Category: Retirement Income

4 Bear Market Retirement Income Strategies

The 2022 bear market hits retirees the hardest

As we prepare to close out 2022, retirees and pre-retirees are facing the worst possible scenario, a triple bear market.  US stocks, along with international stocks will likely be down double digits.  US bonds will close in the red 10%+ year to date.   And cash, although yields have risen, are experiencing negative returns net of inflation.  All in all, the traditional 60/40 investment portfolio model for retirees has many questioning whether this strategy is still viable.    

Many of you will need to take a distribution to satisfy your RMD (“Required Minimum Distribution”) for 2022 and 2023, or simply need income to live on during retirement.

But, you have probably heard the old saying, “Buy Low and Sell High.”

Well, how do you implement a retirement income strategy during a bear market, particularly one in which both stocks and bonds are experiencing record losses?

Here are 4 retirement income strategies to consider during times like these.  Let’s not forget that bear markets, on average, happen every 5 years.  So, in a potential 30 year retirement time horizon, you will experience roughly 6 bear markets!  

Let’s dive in.

#1: Asset Dedication

One way to hedge bear market risk involves what is called the “Asset Dedication Strategy.” This strategy incorporates aligning a CD or individual bond ladder with specific cash flows, in this case retirement income. Let’s say your RMD is estimated to be $50,000 in 2023.  A basic example would be to purchase a high quality bond or CD for $50,000 (or a combination), that will mature at the time the cash flow is needed.  This is my personal favorite when working with clients because it eliminates the uncertainty of where interest rates might go in the future.  In general, when interest rates rise (like in today’s market), the value of bonds go down.  If you own an individual bond and hold it to maturity, the par value is redeemed in addition to the interest payments you received.  Therefore, who cares what the price fluctuation was along the way?

The challenge for bond mutual funds or ETFs is they have to deal with redemptions (other investors selling), which will inevitably impact the price of that particular fund, and ultimately its performance. 

Depending on your time horizon and risk tolerance, we would create a bond and/or CD ladder to satisfy 2-10 years of those expected distributions. 

If done properly, you will never have to sell your stocks when markets are down.  As your bonds mature and are paid to you as retirement income, you would then re-balance your portfolio (sell some of the winners) to add the next “rung to your ladder.” 

The frequency of the re-balance will depend on market conditions and how well your other investments are performing.  So, if markets rise rapidly, you might find yourself adding several rungs to the fixed income ladder by taking gains off the table.  That way, when markets are down, you have plenty of wiggle room to wait until things recover.

If the strategy involves a taxable account (non-retirement), you might consider municipal bonds, depending on your tax rate.  These interest payments are exempt from federal income taxes, and could also be exempt from state income taxes depending on the bond you purchase.  If the strategy involves a tax free or tax deferred account, investing in corporate bonds and/or government issuers will work just fine, as taxes are not a concern.

BONUS Strategy

I have to add a bonus strategy as not all bond mutual funds and ETF’s have done poorly in 2022.  In late 2021, with the help of our friends at Wisdom Tree Asset Management, we added the ticker AGZD as a core bond holding for all client accounts.  The more conservative the account, the more exposure to AGZD.  This strategy involves using traditional fixed income securities coupled with derivatives within the treasury market to hedge against interest rate increases.

Sound complicated?  Well, it is somewhat.  But in essence, when interest rates do rise (like in 2022), this strategy helps preserve principal unlike your traditional bond mutual fund or ETF.

Year to date this strategy has returned a positive return of 0.63%!  Compare that to the average bond mutual fund at -12.79%, wow!  This strategy, coupled with individual bonds, has allowed our clients to protect their retirement income during this particular bear market.

#2: “Income Flooring”

creating a retirement income floor

“Income Flooring” with annuities is another strategy that works extremely well during volatile markets. This involves purchasing an annuity to generate an income floor that can be relied upon regardless of market fluctuations.  Social Security might represent a portion of your fixed income needs in retirement, but what makes up the gap?  If you are relying solely on securities that have price fluctuations, what do you do in a market like 2022? 

An income floor will invariably reduce the amount of cash needed from a distribution, and therefore will allow your riskier assets to recover during a downturn. 

The beauty of this strategy in today’s market is that interest rates have risen sharply.  Therefore, insurance companies have been able to increase their payout rates, thus making income flooring much more attractive than it was 3-4 years ago.   

I like to compare this to purchasing an investment property designed to pay a fixed income stream.  The difference is there are no repairs, unexpected maintenance costs, or tenant vacancy gaps. 

On the flip side, it’s not an asset you can “sell back” to anyone to recoup your principal.  Additionally, there is no price appreciation like you would expect from buying real estate.

For the most part, these annuities are not liquid and should not be relied upon for an unexpected expense or emergency fund.  Therefore, I typically would not recommend exchanging a large majority of your investible assets for these contracts given the lack of flexibility. 

However, if structured properly, it can serve as a compliment to Social Security and other guaranteed income streams.

A good rule of thumb is to calculate your non discretionary expenses, and compare that to your projected fixed income payments (Social Security and Pensions).  If there is a shortfall, you might consider backing into how much money would need to be exchanged into an annuity to fill that gap.

If you have yet to claim Social Security, this strategy can be even more powerful so you avoid tapping into longer term investments for current fixed income needs.

Caution

These contracts are complex and not all annuities are created equal.  It’s important to consult with a fiduciary financial advisor who can work with you and multiple insurance carriers to select the most appropriate product.

#3: Cash Value Life Insurance

Cash Value Life Insurance is one of the highly debated products in the financial services industry.  Insurance companies tend to “sell the sizzle” and often fall short on fully educating the consumer. 

On the other hand, most investment advisors tend to default to the advice of “buy term and invest the difference.”

I started my career at a large insurance company, and now run my own fee only financial advisor firm, so I have sat at both sides of the table. 

I wrote an article titled “5 reasons to own life insurance in retirement” that I would recommend reading to get my insights on the topic.  For this article, I want to focus on using the cash value as an income strategy to hedge a bear market. 

Here are the basics:

  • Cash values within a fixed life insurance policy have a guaranteed interest rate + a non guaranteed interest rate. They are paid to the policy owner in the form of annual dividends that can be used to purchase more life insurance, increase the cash value (or both), and pay premiums. 
  • Cash values can be surrendered, at which point taxes will be due on any gains (if applicable)
  • Cash values can also be borrowed tax free while also keeping the policy in force

Example:  Let’s say you have a policy with $100k in cash value.  You are also retired (or planning to retire) and need $50,000/year from your investment portfolio to supplement other income sources.  In a market like 2022, you might find it difficult to take a distribution from your investment portfolio, unless you implemented strategy #1 or #2 as previously mentioned.  Therefore, instead of selling a stock or bond at a loss, you might consider borrowing $50k from your $100k cash value on a tax free basis.  The loan will be charged interest, but there is still interest credited to you on the loan.  My personal policy with Northwestern Mutual has a net charge of 3%, which isn’t bad in today’s market.  

Let’s say you borrowed from the policy and avoided selling your longer term investments.  Now what?

You have two options. 

One, you can let the loan ride, and simply ensure that the policy doesn’t run into issues down the road.  This involves reviewing your policy on an annual basis using an “In Force Illustration.”

When you pass away, the loan proceeds will be subtracted from the death benefit paid to your beneficiaries.

Or two, pay the loan back once the market recovers. 

I prefer option two if you plan to utilize this strategy again in the future.  At some point, this market will recover, and we will set new market highs.  Who knows if that will be in 2023, 2024, or even 2025.  But at some point, you might experience substantial gains within your stock portfolio that you are comfortable with taking $50k off the table and paying back that policy loan. 

In essence, you are using the cash value as a re-balancing tool in lieu of other fixed income assets.

Here’s the challenge.

You need to have the cash value in the policy to take advantage of the strategy in the first place.  This involves buying life insurance and funding the policy adequately to build up adequate cash value.

Therefore, this strategy is best suited for those of you approaching retirement that have adequate recourses to fund a policy for at least 5 years, and you’re healthy enough to buy it.  If it’s designed properly, this will give the policy time to work properly and set you up for this defensive hedge that you may need 4-5 times throughout an average retirement time horizon.

Caution

Much like annuity contracts, life insurance policies are also not created equal.  The design of the policy is key and will impact the viability of policy loans as well as the tax implications of using the cash value. 

