Retirement Planning

5 Financial Tips for Recent College Graduates

Robert Ingram Contributed by: Robert Ingram

financial tips for recent college graduates

Congratulations Class of 2019! This is an exciting time for recent college graduates as they begin the next phase in their lives. Some may take their first job or start along their career path, while others may continue their education. Taking this leap into the “real world” also means handling personal finances, a skill not taught often enough in school. Fortunately, by developing good financial habits early and avoiding costly mistakes, new graduates can make time an ally as they set up a solid financial future.

Here are five financial strategies to help get your post-college life on the right path:

1. Have a Spending Plan

The idea of budgeting may not sound like a lot of fun, but it doesn’t have to be a chore that keeps you from enjoying your hard-earned paycheck. Planning a monthly budget helps you control the money coming in and going out. It allows you to prioritize how you spend and save for goals like buying a home, setting up a future college fund for children, and funding your retirement.

Everyone’s budget may be a little different, but two spending categories often consume a large portion of income (especially for younger people early in their careers): housing costs and car expenses. For someone who owns a home, housing costs would include not only a mortgage payment, but also expenses like property taxes and insurance. Someone renting would have the rental cost and any rental insurance.

Consider these general guidelines:

  • A common rule of thumb is that your housing costs should not exceed about 30% of your gross income. In reality, this percentage could be a bit high if you have student loans, or if you want more discretionary income to save and for other spending. Housing costs closer to 20% is ideal.

  • A car payment and other consumer debt, like a credit card payment, can quickly eat into a monthly budget. While you may have unique spending and saving goals, a good guideline is to keep your total housing costs and consumer debt payments all within about 35% of your gross income.

2. Stash Some Cash for Emergencies

We all know that unexpected events may add unplanned expenses or changes to your budget. For example, an expensive car or home repair, a medical bill, or even a temporary loss of income can cause major financial setbacks.

Start setting aside a regular cash reserve or “rainy day” fund for emergencies or even future opportunities. Consider building up to six months’ worth of your most essential expenses. This may seem daunting at first, but make a plan to save this over time (even a few years). Set goals and milestones along the way, such as saving the first $1,000, then one months’ expenses, three months’ expenses, and so on, until you reach your ultimate goal.

3. Build Your Credit and Control Debt

Establishing a good credit history helps you qualify for mortgages and car loans at the favorable interest rates and gets you lower rates on insurance premiums, utilities, or small business loans. Paying your bills on time and limiting the amount of your outstanding debt will go a long way toward building your credit rating. What goes into your credit score? Click here.

  • If you have student loans, plan to pay them down right away. Automated reminders and systematic payments can help keep you organized. To learn how student loans affect your credit score, click here.

  • Use your credit card like a debit card, spending only what you could pay for in cash. Then each month, pay off the accumulated balance.

  • Some credit cards do have great rewards programs, but don’t be tempted to open too many accounts and start filling up those balances. You can easily get overextended and damage your credit.

4. Save Early for the Long Term

Saving for goals like retirement might not seem like a top priority, especially when that could be 30 or 40 years away. Maybe you think you’ll invest for retirement once you pay off your loans, save some cash, or deal with other, more immediate needs. Well, reconsider waiting to start.

In fact, time is your BIG advantage. As an example, let’s say you could put $200 per month in a retirement account, like an employer 401(k), starting at age 25. Assuming a 7% annual return, by age 60 (35 years of saving), you would have just over $360,000. Now, say you waited until age 35 to begin saving. To reach that same $360,000 with 25 years of saving, you would need to more than double your monthly contribution to $445. Starting with even a small amount of savings while tackling other goals can really pay off.

Does your employer offer a company match on your retirement plan? Even better! A typical matching program may offer something like 50 cents for each $1 that you contribute, up to a maximum percentage of your salary (e.g. 6%). So if you contribute up to that 6%, your employer would add an extra 3% of your salary to the plan. This is like getting an immediate 50% return on your contribution. The earlier you can contribute, the more time these matching funds have to compound. 

5. Get a Little More Educated (about money and finances)

Ok, don’t worry. Forming good financial habits doesn’t require an advanced degree or expertise in all money matters. To build your overall knowledge and confidence, spend a little time each week, even just an hour, on an area of your finances and learn about a different topic.

Start with a book or two on general personal finance topics. You can find reference books on specific topics, from mortgages and debt to investments and estate planning. Information offered through news media or internet searches also can provide resources. And you can even find a blog not too far away (Money Centered Blog).

Robert Ingram, CFP®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® With more than 15 years of industry experience, he is a trusted source for local media outlets and frequent contributor to The Center’s “Money Centered” blog.

Could We See Changes Coming to Fix Social Security?

