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When Will You Retire?

Where Will Your Money Come From?

By Rick Kahler CFP®

The list is fairly short: Social Security, a pension, working, your assets, children, or public assistance.

According to an April 22, 2019 Bloomberg article by Suzanne Woolley, entitled “America’s Elderly Are Twice as Likely to Work Now Than in 1985“, only twenty percent of those age 65 or older are working. The rest either can’t work physically, can’t find work, or don’t want to work. According to the ADA National Network, over 30 percent of people over 65 are disabled in some manner.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Social Security provides the majority of income for most elderly Americans. It provides at least 50% of income for about half of seniors and at least 90% of income for about one-fourth of seniors. The average Social Security retirement benefit isn’t as high as many people think. In June 2019 it was about $1,470 a month, or about $17,640 a year.

And, as per the Pension Rights Center, around 35% of Americans receive a pension or VA benefits. The greatest percentage of pensions are government. This would include retired state and federal workers like teachers, police, firefighters, military, and civil service workers. In 2017 the median state or local government pension benefit was $17,894 a year, the median federal pension was $28,868, and the median military pension was $21,441.

Working provides the highest source of retirement income for the 20 percent of those who are over 65 and are still working. According to SmartAsset.com, Americans aged 65 and older earn an average of $48,685 per year. However, in a NewRetirement.com article dated February 26, 2019, “Average Retirement Income 2019, How Do You Compare“, Kathleen Coxwell cites a figure from AARP that the median retirement income earned from employment is $25,000 a year.

About 3% of retirees receive public assistance.

This leaves around 20% of those over 65 who depend partially or fully for their retirement income on money they set aside during their working years. According to TheStreet.com, “What Is the Average Retirement Savings in 2019“, by Eric Reed, updated on Mar 3, 2019, the average retirement account for those age 65 to 74 totals $358,000. That amount will safely provide around $15,000 a year for most retirees’ lifetime. The median savings is $120,000, which will produce only about $5,000 a year. In order to retire at age 65 with an annual investment income of $30,000 to $40,000, someone would need a retirement nest egg of over $1 million.

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My conclusion from this data is that most Americans are woefully underprepared to live a comfortable lifestyle when they can no longer work. Between Social Security, pensions, and retirement savings, a retiree can expect a median income of $18,000 to a maximum of $52,000 a year. According to data I compiled from NewRetirement.com, the average median retirement income of those over age 65 is around $40,000.

What are some things you can do to increase your chances of enjoying a comfortable retirement income?

If you are under age 50, begin setting aside 15% to 25% of your income for retirement.

If you are over 60, keep working as long as you can. If you retire early, your monthly Social Security benefit is lower for the rest of your life.

Consider ways to stretch your retirement income by downsizing, sharing housing, or relocating to an area of the US or even outside the country with a lower cost of living.

Research what you can reasonably expect from Social Security and other sources of retirement income. Base your retirement expectations on informed planning, not on vaguely optimistic expectations.

Assessment: Your thoughts are appreciated.

Conclusion

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***

Risk Management, Liability Insurance, and Asset Protection Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™8Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™

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The Middle Class Cost of M-4-A

Medicare for All

By Rick Kahler MSFS CFP

The concept of “Medicare for All” is getting a lot of attention in the 2020 Presidential race. Senator Elizabeth Warren’s promise that it will not cost the middle-class “one penny” has much appeal.

While most Americans support providing free medical care to those who need it most, making it with no additional cost to the middle class would be something never before accomplished by any country that has universal health care. The middle class in those countries pay income taxes of up to 40% and a national sales tax equivalent of 15% to 25%.

Recently, Senator Warren revealed how she will finance her plan. She estimates the cost over a decade at $20 trillion in new federal spending. Estimates by six independent financial organizations are higher, ranging from $28 trillion to $36 trillion.

Here are some of the general provisions of her plan.

1.                            She would tax both employers and employees an amount equivalent to what they currently pay in health insurance premiums. This will bring in $11 trillion.

2.                            She would increase taxes on the top 1% of individuals and large corporations to generate $7 trillion.

3.                            The balance of the money needed, $2 to $18 trillion (depending on whether you believe Ms. Warren’s numbers or the other six independent estimates) would come from new-found efficiencies, tax enforcement, and reductions in wasteful spending. There is widespread doubt that this is even remotely possible.

A Forbes article describing the tax increases aimed at wealthy individuals caught my attention. These increases include:

·                                 Adding a wealth tax of 2% to 6% on household net worth above $50 million

·                                 Eliminating the favorable tax rate on capital gains

·                                 Increasing the “Obamacare” tax from 3.8% to 14.8% on net investment income above $250,000

·                                 Eliminating the step-up in basis for inheritors

·                                 Increasing the salary subject to Social Security from $132,900 to $250,000

·                                 Lowering the estate tax exemption from $12 million to $7 million

·                                 Establishing a financial transaction tax of 0.10%.