Furthermore, this strategy works best if you have a legacy goal of transferring assets to the next generation, and the cash value is more of an ancillary benefit.

Consult with a fiduciary advisor and licensed agent to create an optimal strategy best suited for you!

#4: Tap into Home Equity

home equity line of credit and reverse mortgage strategy

Leveraging a HELOC (Home Equity Line of Credit) or Reverse Mortgage to access home equity is my fourth and final strategy.

With home values shooting up the last few years, you might find yourself with a large chunk of cash available to tap into via a home equity line of credit or reverse mortgage.  This should be done carefully as it involves leveraging one of your most important assets, your home.  However, if done properly, it could create an infusion of cash while letting your longer term investments recover. 

A reverse mortgage could be tapped into as a form of life income payments, a line of credit, or both.  At death, the loan amount would be offset by the sale of the home.  For a HELOC, the loan would generally need to be repaid within a specified term.  With rates increasing, you might be hard-pressed to find a HELOC for less than 6.5%.  However, some of you might already have a HELOC established at a lower rate and can tap into the funds cost effectively. 

Also, the challenge with reverse mortgages is that a higher interest rate will result in a more expensive loan and thus a lower payment.  However, if you are in a bind, it’s worth consulting with your financial advisor and mortgage specialist to see if it’s a viable option.

In Summary

2022 has brought unique challenges to retirees.  However, a well thought out retirement income plan is critical to weather this storm, and future storms during a 20-30 year retirement time horizon.

If you have questions about your retirement income plan, or are wondering how this bear market has impacted your long term goals, feel free to book a 30 minute initial conversation with me by clicking on the Schedule Now button below.  

Also, make sure to subscribe to our email newsletter below so you don’t miss out on any of our future insights!

Retirement planning = reduce stress and worry less!

The 7 Most Tax Efficient Retirement Income Strategies

Tax efficiency maximizes retirement income!

When I started my first job as a soccer referee at 12 years old, my Mom used to tell me; “it’s not what you earn, it’s what you keep!” 

I’m not sure if working at 12 years of age is legal any longer, but I’ve had a job ever since.  My Mom instilled in me the value of forced savings and paying yourself first.   (thanks, Mom!)

I’ve been practicing financial planning now for over 14 years, and I find this quote is highly relevant for taxes.

Tax inefficiency of retirement income is one of the biggest drags on returns.   In fact, taxes are likely the largest expense for retirees, even more so than healthcare costs!

While we can’t control the stock market, we can control our taxable income (to a certain extent).

This article will outline the 7 most tax efficient retirement income withdrawal strategies so you can maximize spending on your lifestyle, not the IRS. 

1. Roth IRAs + other Roth Accounts

As you know, this is one of my favorite tax efficient income strategies for retirement.  Sure, you will forgo the tax deduction for contributions, but in exchange for a lifetime of tax free (“qualified”) withdrawals.   I’ll take that tradeoff any day!

Here is the nuts and bolts of how these accounts work:

  • You make a contribution (whether it’s payroll deductions with work or IRA contributions).
  • You invest the money according to your goals and risk tolerance.
  • Enjoy tax free withdrawals, assuming they are “qualified”:
    • The account is at least 5 years old (for an IRA)
    • You are 59 ½ or older

Your contributions in these accounts are always tax and penalty free, but you might have taxes and penalties on earnings if your withdrawal is “nonqualified.” 

There are some exceptions like for first time home purchases, educations expenses, etc.  But if you are reading this, these will likely not be of interest to you anyhow!  Why would you cash in your most tax efficient retirement vehicle for anything other than retirement?

There are some limitations on these accounts.

Contributions:

  • For Roth IRAs – the max contribution for 2022 is $6,000/year (if you are over 50, you can contribute $7,000/year)
  • For a Roth 401k/403b – the max contribution for 2022 is $20,500 (if you are over 50, you can contribute $27,000/year)

These contribution limits are per person.  If you are married, your spouse has their own limits to take advantage of.

Income phaseouts:

If you are over a certain income threshold, you might be phased out completely from a Roth IRA contribution (don’t worry, there may be a loophole).

Roth 401ks/403bs etc. are NOT subject to income phaseouts.  You can make $1million/year and still max out a Roth 401k.  Check out your 401k plan rules to see if there is a Roth option in lieu of the traditional.

Enter the backdoor and mega backdoor Roth contributions

In 2012, the IRS lifted the income limits for “Roth conversions.”  A Roth conversion simply means you convert all or a portion of your Traditional IRA to your Roth IRA.  You will then be responsible for any taxes due at that time.  However, you may find this compelling based on your expectations on where taxes might go in the future.

Here’s the loophole…there is no income cap for non deductible IRA contributions.  Therefore, savvy tax planners can make non deductible IRA contributions, and immediately convert those dollars into their Roth IRA!  This is known as a backdoor Roth contribution!

Pro tip – be careful of the IRA aggregation rule or your conversion may not be tax free!

Now, companies are starting to allow for “Mega Roth 401k/403b conversions!” Depending on your plan rules, you can not only contribute the maximum to a Roth 401k, but you can make an additional non deductible contribution up to the 402g limit.  That non deductible contribution can then be converted to your Roth 401k to enjoy tax free growth!  

Sound too good to be true?  Well, lawmakers are looking to shut this down ASAP, so take advantage while you can and read your plan rules to see if it’s allowed.

tax planning for retirement

2. Health Savings Accounts (HSA)

Healthcare will likely be one of your largest expenses in retirement, so why not pay with tax free income? 

In order to participate in an HSA, you must have a high deductible healthcare plan.  Talk to your HR team about which plans allow for these accounts.  

In general, if you are going to the doctor frequently or have higher than average medical bills, a high deductible health care plan may not be right for you.  However, if you are pretty healthy and don’t go to the doctor often, you might consider it so you can take advantage of the tax free HSA.

HSA’s have a triple tax benefit:

  • Tax deductible contributions
  • Tax free growth
  • Tax free distributions (if used for qualified medical expenses)

This triple tax benefit is the reason it’s one of the most tax efficient retirement income strategies!

You can also use an HSA to help pay for long-term care costs or even pay long-term care insurance premiums tax free.  

Try not to tap into this account early

You might be tempted to reimburse yourself the year you have a major surgery or other medical bill.  If you can pay out of pocket, do that instead!  As your account grows, you can even invest it according to your risk tolerance and time horizon.  This helps amplify the benefit of tax free compounding!

Save your medical bill receipts

There is no time limit on when you reimburse yourself.  You could have surgery in 2022, and reimburse yourself anytime in retirement tax free!

Planning a major trip in retirement?  Take a look at some medical bills you paid 20 years ago and reimburse yourself from the HSA…now you have more money to enjoy that trip instead of paying Uncle Sam!

Don’t leave this as a legacy

Your beneficiaries (other than a spouse) will have to liquidate the HSA the year you pass away, which could create an unnecessary tax bill for your heirs.  Spend it while you can, name your spouse as beneficiary, and enjoy this triple tax advantaged account!

3. Life Insurance

Life Insurance is an often misunderstood, misrepresented, and misused financial tool for retirement.  However, it can be used as a tax efficient retirement income strategy, or a tax efficient intergenerational wealth strategy (dual purpose!).

I started out with a life insurance company and am so thankful I did.  First and foremost, I was taught to load up on life insurance while I was young and healthy (even before needing it), to lock in my insurability and health profile. 

Secondly, I was taught the benefits of permanent insurance and loaded up on this as well.  Again, before having any insurance needs at all! 

Over time, the cash values have grown, and I’ve been able to tap into this asset class at opportune times when other asset classes were temporarily at a discount! 

Ever hear of the concept “buy low, sell high?”  Well, how do you buy low if all of your assets are down at the same time?

As we’ve seen with the market in 2022, bonds are not immune to significant drops in performance.  Life insurance keeps on keeping on!

Long term, my plan is to keep the insurance as a tax free legacy for my three boys (and hopefully grandbabies!).  There is no other financial vehicle that provides an amplified tax free death benefit like life insurance. 

Which type of insurance should I own?

Raising children is expensive.  Inflation has made it even more difficult!  If you are strapped for cash and are worried about making rent or your mortgage on time, you should buy some inexpensive term insurance and protect your family.  