Robert Ingram Contributed by: Robert Ingram

Changes Coming to Fix Social Security

For the past several years, you may have seen story after story questioning the health of the Social Security system and whether the federal program can be sustained into the future. If you, like many clients, are thinking about your retirement plan, you’ve probably wondered, “Will my Social Security benefits be there when I retire?”.

Certainly, different actuarial or economic assumptions can influence Social Security’s perceived financial strength and solvency, but it’s clear some steps must be taken. With a system the size and scope of Social Security, one that affects so many people, it's hard to overstate the challenge of finding solutions on which lawmakers and experts can agree.

Funding Social Security - Money In, Money Out

Payroll (FICA) taxes collected by the federal government fund Social Security. How much do we pay? The first $132,900 of an individual’s 2019 annual wages is subject to a 12.4% payroll tax, with employers paying 6.2% and employees paying 6.2% (self-employed individuals pay the full 12.4%).

The government deposits these collected taxes into the Social Security Trust Funds, which are used to pay benefits. Social Security benefits are also at least partially taxable for individuals with income above certain thresholds. For more on Social Security taxation, click here.

U.S. demographic changes pose challenges for Social Security’s financial framework.  Americans are living longer, but birth rates have declined. One implication is that while a growing population draws Social Security benefits, a smaller potential workforce pays into the system.

In its 2018 annual report, the Social Security Board of Trustees projected that the total benefit costs (outflows) would exceed the total income into the trust funds, and the trust fund reserves will be depleted by 2034. Now, the report does not suggest that Social Security would be unable to pay benefits at that point. It estimates that with the trust funds depleted, the incoming revenues would be able to cover about 77% of the scheduled retirement and survivor benefits.

This is still concerning for the millions of retirees collecting their benefits and for future retirees counting on their benefits over the next 15 to 20 years.

So the question is, how can we correct this funding shortfall?

Possible fixes for Social Security?

Ultimately, as with any budget, fixing the imbalances between the Social Security system’s inflows and outflows would involve increasing system revenues, reducing or slowing the benefit payouts, or some combination of both.

There have been a number of proposals discussed in recent years, including:

  • Increasing the Full Retirement Age from age 67

  • Changing the formula for calculating benefits based on earnings history

  • Increasing (or even eliminating) the cap on income subject to the payroll tax

  • Reducing benefits for individuals at certain income levels (“means testing”)

  • Changing how the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for benefits is determined

This past January, the Social Security 2100 Act was re-introduced in the House of Representatives. This series of suggested reforms, originally introduced in 2014 and 2017, has several key items: 

  • Increase the Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) formula for calculating benefits at one’s Full Retirement Age

  • Change the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) calculation, tying it to the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E) rather than the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers (CPI-W)

  • Increase the special minimum Primary Insurance Amount for workers who become newly eligible for benefits in 2020 or later

  • Replace the current thresholds for taxing Social Security benefits, from a threshold for taxing 50% of Social Security benefits and a threshold for taxing 85% of benefits, to a single set of thresholds set at $50,000 (single filers) and $100,000 (married filing jointly) for taxation of 85%  of Social Security benefits, by 2020

  • Apply the payroll tax rate for Social Security (12.4% in 2019) to earnings above $400,000

  • Continue applying the the payroll tax to the first $132,900 of wages and exempting income from $132,901 up to $400,000, then apply the tax again to amounts above the $400,000 threshold

  • Increase the Social Security payroll tax rate incrementally from the current 12.4%  to 14.8% by 2043

  • The rate would increase by 0.1%age point per year, from 2020 until 2043

  • Combine the reserves of the Social Security retirement and survivor benefits trust fund and the reserves of Social Security’s disability benefits trust fund into a single trust fund

(Note source data: Estimates of the Financial Effects on Social Security of the “Social Security 2100 Act” ssa.gov/OACT/solvency/LarsnBlumenthalVanHollen_20190130.pdf) 

Interestingly, the first four provisions in the proposed bill are actually intended to increase the benefits for recipients. The first provision would slightly increase the benefit amounts paid to recipients through the new formula. The change to CPI-W gives more weight to spending items particularly relevant for seniors, such as health care, resulting in a potentially higher COLA than under the current structure. The third provision increases the current minimum benefit earned, and the fourth item allows for a higher level of income before Social Security benefits become taxable.

To address Social Security’s long-term solvency, this bill focuses on boosting Social Security revenues by increasing the payroll tax rate over time and making more earned income subject to those payroll taxes. That approach is in contrast with other proposals that would focus on managing the outflow of benefits, such as raising the full retirement age from 67 to 70.

This illustrates the philosophical differences in how to address the problems facing Social Security, and what makes reaching consensus on a long-term solution so difficult. 

Should I plan for changes to the Social Security system?

