Category Archives: Financial Planning

Requiem for a Claiming Strategy

images-20On the surface, it seems too good to be true.  You have a married couple, where (let’s say) the husband has earned higher yearly income than his wife.  That means he has contributed more to Social Security over his working life.  The husband files for Social Security benefits at full retirement age (currently age 66) and then immediately files to suspend those benefits.

As a result of this simple maneuver, the wife is now entitled to immediately receive Social Security spousal benefits equal to half of the husband’s full retirement benefits that were just suspended.  She would do this if 50% of the husband’s benefit is higher than she would have received if she had simply claimed her own Social Security payments.

Because he suspended his benefits, the husband can continue working, and wait until age 70 to start receiving Social Security checks in his own name.  Why would he do that?  Because each year of deferral allows him to accumulate more credits—effectively raising his monthly benefits 8% a year, which is considerably higher than the inflation rate.  At that time, the wife would stop claiming the husband’s benefits and start receiving her own Social Security checks.  If she was working at the time, she might have raised the amount she could claim under her own name.  Or she might have been able to wait to claim her own account until she’s 70, raising the amount she collects just as her husband did.

Presto!  More money now, more money later.

This popular Social Security claiming strategy is called “file and suspend,” and by this time next May, it may no longer be an option for retirees.  The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 that recently was recently signed into law will close what lawmakers are calling the “file and suspend” loophole six  in the future.  You can expect that eligible seniors will be knocking on the doors of their Social Security offices before that deadline.  Meanwhile, those who have already filed and suspended will be allowed to continue as before.

The original rationale behind the file and suspend strategy was to encourage more seniors to continue working.  The rationale behind ending it is that it was becoming a drain on the Social Security system.  Moreover, Congress was looking for money to offset a huge increase in Medicare Part B premiums for individuals not yet receiving Social Security payments.  The provision is likely to pass the Senate, and could be the opening gambit of a broader discussion about how to “fix” Social Security’s messy finances.

About the Author: Bob Veres has been a commentator, author and consultant in the financial services industry for more than 20 years.  Over his 20-year career in the financial services world, Mr. Veres has worked as editor of Financial Planning magazine; as a contributing editor to the Journal of Financial Planning; as a columnist and editor-at-large of Dow Jones Investment Advisor magazine; and as editor of Morningstar’s advisor web site: MorningstarAdvisor.com.

Mr. Veres has been named one of the most influential people in the financial planning profession by Investment Advisor magazine and Financial Planning magazine, was granted the NAPFA Special Achievement Award by the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, and most recently the Heart of Financial Planning Distinguished Service Award from the Denver-based Financial Planning Association. 

Sources:

Social Security: This strategy to maximize benefits may soon disappear

When it comes to Social Security, most of us hope to get the most we possibly can from our benefits. Methods for making that happen, however, are a source of heated controversy. “File and suspend” is one advanced claiming strategy that can help retirement savers at all income levels, especially women, maximize their benefits.

Colliton: Budget plan ends Social Security ‘File and Suspend’

A popular Social Security planning strategy used by Americans mostly in their 60s to expand their benefits, known as File and Suspend will be coming to an end in six months as a result of last week’s Congressional budget deal. Closely related and also receiving the ax under the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 is another rule permitting Restricted Application.

Kindle

Congress Inaction Could Lead To Soaring Medicare Premiums

The White House could authorize Sylvia Mathews Burwell to use money from Medicare’s “contingency reserve.” Carolyn Kaster/Associated Press

Social Security recipients will see no increase in 2016 due to low inflation over the previous 12 months, but a quirk in the Medicare law could see premiums for Medicare Part B soar for about 30% of beneficiaries if Congress does not act soon.

The New York Times reports:

Social Security has provided automatic cost-of-living adjustments in every year since 1975, with exceptions in 2010 and 2011. But inflation was extremely low in the past 12 months, leading to another benefit freeze, Social Security officials said. Gasoline prices, in particular, have declined sharply, holding down overall prices in the economy.

