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Are Financial Asset Classes like a Box of Valentine Chocolates in 2020?

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On Valentine’s Day Diversification

By Rick Kahler MS CFP® ChFC CCIM  www.KahlerFinancial.com

Rick Kahler CFPWith displays of Valentine candy in every store, February is the perfect time to talk about chocolate. A creative financial planner might even steal Forrest Gump’s analogy and say, “Diversification is like a box of chocolates.”

Except that it isn’t.

True, a box of chocolates might have a lot of variety. Cream centers. Caramels. Nougats. Nuts. Dark chocolate. Milk chocolate. Truffles. Yet it’s all still chocolate.

Retirement Savings

Buying that box would be like investing your retirement savings in a variety of US stocks. Even if you had a dozen different companies, they would all be the same basic category of investment, or asset class.

For example, suppose you gave your true love a slightly more diversified Valentine gift made up of chocolates, Girl Scout cookies, baklava, and apple pie. That would compare to investing in different types of stocks like US, international, or emerging markets. But, everything would still be dessert.

Wiser Physician-Investors

You would be a wiser doctor-investor if you took your true love out for dinner and had a meat course, a salad, vegetables, bread, dessert, and wine. Now you’d start to see real diversification.

In addition to US, international, and emerging market stocks (all dessert), you might have some other asset classes like US and international bonds (meat), real estate (bread), cash (salad), commodities (veggies), and absolute return strategies (wine).

***

box

***

Long Term Growth Generator

This kind of asset class diversification is the best investment strategy for long-term growth. My preference is eight or nine different classes. For many clients, I recommend a mix of US and international stocks and bonds, real estate investment trusts, a commodities index fund, market neutral funds like merger arbitrage and managed futures, junk bonds, and Treasury Inflation Protected Securities (TIPS).

Market Fluctuations

Fluctuations in the market will tend to affect the various securities within a given asset class in the same way. Most US stocks, for example, would generally move up or down at the same times. So, owning shares of several different stocks wouldn’t protect you against changes in the market. When a portfolio is well-diversified, the volatility is reduced even during times when the markets are moving strongly up or down.

When I talk about investing in a variety of asset classes, I don’t mean owning stocks, real estate, gold, or other assets directly. For individual investors, mutual funds are a much better choice. Occasionally, someone will ask me, “But why should I have everything in mutual funds? That isn’t diversified, is it?”

Mutual Funds

Mutual funds are not an asset class. A mutual fund isn’t like a type of food; it’s like the plate you put the food on. A single plate might hold one food item or servings from several different food groups. More specifically, mutual funds are pools of money invested by managers. One fund might invest in real estate investment trusts (REITS). Another might have international stocks chosen for their high returns. Still others invest in a diversified mix of asset classes. The mutual fund is just the container that holds the investments.

heart[Courtesy GE Healthcare]

Annuities

Annuities and IRAs aren’t asset classes, either, but are also examples of different types of containers that hold investments. If you use your IRA to purchase an annuity, all you’re doing is stacking one plate on top of another. It doesn’t give you another asset class, it just costs you more for the second plate.

Assessment

Having a box of chocolates for dinner might seem more appealing in the short term than eating a balanced meal. Investing in the “get-rich-now” flavor of the month might seem tempting, too. Yet in the long run, asset class diversification is the best way to make sure you have a healthy investment diet.

***

February 14th, 2020

***

Conclusion

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***

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Is Social Security a Rip-Off?

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 “WHERE DID THAT MONEY GO?”

Rick Kahler MS CFP

By Rick Kahler MS CFP http://www.KahlerFinancial.com

A reader recently forwarded me an email that began, “Who died before they collected Social Security?” It asked how many people only collected a small portion of what they paid into Social Security because they, or a spouse, died soon after retiring. Then it screamed in all caps, “WHERE DID THAT MONEY GO?”