With so many factors at play and strong voices on different sides of the issue, the specific reforms Congress will adopt and exactly when they will occur remain unclear. For most clients, Social Security is part of their overall retirement income picture, but a meaningful source of income.

It is important to have at least a basic understanding of your benefits and what affects them under the current system (benefits collected at full retirement age, changes to benefit amounts based on when they are collected, and the potential impacts of taxation on your benefits, just to name a few factors).

Understanding how your Social Security benefits fit within your own retirement income plan can help you stay proactive as you make decisions in the face of uncertainty, whether controlling your savings rate, choosing investment strategies, or evaluating your retirement goals. If you have questions about your retirement income, we’re always here to help!

Robert Ingram, CFP®, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® With more than 15 years of industry experience, he is a trusted source for local media outlets and frequent contributor to The Center’s “Money Centered” blog.


*Repurposed from 2016 blog: Will Social Security Be Around When I Retire?

This information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of the author and are not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor the third party website listed or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website's users and/or members.

Consider these options and strategies to pump up your Social Security benefits

Nick Defenthaler Contributed by: Nick Defenthaler, CFP®

As a frequent speaker on Social Security, I’ve had the pleasure of educating hundreds of retirees on the nuances and complexities of this confusing topic. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that, unfortunately, many of us do not take the decision about when to file as seriously as we should.

your social security benefits

In 2018, the average annual Social Security benefit was roughly $17,000. Assuming a retiree lives for 20 years after receiving that first benefit check, you’re looking at a total of $340,000 in lifetime benefits – and that’s not accounting for inflation adjustments along the way!

We work to help our clients receive nearly double that amount each year – $33,500 – which is close to the maximum full retirement age (FRA) benefit one can receive. Assuming the same 20-year period means nearly $700,000 in total lifetime benefits. It’s not unreasonable for a couple with earnings near the top of the Social Security wage base to see a combined, total lifetime benefit amount north of $1,500,000 as long as you are award of the decision process.

As you can see, the filing decision will be among the largest financial decisions – if not THE largest – you will ever make!

Longevity risk matters

Seventy-five percent of Americans will take benefits prior to their full retirement age (link #1 below) and only 1 percent will delay benefits until age 70, when they are fully maximized. In many cases, financial and health circumstances force retirees to draw benefits sooner rather than later. But for many others, retirement income options and creative strategies are oftentimes overlooked, or even taken for granted.

In my opinion, longevity risk (aka – living a really long time in retirement) is one of the three biggest risks we face in our golden years. Research has proven, time in and time out, that maximizing Social Security benefits is among the best ways to help protect yourself against this risk, from a retirement income standpoint. Each year you delay, you will see a permanent benefit increase of roughly 8 percent (up until age 70). How many investments offer this type of guaranteed income?

Let’s look at the chart below to highlight this point.

20190409a.jpg

You can see a significant difference between taking benefits at age 62 and at age 70 – nearly $250,000 in additional income generated by delaying! Keep in mind, this applies for just one person. Married couples who both had a strong earnings history or can take advantage of the spousal benefit filing options receive even more benefits.

Mark’s story

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a gentleman named Mark after one of my recent educational sessions on Social Security. As we chatted, he made a comment along the lines of, “I have just close to $1.5 million saved for retirement, I just don’t think Social Security really matters in my situation.” I asked several probing questions to better understand his earnings record and what his benefit would be at full retirement age.

We were able to determine that at age 66, his benefit would be nearly $33,000. Mark was 65, in good health, and mentioned several times that his parents lived into their early 90s. Longevity statistics suggest that an average 65-year-old male has a 25 percent chance of living until 93. However, based on Mark’s health and family history, he has a much higher probability of living into his early to mid-90s!

If Mark turned his benefits on at age 66, and he lived until age 93, he would receive $891,000 in lifetime benefits. If he waited until age 70 and increased his annual benefit by 32 percent ($43,500/yr.), his lifetime benefits would be $1,000,500 (keep in mind, we haven’t even factored inflation adjustments into the lifetime benefit figures).

I then asked, “Mark, if you had an IRA with a balance of $891,000 or even $1,000,000, could we both agree that this account would make a difference in your retirement?” Mark looked at me, smiled, and nodded. He instantly understood my point. Looking at the total dollars Social Security would pay out resonated deeply with him.

All too often, we don’t fully appreciate how powerful a fixed income source can be in retirement. It’s astounding to see the lifetime payout provided by Social Security. Regardless of your financial circumstance, it will always make sense to review your options with someone who understands the nuances of Social Security and is well educated on the creative ways to draw benefits. Don’t take this decision lightly, too many dollars are at stake!

Feel free to reach out to us if you’d like to talk through your plan for Social Security and how it will fit into your overall retirement income strategy.

