Teach Your Children Well: Basic Financial Education

Even before your children can count, they already know something about money: it’s what you have to give the ice cream man to get a cone, or put in the slot to ride the rocket ship at the grocery store. So, as soon as your children begin to handle money, start teaching them how to handle it wisely.

Making allowances

Giving children allowances is a good way to begin teaching them how to save money and budget for the things they want. How much you give them depends in part on what you expect them to buy with it and how much you want them to save.

Some parents expect children to earn their allowance by doing household chores, while others attach no strings to the purse and expect children to pitch in simply because they live in the household. A compromise might be to give children small allowances coupled with opportunities to earn extra money by doing chores that fall outside their normal household responsibilities.

When it comes to giving children allowances:

  • Set parameters. Discuss with your children what they may use the money for and how much should be saved.
  • Make allowance day a routine, like payday. Give the same amount on the same day each week.
  • Consider “raises” for children who manage money well.

Take it to the bank

Piggy banks are a great way to start teaching children to save money, but opening a savings account in a “real” bank introduces them to the concepts of earning interest and the power of compounding.

While children might want to spend all their allowance now, encourage them (especially older children) to divide it up, allowing them to spend some immediately, while insisting they save some toward things they really want but can’t afford right away. Writing down each goal and the amount that must be saved each week toward it will help children learn the difference between short-term and long-term goals. As an incentive, you might want to offer to match whatever children save toward their long-term goals.

Shopping sense

Television commercials and peer pressure constantly tempt children to spend money. But children need guidance when it comes to making good buying decisions. Teach children how to compare items by price and quality. When you’re at the grocery store, for example, explain why you might buy a generic cereal instead of a name brand.

By explaining that you won’t buy them something every time you go to a store, you can lead children into thinking carefully about the purchases they do want to make. Then, consider setting aside one day a month when you will take children shopping for themselves. This encourages them to save for something they really want rather than buying on impulse. For “big-ticket” items, suggest that they might put the items on a birthday or holiday list.

Don’t be afraid to let children make mistakes. If a toy breaks soon after it’s purchased, or doesn’t turn out to be as much fun as seen on TV, eventually children will learn to make good choices even when you’re not there to give them advice.

Earning and handling income

Older children (especially teenagers) may earn income from part-time jobs after school or on weekends. Particularly if this money supplements any allowance you give them, wages enable children to get a greater taste of financial independence.

Earned income from part-time jobs might be subject to withholdings for FICA and federal and/or state income taxes. Show your children how this takes a bite out their paychecks and reduces the amount they have left over for their own use.

Creating a balanced budget

With greater financial independence should come greater fiscal responsibility. Older children may have more expenses, and their extra income can be used to cover at least some of those expenses. To ensure that they’ll have enough to make ends meet, help them prepare a budget.

To develop a balanced budget, children should first list all their income. Next, they should list routine expenses, such as pizza with friends, money for movies, and (for older children) gas for the car. (Don’t include things you will pay for.) Finally, subtract the expenses from the income. If they’ll be in the black, you can encourage further saving or contributions to their favorite charity. If the results show that your children will be in the red, however, you’ll need to come up with a plan to address the shortfall.

To help children learn about budgeting:

  • Devise a system for keeping track of what’s spent
  • Categorize expenses as needs (unavoidable) and wants (can be cut)
  • Suggest ways to increase income and/or reduce expenses

The future is now

Teenagers should be ready to focus on saving for larger goals (e.g., a new computer or a car) and longer-term goals (e.g., college, an apartment). And while bank accounts may still be the primary savings vehicles for them, you might also want to consider introducing your teenagers to the principles of investing.

To do this, open investment accounts for them. (If they’re minors, these must be custodial accounts.) Look for accounts that can be opened with low initial contributions at institutions that supply educational materials about basic investment terms and concepts.

Helping older children learn about topics such as risk tolerance, time horizons, market volatility, and asset diversification may predispose them to take charge of their financial future.

Should you give your child credit?

If older children (especially those about to go off to college) are responsible, you may be thinking about getting them a credit card. However, credit card companies cannot issue cards to anyone under 21 unless they can show proof they can repay the debt themselves, or unless an adult cosigns the credit card agreement. If you decide to cosign, keep in mind that you’re taking on legal liability for the debt, and the debt will appear on your credit report.