Introduction

The rest of the piece, after calculations of how much an average person pays into Social Security, suggested the government is short-changing those who die before they receive back in benefits everything they paid in. It claimed that Social Security premiums were to have been put in a “locked box,” that instead they were loaned to the US Treasury, and that Social Security is therefore running out of money.

The many misstatements and errors in this piece highlight a common misunderstanding about the Social Security insurance program. It is not an income tax. Nor; is it actually insurance – or an investment!

Example:

If you earn a salary, you are familiar with the FICA (Federal Insurance Contributions Act) tax that, like federal income tax, is withheld from your paycheck. Everyone must pay it on their first $118,500 of earned income. The current rate for employees is 7.65% (6.2% for Social Security and 1.45% for Medicare), an amount matched by employers. The self-employed pay 15.3%.

FICA payments are not an income tax, but are insurance premiums used to fund the Social Security program. It is a direct transfer program, meaning the money coming into the plan is immediately paid out to retired or disabled participants. The proceeds are not directly deposited to the general account to be spent however Congress wishes.

***

train station

***

The Tipping Point?

However, in the past, because more money came into Social Security than was paid out in benefits, the program did loan the excess to the US Treasury Department (receiving bonds in return) to fund the operating expenses of the federal government. The program built up a significant investment in US Treasuries until 2010, when it began paying more out in benefits than it receives from participants. The program is now beginning to redeem the bonds. Officials project that in 2033 the program will have depleted the investment in bonds and will need to either adjust benefits, raise the payroll tax, or borrow from the US Treasury.

What it’s not?

  • Social Security isn’t insurance in the sense that insurance pays only when a person suffers a loss. With Social Security, everyone who has worked for more than 10 years will collect a monthly income upon retirement.
  • SS is also not a savings account or a retirement plan like an IRA or a 401(k). It is not set aside in a segregated account with your name on it. The money you pay in doesn’t accumulate or earn interest. If Social Security were designed as a retirement plan that would refund what participants pay in, plus some type of return, the payroll tax would far surpass 15.3%.

What it is?

So if Social Security isn’t an income tax, an insurance plan, or a retirement plan, what is it? It’s an annuity. Participants are guaranteed a monthly income for life; a lesser amount if they retire at age 62 or a higher amount if they wait until full retirement age or later.

Like any annuity, when you die the payments stop. The amount of the payroll tax/premium incorporates actuarial estimates of how many people will die before the average mortality age or live long past it. The money paid in by people who die early is not “missing.”

Assessment

If you have questions about Social Security, you can find detailed information at www.socialsecurity.gov. It’s a much more reliable source than anonymous forwarded emails.

Conclusion

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Annuities and their Associated Costs

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Another Look at Expenses

By Rick Kahler MS CFP

Rick Kahler MS CFPAnnuities are popular investments; almost every new physician or other client I see has one. Part of any investment adviser’s due diligence is to understand the history and intentions of the investments in a portfolio.

When I ask why someone purchased an annuity, the most common responses are: “We didn’t have to pay any fees or commissions.” “There are no ongoing expenses.” “All my money is working for me.” “The principal is guaranteed.”

Warning … Warning!

Any time you read or hear “no fees,” “no commissions,” “no expenses,” “free,” or “guaranteed” used in conjunction with an investment, it’s a red flag. All investments, including annuities, have costs associated with them. You need to ask some probing questions about those costs before proceeding.

Fixed Annuity Example

Let’s look at the costs for one popular type of annuity, the fixed annuity. This simply gives you a stated rate of return that often can change annually, similar to a bank certificate of deposit.

Suppose Investor A is sold a fixed annuity with a guaranteed return of 3.5%. Investor B invests her money in a plain vanilla portfolio of mutual funds holding 60% stocks and 40% bonds, which has a long-term projected return of 6%.

The insurance company selling the annuity must earn enough of a return on Investor A’s money to cover their expenses, pay commissions, and return something to Investor A. There is no magic formula on how that’s done. The insurance company invests the money in the same asset classes available to anyone. For the sake of this example, it’s reasonable to assume the insurance company would hold the same 60/40 portfolio as Investor B.