Nick Defenthaler, CFP® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® He contributed to a PBS documentary on the importance of saving for retirement and has been a trusted source for national media outlets, including CNBC, MSN Money, Financial Planning Magazine, and OnWallStreet.com.


Sources: 1) https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/retirechart.html 2) https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/social-security/articles/2018-08-20/how-much-you-will-get-from-social-security The information herein has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. This information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making a decision and does not constitute a recommendation. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional.

What happens to my Social Security benefit if I retire early?

Kali Hassinger Contributed by: Kali Hassinger, CFP®

Did you know that the benefit shown on your Social Security estimate statement isn’t just based on your work history?

what happens to my social security benefit if I retire early

The estimated benefit shown on your statement assumes that you’ll work from now until your full retirement age.  And, on top of that, it assumes that your income will remain about the same that entire time. For some of our clients who are still working, early retirement has become a frequent discussion topic. What happens, however, if you retire early and don’t pay into Social Security for several years? In a world where pensions are quickly becoming a thing of the past, Social Security will be the largest, if not the only, fixed income source in retirement for many. 

Your Social Security benefit is based on your highest 35 earning years, with the current full retirement age at 67.

So, what happens to your benefit if you retire at age 50? That is a full 17 years earlier than your statement assumes you’ll work, which effectively cuts out half of what is often our highest earning years.

We recently had a client ask about this exact scenario, and the results were pretty surprising! This client has been earning a great salary for the last 10 years and maxing out the Social Security tax income cap every year. Her Social Security statement, of course, assumes that she would continue to pay in the maximum amount (which is 6.2% of $132,900 for an employee in 2019 - or $8,240 - with the employer paying the additional 6.2%) until her full retirement age of 67. She wanted to make sure her retirement plan was still on track even after stopping her income and contributions to Social Security at age 50.

We were able to analyze her Social Security earning history, then project her future earnings based on her current income and future retirement age of 50. Her current statement showed a future annual benefit of $36,000. When we reduced her income to $0 at age 50, her estimated Social Security benefit actually dropped by 13%, or $4,680 per year. That’s still $31,320-per-year fixed income source would still pay our client throughout retirement. Given the fact that she’s working 17 years less than the statement assumes and she has the assets necessary to support the difference, a 13% decrease isn’t too bad. This is just one example, of course, but it is indicative of what we’ve seen for many of our early retirees. 

Social Security isn’t the only topic you’ll want to check on before making any final decisions about an early retirement.

You’ll also want to consider health insurance, having enough savings in non-retirement accounts that aren’t subject to an early withdrawal penalty, and, of course, making sure you’ve saved enough to reach your goals! If you’d like to chat about Social Security and your overall retirement plan, we are always happy to help!

Kali Hassinger, CFP®, CDFA® is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® She has more than a decade of financial planning and insurance industry experience.


Any opinions are those of Kali Hassinger, CFP and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. There is no assurance any of the trends mentioned will continue or forecasts will occur. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but Raymond James does not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. The case study included herein is for illustrative purposes only. Individual cases will vary. Prior to making any investment decision, you should consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation. Raymond James and its advisors do not provide tax or legal advice. You should discuss any tax or legal matters with the appropriate professional. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected. Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board's initial and ongoing certification requirements.

A Dementia Diagnosis and Your Financial Plan

dementia diagnosis and your financial plan

The inevitable has happened. You or someone you love has received the dreaded diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or one of many related dementias. You feel like your world is in a tail spin; you don’t know which end is up, and you certainly don’t know where to start planning…especially from a financial perspective. What should you do?

First, discuss the diagnosis with your financial advisor. Communicate your fears and concerns, and ask for help to make sure that all of your financial “ducks” are in row.

You can check these things off the list now:

  • Make sure that important documents are in place assigning advocates who will handle health care and financial affairs when you (or your loved one) are unable to handle them. **Coordinate this with your estate planning attorney.

  • Also, make sure that beneficiaries and estate planning documents are updated to reflect current wishes.

  • From an organizational standpoint, this is a perfect time to make sure everything is organized, documented (see our Personal Financial Record Keeping Document for help), simplified as much as possible (think consolidating accounts held by multiple firms), and titled properly.

At some point, your financial advisor may want to help you look at additional retirement/financial independence scenarios that include long-term care expenses faced by those who have dementia/Alzheimer’s. This will give you the opportunity to look at the adjustments you may need to make immediately or in the near term.

As time goes on and costs increase, which may be a few months or years depending on disease progression, additional retirement distribution planning may both stretch available dollars and strategize tax efficiencies based on tax law at the time. For instance, in years with very high medical costs/deductions, it may make sense to take distributions from IRAs, so the medical deductions offset the taxable income from the distributions.