Also:

  • Set limits on the card’s use
  • Ask the credit card company for a low credit limit (e.g., $300) or a secured card to help children learn to manage credit without getting into serious debt
  • Make sure children understand the grace period, fee structure, and how interest accrues on the unpaid balance
  • Agree on how the bill will be paid, and what will happen if the bill goes unpaid
  • Make sure children understand how long it takes to pay off a credit card balance if they only make minimum payments

If putting a credit card in your child’s hands is a scary thought, you may want to start off with a prepaid spending card. A prepaid spending card looks like a credit card, but functions more like a prepaid phone card. The card can be loaded with a predetermined amount that you specify, and generally may be used anywhere credit cards are accepted. Purchases are deducted from the card’s balance, and you can transfer more money to the card’s balance whenever necessary. Although there may be some fees associated with the card, no debt or interest charges accrue; children can only spend what’s loaded onto the card.

One thing you might especially like about prepaid spending cards is that they allow children to gradually get the hang of using credit responsibly. Because you can access the account information online or over the phone, you can monitor the spending habits of your children. If need be, you can then sit down with them and discuss their spending behavior and money management skills.

 

 

Securities offered through FSC Securities Corporation, member FINRA / SIPC . Investment advisory services offered through The Retirement Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor which is not affiliated with FSC Securities Corp. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

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Staying on Track with Your Retirement Investments

Investing for your retirement isn’t about getting rich quick. More often, it’s about having a game plan that you can live with over a long time. You wouldn’t expect to be able to play the piano without learning the basics and practicing. Investing for your retirement over the long term also takes a little knowledge and discipline. Though there can be no guarantee that any investment strategy will be successful and all investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, there are ways to help yourself build your retirement nest egg.

Compounding is your best friend

It’s the “rolling snowball” effect. Put simply, compounding pays you earnings on your reinvested earnings. Here’s how it works: Let’s say you invest $100, and that money earns a 7% annual return. At the end of a year, the $7 you earned is added to your $100; that would give you $107 in your account. If you earn 7% again the next year, you’re earning 7% of $107 rather than $100, as you did in the first year. That adds $7.49 to your account instead of $7. In the third year with a 7% return, you’d earn $8 and have a total of $122. Like a snowball rolling downhill, the value of compounding grows the longer you leave your money in the account. In effect, compounding can do some of the work of building a nest egg for you.

The longer you leave your money at work for you, the more exciting the numbers get. For example, imagine an investment of $10,000 at an annual rate of return of 8%. In 20 years, assuming no withdrawals, your $10,000 investment would grow to $46,610. In 25 years, it would grow to $68,485, a 47% gain over the 20-year figure. After 30 years, your account would total $100,627. (Of course, these are hypothetical examples that do not reflect the performance of any specific investment and assume that no taxes are paid or withdrawals are made during that time.)

If your workplace savings plan contributions are made pretax, as most people’s are, compounding really becomes a powerful force. Not having to pay taxes from year to year on either your contributions or the compounded earnings helps your savings grow even faster (though you’ll owe taxes on that money when you start withdrawing from your account). The value of compounded tax-deferred dollars is the main reason you may want to fully fund all tax-advantaged retirement accounts and plans available to you, and start as early as you can. Investing money over time can help compounding produce potentially significant returns. With time on your side, you don’t necessarily have to aim for investment “home runs” in order to be successful.

Diversify your investments

Asset allocation is the process of deciding how to spread your dollars over several categories of investments, usually referred to as asset classes. A basic asset allocation would likely include at least stocks, bonds, and cash or cash alternatives such as a money market fund. The term “asset classes” also may refer to subcategories, such as particular types of stocks or bonds.

Asset allocation is important for two reasons. First, the mix of asset classes you own is a large factor–some say the biggest factor by far–in determining your overall investment portfolio performance. How you divide your money between stocks, bonds, and cash can be more important than your choice of specific investments. Second, by dividing your portfolio among asset classes that don’t respond to market forces in the same way at the same time, you can help minimize the effects of market volatility while maximizing your chances of long-term return. Ideally, if your investments in one class are performing poorly, assets in another class may be doing better and may help stabilize your portfolio.

Remember that during any given period of market or economic turmoil, some asset categories and some individual investments historically have been less volatile than others. You can manage your risk to some extent by diversifying your holdings among various classes of assets, as well as different types of assets within each class. Taking steps that can help manage the amount of volatility you experience can help you stay with your game plan over the long term.