The annuity incurs internal costs for administration, managing the money, insuring the return of principal, and commissions paid to salespeople. While these vary somewhat from company to company, a cost of 2.5% isn’t unreasonable.

***

business-insurance

***

If the company earns 6% and deducts 1% to recoup the upfront commission paid to the salesperson, 1.0% for management costs, and 0.5% for administrative fees, they pay out the remainder as a “fixed” return of 3.5%. Investor A only sees that 3.5% fixed return. If Investor A wants out of the policy before the cost of the up-front commission is fully recovered (usually 4 to 15 years), he will also incur a “surrender penalty” that is approximately equal to the remaining amount of commission paid to the broker selling the policy.

Investor B’s 60/40 portfolio will have the same 6% gross return as the insurance company’s portfolio. If Investor B purchases index funds from a company like Vanguard, her costs could be as low as 0.10%, leaving her a return of 5.9%.

Suppose Investors A and B each accumulates $1 million in retirement funds. The difference between Investor A’s guaranteed 3.5% return and Investor B’s average and unguaranteed 5.9% return is potentially an extra $2,000 a month in retirement income. Guarantees come with a cost.

Why Bother?

Given these numbers, you may wonder why anyone would purchase a fixed annuity? Why bother?

One reason is that many buyers don’t have the confidence that they can invest the money wisely or the stomach to watch the portfolio’s inevitable peaks and valleys.

Another reason is that most buyers don’t fully understand the costs.

Assessment

Unlike stocks, bonds, and mutual funds, most annuities are sold, not bought. I have never had a new client who independently purchased a no-load annuity. The annuities I typically see were sold by someone who received a commission. Commissions are not inherently bad, but in most cases they do inherently create a conflict of interest.

There are always fees associated with any investment. In my experience, the less transparent those fees are, the higher they are.

More:

Even More:

Conclusion

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Top Ten Wealth Management Posts for Doctors

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By Michael Zhuang

Conclusion

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Should the Government Mandate 401(k) Annuities?

About the Guaranteed Retirement Accounts Proposal
By Robert Giese
bob.giese@chsfl.org

Recent hearings in the House and Senate have focused on the need for 401(k) and IRA accounts to provide better retirement income. Vice President Joe Biden referred to these discussions in the White House Task Force on the Middle Class. He suggested creating “Guaranteed Retirement Accounts [GRAs].”

The guaranteed retirement accounts may replace conventional 401(k)s and could eventually provide annuity income to individuals.

Response to GAO Report

In response to a White House request, the General Accounting Office (GAO) released a report on April 28, 2010 that discussed some of these retirement issues. The GAO noted that a couple age 62 has at least a 47% probability that one of the two spouses will live to age 90. While life expectancy is in the mid-to-late 70s when one is born, the age at maturity increases as we grow older. Therefore, the average retirement age couple in America has a reasonable prospect that the survivor will live to be age 90.

GAO reports that Social Security is the primary support for lower income retired Americans. For the median retired person, Social Security is expected to provide approximately 47% of retirement income. The balance will come from savings or investments, a qualified plan such as a 401(k) or IRA and retirement earnings from employment.

Better than Conservative Investments?

The GAO report notes that an annuity may provide more income than a conservative investment, such as a bond or CD.

Assessment

Republican lawmakers this week wrote a letter to Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and expressed concern about the guaranteed retirement accounts. They noted that a number of the witnesses before the various committees would “dismantle the present private-sector 401(k) system” and replace it with the GRA.
Their letter expressed concern and opposition to any effort to “nationalize” the 401(k) system. The Republican lawmakers continued by noting that over 90% of households have a favorable opinion of 401(k) or IRA accounts.

Conclusion

And so, your thoughts and comments on this ME-P are appreciated. Is this new vehicle really better than a bond or CD? Is it the correct vehicle for a long-term retirement strategy? Is it even appropriate for physicians and medical professionals?