It is also extremely important to review all insurances (Long Term Care, life insurances with terminal illness or LTC riders, annuities with such riders, etc.) to understand how they work and how they may benefit you in the future.

Planning with your family

Aside from the purely financial considerations, it is critical to have a conversation with your family about your care (who, where, etc.), your money, your quality of life, and the overall plan for your last phase of life with your new diagnosis, so that everyone is on the same page, with a coordinated plan.

Everyone should know the available resources, the players, and your desires. Having helped families in these situations, I know those who work together and understand the desires of their loved one, no matter what the financial situation, are able to get through tough times and support their loved one much more successfully than those who don’t.

Above all, ask for help, from your advisors, from your family, from your friends and community supports (church, community groups, etc.). You can’t, and shouldn’t, go it alone. If you or someone you know is facing a dementia challenge and needs to plan, please let us know. We are here to help.

Sandra Adams, CFP®, CeFT™ is a Partner and CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® She specializes in Elder Care Financial Planning and serves as a trusted source for national publications, including The Wall Street Journal, Research Magazine, and Journal of Financial Planning.


Raymond James does not provide tax or legal services. Please discuss these matters with the appropriate professional.

Restricted Stock Units vs. Employee Stock Options

Kali Hassinger Contributed by: Kali Hassinger, CFP®

Some of you may be familiar with the blanket term "stock options." In the past, this term most likely referred to Employee Stock Options (ESOs), which were frequently offered as an employee benefit and form of compensation. But over time, employers have adapted stock options to better benefit both their employees and themselves.

20190219.jpg

ESOs provided the employee the right to buy a certain number of company shares at a predetermined price, for a specific period of time. These options, however, would lose their value if the stock price dropped below the predetermined price, making them essentially worthless to the employee.

Shares promised

As an alternative, many employers now use another type of stock option, known as Restricted Stock Units (RSUs). Referred to as a "full value stock grant,” RSUs are worth the "full value" of the stock shares when the grant vests. So unlike ESOs, the RSU will always have value to the employee upon vesting (assuming the stock price doesn't reach $0). In this sense, the RSU is a greater advantage to the employee than the ESO.

As opposed to some other types of stock options, the employer does not transfer stock ownership or allocate any outstanding stock to the employee until the predetermined RSU vesting date. The shares granted with RSUs essentially become a promise between the employer and employee, but the employee receives no shares until vesting.

RSU tax implications

Since there is no "constructive receipt" (IRS term!) of the shares, the benefit is not taxed until vesting.

For example, if an employer grants 5,000 shares of company stock to an employee as an RSU, the employee won't be sure of how much the grant is worth until vesting. If this stock value is $25 upon vesting, the employee would have $125,000 of income (reported on their W-2) that year.

As you can imagine, vesting dates may cause a large jump in taxable income, so the employee may have to select how to withhold taxes. Usual options include paying cash, selling or holding back shares within the grant to cover taxes, or selling all shares and withholding cash from the proceeds.

In some RSU plan structures, the employee may defer receipt of the shares after vesting, in order to avoid income taxes during high earning years. In most cases, however, the employee will still have to pay Social Security and Medicare taxes in the year the grant vests.

Although there are a few differences between the old-school stock options and more recent Restricted Stock Unit benefit, both can provide the same incentive for employees. If you have any questions about your own stock options, we’re always here to help!

Repurposed from this 2016 blog: Restricted Stock Units vs Employee Stock Options

Kali Hassinger, CFP® is an Associate Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®


The information contained in this report does not purport to be a complete description of the securities, markets, or developments referred to in this material. The information has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any opinions are those of Kali Hassinger, CFP® and not necessarily those of Raymond James. Expressions of opinion are as of this date and are subject to change without notice. There is no guarantee that these statements, opinions or forecasts provided herein will prove to be correct. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected. This information is not intended as a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any security referred to herein. Investments mentioned may not be suitable for all investors. This is a hypothetical example for illustration purpose only and does not represent an actual investment.

Is the Diversified Portfolio Back?

Robert Ingram Contributed by: Robert Ingram

Is the diversified portfolio back?

(Repurpose of the 2014 blog: ‘Why I Didn’t Like My Diversified Portfolio’)

As our team finished 2018 and began reviewing the 2019 investment landscape, I couldn’t help but to think of a Money Centered blog written by our Managing Partner, Tim Wyman. As Tim shared:

“I was reminded of the power of headlines recently as I was reviewing my personal financial planning; reflecting on the progress I have made toward goals such as retirement, estate, tax, life insurance, and investments. And, after reviewing my personal 401k plan, and witnessing single digit growth, my immediate reaction was probably similar to many other investors that utilize a prudent asset allocation strategy (40% fixed income and 60% equities). I’d be less than candid if I didn’t share that my immediate thought was, “I dislike my diversified portfolio”.