Take advantage of dollar cost averaging

One of the benefits of participating in your workplace savings plan is that you’re automatically using an investment strategy called dollar cost averaging. With dollar cost averaging, you acquire shares of an investment by investing a fixed dollar amount at regularly scheduled intervals over time. When the price is high, your investment buys less; when prices are low, the same dollar investment will buy more shares. A regular, fixed-dollar investment should result in a lower average price per share than you would get buying a fixed number of shares at each investment interval.

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 $30, to 30 shares when the price is $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 prices, the average purchase price is $17.24 ($300 x 5 months = $1,500 invested divided by 87 shares purchased = $17.24).

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

Stick to your strategy

Try to resist the impulse to change your investment strategy with every news headline or investing tip from a relative or coworker. Timing the market correctly is very difficult; even professionals find it a challenge. Most people fare better by having an investment game plan that can weather good times and bad, and then sticking to it.

That doesn’t mean you should simply forget about your investments altogether. At least once a year, you should review your portfolio to see if your choices are still appropriate. Even if your circumstances haven’t changed, market movements can affect how your money is divided among various types of investments. For example, if one type of asset has been very successful, it may now represent too large a share of your holdings. To rebalance your portfolio, you could sell some of an asset that’s now larger than you intended and buy more of a type that is lower than desired. Or you could keep your existing allocation but shift future investments into an asset class you want to increase. But if you don’t review your holdings periodically, you won’t know whether a change is needed.

 

 

Securities offered through FSC Securities Corporation, member FINRA / SIPC . Investment advisory services offered through The Retirement Group, LLC, a registered investment advisor which is not affiliated with FSC Securities Corp. Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. does not provide investment, tax, or legal advice. The information presented here is not specific to any individual’s personal circumstances. To the extent that this material concerns tax matters, it is not intended or written to be used, and cannot be used, by a taxpayer for the purpose of avoiding penalties that may be imposed by law. Each taxpayer should seek independent advice from a tax professional based on his or her individual circumstances. These materials are provided for general information and educational purposes based upon publicly available information from sources believed to be reliable—we cannot assure the accuracy or completeness of these materials. The information in these materials may change at any time and without notice.

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Deciding When to Retire: When Timing Becomes Critical

Deciding when to retire may not be one decision but a series of decisions and calculations. For example, you’ll need to estimate not only your anticipated expenses, but also what sources of retirement income you’ll have and how long you’ll need your retirement savings to last. You’ll need to take into account your life expectancy and health as well as when you want to start receiving Social Security or pension benefits, and when you’ll start to tap your retirement savings. Each of these factors may affect the others as part of an overall retirement income plan.

Thinking about early retirement?

Retiring early means fewer earning years and less accumulated savings. Also, the earlier you retire, the more years you’ll need your retirement savings to produce income. And your retirement could last quite a while. According to a National Vital Statistics Report, people today can expect to live more than 30 years longer than they did a century ago.

Not only will you need your retirement savings to last longer, but inflation will have more time to eat away at your purchasing power. If inflation is 3% a year–its historical average since 1914–it will cut the purchasing power of a fixed annual income in half in roughly 23 years. Factoring inflation into the retirement equation, you’ll probably need your retirement income to increase each year just to cover the same expenses. Be sure to take this into account when considering how long you expect (or can afford) to be in retirement.

Current Life Expectancy Estimates

Men Women
At birth 76.4 81.2
At age 65 82.9 85.5

Source: NCHS Data Brief, Number 168, October 2014

There are other considerations as well. For example, if you expect to receive pension payments, early retirement may adversely affect them. Why? Because the greatest accrual of benefits generally occurs during your final years of employment, when your earning power is presumably highest. Early retirement could reduce your monthly benefits. It will affect your Social Security benefits too.

Also, don’t forget that if you hope to retire before you turn 59½ and plan to start using your 401(k) or IRA savings right away, you’ll generally pay a 10% early withdrawal penalty plus any regular income tax due (with some exceptions, including disability payments and distributions from employer plans such as 401(k)s after you reach age 55 and terminate employment).

Finally, you’re not eligible for Medicare until you turn 65. Unless you’ll be eligible for retiree health benefits through your employer or take a job that offers health insurance, you’ll need to calculate the cost of paying for insurance or health care out-of-pocket, at least until you can receive Medicare coverage.