Pro tips:

  • Buy lots of coverage – a rule of thumb is 10x – 16x your gross income, but some insurance companies allow you to buy 25x your gross income!
  • Make it portable.  If you are healthy, buy a policy NOT tied to your workplace, as you never know how long you will stay there.
  • Make sure it’s convertible.  Even though you may not be a good candidate for permanent insurance today, that may change over time.  Perhaps when your kids are out of the house, or your mortgage is paid off, or your income has skyrocketed.  Being able to convert to a permanent policy without medical underwriting is extremely helpful.  

For those of you comfortably maxing your tax advantaged retirement plans and HSA’s (as discussed previously), overfunding a permanent life insurance policy can be a great supplemental savings tool.  

There are multiple flavors of permanent life insurance that we won’t go into detail on in this article.  But in general, you can invest in fixed products or variable products.  This feature will impact the performance of your cash value, and potentially your death benefit.  

You can also add a long-term care rider on some policies to kill two birds with one stone.  That way, if you are someone who never needs long-term care, your family will still receive the death benefit.  

What I have found is that the intention might be to use this cash value as a tax efficient retirement income strategy, more often it’s used for the death benefit.  All of you diligent savers will accumulate assets in your 401ks/IRAs, taxable brokerage, HSA’s etc., and you might realize that this amplified death benefit is best used to enhance your intergenerational wealth objectives.  Plus, it gives you a license to spend down your other assets in retirement “guilt free.”

Don’t worry about making that decision today, but just know this asset can be a flexible vehicle throughout your lifetime.

4. Taxable Brokerage Accounts

This bucket is one of my favorite tax efficient retirement income strategies for three reasons:  

  1. There is no income restriction on who can contribute
  2. There is no cap on contributions
  3. There is no early withdrawal penalty

The title of this account sometimes leads people to believe it’s not tax efficient.

And this can be true if you invest in certain securities within the taxable brokerage account.

However, if you are strategic with your security selection, you can have minimal tax liability during the accumulation phase.  

In retirement, you can then use losses to offset gains, sell certain blocks of securities with limited capital gains, and use tax free income as cash flow by investing in municipal bonds (if appropriate).

I find this tool is great to maintain flexibility for funding college, saving for retirement, or any other major expenditures along the way. 

Intergenerational Wealth Planning

Certain assets are better used during your lifetime instead of passing on to your heirs, as we discussed with the HSA.  However, taxable brokerage accounts are extremely tax efficient for intergenerational wealth planning

When you pass away, your beneficiaries will get a “step up in cost basis” which will limit their tax liability if/when they sell that asset themselves.  

All in all, this can be a great multi functioning tool for retirement income, legacy, or any other major opportunity that comes along!

minimize taxes in retirement

5. Non Qualified Annuities

I find consumers have a negative connotation associated with the term annuity.  And, rightfully so.  These products, like life insurance, are often oversold or inappropriately utilized.  

In it’s purest form, annuities are used to provide a guaranteed income stream in retirement.  Think Social Security or a Pension. 

Creating a “retirement income floor” is one of the most powerful things you can do for yourself.  Believe me, when the markets go south, you don’t want to be worried about how to fund your basic living expenses in retirement.  

However, if Social Security + Pension + Annuity income covers your basic necessities, you can avoid losing sleep at night when the markets do take a dive (which they will!).

The tax efficiency components are twofold:

  1.  Tax deferred growth, much like a traditional 401k or IRA
  2. Exclusion ratio for lifetime annuity income

For you high income earners, you will want to limit tax drags on  your savings.  However, once you are maxed out of your qualified retirement plans, you’re going to be wondering where to go next.  One of the  benefits for annuities is the tax deferred growth.  You won’t receive a 1099 until you start the income payments in retirement!  

In retirement, instead of the gains being withdrawn first (“LIFO”), you can take advantage of the exclusion ratio.  This allows for a portion of your retirement income to be a return of basis, and a portion to be taxable income.  Therefore, it’s a great way to spread the tax liability over your lifetime. 

In retirement, if you decide you don’t need this income stream, you can flip on the switch to fund other tax efficient vehicles like life insurance or long-term care insurance.  

Intergenerational Wealth Planning

In years past, annuities were a terrible way to leave a legacy for your children.  Beneficiaries were often forced to take a lump sum distribution or take payments over a short period of time.  Now, some annuity contracts allow for the children to turn their inherited annuities into a life income stream.  This can also help spread out the tax liability over a much longer period.

I still recommend using these accounts during YOUR retirement phase and leave other assets to your children.  Having your beneficiaries deal with the death claim department within annuity companies can be a nightmare!

6. Reverse Mortgage

One of the largest, if not the largest, asset on your balance sheet over time will be home equity.  However, many retirees don’t maximize their home equity as an income tool, which could be a mistake. 

In simple terms, a reverse mortgage allows the homeowner to stay in their home as long as they live.  These products essentially flip your home equity into an income stream.  The income stream now becomes a loan with your home as collateral. 

Because it’s a loan, the income is not taxable to the borrower! 

Instead, the loan will be repaid from the home sale proceeds when you move, sell your home, or pass away. 

Creating this essentially tax free income stream can allow you to preserve other liquid assets on your balance sheet, like the ones mentioned above. 

It can also be a part of the “retirement income floor” concept that we mentioned previously.

7. Real Estate Income

You often hear of real estate investors paying little to no taxes.  The basic reason is the ability to deduct ongoing expenses from the income.

  • mortgage payments
  • taxes
  • insurance
  • maintenance
  • property management fees
  • And the “BIG D”  – Depreciation!

This depreciation expense is the real wildcard as it can essentially wipe out any taxable income you would otherwise have to report.  Depending on the property type, this can amount to approximately 3.6% of the cost basis year after year!  There is some “true up” at the end when you go to sell the property, but it’s a huge advantage to minimize taxable income while your property still cash flows! 

And once you sell the property, you can even take advantage of a 1031 tax free exchange and buy another investment property that better suits your overall financial goals.

Investing in real estate is not for everyone.  And it’s certainly not a passive activity, even if you have a property manager.  Studying your market, analyzing trends, upgrading your property and dealing with bad tenants are ongoing challenges.  

However, if you do it right, this can be an extremely tax efficient retirement income strategy.

Final word

Minimizing taxes in retirement is one of the most impactful ways to maximize your cash flow!  

However, most people don’t think about taxes in retirement…until they are about to retire!

These strategies only work if you begin building the framework 10, 20 or even 30 years before you quit your day job.  Furthermore, not all of the strategies discussed will make sense given your goals and financial circumstances. 

It’s important to consult with a fiduciary financial advisor that can take a comprehensive look at your financial plans.  

If you are interested in scheduling a call, feel free to use the calendar link below for a 30 minute “Mutual Fit” meeting over Zoom.

Also, make sure to subscribe to our mailing list so you don’t miss out on any retirement planning insights!

Until next time, thanks for reading.

-Kevin

4 Retirement and Estate Planning Strategies for Blended Families in Florida

What is a blended family and why does it impact my retirement plan?

First, what is a blended family?

Simply put, a blended family means a remarriage that involves children from a previous marriage or relationship.  Maybe you and your new spouse both have children from previous marriages, or, perhaps you have children, got remarried, and had more children with your new spouse.  There are many varieties of blended families, and they are quite common.  In fact, it is estimated that 40% of households with children in the United States are blended of some kind.  Each blended family has unique circumstances, but retirement and estate planning strategies are more complex when it comes to dealing with blended families.  I have been working with blended family retirement planning for over 13 years in our home base of Florida, as well as across the United States virtually, so let’s discuss some key issues to focus in on.

How does having a blended family impact my retirement plan?

There are four major topics we will cover in this post.  Keep in mind, there are other considerations you should address, and no two families are identical.  You have to consider your own family dynamics, financial situation and much more.  However, this should get you started as you think about planning for retirement with a blended family.

  1. When should you claim Social Security?
  2. How will you approach your retirement income withdrawal strategies?
  3. How will you pay for Long-term care costs?
  4. Inter-generational Wealth Planning and Estate Planning
retirement planning for blended families

1. When should you claim Social Security?

Social Security is likely your largest source of guaranteed income in retirement.  It represents 40% of all income for those 65 and older.

There is a possibility you and your spouse each have children you may want to leave assets to, and this could impact the surviving spouse’s retirement income plan.  For example, if you have three children and a new spouse, you may decide to divide your estate into 1/4 for each beneficiary. 

However, Social Security is one income stream that will always be available to the surviving spouse, no matter what.  So, how can you maximize the lifetime benefits for you and your spouse?