The headlines suggest it should have been a better year. However, knowing that the substance is below the headlines, and 140 characters can’t convey the whole story, my diversified portfolio performed just as it is supposed to in 20xx.”

This may have been a familiar thought throughout 2018. Interestingly though, Tim’s blog post was actually from 2015. He was describing 2014.

THE FINANCIAL HEADLINES – Same Old, Same Old?

The financial news about investment markets today still focuses primarily on three major market indices: the DJIA, the S&P 500, and the NASDAQ. All three are measures for large company stocks in the United States; they provide no relevance for other assets in a diversified portfolio, such as international stocks, small and medium size stocks, and bonds of all types. As in 2014, the large U.S. stock indices were at or near all-time highs throughout much of 2018. Also in that year, many other major asset classes gained no ground or were even negative for the year. These included core intermediate bonds, high yield junk bonds, small cap stocks, commodities, international stocks, and emerging markets.

Looking Beyond the Headlines

Here at The Center, our team continues to apply a variety of resources in developing our economic outlook and asset allocation strategies. We take into account research from well-respected firms such as Russell Investments, J.P.Morgan Asset Management, and Raymond James. Review the “Asset Class Returns” graphic below, which shows how a variety of asset classes have performed since 2003.

20190129b.jpg

This chart shows the historical performance of different asset classes through November of 2018, as well as an asset allocation portfolio (35% fixed and 65% diversified equities). The asset allocation portfolio incorporates the various asset classes shown in the chart.

If you “see” a pattern in asset class returns over time, please look again. There is no determinable pattern. Because asset class returns are cyclical, it’s difficult to predict which asset class will outperform in any given year. A portfolio with a mix of asset classes, on average, should smooth the ride by lowering risks that any one asset class presents over a full market and cycle. If there is any pattern to see, it would be that a diversified portfolio should provide a less volatile investment experience than any single asset class. A diversified portfolio is unlikely to be worse than the lowest performing asset class in any given year. And on the flip side, it is unlikely to be better than the best performing asset class. Just what you would expect!

STAYING FOCUSED & DISCIPLINED

As during other times when we have experienced strong U.S. stock markets and periods of accelerated market volatility, some folks may be willing to abandon discipline because of increased greed or increased fear. As important as it is to not panic out of an asset class after a large decline, it remains equally important to not panic into an asset class. In the case of the S&P 500’s outperformance of many other asset classes, for example, many have wondered why they should invest in anything else. That’s an understandable question. If you find yourself in that position, you might consider the following:

  • As in the five years leading up to 2015, the S&P 500 Index (even with the recent pullback in stock prices) has had tremendous performance over the last five years. However, it’s difficult to predict which asset class will outperform from year to year. A portfolio with a mix of asset classes, on average, should smooth the ride by lowering risk over a full market cycle.

  • Fundamentally, prices of U.S. companies relative to their expected earnings are hovering around the long-term average. International equities, particularly the emerging markets, are still well below their normal estimates and may have con­siderable room for improvement. This point was particularly relevant in 2018 and continues to be as we begin 2019.

  • Through 2018, U.S. large caps, as defined by the S&P 500 Index, have outperformed international equities (MSCI EAFE) in six of the last eight years. The last time the S&P outperformed for a significant time, 1996-2001, the MSCI outperformed in the subsequent six years.

  • What’s the potential impact on a portfolio concentrated in a particular asset class, if that asset class experiences a period of loss? Remember, an investment that experienced a loss requires an even greater percentage return to get back to its original value. For example, an investment worth $100,000 that loses 50% (down to $50,000) would actually require a 100% return from $50,000 to get back to $100,000.

MANAGING RISK

Benjamin Graham, known as the “father of value investing,” dedicated much of his book, The Intelligent Investor, to risk. In one of his many timeless quotes, he says, “The essence of investment management is the management of risks, not the management of returns.” This statement may seem counterintuitive to many investors. Rather than raising an alarm, risk may provide a healthy dose of reality in all investment environments. That’s important in how we meet financial goals. Diversification is about avoiding the big setbacks along the way. It doesn’t protect against losses – it helps manage risk.

Often, during times of more volatile financial markets like those we have experienced during the last couple of months, the benefits of diversification become apparent. If you have felt the way Tim did back in 2015 about your portfolio, we hope that after review and reflection, you might also change your perspective from “I dislike my diversified portfolio” to “My diversified portfolio – just what I would expect.”

As always, if you’d like to schedule some time to review anything contained in this writing, or your personal circumstances, please let me know. Lastly, our investment committee has been hard at work for several weeks and will be sharing 2019 comments in the near future. Make it a great 2019!

