IMO - In My Opinion: A take on mortgages, Roths, pensions & more

 My wife, Jen, and I have been speed watching The Good Wife thanks to Netflix. In The Good Wife, one of the judges (apparently the legal system makes for good TV) constantly requires the lawyers in her courtroom to end their arguments with, “In my opinion.”  The attorneys look bewildered each time as if to say…well of course it’s only my opinion, just like every other statement I make, and everyone knows that except for you, apparently.  A recent consultation reminded me of the “in my opinion” skit (“IMO” for short). 

Professionals Offer Differing Opinions

In our field of professional financial planning (not to be confused with the majority of firms and advisors in the financial SALES industry) there are many rules of thumb, but very few technical standards of care that you might find in the medical or legal field.

As a Certified Financial Planner® practitioner, there are some guiding principles and general statements that CFP® practitioners are expected to display in their professional activities, but they are hardly a technical standard of care. The CFP Board states that “Allowance can be made for innocent error and legitimate differences of opinion, but integrity cannot co-exist with deceit or subordination of one’s principles.” Those legitimate differences of opinion are what I’m talking about.

Difference of opinion - a disagreement or argument about something important

Reasonable minds can and will differ just as in everyday life it is not uncommon to hear reasonable folks say, “Let’s agree to disagree.”  Professional differences of opinion do not render the other professional a crook or even wrong if they are acting from a place of integrity – IMO.  Moreover, it is perfectly appropriate to express a difference of opinion with another financial professional when done in a professional and non disparaging manner – IMO.

Back to my recent consultation – as I listened to the recommendations of another professional, I realized I had several different opinions on what was best for this particular situation and needed to share:

ROTH Conversions: As my colleagues here at The Center can attest, I hold a pretty strong opinion that most people have gotten the Roth Conversion issue “incorrect”.  I believe that many folks have accelerated income taxes at a higher rate than they will pay in the future.  Most workers have a higher income, which usually translates into a higher marginal tax bracket, during their working years than they do in retirement.  But wait; there is no Required Minimum Distribution from a ROTH. True, but this is still only relevant as to what bracket the money comes out.  Don’t get me wrong, this is not an absolutist opinion, there are plenty of correct situations where ROTH’s makes sense (IMO) – look for an upcoming post about converting after tax 401k contributions to a ROTH as an example. There are other limited situations where a ROTH makes sense, IMO.  For example, if you are a high net worth person and reasonably expect that you will always be in the highest marginal bracket, then converting and paying at 35% vs the new 39.6% marginal rate seems to make sense. 

Mortgage vs no mortgage:  A firm attempting to become a national financial planning firm recently counseled a young retiree looking to relocate to another state to, “Get the biggest mortgage possible.” Call us old school – but we think that most retirees are best served entering their retirement years debt free. And this client has substantial taxable funds to complete the purchase.  Our suggestion was to actually RENT initially.  Once they are comfortable and they have found a location that suits them for at least the next 5 years, we think they should consider a cash purchase. Rates are low, which does make obtaining a mortgage more attractive, however in retirement (at age 50) the rate is going to be much higher than any suggested distribution rate (1-3%?).

Pension Lump Sum: Our recommendation is for the client to take a monthly pension at age 55 in the form of a 100% survivor benefit even though her husband is older. The other advisor suggested that even assuming a low return, investing the lump sum will produce more money.  The client suggests that age 94 mortality was very reasonable given her family history.  Under these assumptions, the “low return” needed from the investment portfolio turned out to be 6%; hardly a “low” return IMO. Assuming only a 1% annual difference in return (5%) the lump sum lasts only to age 86.  One of the advantages to taking the lump sum is flexibility or access to a lump sum if needed.  Fortunately, the client’s other assets are substantial. Other more confident professionals might find the hurdle rate low; not me.

401k Rollover:  We both recommended a 401k rollover to an IRA managed by our respective firms.  The client left the employ of a major corporation with what I would categorize as containing a competitive 401k, in terms of investment options and expenses.  My sense is that the client will be better served by rolling the account to either professional.  Successful investment management is more about behavior than selecting the best allocation or underlying securities to complete the allocation – IMO.

Asset Allocation: The other professional recommended a 70% equity and 30% fixed income allocation versus our 60/40 allocation.  My thinking is at this time of their life, less risk is a bit more important.  I do, however, appreciate that because they are so young (hedging against inflation), and their expected withdrawal rate is under 3%, that a higher equity allocation may be reasonable. The other adviser apparently pointed out that their allocation was “optimized” (directly on the efficient frontier) because their mid cap exposure was higher than our recommendation in addition to our international equity allocation being 12% vs their 10% recommendation.  Due to current valuations, we have reduced our allocation to mid and small cap equities from a neutral weighting of 10% down to 8.5% and our international (large developed) is at our target weighting of 12%.  The other professional suggests 14% and 10% respectively.  Only time will tell which portfolio was more successful.  I do feel pretty strongly that in the end our client’s behavior will be more determinative of their investment success versus the subtle differences in portfolio recommendation – IMO.

Annuities:  Do you remember when some advisors called anyone recommending an annuity a crook?  Fast forward a few years and some of the profession’s highly regarded practitioners recommend annuities in many situations.  I still believe that they are way oversold, but that doesn’t mean there are not appropriate situations - IMO.

Everyone has an opinion and I give my clients mine. So, what’s your opinion?

Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.  ~Marcus Aurelius

Timothy Wyman, CFP®, JD is the Managing Partner and Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc. and is a frequent contributor to national media including appearances on Good Morning America Weekend Edition and WDIV Channel 4 News and published articles including Forbes and The Wall Street Journal. A leader in his profession, Tim served on the National Board of Directors for the 28,000 member Financial Planning Association™ (FPA®), trained and mentored hundreds of CFP® practitioners and is a frequent speaker to organizations and businesses on various financial planning topics.

Every investor's situation is unique and you should consider your investment goals, risk tolerance and time horizon before making any investment. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected. The forgoing is not a recommendation to buy or sell any individual security or any combination of   securities. Be sure to contact a qualified professional regarding your particular situation before making any investment or withdrawal decision.