions about investing. An investment plan includes more than investments, it encompasses behavior and asset allocation. If you don’t have one consider working with a fee-only financial advisor. Having an investment plan could be the difference between a successful retirement and an uncertain one. What is your investment strategy? Try taking the quiz in our blog post to determine your investment composure.
There are fundamental principles that we all need reminders of from time to time. As kids and grandkids are heading off to college, we're talking through 6 core principles to getting off on the right financial footing. We also include a chart demonstrating the power of saving 15% of your income.
Youtube video recap: https://youtu.be/LLlJjITn6B8
If you can follow these 6 steps, it's very likely your future self will thank you.
Your ability to create wealth impacted by your ability to earn as well as understanding how you spend money. If you have had trouble saving and investing, visualize your future self. When you are making a decision think about how it will affect you and your finances, not just now, but 20 or 30 years from now. What are you doing now to help your future self?
2020 has brought us a new reality with our vacation mindsets. With many vacation plans put on hold or completely cancelled, the pandemic has become the impetus for second homes becoming more of a reality.
Short Youtube video recap: https://youtu.be/dZvXxmFmDxM
If you have been considering purchasing a second home, we lay out 5 questions to consider as you're analyzing your purchase decision.
Have you ever considered buying a lake house, beach house, or mountain house? Vacation home purchases have surged this year, quadrupling the sales of last year. After an amazing vacation, some people want to jump right in and buy. But before you apply for that second mortgage there are some questions you need to consider.
Many people only consider the cost of the mortgage, but with a second home, there is much more to consider. Where will you get the down payment? How will you pay 2 sets of utilities? Will you have 2 HOA’s to pay for? If you or your spouse lost a job, how would you continue to pay for this second home? Remember, typically a second home is not a great investment. They can be hard to sell and generally do poorly in recessions. Another important consideration is: how will this purchase impact your other financial goals?
When will you use your new home? Every weekend? Winters? Summers? Will you rent it out? Consider whether you really want a second home, or 2 nice beach vacations a year.
How much time will you use it? Will you feel like you have to go there? Will it limit other vacations? Is this really where you want to spend all of your time?
Many people end up selling their vacation home because they realize that they didn’t use it as much as they had envisioned. How close is it to your primary residence? Oftentimes, the amount of use a vacation home gets is based on proximity to one’s house.
Remember there are not only the financial costs to consider but the time cost as well. Another house means more maintenance. This upkeep requires a financial cost but it could also mean that you have to spend your own personal time fixing up the place. What will you be giving up in return for the new house?
If you are still keen on the idea of purchasing a vacation home after answering all of these questions, listen in to hear what steps you should take next are.
You spend half your life preparing for retirement, but that doesn’t mean that there won’t be surprises when you get there.
YouTube Recap here: https://youtu.be/zzEnHR9Qv8I
Retirement can bring on both positive and negative surprises, so it's important to prepare the best you can beforehand. So in this episode we breakdown the different kinds of surprises you may experience in retirement and how you can be ready.
2020 has been a year of surprises. It seems that every time we turn around the world has something new in store for us. Life has changed substantially and we are all dealing with a new reality. A changing reality amidst retirement can be scary if you aren’t prepared. If you want to be prepared for any eventuality during retirement then listen to this episode now.
In retirement, there could be good surprises or bad ones. We like to start out with the potentially beneficial surprises. You’ll want to hear which surprises might start out negative but could lead to positive changes.
Unfortunately, retirement doesn’t always bring sunshine and rainbows. It’s important to be prepared for negative surprises in retirement as well.
No one can argue that the stock market has been tumultuous lately. During times of market uncertainty, investors seem to become even more certain about their predictions of the next stock market moves.
Short YouTube Recap: https://youtu.be/ShmeDGPQ3l4
As people make these predictions over time the stakes get bigger and bigger. Listen to this episode to hear what steps you can take to fight this prediction hubris.
When markets become more volatile, the desire to control our outcomes becomes stronger. Our instincts pressure us to make predictive moves of what we feel is going to happen. This is when the ability to stay disciplined can have the biggest impact.
Otherwise, we find ourselves sweating out extreme buy and sell decisions that could cause you to miss the biggest market moving days. There was a good chance of this with our latest examples over the last 3 months, when you saw 3 of the worst 25 single day losses and 2 of the largest 25 day gains, happened in the S&P 500.