Jason Furman, the chairman of President Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, has put a positive spin on the absence of a cost-of-living adjustment. It results, he said, from a “sharp decline in energy prices that is putting more money in families’ pockets” and is contributing to the economic recovery.

Many older Americans do not see it that way. “People can afford to drive to the drugstore because gas prices are lower, but once they get there, they may not be able to afford their prescriptions,” said Joshua E. Rosenblum, a spokesman for AARP, a lobbying group for older Americans.

With the greater use of medical services by an aging population, health costs have again begun to climb, driven in part by new technology and expensive prescription drugs. Medicare needs additional money to help pay for Part B of the program, which covers doctors’ services, outpatient hospital care and some medications.

About 70 percent of Medicare beneficiaries will be protected against higher premiums in 2016. Under federal law, Medicare premiums are linked closely to Social Security benefits because most people on Medicare have their premiums deducted from their monthly Social Security checks. To protect older Americans, federal law stipulates that, in most cases, the increase in a person’s Medicare premium cannot exceed the increase in the person’s Social Security benefit. The purpose of this “hold harmless” provision is to prevent a reduction in Social Security benefits.

But by shielding 70 percent of beneficiaries from premium increases, that same law exposes the other 30 percent to price shocks. Medicare actuaries predicted in July that the standard premium for those beneficiaries would rise next year to $159 a month, from a little less than $105 a month for most beneficiaries, the same as in 2013 and 2014.

The actuaries also predicted an increase in the annual deductible for Part B of Medicare, to $223 next year, from $147 in 2015. Beneficiaries generally must pay the deductible before Medicare begins to pay.

Premiums are supposed to cover about one-fourth of the projected cost of Part B of Medicare, with general revenues accounting for the remainder. If premiums are frozen for 70 percent of beneficiaries, higher overall Medicare costs must be spread across a smaller group of people.

That smaller group, of more than 15 million, includes some high-income Medicare beneficiaries who are already required to pay higher premiums and may be able to afford the price increase. It also includes beneficiaries who are new to Medicare in 2016; those who do not receive Social Security checks; and low-income people eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid, whose premiums are paid by state Medicaid programs.

Even some affluent beneficiaries could struggle with the higher costs. For those with incomes of more than $214,000 a year, Medicare actuaries say, premiums next year could exceed $500 a month, up from about $335, if Congress does not change the law. Financially struggling state governments are expressing concern because they are responsible for many low-income beneficiaries. The National Governors Association estimates that the higher premiums will cost states $2.3 billion next year.

In the absence of legislative action, the White House faces a choice between two politically perilous options. It could authorize a big increase in Medicare premiums for those 15 million. Or it could authorize the secretary of health and human services, Sylvia Mathews Burwell, to take money from Medicare’s “contingency reserve,” which serves as a cushion in case actual spending is higher than projected. The contingency fund is already lower than the level recommended by Medicare’s actuaries.

If you are higher income or new to Medicare you may face significant increases and with no offset from Social Security.

Scott Dauenhauer, CFP, MPAS, AIF

Kindle

Forrest’s Great Investment

forrest-gump-imax-geeks-and-cleatsIf you watched the popular Forrest Gump movie, you may have noticed that moment when the perplexed young man opened his brokerage statement and noticed that a big chunk of his shrimp operation profits had been invested in (as he said) some kind of fruit company. He had opened a brokerage statement and comically misinterpreted the iconic Apple computer logo.

The movie was released on July 6, 1994, when Apple Computer stock was trading at 93 cents a share. Recently, a commentator looked at what Mr. Gump would be worth today if he’d held onto his shares through last February, when the column was written and the stock price had climbed to $128.66 a share. The stock split 2 for 1 in June 2000 and again in February 2005, and split 7 for 1 in June 2014, so every $1,000 investment would have grown to $136,894—an increase of 13,589%. A $100,000 investment, which seems more likely (by that point in the movie, Gump had become a millionaire, with his picture on the cover of Fortune) would simply add a couple of zeros to the terminal value.