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Ask an Advisor about Financial Seminars

Questions of Secrecy

By a Registered NurseLight Bulb

I attended a retirement planning seminar about a year ago; after the big stock market drop. It focused on annuities along with the “free” dinner. The strange thing was that the host asked that no recording devices be used during the presentation for copyright purposes. I know a bit about annuities and don’t think he said anything wrong, other than using a few common scare tactics. He had virtually no academic credentials and so I enjoyed the dinner and went on with my life.

Personal Invitation

A few days ago I was “personally” invited by mail to a financial planning seminar hosted by a group of attorneys, accountants and estate planners to an extremely prestigious, and no doubt expensive, restaurant. This time, the following warning appeared in writing on the invitation.

“Due to the copyright nature of this material, attorneys, accountants, insurance agents or financial planning practitioners are not admitted without express permission. And, no audio or video recording devices will be allowed.”

Assessment

As a nurse I am not in the dis-invited group, and realize that the “personal” nature of the invitation was bogus. But, I was wondering if this copyright warning was “kosher”, or am I just being paranoid?

Conclusion

And so, your thoughts and comments on this Medical Executive-Post are appreciated. Is this secrecy standard industry practice? Feel free to review our top-left column, and top-right sidebar materials, links, URLs and related websites, too. Then, be sure to subscribe to the ME-P. It is fast, free and secure.

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I Jealously “Shake my Fist” at Somnath Basu PhD

On CFP® Mis [Trust] – One Doctor’s Painful Personal Experience

[“So Sorry to Say it … but I Told You So”]

By: Dr David Edward Marcinko; FACFAS, MBA, CMP™

[Publisher-in-Chief]dem21

According to Somnath Basu, writing on April 6, 2009 in Financial Advisor a trade magazine, the painful truth is that many financial practitioners are merely sales people masquerading, as financial planners [FPs] and/or financial advisors [FAs] in an industry whose ethical practices have a shameful track record. Well, I agree, and completely. This includes some who hold the Certified Financial Planner® designation, as well as the more than 98 other lesser related organizations, logo marks and credentialing agencies [none of which demand ERISA-like fiduciary responsibility]. For more on this topic, the ME-P went right to the source last month, in an exclusive interview with Ben Aiken; AIF® of Fi360.com  

fp-book4

The CFP® Credential – What Credential?

Basu further writes that stockbrokers and insurance agents who earn commissions from buying and selling stocks, insurance and other financial products realize that a Certified Financial Planner® credential will help grow the volume of their business or branch them into other related and lucrative products and services. After all, there are more than 55,000 of these “credentialed” folks. And, this marketing designation seems to have won the cultural wars in the hearts and minds of an unsuspecting – i.e., duped public; probably because of sheer numbers. Didn’t a CFP Board CEO state that its’ primary goal was growth, a few years ago? Can you say “masses of asses”, as the oft quoted Bill Gates of Microsoft used to say when only 2,000 micro-softies defeated 400,000 IBMers during the PC operating system wars of the early 1980’s. Quantity, and marketing money, can trump quality in the public-relations business; ya’ know … if you repeat the lie often enough … yada … yada … yada! Yet, as the so-called leading industry designation, the CFP® entry-barrier standard is woefully low. Moreover, the SEC’s [FINRA] Series #7 general securities licensure sales examination is not worth much more than a weekend’s study attention, even to the uninitiated.

insurance-book2

Easy In – Worth Less Out

In our experience, we agree with Basu and others who suggest that scores of lightly educated, and sometimes wholly in-articulate and impatient individuals are zipping through the CFP® Board of Standards approved curriculum in three to six months of online, on-ground, or “self-study”. But, that some can do so without a bachelor’s degree when they join wire-houses and financial institutions, which cannot be trusted to adequately train them, is an abomination. And, even more sadly, some of these CFP™ mark-holders, and other folks, believe they have actually received an “education” from same. Of course, their writing skills are often non-existent and I have cringed when told that, in their opinion, advertiser-driven trade magazines constitute “peer-reviewed” and academic publications. Incidentally, have you noticed how thin these trade-rags are getting lately? Much like the print newspaper industry, are they becoming dinosaurs? One agent even told me, point-blank, that his CLU designation was the equivalent of an “academic PhD in insurance.” This was at an industry seminar, where he thought I was a lay insurance prospect.