Delaying retirement

Postponing retirement lets you continue to add to your retirement savings. That’s especially advantageous if you’re saving in tax-deferred accounts, and if you’re receiving employer contributions. For example, if you retire at age 65 instead of age 55, and manage to save an additional $20,000 per year at an 8% rate of return during that time, you can add an extra $312,909 to your retirement fund. (This is a hypothetical example and is not intended to reflect the actual performance of any specific investment.)

Even if you’re no longer adding to your retirement savings, delaying retirement postpones the date that you’ll need to start withdrawing from them. That could enhance your nest egg’s ability to last throughout your lifetime.

Postponing full retirement also gives you more transition time. If you hope to trade a full-time job for running your own small business or launching a new career after you “retire,” you might be able to lay the groundwork for a new life by taking classes at night or trying out your new role part-time. Testing your plans while you’re still employed can help you anticipate the challenges of your post-retirement role. Doing a reality check before relying on a new endeavor for retirement income can help you see how much income you can realistically expect from it. Also, you’ll learn whether it’s something you really want to do before you spend what might be a significant portion of your retirement savings on it.

Phased retirement: the best of both worlds

Some employers have begun to offer phased retirement programs, which allow you to receive all or part of your pension benefit once you’ve reached retirement age, while you continue to work part-time for the same employer.

Phased retirement programs are getting more attention as the baby boomer generation ages. In the past, pension law for private sector employers encouraged workers to retire early. Traditional pension plans generally weren’t allowed to pay benefits until an employee either stopped working completely or reached the plan’s normal retirement age (typically age 65). This frequently encouraged employees who wanted a reduced workload but hadn’t yet reached normal retirement age to take early retirement and go to work elsewhere (often for a competitor), allowing them to collect both a pension from the prior employer and a salary from the new employer.

However, pension plans now are allowed to pay benefits when an employee reaches age 62, even if the employee is still working and hasn’t yet reached the plan’s normal retirement age. Phased retirement can benefit both prospective retirees, who can enjoy a more flexible work schedule and a smoother transition into full retirement; and employers, who are able to retain an experienced worker. Employers aren’t required to offer a phased retirement program, but if yours does, it’s worth at least a review to see how it might affect your plans.

Key Decision Points

Age Age Don’t forget …
Eligible to tap tax-deferred savings without penalty for early withdrawal 59 ½* Federal income taxes will be due on pretax contributions and earnings
Eligible for early Social Security benefits 62 Taking benefits before full retirement age reduces each monthly payment
Eligible for Medicare 65 Contact Medicare 3 months before your 65th birthday
Full retirement age for Social Security 65 to 67, depending on when you were born After full retirement age, earned income no longer affects Social Security benefits

*Age 55 for distributions from employer plans upon termination of employment

Check your assumptions

The sooner you start to plan the timing of your retirement, the more time you’ll have to make adjustments that can help ensure those years are everything you hope for. If you’ve already made some tentative assumptions or choices, you may need to revisit them, especially if you’re considering taking retirement in stages. And as you move into retirement, you’ll want to monitor your retirement income plan to ensure that your initial assumptions are still valid, that new laws and regulations haven’t affected your situation, and that your savings and investments are performing as you need them to.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent, ING Retirement, AT&T, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Qwest, Verizon, Northrop Grumman, Chevron, Hughes, Pfizer, Raytheon, Merck 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 Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Matthew Curry, 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.

Matthew Curry is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

 

Posted in Economic Update, Financial Advisor, Financial Planning, Matthew Curry, The Retirement Group | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Retirement Plans for Small Businesses

If you’re self-employed or own a small business and you haven’t established a retirement savings plan, what are you waiting for? A retirement plan can help you and your employees save for the future.

Tax advantages

A retirement plan can have significant tax advantages:

  • Your contributions are deductible when made
  • Your contributions aren’t taxed to an employee until distributed from the plan
  • Money in the retirement program grows tax deferred (or, in the case of Roth accounts, potentially tax free)

Types of plans

Retirement plans are usually either IRA-based (like SEPs and SIMPLE IRAs) or “qualified” (like 401(k)s, profit-sharing plans, and defined benefit plans). Qualified plans are generally more complicated and expensive to maintain than IRA-based plans because they have to comply with specific Internal Revenue Code and ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974) requirements in order to qualify for their tax benefits. Also, qualified plan assets must be held either in trust or by an insurance company. With IRA-based plans, your employees own (i.e., “vest” in) your contributions immediately. With qualified plans, you can generally require that your employees work a certain numbers of years before they vest.