If you and your spouse are both eligible for Social Security benefits, the surviving spouse will keep the larger benefit after the first spouse dies.  If you have the opportunity to delay Social Security longer to maximize your benefit, this will also maximize your surviving spouse’s benefit if they were to outlive you.  The latest retirement age is 70, at which point you will be eligible for your largest monthly benefit.  If that benefit is larger than your spouse’s, it will help maximize their Social Security income in the event some of your assets were not left outright to your spouse.

Dependent benefits are also important

22% of men and 18% of women have a 10 or more year age gap in a remarriage.   Therefore, you may have remarried a younger spouse, with potentially dependent children.  Or, you are remarried and had new children with your younger spouse.  Nonetheless, if you are approaching retirement age, consider dependent benefits for Social Security!  Dependents are defined by children under age 18 (or 19 if still in high school), or disabled before 22.  These dependents could be eligible for a Social Security benefit when you start collecting yours!  The benefit is equal to 50% of your primary insurance amount, and is available for each dependent child and for your spouse, regardless of age! 

There is a cap on the total amount paid based on your primary insurance amount, and it usually ranges between 150%-180% of your full retirement benefit.  The caveat is you must begin claiming yourself in order to trigger the dependent benefits.  This may result in you filing earlier than you had anticipated.  Therefore, you have to run some calculations to see what is best for your situation.

Another consideration is that, depending on how old you were at the time of remarriage, can result in forfeiting the ability to collect Social Security on ex-spouse.  Also, it will depend on how long the previous marriage lasted, and whether it ended in a divorce or premature death. 

For example, if your first spouse passed away and you remarried after age 60, you could still qualify for survivor benefits on your former spouse.  On the contrary, if you were remarried before 60, those former spouse survivor benefits will be forfeited. 

For divorced former spousal benefits, those will be forfeited (in MOST cases) once you are remarried, but you would then be eligible for a spousal benefit from your new spouse.  This is often a consideration on whether or not to legally remarry, if your former spouse’s benefit would result in a significantly higher monthly benefit. 

2. What is a safe withdrawal strategy for retirement income?

There is a good chance you and your new spouse both had assets before you were remarried.  Perhaps you and your spouse have Traditional IRAs, 401ks, Roth IRAs and taxable brokerage accounts.  However, those account values probably vary between the two of you.  Furthermore, you may have slightly different estate planning goals involving children from your previous marriages. 

The key is to come up with a safe withdrawal strategy from each bucket based on:

  • tax characteristics
  • risk tolerance
  • inter-generational wealth planning or estate planning goals
  • insurance coverage
  • other income sources like Social Security or a pension

If you plan to leave everything to your new spouse and simply divide evenly between all of the remaining children, the withdrawal strategy is more straightforward.  However, if your children will inherit assets upon your death, how does that impact your new spouse’s retirement income plan?  Will they have enough to live on throughout their life expectancy?  Remember, Social Security will be reduced after the death of the first spouse, as discussed earlier. 

Also, let’s say each of you have children from a previous marriage.  If you are burning through your assets more aggressively to support the retirement lifestyle, how does that impact your goal to leave money to your children

safe withdrawal strategies for blended families

If your children are in a higher tax bracket, you might not want to leave them your IRA or 401k outright.  Your surviving spouse will likely have more favorable withdrawal options and be able to stretch this account over their life expectancy.  Conversely, leaving the 401k or IRA to your children will likely trigger the new 10-year rule form the SECURE Act of 2019.  This would force them to liquidate the retirement accounts fully within 10 years, likely triggering a much higher tax consequences than had you left those assets to your spouse.  This is especially true if you are a Florida resident without a state income tax, and your children are residents of a state with high income taxes (California, New York etc.).  In these situations, you may want to consider a slightly higher withdrawal rate on your 401ks or IRAs, and a slightly lower withdrawal rate on your taxable brokerage accounts or Roth accounts.  This way, you maximize the tax friendly assets to your children, and also maintain the tax efficiency of traditional 401ks and IRAs by leaving them to your spouse first. 

There is no one size fits all solution to creating a withdrawal strategy, but starting with open conversations about each other’s legacy goals for both sets of children and getting on the same page about a plan is a great first step.  Once the goals are set, a safe withdrawal rate should be established.  I wrote an article about this and you can read it here.  The basic formula I use is; Financial Goals – Income sources  – Risk Intolerance = Safe Withdrawal Rate from investments.  Noticed how I used risk intolerance instead of risk tolerance.  The reason is because the less risk you are willing to tolerate (the higher your intolerance score), the lower your withdrawal rate would be to accommodate for lower expected investment returns.

The 4% Rule

Bill Bengen created the 4% rule back in the 1990’s, which back tested rolling 30 year retirement periods from 1926 to 1976.   He concluded that a 4% withdrawal rate resulted in money left over at the end of retirement in all of the tested periods.   You could certainly use this as a starting point, but there is much more to consider.  If you want to maximize the inheritance for your children, you might need to stay close to 4% or even below it!  If you don’t have a huge desire to maximize your estate to children, you might be able to inch closer to a 5% or even 6% safe withdrawal rate

If you are comfortable with more volatility in your investments in order to maximize returns, you could potentially have a slightly higher withdrawal rate than 4%, perhaps 5%-6%.  On the other hand, if you cannot withstand any volatility, supporting a 3%-4% withdrawal rate is a more realistic goal. 

Finally, guaranteed income sources play a role in determining your rate of withdrawal.  If you have most of your expenses covered by Social Security and/or a Pension, your rate of withdrawal required might even be 0%!  In this scenario, you could choose to simply reinvest your earnings, gift to your children or even your favorite charity.  On the other hand, if guaranteed income is a very small portion of your required standard of living, your rate of withdrawal might be higher than average.

All of these factors; guaranteed income, risk intolerance, and financial goals; play a role in determining what withdrawal rate to use, so be careful with using a rule of thumb from a textbook.

Guardrail Approach

The higher your withdrawal rate, the greater the uncertainty.  If you are more aggressive with your investments, you could expect higher returns, and maybe for a period of time a 5% or even 6% rate of withdrawal works just fine.  However, what happens when the first recession hits?  Or the first bear market?  

This is why we like to use Dynamic Withdrawals by way of a “Guardrail Approach.”  This involves reducing the rate of withdrawal during a significant downturn in stocks.  Conversely, our clients can increase spending when markets are performing well.  In our modeling, we have concluded that this is the best way to maximize the safe withdrawal rate, but at the same time maintain flexibility based on current economic conditions.

Should I Buy An Annuity?

One final topic to consider is whether or not you will purchase an annuity to fund retirement.  There are many flavors of annuities, but the general concept is to create an income stream that you cannot outlive, much like Social Security.  These products also provide some peace of mind in that the income stream is typically guaranteed, and not tied to market volatility.  If you don’t have a pension, this could be a nice supplement to Social Security.  Furthermore, you can name your spouse as a joint annuitant to ensure that they will continue to receive the life income if they outlive you. These products can also be beneficial in that it could allow you to take more risk with your investment portfolio, as well as impact your safe withdrawal rate, knowing that a good portion of your expenses will be covered by guaranteed income.  

Many consumers believe they will be sacrificing their intergenerational wealth planning goals for their children or grandchildren by purchasing an annuity.  Based on research in the industry, this might be true if you were to die prematurely.  However, if you were to live to or past your life expectancy, it could actually result in an increased amount of wealth transferred.  The reason is because your investments were able to ride the ups and downs of the market without being tapped into during a recession or bear market.  I always recommend seeing what’s out there and comparing the rates between several carriers as they do vary greatly. 

Finally, interest rates have been on the rise so far in 2022, and that trend is expected to continue at the moment.  Therefore, the payout rates have become quite attractive for new annuitants, so it’s prudent to do some due diligence as you approach retirement.

3. Long-term care planning

Long-term care planning is complicated enough to prepare for during retirement.  For blended families, long-term care planning is even more complex. If you and your spouse both accumulated assets for retirement, how will one pay for Long-term care costs if they are needed?  Do both of you have Long-term care insurance?  Or, do you plan to self insure?  Are your estate planning goals the same?