This may be the most extreme example in history of a single stock rewarding its shareholders over a long holding period. Does it make you wish you had a working time machine?

Source: http://www.quora.com/What-would-1000-of-Apple-Stock-bought-at-the-release-of-the-Forrest-Gump-film-be-worth-today

About the Author: Bob Veres has been a commentator, author and consultant in the financial services industry for more than 20 years.  Over his 20-year career in the financial services world, Mr. Veres has worked as editor of Financial Planning magazine; as a contributing editor to the Journal of Financial Planning; as a columnist and editor-at-large of Dow Jones Investment Advisor magazine; and as editor of Morningstar’s advisor web site: MorningstarAdvisor.com.

Mr. Veres has been named one of the most influential people in the financial planning profession by Investment Advisor magazine and Financial Planning magazine, was granted the NAPFA Special Achievement Award by the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, and most recently the Heart of Financial Planning Distinguished Service Award from the Denver-based Financial Planning Association. 

Kindle

The Value of Objective Planning

images-2What is the value that people get when they work with an objective, client-focused financial planner?

Most planning firms are reluctant to toot their own horns—partly out of modesty, and partly out of a conviction that you probably have better things to do than read about how they help you with your financial life.  But every once in a while, it’s a good idea to stop and think about what you get for what you pay.

This list is organized in rough order of value, and if you feel you aren’t getting any of these benefits, please let us know immediately.

1) An independent financial planner helps protect you from financial predators.

It’s a touchy issue in the profession whether advisors who put their clients’ interests first should be “bashing the competition,” but in fact the Wall Street firms that pretend to offer financial planning guidance are seldom (if ever) looking out for the best interests of their customers.  When you work with a broker (also known, on the business card, as a “vice president of investments,”) you will be presented with separately-managed accounts that look like mutual funds except they share their fees with the brokerage firm, plus a lot of investments that have to pay people to recommend them—never a good sign for the end investor.

And since the investment markets are extremely complicated, it’s usually hard for a layperson to know when there are much better alternatives than the “opportunities” being presented.

2) An independent financial planner helps you keep track of–and make more efficient–your financial affairs.

It is not uncommon for financial planners to talk with clients who once had a will drawn up, but they’re not sure exactly when.  Now that you mention it, they’re curious about what, exactly, it says.  There’s an insurance policy in a drawer somewhere, and it may be term or it may be a cash value contract; all the client knows for sure is that he writes a check to the insurance company every year.  Upon inspection, it turns out the auto insurance policy he happens to own is way more expensive than the lowest rate available in the market, and the homeowner’s policy hasn’t been updated since the Clinton Administration.

And the investments are not uncommonly a hodgepodge of what a broker sold the client based on what he was told by his bosses to recommend at different times during the relationship.

Hopefully, this was never you.  But it does offer a certain peace of mind to know that everything is organized, in one place, and that somebody is paying attention to the details.  Because in your financial life, the details matter.

3) An independent financial planner will stand between his/her clients and the dysfunctional emotional decisions that everybody makes with their own investments.

Do you remember how it felt when Lehman Brothers went down, and the U.S. government was bailing out General Motors?  Many people sold everything at the bottom, and then waited, and waited, and waited to get back into the markets until it was “safe.”  They never dreamed that the markets would go on a six year bull run that would take us to new record highs.

The Morningstar organization has calculated the difference between investment returns and investor returns—that is, between the returns people get vs. what the markets (or individual mutual funds) have delivered.  Results?  It is not unusual, during various time periods, for individual investors to get about half the returns of the market.  How is that possible?  They may be moving the portfolio around, or buying an attractive-looking hot fund or selling a great fund that’s going through a rough patch.  They may sell out at the bottom of a scary period, or go all-in when the markets are about to take a nasty tumble.