This is why we created a thought exercise to help you reflect on your investment strategy during times of market stress. We’re calling it the “R” Plan, where we provide five steps to fight the inevitable prediction hubris that occurs during these periods.
The R plan
Special needs financial planning is an intricate and delicate process.
Youtube Recap Here: https://tinyurl.com/y7wchxee
A process loaded with challenging emotional and financial decisions. So below we provide 4 steps to think through if planning for your special needs loved one’s future.
More than 40 million individuals or about 10% of total American population are living with a disability according to the US Census. This takes a careful planning approach to assure needs are met.
More Detail Here: https://bit.ly/2BbvxLv
In times of crisis and uncertainty, the potential need to access our savings seems to rise to the forefront. However, many of the accounts that we utilize for our savings are tied to certain restrictions. For example, the age 59.5 restriction for retirement account withdrawals without facing a 10% penalty, or HSAs and 529 accounts which must be used for medical expenses and education expenses respectively. These unique accounts are great tools to efficiently invest our savings given the tax deferred or tax-free growth. The issue though is what happens when we need funds to cover items that don’t meet the parameters and restrictions set forth by these accounts.
COVID-19 has me pondering my own finances and how well equipped they are to be flexible in times of need. These circumstances we’re in have produced many implications to our finances and society with a big one being the impact of education from pre-school age all the way through college.
We’ve seen a shift to more online educational resources in recent years and this has only escalated with the impacts of COVID-19. College students have spent the better part of their spring 2020 semester living at home and completing their coursework online. While certainly not the college experience these students anticipated, they’re still able to receive a quality education without the cost of living in a dorm room on campus or 3+ meals per day at the campus dining hall. We’ve even seen some refunds returned to students which if were withdrawn from a 529 account originally, then that money needs to go back into the 529 account to avoid taxes/penalties.
So what does this mean for our college savings strategy? For my two 2.5-year-old boys I’ve been saving monthly in a 529 account since they were born with intention to provide a portion of their college education from the 529 account. However, I’ve reconsidered this strategy this week and am shifting to utilizing a couple other accounts for their future savings. At Financial Symmetry we had many discussions with clients about not over-funding college savings accounts given the high taxes and penalty if not used for education along with discussions about savings for the parents own retirement and financial independence.
A great savings tool as the contributions can we withdrawn at any time tax-free, and the earnings grow tax free and can be withdrawn after age 59.5. This is the primary account I’ll now be using for future education needs for my twin boys as I’ll be able to withdraw the contributions for the education if needed. If for whatever reason they don’t need those funds for college then no worries as I can retain the Roth IRA for my own future financial needs. With a 529 plan though, I wouldn’t be able to do that as those funds would be restricted to education expenses.
I ran the numbers on the actual advantage 529 accounts do provide. Say my monthly contributions add up to $15k and earn $5k over the years to equate a $20k balance. Those earnings would be tax free in a 529 account for education expenses. If those funds were instead in a taxable brokerage account and assuming a 22% federal tax bracket this would be $1,100 of tax due on those earnings. You must weigh the flexibility of a non 529 account vs. the tax savings it can provide. Also consider that with proper tax planning in a brokerage account could mean even less taxes due given accessibility of tax efficient funds, tax loss harvesting, donating earnings to charity as ways to lower that tax bill.
Certainly nothing wrong with using a 529 account as you’re still saving for your children’s future needs, but just consider there are other vehicles that may be more appropriate given your financial situation. Also, depending on your financial situation there are other factors to consider such as financial aid.
Why is the stock market doing so well when the economy is not?
Short Youtube recap here: https://youtu.be/QubNZjHHN04
With headlines about skyrocketing unemployment and an impending recession, how has the stock market rebounded so quickly? Despite the historic drops in March, the S&P 500 is only hovering in a range 10-15% from its overall highs. While the stock market and the economy are influenced by each other, there are key differences that emerge during market extremes.
We have all heard the negative news surrounding the economy. It seems to be one of the only topics that news channels talk about. GDP declined 5% in the first quarter and is expected to decline by 20-30% in the second quarter. Unemployment has shot up at a historic pace from 5% to 15% in just a few short months. However, the Federal Reserve and the CARES Act have helped keep people and companies on their feet.