Chances are, we will all need some level of custodial care at some point in our lives.  The question is, how extensive is the care?  And, for how long is care needed? Genworth published their annual study that indicates there is a 70% probability of needing Long-term care costs for those 65 or older.  If you have children from a previous marriage, and your spouse needs care, are you going to burn through your own assets to pay for it?  If you are like me, you will do anything you can to take care of your spouse and give them the proper care they need.  However, if you have goals to leave money to your children, is that a risk worth NOT planning for? 

On the other hand, if your spouse has children from a previous marriage and you needed care, how would he/she pay for it?  Would you expect your spouse to accelerate withdrawals on their accounts unnecessarily in order to provide you care?

Should I buy Long-term Care Insurance?

If you are still young enough and healthy enough, you could consider buying Long-term care insurance. The last time I checked, it’s very rare to find a company that will cover you if you are over age 75. The sweet spot is often between 50-60 years of age, as there is a much lower decline rate and premiums are still affordable. When you get into your 60s and 70s, the decline rate goes up substantially and your premiums are quite costly.

Long-term Care Insurance is a very clean way to dedicate specific resources for this major retirement risk. Of course, nobody has a crystal ball, and you might be in the 30% that never needs care, but it’s a gamble you may not want to take.

There are also hybrid Long-term Care and Life Insurance policies that will provide a death benefit if you never use the funds for Long-term Care. Or, a reduced death benefit if you only used a portion of the Long-term Care benefit. This can provide you with some peace of mind knowing that someone will benefit from the policy. These products are much more expensive, so be prepared to write some larger checks.  Also, work with a broker that can represent multiple carriers to help you shop around.

What about an annuity with a Long-term Care rider?

If you or your spouse have health issues that might preclude you from getting traditional Long-term Care, consider an annuity with a Long-term Care rider.  These products do require a certain level of funding, but they are a viable option if you have a nest egg you could allocate to protect against this risk.  Even Suze Orman, who is typically anti life insurance, is an advocate for these types of hybrid policies!

What about “self-insuring?”

There is nothing wrong with self-insuring,  just over half of my clients decide to go this route. 

If you decide to self-insure, having that discussion with your spouse about what assets to use to pay for care is critical!

If you have accounts that are more tax favorable to leave to your heirs, you may not want that account aggressively spent down for your care!

Also, consider the state you live in relative to your beneficiaries.  If you live in a state like Florida or Tennessee without a state income tax, you might consider using some of your 401k or IRA to pay for care.  This is especially relevant if your children are in a higher tax bracket and/or live in a state with high income taxes.

Have a plan, communicate it with your spouse, your financial planner, and your other agents so they know what to do!  I also wrote an entire article on Long-term Care planning if you want to check it out here.

4. Estate Planning Basics for Blended Families

We have touched on some of the estate planning and intergenerational wealth planning challenges throughout this article.  Each spouse might bring a slightly different perspective on transferring wealth.  However, the amount you leave or who you leave it to isn’t the only estate planning challenge for blended families.  Here are some other key points to consider:

  • Who will step in to help make financial decisions as you get older?
  • What about healthcare decisions?
  • Who is going to be the executor of your estate, or successor trustee?
  • Do you have any special considerations for any of your beneficiaries? (special needs, spendthrift concerns, son/daughter-in-law concerns, or stepchildren that you may or may not want to include)

These individuals should know what their role is, and what it is not!  We’ve all heard of horror stories when someone dies without a plan, and unfortunately impacts how that person is remembered.  If you have ever watched the show “This is Us,” there is a scene in the last season where Rebecca calls a family meeting with her three adult children and her second husband.  This is a textbook model on how a family meeting should be conducted! 

If there are different sets of children involved, consider naming one child from each “side” to participate.  If it’s a successor trustee role, perhaps you can name successor co-trustees to avoid any ill will. 

I certainly would make sure that a successor trustee or successor financial power of attorney is financially savvy and responsible.  This does make things a bit tricky if one “side” does not have a viable option.  Instead, I’ve seen where families will name the successor trustee a corporation, also known as a corporate trustee, to serve in that capacity.  This way, clients don’t have to worry about anyone’s feelings being hurt because they couldn’t be trusted. 

Don’t worry about giving specific dollar amounts on what you are leaving.  You certainly can, but it’s not the point.  The point is proactive communication and agreement from the adult children and other beneficiaries.  This can really protect their relationships long term, which is far more meaningful than the dollar amounts they each receive.

If you didn’t see the episode of This Is Us, check it out here!

Should you consider a trust for your blended family?

I spoke with my own attorney and friend in detail about this.  His name is Ryan Ludwick and he’s an Estate Planning specialist with Fisher and Tousey law firm based in Florida.  He told me some couples come in with the idea they want to simply leave everything to one another, and then whatever is left will be divided evenly to the children.  This makes things very simple, almost like a traditional family estate plan. 

However, certain blended family dynamics could be solved with a trust.  For example, if you want your spouse to utilize the assets for retirement if they were to outlive you, but still guarantee the remaining assets are left to your children, you might consider a trust.

A trust would essentially be set up for the surviving spouse.  When you pass away, the trust becomes irrevocable (nobody can change it), and your spouse can use the assets for their care.   Once the second spouse dies, the remainder beneficiaries (presumably your children) will receive the trust assets.

A few reasons why a trust could make sense are:

  • The assets held in trust would not be up for grabs in the case of a remarriage.
  • Potential creditor protection benefits.
  • Oversight – meaning you could name a trustee to help manage the trust, in case your surviving spouse was incapacitated down the road, or if they don’t have the financial acumen.
  • And of course, the terms are your terms, and cannot be altered.
Ryan also made a great point to be careful with naming a trust as primary beneficiary of a retirement account (401k or IRA).  There might be unfavorable tax results by doing so, and you should consult with your financial planner and estate attorney before making any changes. 
 

Life Insurance

Life Insurance could also be a great tool for estate planning for blended families.  You could set up a new policy, or change the beneficiary of an old policy, to satisfy certain estate planning goals. 

For example, let’s you wanted to split your investment assets four ways at your death between children and your new spouse.  Between your spouse losing one Social Security benefit and only receiving 25% of your estate, their ability to maintain financial independence could be at risk.  Therefore, you could consider leaving your life insurance policy to your spouse to make them whole. 

On the other hand, you may not want to leave those 401ks or IRAs to your children for reasons mentioned before.  Therefore, you could elect to leave those assets to your spouse (outright or in a trust), and leave the life insurance policy to your children.  The death benefit is always tax free, so this solves the issues related to inheriting retirement accounts with the new SECURE Act law. 

Elective Share Rules

Ryan said to “be careful of the elective share rule for spouses.”  In Florida, and many other states without community property laws, the spouse is entitled to a percentage of the estate, regardless of what your will says.  For Florida, it’s 30%.  So let’s say you only designate 10% to your spouse in your will, he or she could contest this in court, and would likely win. 

There are legal ways to get around this by way of signing a prenuptial agreement, or having your spouse sign a waiver form.  It’s just something to be mindful for, especially with blended family estate planning.

Final word

As you can see, blended families are unique in an of themselves, so cookie cutter retirement and estate planning advice doesn’t work.

There are other considerations for blended family retirement planning, and no two situations are created the equal, which is why we love helping people like you!

Book a call with us!

If you have questions or want to discuss your situation, feel free to book a 30 minute Zoom call and we would be happy to connect with you. 

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Are Financial Advisors Worth It?

"How do fiduciary financial advisors add value?"

In my nearly 14 years in this business, I’ve seen financial advice given by many different professionals. Insurance agents, stock brokers, bank representatives, real estate professionals, next door neighbors and the like. I’ve seen some great advice given, but also some terrible advice. This often times leads to the general public to think “are financial advisors worth it?” This is especially the case now given the lines are blurred between different segments of the “financial services” industry. Vanguard did a study called “Advisor’s Alpha” which I have found is the most helpful and accurate summary of value-added services a comprehensive financial advisor provides. I’ve referenced it to clients and other professionals since 2014 when it was originally published. To summarize it briefly, they outline seven areas of advice that add value to the client’s portfolio by way of net returns annually. They have assigned a percentage to each of the categories which amounts to approximately 3%/year in net returns! In this article, I will highlight some of the key components of their research, as well as put my own spin on it based on my thousands of hours working with clients directly.

What is comprehensive advice?

First things first, not all advisors are comprehensive (and that’s okay). However, this article is specifically for firm’s like mine that are focused on comprehensive advice and planning, and I would argue the 3%/year figure is on the low end. I will get into this more shortly.