For many of us, the best approach is to find good, solid investments and stay the course through thick and thin, ups and downs.  But it’s very hard to do those things on your own.  An independent advisor provides a dose of objectivity right when you need it.

4) An independent financial planner is a strong advocate for your future.

You know the statistics about the savings rate in America (the 2000-2008 numbers hovered around 0% of income, spiked briefly after the Great Recession and are now back in the 1% range again).  But the keepers of these statistics don’t tell you that they probably overstated the actual rate, because they didn’t include things like increasing credit card balances or home equity loans.  When people put money in their savings account, and at the same time run up more debt, it counts as an increase in their savings.

The problem for most consumers is that there is no voice in their environment advising them to pay themselves a fair percentage of the income they earn.  Instead, they’re bombarded by messages which make powerful arguments to do the opposite: to buy this, that or something else.  The entire advertising community conspires to take those dollars out of their hands before they ever hit an investment account.

Advisors become that rare voice speaking out in favor of saving.  And in some cases, they help identify expenditures that are not in line with your stated future goals.  Which leads us to:

5) An independent financial planner helps people identify what is important in their lives and prioritize their goals.

How many people do you know who have taken the time to identify what they really want out of life?

The incredibly sad truth is that the vast majority of people in our advanced, prosperous society have not taken the time to figure out what they really want out of the all-too-brief time they will spend on this planet.  And because they don’t know their destination, they will never reach it.  They are, in a very real sense, at the mercy of whatever agenda others have for them.

An independent financial planner will ask questions in your initial interview which help you recognize what you don’t know about what you want, and help you identify your most personal goals and desires.  That, alone, can be a priceless service.

6) An independent financial planner can help people turn seemingly impossible goals into a routine that can achieve them.

After years of running retirement planning spreadsheets, and working with successful individuals in the community, advisors eventually master one of the truly magical lessons of life: that any enormous goal can be broken down into manageable, monthly increments, and achieved by routine and persistence.  You save X amount of dollars every month in a portfolio that gets something close to what the market offers, and you will retire with a sum of money that seems impossible to you now.

Clients who have goals that they don’t believe they can achieve are put on a schedule that will get them there as a matter of routine.

Of course, this list doesn’t include specialized services like making retirement planning projections, charitable planning, creating special needs trusts for a disabled child, evaluating disability and long-term care insurance—and it doesn’t mention the comfortable knowledge that you can call an expert for advice on virtually any financial subject, and you’ll get an answer that is not tainted by a sales agenda.

The point is that the services offered by an independent financial planner can have enormous value to people who are motivated to enjoy successful, prosperous lives.  An independent planner’s only goal is your success and prosperity, which should not be—but is—unusual in our financial world.

About the Author: Bob Veres has been a commentator, author and consultant in the financial services industry for more than 20 years.  Over his 20-year career in the financial services world, Mr. Veres has worked as editor of Financial Planning magazine; as a contributing editor to the Journal of Financial Planning; as a columnist and editor-at-large of Dow Jones Investment Advisor magazine; and as editor of Morningstar’s advisor web site: MorningstarAdvisor.com.

Mr. Veres has been named one of the most influential people in the financial planning profession by Investment Advisor magazine and Financial Planning magazine, was granted the NAPFA Special Achievement Award by the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, and most recently the Heart of Financial Planning Distinguished Service Award from the Denver-based Financial Planning Association. 

Kindle

Return on College

 

OregonLet’s say you’re giving your niece or grandson some advice on which major to select in college.  Do you tell them to get an art degree, or take courses in social sciences?  Or should they focus on business and finance?

The decision should not ignore their natural abilities and interests, of course.  But if they’re looking for the best return on their tuition dollar, then they might consider spending their time in the computer sciences and math buildings.