The stock market went through record-setting drops back in March but since then it has bounced in the 35-40% range off the lows. We are still nowhere near the all-time highs that preceded those March declines, but the S&P 500 continues to rise and has been trading in a range 10-15% below it's all time highs reach in February. This creates confusion for most in the face of terrible economic headlines. One reason is that companies and investors are constantly looking at what is to come. They aren’t making decisions based just on the next 6 months, instead, they are projecting the growth over the next 5-10 years. It’s also important to remember that for every distressed seller there is a buyer. Investors are considering their bets for the future and if they anticipate we've seen the worst, then better than expected potential outcomes can drive stocks higher.
Historically, the stock market tends to make a recovery before the economy. For example in 2009 the stock market hit its bottom in March, but the country continued in its recession until the second half of that year. World War II is another example. The stock market was up every year during that period, despite all the turmoil going on in the world and the restrictions that were put in place by the war.
Well, unfortunately, we don’t have a crystal ball. But there are plenty of opinions you can find from watching the headlines or talking to your neighbors. This type of information can be detrimental not only to your mental state but also to your pocketbook. Allowing your emotions to take the investing wheel, can leave you second-guessing your investment strategy. In fact, the next time you want to look at your investment statements, we'd suggest opening your financial plan instead. You’re better off focusing on what you can control, like your risk tolerance, your rate of saving and spending, and your tax situation. Evaluating how your personal economy has changed, can leave you better positioned for the long-term. This allows you to have the appropriate investment allocations, so your worry can be abated, no matter how wild the stock market or economy gets in the short-run.
Today we're taking a deep dive to explore the retirement changes within this landmark piece of legislation. On this episode, you’ll learn what CRD’s are, who are qualified individuals, and how to note CARES Act withdrawals on your tax return. Join us to hear about financial opportunities that you may not have considered.
Short Youtube video recap: https://youtu.be/2QjSpi3op_U
The CARES Act was recently passed to help Americans get through this difficult time that has been filled with job losses, furloughs, lay-offs, and the mandatory closing of workplaces. The goal of the new law was to make it easier for citizens to access their money during these stresses. The CARES Act makes retirement account withdraws easier and more accessible without the standard early withdrawal penalties.
Coronavirus related distributions or CRD’s allow for qualified individuals to take up to $100,000 from their retirement accounts during the period of January 2020 to January 2021. This withdrawal for qualified individuals is taxable but you can pay the taxes on these withdrawals over a period of 3 years. It’s easy to remember what the CRD’s offer by thinking of the 3 R’s.
The CRD’s are only available to qualified individuals, but who exactly can qualify for these withdrawals? You can qualify if you or your spouse has been diagnosed with COVID-19 or if you have experienced a loss of income during this time. You may have experienced a job loss, a reduction of hours, or an inability to work due to lack of child care. If you do qualify for a CRD you’ll want to examine all of your options before you make this choice. Make sure to work with a professional to see if this is the best choice for you.
The government doesn’t want to force you to sell your stocks at lower prices, so for 2020 RMD’s will not be required for anyone. If you have already taken your RMD for the year you can even pay it back. Listen in to learn how. Instead of taking your RMD, you may want to consider doing a Roth conversion.
Today we explore some of the most common questions that people ask during a market decline. We discuss what a financial advisor does and doesn't do for their clients in bear markets, whether you should refinance, and the benefits of tax-loss harvesting. Listen in to hear what you could be doing to stay proactive during this market decline.
Youtube recap here: https://youtu.be/QUCpQcf2vu8
Financial advisors can be a great resource during a stock market decline. The fear you feel in these situations can be paralyzing. If you don’t have a financial advisor to help you act in your best interests, you may end up not taking any action at all. So what are some things a financial advisor can do for their clients during these challenging times?
One way to give yourself a bit of control during times when life is feeling out of control is to consider refinancing your home. Since mortgage rates have declined in recent months now may be the right time for you to refinance. You’ll want to analyze what your break-even point is to see if it is worth it. There are many different ways you can go about refinancing. You could use a mortgage broker, you could go through your own bank, or you could use an online mortgage lender. Listen in to hear the differences between those 3 options.
We all feel the urge to do something right now. But instead of doing something that could be detrimental to your wealth, tax-loss harvesting can give you the opportunity to do increase your wealth over time. The biggest question we hear surrounding tax-loss harvesting is why would I want to lock in losses? The answer is don’t think of it as a loss, but an exchange. You are taking that loss to reinvest in something similar. Look at tax-loss harvesting as a one way to help you rebalance. Find out if tax-loss harvesting is right for you by listening to Allison Berger’s excellent analysis.
The CARES Act was just recently passed and the new law will impact just about every American. But do you know how it will affect you?