Which plan is right for you?

With a dizzying array of retirement plans to choose from, each with unique advantages and disadvantages, you’ll need to clearly define your goals before attempting to choose a plan. For example, do you want:

  • To maximize the amount you can save for your own retirement?
  • A plan funded by employer contributions? By employee contributions? Both?
  • A plan that allows you and your employees to make pretax and/or Roth contributions?
  • The flexibility to skip employer contributions in some years?
  • A plan with lowest costs? Easiest administration?

The answers to these questions can help guide you and your retirement professional to the plan (or combination of plans) most appropriate for you.

SEPs

A SEP allows you to set up an IRA (a “SEP-IRA”) for yourself and each of your eligible employees. You contribute a uniform percentage of pay for each employee, although you don’t have to make contributions every year, offering you some flexibility when business conditions vary. For 2015, your contributions for each employee are limited to the lesser of 25% of pay or $53,000. Most employers, including those who are self-employed, can establish a SEP.

SEPs have low start-up and operating costs and can be established using an easy two-page form. The plan must cover any employee aged 21 or older who has worked for you for three of the last five years and who earns $600 or more.

SIMPLE IRA plan

The SIMPLE IRA plan is available if you have 100 or fewer employees. Employees can elect to make pretax contributions in 2015 of up to $12,500 ($15,500 if age 50 or older). You must either match your employees’ contributions dollar for dollar–up to 3% of each employee’s compensation–or make a fixed contribution of 2% of compensation for each eligible employee. (The 3% match can be reduced to 1% in any two of five years.) Each employee who earned $5,000 or more in any two prior years, and who is expected to earn at least $5,000 in the current year, must be allowed to participate in the plan. SIMPLE IRA plans are easy to set up. You fill out a short form to establish a plan and ensure that SIMPLE IRAs are set up for each employee. A financial institution can do much of the paperwork. Additionally, administrative costs are low.

Profit-sharing plan

Typically, only you, not your employees, contribute to a qualified profit-sharing plan. Your contributions are discretionary–there’s usually no set amount you need to contribute each year, and you have the flexibility to contribute nothing at all in a given year if you so choose (although your contributions must be nondiscriminatory, and “substantial and recurring,” for your plan to remain qualified). The plan must contain a formula for determining how your contributions are allocated among plan participants. A separate account is established for each participant that holds your contributions and any investment gains or losses. Generally, each employee with a year of service is eligible to participate (although you can require two years of service if your contributions are immediately vested). Contributions for any employee in 2015 can’t exceed the lesser of $53,000 or 100% of the employee’s compensation.

401(k) plan

The 401(k) plan (technically, a qualified profit-sharing plan with a cash or deferred feature) has become a hugely popular retirement savings vehicle for small businesses. According to the Investment Company Institute, 401(k) plans held $4.3 trillion of assets as of March 2014, and covered 52 million active participants. (Source: http://www.ici.org/401(k), accessed February 5, 2015.) With a 401(k) plan, employees can make pretax and/or Roth contributions in 2015 of up to $18,000 of pay ($24,000 if age 50 or older). These deferrals go into a separate account for each employee and aren’t taxed until distributed. Generally, each employee with a year of service must be allowed to contribute to the plan.

You can also make employer contributions to your 401(k) plan–either matching contributions or discretionary profit-sharing contributions. Combined employer and employee contributions for any employee in 2015 can’t exceed the lesser of $53,000 (plus catch-up contributions of up to $6,000 if your employee is age 50 or older) or 100% of the employee’s compensation. In general, each employee with a year of service is eligible to receive employer contributions, but you can require two years of service if your contributions are immediately vested.

401(k) plans are required to perform somewhat complicated testing each year to make sure benefits aren’t disproportionately weighted toward higher paid employees. However, you don’t have to perform discrimination testing if you adopt a “safe harbor” 401(k) plan. With a safe harbor 401(k) plan, you generally have to either match your employees’ contributions (100% of employee deferrals up to 3% of compensation, and 50% of deferrals between 3 and 5% of compensation), or make a fixed contribution of 3% of compensation for all eligible employees, regardless of whether they contribute to the plan. Your contributions must be fully vested.

Another way to avoid discrimination testing is by adopting a SIMPLE 401(k) plan. These plans are similar to SIMPLE IRAs, but can also allow loans and Roth contributions. Because they’re still qualified plans (and therefore more complicated than SIMPLE IRAs), and allow less deferrals than traditional 401(k)s, SIMPLE 401(k)s haven’t become popular.