Robert Ingram is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®


Any opinions are those of Bob Ingram, CFP® and not necessarily those of Raymond James. This material is being provided for information purposes only and is not a complete description, nor is it a recommendation. Investing involves risk and you may incur a profit or loss regardless of strategy selected, including diversification and asset allocation. The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA), commonly known as “The Dow” is an index representing 30 stock of companies maintained and reviewed by the editors of the Wall Street Journal. The S&P 500 is an unmanaged index of 500 widely held stocks that is generally considered representative of the U.S. stock market. The MSCI is an index of stocks compiled by Morgan Stanley Capital International. The index consists of more than 1,000 companies in 22 developed markets. Investments can not be made directly in an index.

Bond woes: “Why do we own bonds if we think they aren’t going to do well in a rising rate environment?”

The Center Contributed by: Center Investment Department

Hoping for capital gains is not a good reason why you should own bonds. Actually, owning or  buying bonds in this low and rising interest rate environment with the hope that you'll be able to sell them later at a higher price may not work out. BUT…just because you can’t sell this investment at a profit later does not make the investment a bad idea.

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A great real life comparison is a car. We own a car to get our family and us from one place to another, hopefully safely. Many components go into the makeup of a safe driving automobile. The engine is key in making the car go. Stocks act much like the engine of a car.  They make our portfolios go/grow. But, would you ever drive a car that wasn’t equipped with brakes or an airbag? Brakes and airbags are similar to the bonds in our portfolio. Bonds help you control some of the risk of owning stock. For most people, the reason to own bonds is to slow down our bottom-line losses experienced in our portfolio during major market declines. Without this moderation (and sometimes even with it), investors tend to panic when stock prices fall.

So in a nutshell, “Why own bonds?”

They make the scary times less so. When the stock market experiences an extended decline, investors look around for where to turn. Cash and Bonds are usually the place they turn to.A volatile stock market can happen suddenly and unexpectedly. Waiting to add bonds until something happens means you are going to suffer much of the downside before you actually add them to the portfolio. You have to have already had them in the portfolio for them to help. Talk with your financial planner to make sure you have the proper amount of your portfolio invested in bonds so you can hang on to your investments through those difficult times. A portfolio makeup that allows you to stay the course over the long term is much more likely to get you to your destination!


https://www.marketwatch.com/story/why-bonds-are-the-most-important-asset-class-2015-06-10 Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not affiliated with and does not endorse, authorize or sponsor any of the listed websites or their respective sponsors. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website's users and/or members.

IRS Announces Increases to Retirement Plan Contributions for 2019

Josh Bitel Contributed by: Josh Bitel

Several weeks ago, the IRS released updated figures for 2019 retirement account contribution and income limits. 

IRS Increases Retirement Plan Contributions for 2019

Employer Retirement Plans (401k, 403b, 457, and Thrift Savings Plans)

  • $19,000 annual contribution limit, up from $18,500 in 2018.

  • $6,000 “catch-up” contribution for those over age 50 remains the same for 2019.

  • An increase in the total amount that can be contributed to a defined contribution plan, including all contribution types (employee deferrals, employer matching and profit sharing), from $55,000 to $56,000, or $62,000 for those over age 50 with the $6,000 “catch-up” contribution.

In addition to increased contribution limits for employer-sponsored retirement plans, the IRS adjustments provide some other increases that can help savers in 2019. A couple of highlights include:

Traditional IRA and ROTH IRA Limits

  • $6,000 annual contribution limit, up from $5,500 in 2018 – the first raise since 2013!

  • $1,000 “catch-up” contribution for those over age 50 remains the same for 2019.

Social Security Increase Announced

As we enter 2019, keep these updated figures on the forefront when updating your financial game plan. As always, if you have any questions surrounding these changes, don’t hesitate to reach out to our team!

Josh Bitel is a Client Service Associate at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.®

Are You Retirement Ready?

Sandy Adams Contributed by: Sandra Adams, CFP®

In our work with clients, one of the most common questions we get is, “How will we know when we are ready (and able) to retire?”  That can be a tricky question, because there are two sides to being ready for the next phase of your life – the technical side and the personal side.  While certainly you need to be financially secure for the next decades of your life, you also need to be comfortable with the transition from your life as a career individual to what you now wish to become in your next phase – and that is not as easy as it sounds.

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From a financial-readiness perspective, many clients target age, monetary or benefit milestones to help them determine when they will be ready to retire:

  • “When I have $1 million in assets saved, I will be ready to retire.”

  • “When I am eligible to collect Social Security, I will be ready to retire.”

  • “When I am eligible to collect my company pension OR I have reached my XX anniversary with my company, I will be ready to retire.”

  • “When I am eligible to receive Medicare, I will be ready to retire.”