View Youtube recap here: https://youtu.be/BTaeWH0aEB0
On this episode of Financial Symmetry, Grayson Blazek joins me to give you some actionable information that you can use to help you consider how best to take control of this challenging financial situation. During this stressful time, it will be helpful to learn as much as you can to give you a feeling of empowerment.
The most discussed part of the CARES Act is the recovery rebate. The full rebate is eligible for taxpayers that make $150,000 or less when filing jointly with their spouse or $75,000 for single filers. If you make more than that you can use a calculator discover how much you will receive. The full rebate is a one-time payment of $1200 per adult and $500 per qualifying child. The recovery rebate will be directly deposited into the bank account listed on your most recent tax return. Listen to this episode to hear if you should file your taxes right away or if it would be best for you to wait a bit longer.
If you have been impacted directly from the Coronavirus directly or if you have experienced lost wages then you will be able to pull funds out of your retirement accounts in the year 2020 without the usual 10% early withdrawal penalty. These funds will still be taxed, but you can spread the tax burden over a period of 3 years if needed. The CARES Act also changes the maximum 401K loan limit from $50,000 to $100,000. You’ll want to carefully consider before taking the full loan amount.
There were several other changes that should be noted as well.
This landmark legislation didn’t only affect people’s finances, it made some changes to health care as well. The CARES Act has ensured that health insurance will have to pay for any COVID testing or potential vaccines that are developed. It also expanded qualified medical expenses for HSA’s. What will be the biggest change brought to you by the CARES Act?
We’re all surprised at the speed of changes the coronavirus has brought in our lives. Working from home, school closures, and social distancing have become our new norms. Stock markets have fallen in to a bear market in less than a month. Uncertainty related to COVID-19 grows daily, as we all know the amount of new cases are destined to rise.
It can be hard to find positives through the barrage of more disappointing news each day. But there are steps you can take to prepare your portfolio during this bear market. In today’s episode, we share 7 tips to help ease your worries during this challenging time.
We all feel nervous about stock market drops. Despite bear markets happening an average of every 6-7 years, it never gets easier to handle emotionally. During these times, investment behavior determines your returns more than the investments themselves.
Having an investment plan beforehand adds discipline to your decisions amidst the turmoil. If you’re questioning what you should do, then referring back to your plan will remind you of your highest priorities.
When you think about it, you only really have 3 options to choose from.
With the first one, being much more damaging long-term than the others. To cope with this, we’ve put together seven things you can do to help ease your worry so you are better prepared to make more sound financial decisions.
Cornoavirus concerns continue to impact the financial markets, as have all the numberless crises that have gone before it.
While the potential human and economic effects are very unsettling, what actions should a prudent investor take given this new development?
Short Video Recap Here: https://youtu.be/Wsy6OTuY-yI
It remains impossible to predict when and how this problem will be resolved. Likewise, it is impossible to know when and how the markets will anticipate (or react to) such a resolution.
In this episode of the Financial Symmetry show, hosts Chad Smith and Mike Eklund, evaluate all the available information to determine how you should approach your investment strategy.
Market declines are a regular occurrence and happen frequently. Selloffs provide an opportunity for investors to absorb new information, squeeze out excesses and reset values to more attractive levels.
For existing retirees, we set-up portfolios to include 5-7 years’ worth of high-quality bonds/cash to absorb market declines. For savers, market declines are great news as it allows you to buy stocks at lower prices through regular contributions.
We understand the desire to try to head off market declines by moving into safety. However, our view is that the only way to capture the full permanent returns of equities is to ride out their temporary declines.
The danger of trying to time the market is that you will sabotage your personal investment strategy by getting out at the wrong time and then compounding that by getting back in at the wrong time.
The Financial Symmetry Podcast is an original podcast from Financial Symmetry in Raleigh, NC. To learn more about the show or the past 105 episodes, visit https://www.financialsymmetry.com/retirement-podcast/.
The hosts and guests in this video do not render or offer to render personalized investment or tax advice in this podcast. This podcast is for informational purposes only and does not constitute individualized advice or a guarantee that you will achieve a desired result. You should consult with appropriate tax and financial advisors for advice specific to your situation.
Will your retirement regrets list be full of "I wish I would have...?" What if you could use regrets of other retirees to change or improve your current course?
Short Youtube Recap here: https://youtu.be/CiGxXeem2yI
Listening to the wisdom of those that have gone before you, can help you avoid their big mistakes and take advantage of financial opportunities you may have missed.