Defined benefit plan

A defined benefit plan is a qualified retirement plan that guarantees your employees a specified level of benefits at retirement (for example, an annual benefit equal to 30% of final average pay). As the name suggests, it’s the retirement benefit that’s defined, not the level of contributions to the plan. In 2015, a defined benefit plan can provide an annual benefit of up to $210,000 (or 100% of pay if less). The services of an actuary are generally needed to determine the annual contributions that you must make to the plan to fund the promised benefit. Your contributions may vary from year to year, depending on the performance of plan investments and other factors.

In general, defined benefit plans are too costly and too complex for most small businesses. However, because they can provide the largest benefit of any retirement plan, and therefore allow the largest deductible employer contribution, defined benefit plans can be attractive to businesses that have a small group of highly compensated owners who are seeking to contribute as much money as possible on a tax-deferred basis.

As an employer, you have an important role to play in helping America’s workers save. Now is the time to look into retirement plan programs for you and your employees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Matthew Curry, 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, Pfizer, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Hughes, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, 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.

Matthew Curry is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

 

Posted in Economic Update, Financial Advisor, Financial Planning, Matthew Curry, The Retirement Group | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Don’t Let Your Retirement Savings Goal Get You Down

As a retirement savings plan participant, you know that setting an accumulation goal is an important part of your overall strategy. In fact, each year in its annual Retirement Confidence Survey, the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI) reiterates that goal setting is a key factor influencing overall retirement confidence. But for many, a retirement savings goal that could reach as high as $1 million or more may seem like a daunting, even impossible mountain to climb. What if you’re contributing as much as you can to your retirement savings plan, and investing as aggressively as possible within your risk comfort zone, but still feel that you’ll never reach the summit? As with many of life’s toughest challenges, it may help to focus a little less on the end result and more on the details that help refine your plan.*

Retirement goals are based on assumptions

Whether you use a simple online calculator or run a detailed analysis, remember that your retirement savings goal is based on certain assumptions that will, in all likelihood, change over time. Assumptions may include:

Inflation: Many goal-setting calculators and worksheets use an assumed inflation rate to account for the rising cost of living both during your saving years and after you retire. Although inflation has averaged about 2.5% over the last 20 years, there have been years (e.g., 1979 and 1980) when inflation has spiked into double digits. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics) No one can say for sure where prices are headed in the future.

Rates of return: Perhaps even more unpredictable is the rate of return you will earn on your investments over time. Although most calculators use estimated rates of return for pre- and post-retirement years, returns will fluctuate, and there can be no guarantee that you will consistently earn the rate that is used to calculate your savings goal.

Life expectancy: Retirement savings estimates also

usually use an assumed life expectancy, or other time frame that you designate, to determine how long you will need your money to last. Without a crystal ball or time travel machine, however, no one can make exact predictions in this arena.

Salary adjustments: Calculators and worksheets may also include assumptions for pay increases you might receive through the years, which could impact both the lifestyle you desire in retirement and the amount you save in your employer-sponsored plan. As in other areas, salary adjustments are just estimates.

Retirement expenses: Can you say for certain how much you will need each month to live comfortably in retirement? If you’re five years away, the answer to this question may be much easier than if you’re 10, 20, or 30 years away. In order to give you a targeted savings goal, retirement calculators must make assumptions for how much you will need in income during retirement.

Social Security, pension, and other benefits: To be as accurate as possible, a retirement savings goal should also account for additional benefits you may receive. However, these types of benefits typically depend on your earning history, which cannot be accurately assessed until you approach retirement.

All of these assumptions point to why it’s so important to review your retirement savings goal regularly–at least once per year and when major life events (e.g., marriage, divorce, having children) occur. This will help ensure that your goal continues to reflect your life circumstances as well as changing market and economic conditions.

Break it down

Instead of viewing your goal as ONE BIG NUMBER, try to break it down into a monthly amount–i.e., try to figure out how much income you may need on a monthly basis in retirement. That way you can view this monthly need alongside your estimated monthly Social Security benefit, anticipated income from your current level of retirement savings, and any pension or other income you expect. This can help the planning process seem less daunting, more realistic, and most important, more manageable. It can be far less overwhelming to brainstorm ways to close a gap of, say, a few hundred dollars a month than a few hundred thousand dollars over the duration of your retirement.