THINK: No critical thinking skills.

biz-book4

Education

There is another sentiment that may be applied in many of these cases; “hubris.” I mean, these CFP® people … just don’t know – how much they don’t know.”  The very real difference between training versus education is unknown to many wire-houses and FAs, isn’t it? And, please don’t get me started on the differences in pedagogy, heutagogy and androgogy. Moreover, it’s sad when we see truly educated youngsters become goaded by wire-houses into thinking that these practices are de-rigor for the industry. One such applicant to our Certified Medical Planner™ program, for example, had both an undergraduate degree in finance and a graduate degree in economics from the prestigious Johns Hopkins University – in my home town of Baltimore, MD [name available upon request]. He was told, in his Smith Barney wire-house training program, to eschew CMP™ accountability and RIA fiduciary responsibility, when working with potential physician and lay clients; but to get his CFP® designation to gather more clients. To mimic my now 12 year-old daughter; it seems that: SEC Suitability Rules – and – Fiduciary Accountability Drools. And, to quote Hollywood’s “Mr. T”; I pity the fools, er-a, I mean clients. But, T was an actor, and this is serious business.

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Of CEU Credits and Ethics

Beside trade-marks and logos, we are all aware that continuing education, and a code of ethics, is another important marketing and advertising component of state insurance agents and CFP licensees. It’s that old “be” – or “pretend to be” – a trusted advisor clap-trap. Well, I say horse-feathers for two reasons. First, both my insurance and CFP® Continuing Educational Unit [CEU] requirements were completed by my daughter [while age 7-10], by filling in the sequentially identical and bubble-coded, multiple-choice, answer-blanks each year. Second, this included the mandatory “ethics” portions of each test. When I complained to my CEU vendor, and state insurance department, I was told to “enjoy-the-break.”  My daughter even got fatigued after the third of fourth time she took the “home-based tests” for me.  After I opened my big mouth, the exact order of questions was changed to increase acuity, but remained essentially the same, nevertheless. My daughter got bored, and quit taking the tests for me, shortly thereafter. She always “passed.”dhimc-book3

Thus, like Basu, I also find that far too many financial advisors are unwilling to devote the time necessary to achieve a sound education that will help attain their goals, and would rather sell variable or whole life products than simple term life, even when the suitability argument overwhelmingly suggests so, for a higher payday. We not only have met sale folks without undergraduate degrees, but also too many of those with only a HS diploma, or GED. Perhaps this is why a popular business truism suggests that the quickest way for the uneducated/under educated class to make big bucks, is in sales. Just note the many classified ads for financial advisors placed in the newspaper job-section, under the heading “sales.” Or, in more youthful cultural terms, “fake it – until you make it.”

Of the iMBA, Inc Experience

According to Executive Director Ann Miller RN MHA, and my experience at the Institute of Medical Business Advisors, Inc:

“Far too many financial advisors who contact us about matriculation in our online Certified Medical Planner™ program – in health economics and management for medical professionals – don’t even know what a Curriculum Vitae [CV] is? Instead, they send in Million Dollar Roundtable awards, Million Dollar Producer awards, or similar sales accomplishments as resume’ boosters. It is also not unusual for them to list some sort of college participation on their resumes, and websites, but no school affiliation or dates of graduation, etc. And, they become furious to learn that we require a college degree for our fiduciary focused CMP™ program, and not from an online institution, either. The onslaught of follow-up nasty phone-calls; faxes and emails are laughable [frightening] too.”  

www.MedicalBusinessAdvisors.com

Assessment

More often than not, it is the financial institutions that FAs and CFP™ certificants’ work for that reward sales behavior with higher commissions, rather than salaries; which encourage such behavior and create the vicious cycles that are now the norm.