Here is a breakdown of Vanguard value-added best practices that I mentioned previously:

The first thing that should jump out to you is that suitable asset allocation represents around 0%/year! This is given the belief that markets are fairly efficient in most areas, and it’s very difficult for an active fund manager to consistently beat their benchmarks. This is contrary to the belief of the general public in that a financial advisors “alpha” is generated through security selection and asset allocation! What’s also interesting is that the largest value add is “behavioral coaching!” I will get into more about what this means, but I would 100% agree with this. Sometimes, we are our own worst enemy, and this is definitely true when it comes to managing our own investments. It’s natural to have the fear of missing out, or to buy into the fear mongering the media portrays. So if you take nothing else away, the simple notion of having a disciplined process to follow as you approach and ultimately achieve financial independence will add 150% more value than trying to pick securities or funds that may or may not outpace their benchmarks!

Before I dive into my interpretation of their study, I want to note that I will be using five major categories instead of seven. Some of the above mentioned can be consolidated, and there are also some value added practices I, and many other comprehensive planners, incorporate that are not listed in their research.

What are the five value-added practices? I use the acronym “T-I-R-E-S”

  1. Tax planning
  2. Income Distribution Planning
  3. Risk Management
  4. Expense Management
  5. Second set of eyes

Tax planning

There are four major components of tax planning a comprehensive financial advisor should provide. The first component is what we call “asset location.” The saying that comes to mind is “it’s not what you earn, it’s what you keep.” Well, taxes are a perfect example of not keeping all that you earn. However, some account types have preferential tax treatment, and therefore should be maximized through sound advice. Certain investments are better suited for these types of tax preferred accounts and other investments tend to have minimal tax impact, and therefore could be better suited OUTSIDE of those tax preferred accounts. A prime example is owning tax free municipal bonds inside of a taxable brokerage or trust account, and taxable bonds inside of your IRA or Roth IRA’s. Another example could be leveraging predominantly index ETF’s within a brokerage account to minimize turnover and capital gains, but owning a sleeve of actively managed investments in sectors like emerging markets, or small cap equities inside of your retirement accounts. According to the Vanguard study, this type of strategy can add up to 75 basis points (0.75%/year) in returns if done properly, which I would concur.

The second component is income distribution. This is often thought of much too late, usually within a few years of retirement. However, this should be well thought out years or decades in advance before actually drawing from your assets. One example I see often is when a prospective client who is on the brink of retiring wants a comprehensive financial plan. Often times they have saved a significant sum of money, but the majority of the assets are held inside of tax deferred vehicles like a 401k or IRA, and little to no assets in a tax free bucket (Roth). This type of scenario limits tax diversification in retirement. On the contrary, someone who has been advised on filling multiple buckets with different tax treatments at withdrawal will have many combinations of withdrawal strategies that can be deployed depending on the future tax code at the time. I have incorporated the rest of the income distribution value-added practice in the next section, but this practice as a whole is estimated to add up to 110 basis points (1.1%/year) in additional returns!

Legacy planning is the third component of tax planning that a comprehensive financial advisor should help with. This isn’t discussed in the Vanguard study, but it’s safe to say a comprehensive plan has to involve plans for your inevitable demise! You might have goals to leave assets to your heirs, especially if you are fortunate enough to have accumulated more than you will ever spend in your lifetime. With the SECURE Act, qualified retirement plans are now subject to the “10-year rule,” and therefore accelerating tax liabilities on your beneficiaries. However, if you incorporate other assets for legacy that can mitigate the tax impact on the next generation, this can save your beneficiaries hundreds of thousands, or even millions of dollars simply by leveraging the tax code properly.

Finally, navigating tax brackets appropriately can be another way a comprehensive advisor adds value. If a client is on the brink of a higher tax bracket, or perhaps they are in a period of enjoying a much lower tax bracket than normal, planning opportunities should arise. If you are in an unusually higher tax bracket than normal, you might benefit from certain savings or tax strategies that reduce their adjusted gross income (think HSA’s, pre-tax retirement account contributions, or charitable giving). If you find yourself in a lower tax bracket than normal, you might accelerate income via Roth conversions or spending down tax deferred assets to lessen the tax burden on those withdrawals. Additionally , considerations on the impact on Medicare premiums in retirement should also be taken into account when helping with tax planning.

As you can see, even though I am not a CPA and I’m not in the business of giving tax advice, helping you be strategic with your tax strategies is part of the comprehensive planning approach. All in, you should expect to increase your returns up to 1%/year (or more depending on complexity) by navigating the tax code effectively.

Income Distribution Strategy

In my personal practice, this ends up being a significant value add given the work I do with post-retirees. A systematic withdrawal strategy in retirement will involve a monthly distribution 12 times throughout the year. This reduces the risk of needing a sizeable distribution at the wrong time (similar to the concept of dollar cost averaging). For a 30 year retirement, this means 360 withdrawals! Most retirees have at least two different retirement accounts, so multiply 360 by 2 for 720 different income decisions to navigate. In my experience, the selling decisions are often what set investors back, especially if they are retired and don’t have the time to make it back. By putting a process in place to strategically withdrawal income from the proper investments at the right time, and maximize the tax efficiency of those withdrawals, this can add up to 1.1%/year in returns alone, according to Vanguard’s study! I’ve also had clients tell me they value their time more and more the older they get. Instead of spending their retirement managing income withdrawals each month, they would much rather travel, play golf, go fishing, spend time with their grandchildren etc. So yes, I would agree with the Vanguard study that 1.1%/year is appropriate for this category, but I would also argue the peace of mind of not needing to place trades while you are on an African Safari with your spouse is priceless! Yes, I did have a client who admitted to this, and no, his wife was not happy! That’s why they hired me!

Risk Management

The major risks you will see during your lifetime from a financial planning perspective are:

  1. Bear market
  2. Behavioral
  3. Longevity
  4. Inflation
  5. Long-term care
  6. Premature death
  7. Incapacity or aging process

Vanguard’s study focuses mainly on the behavioral risk (value add up to 1.5%/year) and re-balancing (.26%/year). As I mentioned earlier, it’s fascinating they rank behavioral risk as the largest value add out of any category! What is behavioral risk? Let me tell you a quick story. A client of mine was getting ready to retire at the beginning of 2020, right as the pandemic reared it’s ugly head. He had 30+ years working in higher ed and climbed the ladder to ultimately become president of his college for the last 15 years. He is a brilliant man, and a savvy business person. When the pandemic hit us, he was terrified. Not only did he see his portfolio drop from $2.5mm to $2.25mm in four weeks, but he was worried this could lead to the next depression which his parents lived through. We had at least a dozen conversations during those weeks about how he was losing sleep every night, which of course was miserable for he and his wife. Finally, in our last discussion he informed me he wanted to sell out of his retirement investments and move to cash. I plead my case in that we had a well thought out diversified strategy, and looking at the math, we had enough resources in fixed income investments to pay his bills for the next ten years! However, I told him it was his money and I was ready to place the trades if that is what he wanted. He told me he would think on it for the next 24 hours. The next day, he called me and said I was right, we had a plan, and he wanted to proceed with sticking to the plan. Well, by the end of 2020 his account not only fully recovered, but it grew to $2.75mm! I am not pumping my chest on performance, but by being the behavioral coach he needed at that time earned him $500k of growth in his portfolio (a whopping 22%).

I can literally share a hundred of these stories not just from the pandemic, but stories from 2008/2009, the dot com bubble etc. The point is, having an advisor you trust that can help you navigate through the ups and downs of the market and tell you what you NEED to hear, not what you WANT to hear is invaluable. Furthermore, it can free up your time to focus on what matters in your life and have the professionals worry about the market for you!

So all in all, I would agree on the 1.5%/year value add for behavioral coaching and .26%/year to help re-balance the portfolio properly. However, Vanguard’s study doesn’t even take into consideration proper insurance planning and estate planning advice a comprehensive advisor gives to their clients which are also value-adds in and of themselves. In that sense, I would argue this category can add up to 2%/year in additional returns to a client.

Expense Management

This is oftentimes overlooked when working with a financial advisor. Much of the public believes working with an advisor will be more expensive! However, many of them are used to being sold high commission investment products or services that are overpriced. However, through due diligence and leveraging the proper research, Vanguard estimates clients should save on average 0.26%-0.34%/year on expenses. From my personal experience, this might even be on the low end. However, for arguments sake and given it’s their research, let’s say we agree with the value-added range set forth.