Make your future self a priority, whenever possible

While every stage of life brings financial challenges, each stage also brings opportunities. Whenever possible, put a little extra toward your retirement.

For example, when you pay off a credit card or school loan, receive a tax refund, get a raise or promotion, celebrate your child’s college graduation (and the end of tuition payments), or receive an unexpected windfall, consider putting some of that extra money toward retirement. Even small amounts can potentially add up over time through the power of compounding.

Another habit to try to get into is increasing your retirement savings plan contribution by 1% a year until you hit the maximum allowable contribution. Increasing your contribution by this small amount may barely be noticeable in the short run–particularly if you do it when you receive a raise–but it can go a long way toward helping you achieve your goal in the long run.

Retirement may be different than you imagine

When people dream about retirement, they often picture images of exotic travel, endless rounds of golf, and fancy restaurants. Yet a recent study found that the older people get, the more they derive happiness from ordinary, everyday experiences such as socializing with friends, reading a good book, taking a scenic drive, or playing board games with grandchildren. (Source: “Happiness from Ordinary and Extraordinary Experiences,” Journal of Consumer Research, June 2014) While your dream may include days filled with extravagant leisure activities, your retirement reality may turn out much different–and that actually may be a matter of choice.

In addition, some retirees are deciding that they don’t want to give up work entirely, choosing instead to cut back their hours or pursue other work-related interests.

You may want to turn a hobby into an income-producing endeavor, or perhaps try out a new occupation–something you’ve always dreamed of doing but never had the time. Such part-time work or additional income can help you meet your retirement income needs for as long as you remain healthy enough and interested.

Plan ahead and think creatively

Chances are, there have been times in your life when you’ve had to put on your thinking cap and find ways to cut costs and adjust your budget. Those skills may come in handy during retirement. But you don’t have to wait to begin thinking about ideas. Consider ways you might trim your expenses or enhance your retirement income now, before the need arises.

Might you downsize to a smaller home or relocate to an area with lower taxes or a lower overall cost of living? Will you and your spouse actually need two vehicles, or might you simply own one and rent another on the occasional days when you need two? Could you put that extra bedroom to use by taking in a boarder, who might also help out with household chores, such as mowing the lawn or shoveling the sidewalks? Or maybe you can cancel that expensive gym membership and turn the spare bedroom into a home workout room.

Jot down any ideas that come to mind and file them away with your retirement financial information. Then when the time comes, you can refer to your list to help refine your retirement budgeting strategy.

The bottom line

As EBRI finds in its research every year, setting a goal is indeed a very important first step in putting together your strategy for retirement. However, you shouldn’t let that number scare you.

As long as you have an estimate in mind, understand all the various assumptions that go into it, break down that goal into a monthly income need, review your goal once a year and as major life events occur, increase your retirement savings whenever possible, and remember to think creatively both now and in retirement–you can take heart knowing that you’re doing your best to prepare for whatever the future may bring.

*All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal, and there can be no assurance that any investment strategy will be successful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Matthew Curry, 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, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Verizon, Bank of America, Pfizer, Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T 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.

Matthew Curry is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Posted in Economic Update, Financial Advisor, Financial Planning, Matthew Curry, The Retirement Group | Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Setting and Targeting Investment Goals

Go out into your yard and dig a big hole. Every month, throw $50 into it, but don’t take any money out until you’re ready to buy a house, send your child to college, or retire. It sounds a little crazy, doesn’t it? But that’s what investing without setting clear-cut goals is like. If you’re lucky, you may end up with enough money to meet your needs, but you have no way to know for sure.

How do you set investment goals?

Setting investment goals means defining your dreams for the future. When you’re setting goals, it’s best to be as specific as possible. For instance, you know you want to retire, but when? You know you want to send your child to college, but to an Ivy League school or to the community college down the street? Writing down and prioritizing your investment goals is an important first step toward developing an investment plan.

What is your time horizon?

Your investment time horizon is the number of years you have to invest toward a specific goal. Each investment goal you set will have a different time horizon. For example, some of your investment goals will be long term (e.g., you have more than 15 years to plan), some will be short term (e.g., you have 5 years or less to plan), and some will be intermediate (e.g., you have between 5 and 15 years to plan). Establishing time horizons will help you determine how aggressively you will need to invest to accumulate the amount needed to meet your goals.

How much will you need to invest?