THINK: ML, AIG, Citi, WAMU, Wachovia, Hartford, Prudential, etc.

Note: Original author of Restoring Trust in the CFP Mark, Somnath Basu PhD, is program director of the California Institute of Finance in the School of Business at California Lutheran University where he’s also a professor of finance. He can be reached at (805) 493 3980 or basu@callutheran.edu. We have asked him to respond further.

My Story: I am a retired surgeon and former Certified Financial Planner® who resigned my “marketing trademark” over the long-standing fiduciary flap. I watched this chicanery for more than a decade after protesting to magazines like Investment Advisor, Financial Advisor, Registered Rep, Financial Planner, the FPA, etc; up to, and even including the CFP® Board of Standards; to no avail. Feel free to contact me for a copy of a 43 page fax, and other supportive documentation from the CFP® Board of Standards – and their outsourced intellectual property attorneys – over a Federal trademark infringement lawsuit they tried to institute against me for innocent website errors placed by a visually impaired intern. Obviously, they disliked the launch of our CMP™ program. As a health economist and devotee of Ken Arrow PhD, I polity resigned my license, as holding no utility for me, to the shocked CFP Board. They later offered to consider re-instatement for a mere $600 fee with letter of explanation, to which I politely declined. Of course, my first thought after living in the streets of South Philadelphia while in medical school, during the pre-Rocky era, was to say f*** off – but I didn’t. Nevertheless, I still seem to be on their mailing list, years later. No doubt, the list is sold, and re-sold, to various advertisers for much geld. And, why shouldn’t they; an extra bachelor, master and medical degree holder on their PR roster looks pretty good. I distrust the CFP® Board almost as much as I distrust the AMA, and its parsed and disastrous big-pharma funding policies. Right is right – wrong is wrong – and you can’t fool all of the people, all of the time, especially in this age of internet transparency.

Shaking my Fist at Somnath … in Envy

And so, why do I shake my fist at Somnath Basu? It’s admittedly with congratulations, and a bit of schadenfreude, because he wrote an article more eloquently than I ever could, and will likely receive much more publicity [good or slings-arrows] for doing so. You know, it’s very true that one is never a prophet in his own tribe. Oh well, Mazel Tov anyway for stating the obvious, Somnath. The financial services industry – and more specifically – the CFP® emperor have no clothes! Duh!

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Good Guys and White Hats

Now that Basu’s article has appeared in Financial Advisor News e-magazine, the other industry trade magazines are sure to follow the CFP® certification denigration reportage, in copy-cat fashion. And, the fiduciary flap is just getting started. This is indeed unfortunate, because I do know many fine CFP® certificants, and non-CFP® certified financial advisors, who are well-educated, honest and work very diligently on behalf of their clients. It’s just a shame the public has no way of knowing about them – there is no white hat imprimatur or designation for same – most of whom are Registered Investment Advisors [RIAs] or RIA reps. For example, we know great folks like Douglas B. Sherlock MBA, CFA; Robert James Cimasi MHA, AVA, CMP™; J. Wayne Firebaugh, Jr CPA, CFP®, CMP™; Lawrence E. Howes MBA, CFP®; Pati Trites PhD; Gary A. Cook MSFS, CFP®, CLU; Tom Muldowney MSFS, CLU, CFP®, CMP™;  Jeffrey S. Coons PhD, CFP®; Alex Kimura MBA, CFP®; Ken Shubin-Stein MD, CFA; and Hope Hetico RN, MHA, CMP™; etc. And, to use a medical term, there are TNTC [too many, to count] more … thankfully!

Conclusion

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Speaker: If you need a moderator or speaker for an upcoming event, Dr. David E. Marcinko; MBA – Publisher-in-Chief of the Medical Executive-Post – is available for seminar or speaking engagements. Contact: MarcinkoAdvisors@msn.com

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