This information comes from a report published by PayScale.com, which helps people manage their careers and figure out what they’re worth on the job market.  PayScale’s research team tracked the median salary for people who completed its salary survey online.  They then compared the 20-year earnings of people following different careers with what was earned, on average, by competing workers with a high school diploma but no college degree.  Then they subtracted the cost of 4 years of college tuition, to arrive at a return on investment figure—the additional money the degree provided.  Advanced degrees like law and medicine were excluded; the survey focused on bachelors degrees.

The results were striking.  Business and finance majors came away with a respectable $331,345 average ROI over 20 years, but they actually finished a distant third on the list, just ahead of sales, marketing and public relations ($318,212).  The highest ranking majors, by this metric, were computer and math, whose degree-holders saw a net return on their tuition investment of $584,339 over the 20 years after graduation.  These nerdy individuals nosed out the architecture and engineering graduates, whose average ROI came to $561,475.

Life, physical and social sciences majors fared somewhat less well, earning almost exactly $250,000 more than their high school diploma competition.  Graduates with an arts, design, entertainment and related degree came in last in the survey; they are expected to make a little over $125,000 as a result of their college training.

Interestingly, the PayScale website also tracks the average return on tuition investment for different colleges.  Graduates of Harvey Mudd College in Claremont, CA can expect to earn nearly $1 million over the 20 years after graduation, with a typical starting salary north of $75,000—with a 4-year college investment of $237,700.  Numbers 2-10 on the rankings include the California Institute of Technology ($901,400 earnings, $221,600 cost); The Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, NJ ($841,000; $232,000), the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, CO ($831,000; $112,000); Babson College in Wellesley, MA ($812,800; $230,200); Stanford University ($809,000; $233,300); the Massachusetts Institute of Technology ($798,500; $224,500); Georgia Institute of Technology ($796,300; $86,700); Princeton University ($795,700; $217,300); and the Virginia Military Institute ($767,300; $95,700).

You can look up your own alma mater here: http://www.payscale.com/college-roi/

About the Author: Bob Veres has been a commentator, author and consultant in the financial services industry for more than 20 years.  Over his 20-year career in the financial services world, Mr. Veres has worked as editor of Financial Planning magazine; as a contributing editor to the Journal of Financial Planning; as a columnist and editor-at-large of Dow Jones Investment Advisor magazine; and as editor of Morningstar’s advisor web site: MorningstarAdvisor.com.

Mr. Veres has been named one of the most influential people in the financial planning profession by Investment Advisor magazine and Financial Planning magazine, was granted the NAPFA Special Achievement Award by the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, and most recently the Heart of Financial Planning Distinguished Service Award from the Denver-based Financial Planning Association. 

Source:

http://www.payscale.com/college-roi/

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-03-05/the-career-with-the-biggest-financial-payoff?hootPostID=293b20e2f9470947cb0facdcea7f70ea

 

Kindle

Risk Tolerance Pioneer Retires

Geoff Davey
An industry great has decided to retire. What follows is the press release. I’m sad to see Geoff retire, but happy for him. Few in this industry can be called “pioneers”, Geoff is one of them.

Press Release: Finametrica

Geoff Davey turned 70 earlier this year and has resigned as a director and employee of FinaMetrica. He remains a significant shareholder.

Accordingly, Nicki Potts has been promoted to be FinaMetrica’s Chief Operating Officer and FinaMetrica’s Co-founder, Paul Resnik, has added marketing to his role in the development of international sales. Nicki has been with FinaMetrica for 12 years, during which time she has come to know and run all aspects of the business.

Geoff founded FinaMetrica in 1998 with Paul Resnik. He was responsible for the development of FinaMetrica’s intellectual property. I don’t know of any other individual anywhere in the world, who has devoted so much of his intellectual, commercial and emotional resources to the understanding and development of good financial advice as Geoff.