In our role as financial advisors, we have the unique opportunity of hearing a long list of retirement regrets. In listening to their perspectives, we gain an understanding of the path they took and the things they wish they could have done to prepare for retirement.
In this episode of the Financial Symmetry podcast with Chad Smith and Allison Berger, we break down the top retirement regrets that investors typically experience. Listen in so you can learn from others and ensure that you don’t make the same mistakes they did.
The Financial Symmetry Podcast is an original podcast from Financial Symmetry in Raleigh, NC. To learn more about the show or the past 104 episodes, visit https://www.financialsymmetry.com/retirement-podcast/.
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How closely did you look at your Medicare premium notice letter this past December? If it mentioned an IRMAA adjustment, and you experienced a life-changing event, you may want to look again. There's a few steps you can take that can save you thousands of dollars in Medicare premiums. In this episode, we are breaking down the the tax cliff known as IRMAA and how proper planning can help you avoid overpaying for your Part B and Part D Medicare premiums.
YouTube recap: https://youtu.be/BQ7K_DeJiHs
This often misunderstood or overlooked area of the tax code is how Medicare determines the premiums that are automatically taken from your Social Security check. IRMAA stands for Income Related Monthly Adjustment Amount. Understanding the IRMAA threshold is key to understanding your Medicare premium.
Generally, when you think about Medicare you think about age 65 and above. It’s actually important to begin thinking about Medicare when you are 63. Your Medicare premium at age 65 is actually based on the income that you made 2 years prior. So if you were in one of the higher income brackets before you retired, your Medicare premium will reflect that. There are 5 tiers of IRMAA and if you go even $1 over you will be knocked into the next bracket. If you end up in the highest tier you could be paying over $4000 in extra Medicare Part B premiums.
Now that you know about IRMAA you can begin to plan ahead. If your AGI is $87,000 or less for singles or $174,000 or less for a married couple then you will qualify for the Medicare Part B baseline premium which is $144.66 per person per month. It’s important to understand your income sources and whether they are taxable or not. Knowing where you fit in the IRMAA tiers will save you money. Listen in to hear more about IRMAA and how it can affect your retirement plans.
If you didn’t plan ahead and are stuck with high premiums you may be able to appeal. You can appeal based on marriage, divorce, death of a spouse, work stoppage, work reduction, or loss of income. If you qualify for an appeal then you’ll need to fill out an SSA44. There are 5 steps to follow to appeal process. Listen in to discover what you can do if IRMAA has got you down.
How do you best invest at all-time market highs? In this episode, we are walking through the strategies and disciplines you'll need to be a successful long-term investor.
Short Youtube recap here: https://youtu.be/fEXnQ8GaCuk
Visit full article notes here: https://wp.me/p6NrVS-3i0
We often get the question of whether people should continue to invest given the all-time market highs. Well, let’s take a look back to just a year ago. At the end of 2018, the U.S. stock market declined by 20% and everyone was worried about a potential bear market. But it turned out that 2019 was a fantastic year despite all the worries.
We can’t tell you when will be a good time to invest in the short-term. No one can. No one has a crystal ball that can predict those outcomes. It is important to formulate a decision-making process that is not outcome-based. Financial decisions should always be processed based instead.
Think about where you were in December 2009. You probably weren’t too optimistic about the economic future. But it turned out the S&P 500 was the best place to invest over the past 10 years. But in the 10 years preceding it was the worst place to invest.
There is never an easy time to be an investor. Investing always involves risk and many see that risk as a reason not to invest. There is always a risk and plenty of reasons not to invest. But when you look back, you’ll realize recessions, while painful, happen quickly but the market rises over the long run.
After the S&P’s strong run the past 10 years many people wonder why bother to invest internationally or why they should hold any bonds in their portfolio. Even though the S&P 500 performed quite well over the past 10 years, it was the worst place to invest during the previous 10 years. To protect yourself, you’ll need to be diversified. Bonds can not only provide diversification but they can provide income and capital preservation as well. They may not be the most exciting, but bonds will ensure you don’t have all of your eggs in one basket.
Once again we find ourselves in a time of uncertainty. There’s the threat of war, a presidential election, and who knows what else could happen next. Given this time of uncertainty, what changes should we be making to our portfolios? The only sure answer is that you should only be taking as much risk as you can handle. Don’t let recent market performance lull you into taking too much risk.
Listen in to hear the outlook for 2020 and beyond.