Second set of eyes

Vanguard doesn’t reference this in their study, but that objective point of view is sometimes necessary to drive positive change. I don’t have any specific data on how to quantify this, but I hear time and time again from clients that they so much appreciate having me as an accountability partner. Think about trying to get in tip top shape without a coach or personal trainer! You might do okay, but you certainly wouldn’t push yourself as hard as you could have if you had a coach or trainer. On the contrary, I often hear from new prospective clients how information overload and the fear of making a mistake has caused a whole lot of inaction, which can significantly hurt returns and performance. Think about a surgeon attempting to perform surgery on their own body! They simply wouldn’t. Not that I am comparing my occupation to a surgeon, but someone working to achieve financial independence would benefit substantially from a trusted third party to help navigate all of the different financial decisions they will encounter in their lifetime. This also could be true for married couples who might have differing views on finances. After all, financial reasons are the #1 cause for divorce in America. If I can help a married couple get on the same page with their financial vision, that is a win for them, no questions asked! Without specific data, I would have to say my gut feel is that objectivity should add an additional 0.5%/year in returns over the duration of a relationship, as well as more self confidence and peace of mind that you are on the right path.

If we tally up our TIRES acronym:

  1. Tax planning = 1%/year
  2. Income Distribution Planning – 1.1%/year
  3. Risk Management – 2%/year
  4. Expense Management – 0.26% – 0.34%/year
  5. Second set of eyes – 0.5%/year

This gives us a total value add range of 4.86% – 4.94%/year in additional returns. My firm’s average fee is roughly 0.85%/year. This is why I get so excited to help new and existing clients. The value you receive, is far greater than the cost to pay me, creating a win-win situation. Now, not EVERY client will experience in additional 4-5% in additional value. Some might receive 2%/year, some might receive 10%/year! However, all of you who have yet to work with a comprehensive planner, or for those of you working with an advisor who may not be doing a comprehensive job, it might be time to reevaluate and see what holes you need to fill. If you are interested in learning how to work with me directly, you can schedule a mutual fit meeting with the button below. Or, you can visit my “Process” and “Fees” pages on my website.

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Feeling charitable? Consider strategies that also boost your tax savings.

Tax Benefits of Charitable Giving

The Annual Report on Philanthropy from Giving USA estimates that individuals gave $324.10 billion to US charities in 2020.  This was an increase of 2.2% year over year from the 2019 report.  Despite all of the negative news the media likes to focus their attention on,  America is a very generous country.  However, I run into many people that are uncertain about how to maximize the tax impact of their charitable giving.  There are a few key points at play.  

-It’s estimated that older generations will transfer $70 trillion of wealth between 2018 and 2042 as a result of diligent savings and investing throughout their lifetimes.  
-In 2017 the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed, which doubled the standard deduction.  This is the amount individuals and couples can deduct automatically on their tax return.  This led to fewer people itemizing their charitable donations. 
-Finally, the SECURE Act of 2019 has increased the tax liability on qualified retirement plans that pass on to the next generation. 

As a result of all of these factors, many of my clients are interested in giving to charity during their lifetime, but at the same time finding ways it could improve their tax situation during their life as well as for their heirs.  QCD stands for Qualified Charitable Distribution, and DAF stands for Donor Advised Fund.  There are other ways to donate to charity by way of private foundations, establishing special trusts or gifting outright.  However, this article will focus on QCDs and DAFs as they are the most common solutions I see used for my clientele.  I hope you find it helpful!

Let's first talk about Required Minimum Distributions

When you turn 72, of 70 1/2 before 2020, you are required to take a portion of your qualified retirement plans as a distribution by way of the “Required Minimum Distribution,” or RMD.  The amount required is based on a life expectancy table published by the IRS.  Most individuals use the table below, unless their spouse is sole beneficiary and is more than 10 years younger.   The RMD is calculated by dividing your year end account balance as of December 31st, and simply dividing it by the Distribution Period associated with your age.  Example:  Let’s say your IRA account balance at the close of the previous year (December 31st) was $1,000,000, and you are turning 75 this year.  You will take $1,000,000 and divide it by 22.9, which gives you $43,668.12.  That is the amount you will be required to withdrawal before the year is over. 


You will notice that each year, the Distribution Period becomes smaller, and therefore the amount required to be withdrawn goes up.  If you turned 90 with a $1mm IRA, you would be required to withdrawal $87,719.30!  This equates to almost 9% of the account balance.  One exercise I will run through with my clients well before turning 72 is to calculate their projected RMD each year during retirement, and compare that to how much they will actually spend for their retirement lifestyle.  Over time, I often see the RMD increases at a much higher rate than annual spending, therefore creating a surplus in income over time.  

A common complaint I hear:  “The IRS is making me take out all of this income I don’t need!”  If you want to minimize the tax impact on unnecessary withdrawals, thoughtful planning must be introduced years before turning 72.  I often tell my clients that retirement income planning begins at least a decade before they retire in order to optimize their financial plan. 

All retirement plans including 401ks, 403bs, 457bs, other defined benefit plans and traditional IRAs have RMD requirements.  Roth IRAs do not have RMDs while the owner is alive.  Roth 401ks, however, do have RMD requirements. Therefore, many people opt to rolling over their Roth 401ks to their own Roth IRA once they have attained eligibility requirements to avoid the RMD. 

It’s critical to satisfy RMD requirements, otherwise you will be hit with a 50% penalty on the funds you did not withdrawal on time.  Example:  If your RMD amount was $50,000 and you failed to take any money out, you could be responsible to pay a penalty in the amount of $25,000!  

If you turn 72 and are actively employed, RMDs associated with their employer plan could be eligible for deferral.  Any other accounts not affiliated with that active employer will still have an RMD.  Once you separate from service from that employer, you will then begin taking RMDs based on your attained age for that year.  For your first RMD, you have the option to defer the distribution until April of the following year.  This is helpful if you expect your tax rate to go down the following year.  Just note that you will have to take two RMDs that following calendar year, one by April 1st, and the other by December 31st. 

I have some clients who wait until December to pull their RMD if they don’t have a need for the cash flow.  This way they can maximize their tax deferral and keep their funds invested as long as possible before taking the RMD.  On the other hand, if you have a need for the income to meet your expenses, you might opt to take an equal monthly installment to reduce the risk of selling out at the wrong time.  It also helps create a steady cash flow stream for budgeting purposes in retirement.  

Qualified Charitable Distribution

 

A Qualified Charitable Distribution, also known as QCD, allows for you to donate up to $100,000 of your IRA directly to a qualified 501c3 charitable organization.  The Protecting Americans from Tax Hikes (PATH) Act of 2015 has made the QCD a permanent part of the IRS code and allows you to count that distribution towards your RMD that year, but exclude it from your adjusted gross income!  The QCD must come from an IRA (traditional IRA, inherited IRA, or an inactive SEP or inactive SIMPLE IRA), it cannot come from another qualified plan like a 401k or 403b plan.  Of course, the account must also be in the RMD phase.

Example.  If your RMD is $100,000, normally you would be required to withdrawal $100,000 from the balance of your IRA and include the distribution in your gross income.  However, you could instead elect to donate up to $100,000 to a charity, or multiple charities, directly from your IRA and reduce your taxable income by up to $100,000.  Of course, the charity also receives that donation tax free as well.  This results in a significant amount of tax savings for the IRA owner and provides a larger donation to the charity of your choosing.  Also note that the $100,000 limit is annually per person.  If you are married, you would each have that $100,000 limit if you both qualify for a QCD. 

This has become increasingly more beneficial with the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law in 2017 (TCJA).  The TCJA doubled the standard deduction which for 2021 is $12,550 for single tax payers and $25,100 for married couples filing jointly.  The new law significantly reduced the number of tax payers who itemize their deductions.  Charitable donations are an itemized deduction, so if a tax payer is not itemizing their deductions, the charitable donation has zero tax impact to the tax payer.  Therefore, the QCD allows for the tax payer to essentially get a tax benefit for donating to charity without needing to itemize their deductions.   Excluding the donation from your adjusted gross income could have other tax advantages as it might reduce your Medicare premiums as well as your overall tax bracket. 

It’s important to note that the charity has to be a qualified 501c3 organization.   You cannot donate to a private foundation or a Donor Advised Fund.  However, there is no limit on the number of organizations you donate your QCD to.  Most financial institutions allow you to create a list of the organizations that you want to benefit from your donation, and they will send the checks for you directly from the IRA.