The real answer is, some or all of these may be true for you, and some or all of these may be false.Every client situation is different and no general guideline can determine whether or not you are financially ready to retire. Unfortunately, it is far more complicated than that. There are numerous financial factors that go into determining financial readiness.Let’s take a deeper look into the issues.

Financial Readiness Issues:

Retirement Savings:

Do you have enough saved?

  • What might your other retirement income sources be (Social Security, Pensions, etc.)

  • How much income will you need (what are your fixed costs versus lifestyle wants in retirement), and

  • What are your longevity expectations (how long might you expect to live based on health, family history, etc.—expect it will be longer than you think!).

Where are your savings?

  • Do you have retirement savings outside of retirement plans?

  • Do you have some after-tax and reserve cash/emergency reserve savings?

  • Do you have different types of accounts to provide tax diversification going into retirement (i.e. IRAs/401(k)s, ROTH IRAs, after tax investment accounts)?

Debt:

Have you paid down your debt or do you have a plan to be as debt free as possible by the time you retire?  This will allow you to control your retirement income for other fixed expenses and wants; it is desirable to have as little debt/fixed expenses as possible going into retirement as possible.

Retirement Income:

A large part to being retirement ready is understanding your retirement income sources, options and strategies and using them to your best advantage.  Take the time to consult with your planner to choose the option that works best for you and your family circumstance.

  • Pensions: Do you understand all your options, including the income options available to your spouse as a survivor upon your death.  We find that in many cases it makes sense to choose an option that includes a lifetime income option for you with at least a 65% survivor income benefit for your spouse if you were to die first.

  • Social Security: While many are under the false impression that because you are allowed to take Social Security benefits as early as age 62, they should, we might recommend otherwise.  For most individuals now approaching Social Security claiming age, Full Retirement Age for claiming Social Security is now age 66 and delaying benefits until age 70 results in an 8% per year increase in benefits.  Knowing and understanding the Social Security benefits, rules and strategies that can be employed, especially for married couples, to ensure the largest lifetime benefit can be an added supplement to long-term retirement income. We find that our most successful married couples in retirement employ a strategy where the lower Social Security earner draws at Full Retirement age while the higher Social Security earner waits to draw at age 70, insuring the highest possible Social Security benefit for the spouse that lives the longest.

Investments:

Preparing for retirement involves making appropriate adjustments to your investment strategy.  You should work with your financial planner to adjust your asset allocation to one that is appropriate for your new goals and time horizon. We find that our most successful retirees tend to have asset allocations ranging from 40% Bond/60% Stock to 50% Bond/50% Stock.

Insurance:

  • For those retiring before age 65 (Medicare eligibility) and without retiree healthcare, finding health insurance to bridge them to Medicare is a must. 

  • Retirement readiness does require addressing the issue of Long Term Care funding Having a plan, no matter what your choice, is something that must be done before retirement.

Estate Planning:

While not exactly monetary, having your estate planning documents (Durable Powers of Attorney, Wills and possibly Trust or Trusts in place) updated prior to retirement is a good idea.Part of this is making sure accounts are titled properly, beneficiaries are updated, and account holdings/locations and management are as simplified as possible going into your last phase of life.

Once you have determined your financial retirement readiness, you need to determine your personal retirement readiness, which may be even more difficult for many folks.  Why?  Many have spent the majority of their lifetimes to this point building careers that established them with titles, credentials and stature. They built reputations, networks, social and business circles and were well respected because of the work that they have done.  And now they are moving from that phase of their lives to another and that means starting over.  What will they be now?  What will their lives mean?  And to whom?

Until you are ready to start the next phase of your life knowing your purpose – what you want to wake up for every day – you are likely not ready for retirement.  Those that have not given the thought to their mission, values, and their “why” for their next phase will be left feeling lost and will likely fail at retirement and find themselves wanting to go back to their former lives.

How can you find your purpose?

  • Ask yourself what is most important to you? (family, friends, spirituality, charity,etc)

  • Ask yourself what are your life priorities? (family, health, knowledge, etc.)

  • Ask yourself what you want to let go of and what you want to give yourself to.

  • Realize that the rest of your life can be the best of your life if you embrace it with an open mind and enthusiasm.

  • Consider reading the book “Purposeful Retirement” by Hyrum Smith if you need more help!

“Am I ready to retire?”  It is not a simple question and there is no simple answer.  It may take months or years to answer all of the questions and make all of the preparations.  If you think that retirement is in your not too distant future, the time is NOW to start planning.  Don’t let retirement sneak up on you…work with your financial planner and be Retirement Ready!

Sandra Adams, CFP® is a Partner and Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® Sandy specializes in Elder Care Financial Planning and is a frequent speaker on related topics. In addition to her frequent contributions to Money Centered, she is regularly quoted in national media publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Research Magazine and Journal of Financial Planning.