Geoff’s work is permanently embedded in the world’s financial services industry through the use of FinaMetrica’s tests and methodologies. He has achieved something that many of us can only aspire to; he has improved outcomes for many thousands of investors and their advisors around the world. The FinaMetrica system is now used by 5,500 advisors in 23 countries in seven languages. To date, more than 770,000 tests have been completed.

We congratulate Geoff on his ‘baby’ that has been FinaMetrica and raise our glasses in a toast to an iconic industry thinker and achiever.

We wish him a rich, happy and well-deserved retirement.

If you have any questions please contact me at andrew.macdonald@finametrica.com.

FinaMetrica remains committed to providing quality, comprehensive and useable risk profiling tools to the financial advisory market place.

Sincerely,

Andrew Macdonald

Kindle

Allen Hamm: Getting Through the Medicare Maze

Author: Allen Hamm – Health Care in Retirement Resource

Over 10,000 Americans turn 65 everyday! And that will happen each and every day for the next 3 decades!! Age 65 used to be thought of as the age to retire. That’s changed. More and more people are working past age 65; a high percentage by choice, not necessity. But turning 65 is still an important milestone: It’s the age to make some important decisions regarding Medicare.
Medicare is our country’s health insurance program for people 65 and older. Not to be confused with Medi-Cal or Medicaid, which are means-tested healthcare programs available to people of all ages, Medicare is available only to people 65 and older, unless a person has a specific disability that allows them to qualify early.

You’d think that getting enrolled in Medicare and the all choices that surround your Medicare decisions would be easy. But there’s lots of ways to go wrong. One of the most common mistakes is not getting signed up for Medicare on time. If you miss the deadline for signing up, you’ll be penalized for your lifetime. If you’re retired when you turn 65, it’s imperative that you start planning for Medicare at least 3 months prior to your 65th birthday. That’s also true if you’re still working and your employer has less than 20 employees. If you’re still working as you turn 65, and you’re employed by a company with more than 20 employees, you may still want to sign up for Medicare, but only for Part A, the hospitalization benefit of Medicare. Or you may want to postpone signing up for any parts of Medicare until you retire. But either way, it’s important to make a deliberate decision.

Another important decision is whether to elect regular Medicare, or a Medicare Advantage Plan. There are pros and cons to each choice. Maintaining regular Medicare gives you the choice of utilizing any doctor or hospital in the U.S. that accepts Medicare recipients. But this option costs more. The Medicare Advantage route limits you to certain doctors and hospitals but there’s a cost savings.
You’ll also want to consider whether or not you need a Medicare Supplement policy. These policies pay for some or all of Medicare’s deductibles and co-insurance gaps. There are 12 Medicare Supplement options. The best one for your situation can be determined by doing an analysis of your history of healthcare usage.

What about prescriptions? This is vital part of the Medicare equation: choosing a Part D prescription medication provider. Some people going on Medicare skip this step because they don’t take any prescription medications. That’s a big mistake! You should choose a Part D prescription medication plan, even if you take no medications. Waiting until later will cause penalties for your lifetime.
Because it’s so easy to make a wrong turn or skip a step when it comes to getting through the Medicare maze, our firm has retained the services of an expert who specializes in this area of planning. Allen Hamm and his team are available to assist our clients with both Medicare and long-term care planning. They specialize in working with the clients of financial advisors, so all their work is from the perspective of planning, not purchasing a product. There’s no charge to you for utilizing their services: We pay Allen’s firm a retainer fee, as a value-added benefit to you for being our client. If you’d like to take advantage of this service, contact us and we’ll make an introduction.

Allen Hamm | SuperiorLTC

Allen Hamm, author of Long-Term Care Planning: Assuring Choice, Independence, and Financial Security and creator of the Comprehensive Planning Approach to Long-Term Care. Allen has been a guest speaker on “Ask the Expert” with Rob Black, KRON TV, San Francisco, and the “Coping with Caregiving” radio program with Jacqueline Marcell on wsRadio.com.

Kindle