Planning Ahead

 

Many clients I serve run into what I call the tax trap of traditional IRAs and 401ks.  I wrote an article about this and you can read more about it here.  The gist is they are the victim of their own success.  They saved and invested wisely, and accumulated a bulk of their assets in tax deferred vehicles, among other assets.  At RMD age, they are forced to take distributions they may not need, thus creating a negative tax effect (higher tax brackets, higher Medicare premiums, increased social security taxes etc.).  QCDs can certainly help alleviate that tax burden for those that are charitably minded.  However, you still want to do some planning well before turning 72 to optimize your tax situation.  If you plan to donate to charity during retirement, make sure you leave some room in your tax deferred plans to make those QCDs.  On the other hand, make sure your RMD’s wont push you into higher than anticipated tax brackets or bump your Medicare premiums up substantially.   You may want to consider doing some Roth conversions, or leveraging a Roth 401k option in lieu of a Traditional 401k.  The point is, don’t be blindsided by RMD’s, but be intentional well before you begin taking those distributions so you don’t run into the tax trap!

Qualified charities do not pay taxes on distributions.  I mentioned the SECURE Act briefly and also wrote about it in more detail in the article I referenced earlier (link here).   The important thing to note is that it eliminated the inherited IRA for most non spousal beneficiaries.  Therefore, when you leave those 401ks or IRAs to your children, they will be forced to liquidate all of the funds within 10 years, accelerating taxes on those plans relative to the previous law.  This is a further validation for not only QCDs for charitable giving during lifetime, but also for naming those charities as a beneficiary for these tax deferred accounts.  Instead of leaving those assets to your children for your legacy goals, you may consider leaving other assets such as life insurance, Roth accounts, or taxable brokerage accounts that are more tax advantageous for those beneficiaries.   Again, thoughtful planning is critical to provide these opportunities before it’s too late to make any meaningful changes.

Donor Advised Funds

A Donor Advised Fund, or DAF, is an opportunity for individuals to donate cash or securities to these specified accounts, potentially recognize a tax deduction, and allow the funds to grow tax free to be used in the future for charitable giving.  Unlike donating to a specific charity outright, the DAF can benefit as many charities as the donor chooses.  Additionally, I’ve seen clients name their children as successor Donor Advisors in order to teach the next generation how to be a good steward of their dollars.  A big advantage of a DAF is the ability to front load donations.  As I mentioned earlier, many tax payers are taking the standard deduction given they don’t have itemized deductions that exceed the standard deduction amounts.  However, if you plan to donate each year for the next several years to certain charities, you might consider front loading a contribution to a DAF in order to qualify for an itemized deduction, and then spread out the actual donations over several years.  Let’s look at an example.

Brenda is married and normally donates $5k/year to a local animal rescue.  The $5k donation, along with other deductions, does not exceed $25,100 (standard deduction for married filing jointly).  Therefore, that $5k donation is meaningless from a tax standpoint.  However, Brenda will continue to donate $5k for at least the next 10 years.  She has cash savings in excess of $100,000, so she decides to donate $50k to a DAF ($5k x 10 years), which puts her over the standard deduction limit and gives her the ability to deduct that $50k donation!  Going forward, she will make a distribution from the DAF in the amount of $5k/year over the next 10 years to benefit the charity!  Additionally, she can choose to invest the dollars in the Donor Advised Fund, so she has the possibility of growing her account balance even more for her charitable goals.

The DAF also allows for contributions from appreciated assets, like stocks, bonds or mutual funds.  Let’s say you owned a stock that appreciated $100k over the original value.  This is obviously great news, but if you sold the stock, you would include that $100k in your adjusted gross income and would owe taxes.  However, if there is no need for that particular security for your retirement or other financial goals, you could donate that security to the DAF without any tax consequences.   Additionally, the DAF could sell the security and reinvest it into a more diversified portfolio without incurring any taxes either.  This is a powerful tool to utilize for those appreciated securities that don’t have a specific purpose for your own income needs. 

It’s very important to note that a DAF contribution is irrevocable.  Donors cannot access those funds except when used for donations to a qualified charity.  However, there is no time limit on when the funds need to be distributed.  Just like any charitable contribution, make sure it aligns with your financial goals and is coordinated with the rest of your financial picture.  

Conclusion

If you plan to make financial gifts to charitable organizations, make sure you consult with your tax advisor, estate attorney and of course your financial planner.  Make sure your charitable giving is coordinated with your overall plan, and also make sure you take advantage of tax benefits where possible.  There are certainly more ways than a QCD and DAF to satisfy charitable goals, so please be sure that you choose the right solution based on your unique circumstances.  If you would like to discuss your charitable giving strategy, or other financial goals, you can always start by scheduling a no obligation “Mutual Fit” meeting below to learn how to work with us.  We look forward to speaking with you!

Stress Test Your Retirement Plan

Have you stress tested your retirement goals?

“When you retire, there are two doors in which you can walk through.  Door #1, the people outlive the money.  Door #2, the money outlives the people.  My mission is to help people walk through door #2.”  – Nick Murray

Karen and Pat had a goal to retire in 2009 at the age of 62.  They planned to take Social Security, start drawing Pat’s pension, and then supplement the difference with withdrawals from their retirement portfolio.  Who could have predicted that the Great Recession would wipe out 50% of the stock market value the year before they planned to retire?  They lost nearly 35% of their portfolio, and the decisions that followed ultimately pushed their retirement plans back 11 years!  Pat was a classic “Do-it-yourselfer” and seemed to have the financial house in order, and Karen relied on his handling of their financial affairs.  What I’ve learned is the closer major milestones become, such as retirement, the fear of loss is amplified.  The only way to mitigate the risk of loss is to have a disciplined process that can be followed during the good times, and the bad times, which would have helped Karen and Pat navigate through the Great Recession relatively unscathed. 

Since that experience, I have seen many different events play out that have derailed retirement goals.  On a more positive note, I have personally helped countless families prepare for and execute a successful retirement.  I have come to the conclusion there are 5 major financial risks that could seriously impact financial independence and put you in jeopardy of running out of money.  As part of our financial planning process, we stress test each of these risks to see how our client’s financial goals would be impacted.  The 5 stress tests are as follows: 

1.  Bear Market Risk (a 20% or more drop in the stock market)

2.  Longevity Risk (living longer than you anticipate)

3.  Inflation Risk (what if inflation is higher than we anticipate?)

4.  Prolonged Low Return Risk (experiencing lower returns than expected)

5.  Long-term Care Risk (the cost of needing custodial care later in life)

For a limited time only, we are offering a complimentary Retirement Review to stress test your retirement goals to see how we can help you on your path to financial independence.  By clicking the START HERE below, you will begin the process with a brief questionnaire.  My team will process this information and get in touch with you if we have any questions or initial thoughts.  We will then schedule a 30-45 minute Retirement Review to show you our findings to improve your probability of success.  We look forward to helping you!

6 Stress Tests for a Bulletproof Retirement

You're invited to join us live on Thursday, September 30th @ 2pm - 3pm EST.

Have you stress tested your retirement plans? If you are within 10 years of retirement, you must have a plan for the 6 “what-if” scenarios that could derail your financial goals.

The year was 2007, and my parents were all set to retire in just 12 short months. My Dad worked in IT and is a first generation American. My Mom was a preschool teacher and had no retirement benefits. She knew little about what was going on with their financial plans aside from listening to my Dad complain every time the market was down. As we now know, 2007 was the beginning of the Great Recession, which is the worst recession we’ve seen in our lifetime. Stock markets were down close to 50% and unemployment reached 10%. Like many other hard working Americans, the Great Recession of 2008 ended up pushing my parents’ retirement back 11 years. I made it my mission to help every day families prepare for the what-if scenarios when planning for retirement, including:

  • What if we go through a recession like 2008?
  • What if one, or both of us live longer than expected?
  • What if there are changes to Social Security?
  • What if market returns are lower than we anticipate?
  • What if there is higher than expected inflation?
  • What if there is a long-term care event during retirement?

These are the 6 most common concerns that keep my clients up at night.  My value proposition is to stress test each one of them and ensure their plans are bulletproof to and through retirement.  I look forward to meeting you live at our webinar.

This is my wife, Jessica, and oldest son, Tristan. We have since welcomed twin boys to our family, Julian and Jackson!