Although you can invest a lump sum of cash, many people find that regular, systematic investing is also a great way to build wealth over time. Start by determining how much you’ll need to set aside monthly or annually to meet each goal. Although you’ll want to invest as much as possible, choose a realistic amount that takes into account your other financial obligations, so that you can easily stick with your plan. But always be on the lookout for opportunities to increase the amount you’re investing, such as participating in an automatic investment program that boosts your contribution by a certain percentage each year, or by dedicating a portion of every raise, bonus, cash gift, or tax refund you receive to your investment objectives.

Which investments should you choose?

Regardless of your financial goals, you’ll need to decide how to best allocate your investment dollars. One important consideration is your tolerance for risk. All investments involve some risk, but some involve more than others. How well can you handle market ups and downs? Are you willing to accept a higher degree of risk in exchange for the opportunity to earn a higher rate of return?

Whether you’re investing for retirement, college, or another financial goal, your overall objective is to maximize returns without taking on more risk than you can bear. But no matter what level of risk you’re comfortable with, make sure to choose investments that are consistent with your goals and time horizon. A financial professional can help you construct a diversified investment portfolio that takes these factors into account.

Investing for retirement

After a hard day at the office, do you ask yourself, “Is it time to retire yet?” Retirement may seem a long way off, but it’s never too early to start planning, especially if you want retirement to be the good life you imagine.

For example, let’s say that your goal is to retire at age 65. At age 20 you begin contributing $3,000 per year to your tax-deferred 401(k) account. If your investment earns 6% per year, compounded annually, you’ll have approximately $679,000 in your investment account when you retire.

But what would happen if you left things to chance instead? Let’s say that you’re not really worried about retirement, so you wait until you’re 35 to begin investing. Assuming you contributed the same amount to your 401(k) and the rate of return on your investment dollars was the same, you would end up with approximately $254,400. And, as this chart illustrates, if you were to wait until age 45 to begin investing for retirement, you would end up with only about $120,000 by the time you retire.

Investing for college

Perhaps you faced the truth the day your child was born. Or maybe it hit you when your child started first grade: You have only so much time to save for college. In fact, for many people, saving for college is an intermediate-term goal–if you start saving when your child is in elementary school, you’ll have 10 to 15 years to build your college fund.

Of course, the earlier you start, the better. The more time you have before you need the money, the greater chance you have to build a substantial college fund due to compounding. With a longer investment time frame and a tolerance for some risk, you might also be willing to put some of your money into investments that offer the potential for growth.

Investing for a major purchase

At some point, you’ll probably want to buy a home, a car, or even that vacation home you’ve always wanted. Although they’re hardly impulse items, large purchases are usually not something for which you plan far in advance; one to five years is a common time frame. Because you don’t have much time to invest, you’ll have to budget your investment dollars wisely. Rather than choosing growth investments, you may want to put your money into less volatile, highly liquid investments that have some potential for growth, but that offer you quick and easy access to your money should you need it.

Review and revise

Over time, you may need to update your investment strategy. Get in the habit of checking your portfolio at least once a year–more frequently if the market is particularly volatile or when there have been significant changes in your life. You may need to rebalance your portfolio to bring it back in line with your investment goals and risk tolerance. If you need help, a financial professional can help.

Investing for Your Goals

Investment goal and time horizon At 4%, you’ll need to invest At 8%, you’ll need to invest At 12%, you’ll need to invest
Have $10,000 for down payment on home: 5 years $151 per month $136 per month $123 per month
Have $50,000 in college fund: 10 years $340 per month $276 per month $223 per month
Have $250,000 in retirement fund: 20 years $685 per month $437 per month $272 per month
Table assumes 3% annual inflation, and that the return is compounded annually; taxes are not considered. Also, rates of return will vary over time, particularly for long-term investments, which could affect the amounts you would need to invest. This hypothetical example is not intended to reflect the actual performance of any investment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Matthew Curry, 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, Glaxosmithkline, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Merck, 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.

Matthew Curry is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Posted in Economic Update, Financial Advisor, Financial Planning, Matthew Curry, The Retirement Group | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Lump Sum vs. Dollar Cost Averaging: Which is Better?

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 Matthew Curry, 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, Alcatel-Lucent, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Hughes, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America 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.

Matthew Curry is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Posted in Economic Update, Financial Advisor, Financial Planning, Matthew Curry, The Retirement Group | Tagged , , , , , , , ,