The capital gains tax increase, the step-up in basis, and the financial transaction tax will all affect middle class investors, potentially including anyone with a 401(k) or an IRA. The American Retirement Association estimates that the financial transaction tax alone will cost the average 401k and IRA investor over $1,500 a year.

Diann Howland, vice president of legislative affairs at the American Benefits Council, cited in an article in InvestmentNews, called the proposal “not a great thing to do to the middle class.”

The 0.1% financial transaction tax is more damaging than it might seem at first glance. It applies to all the securities sold and purchased within a mutual fund or ETF, as well as the purchase and sale of the funds by investors. By my calculations it can easily add a cost of 0.20% to 0.30% a year to every fund investment. Given that some index mutual funds only charge 0.10% in total expenses, that’s a cost increase of 200% to 300%.

Eliminating the step-up in basis on inheritances and the favorable capital gains tax rate will also affect the middle class. According to a 2013 survey by HSBC Bank, retirees expected to leave their heirs an average of $177,000. If the average basis is one-half of what’s inherited, the elimination of step-up in basis and capital gains tax will cost middle class inheritors $10,000 to $20,000 more in taxes.

Senator Warren’s proposed tax increases will affect the middle class as well as the wealthy. They also fall short of covering the estimated cost of her plan. Assuming, then, that Medicare for All could be implemented with no increase in federal income or sales taxes for the middle class may well be a pipe dream.

Conclusion

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Are Bonds Worth Some Excitement?

Bonds an Investment Class Worth Some Excitement, Today?

By Rick Kahler CFP®

“One thing I definitely don’t want in my portfolio is bonds,” a prospective client told me a few weeks ago. “Bonds are boring and don’t give good returns.”

Her confidence in her money script that bonds had no place in her portfolio was palpable. However, her understanding of the role bonds play in a portfolio was incomplete. I restrained myself from launching into a lecture on the importance of bonds and simply replied, “While it is true bonds can be boring, sometimes they can be phenomenally exciting.”

Certainly stocks, commodities, and real estate investments are generally much more exciting. They are many times more volatile than bonds; in just a year it’s possible they might even gain or decline 50% in value. Meanwhile, individually held bonds and their mutual funds can crank out predictable coupon yields quarter after quarter after quarter, with one-third of the volatility of stocks. The cost of the lower volatility is that the long-term returns on bonds tend to be half to a third that of stocks.

However, the bond market right now is anything but boring. So far this year, while stocks are back to prices roughly where they were in early 2018, a sharp fall in interest rates has caused bond investors to reap some significant capital gains. Bonds have an inverse relationship with interest rates. The value of most bonds increases when interest rates decline and go down when interest rates rise.

***

Bonds

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How significant are the gains in bonds?

Since the beginning of 2019, investors in the 30-year Treasury bond have seen gains (interest plus price appreciation) of 26.4%. That would be an outstanding full year’s return for stocks. According to the Bloomberg Barclay’s U.S. Aggregate Bond Index, long-term bonds overall have generated a 23.5% return. Investment grade corporate bonds have returned 14.1%, while the 10-year Treasury note has gained 12.6%.

Market observers have predicted for the last decade or so that bond rates have nowhere to go but up. What we’re seeing currently is a yield on the ten-year Treasury note of just under 1.47%. At the end of 2018 it was more than 3%.

Will we see more of the same? It’s very hard to imagine that same 10-year Treasury falling another 1.5%—to zero yield. So the smart money says that most of the gains have already been taken, and anybody looking for 20-plus percent returns in long bonds going forward is just chasing them after the fact when returns are dropping.

But how smart is smart?

Just in case you agree and think interest rates have nowhere to go but up, consider that many countries in Europe actually have negative interest rates, where the investor or depositor pays to loan their money to organizations or banks. Another 1.5% fall to 0% interest rates could deliver similar 20% bond returns.

Lessons Learned

The lesson here is that even if you think of bonds as the boring part of your portfolio, there are times when they can add a little more kick to your returns than you might have expected. And in times of falling equity markets, they are an invaluable buffer against big losses. Still, with the long term probability that bonds produce a return half that of equities, there is a significant chance that they won’t sustain the 20-plus percent returns as rates stabilize and increase at some point in the future.

Unlike the misinformed prospect I visited with, most investors over the age of 40 can benefit by having a substantial slice of their investment portfolio in bonds. Whether their returns are typically boring or occasionally exciting, bonds are an important asset class for diversified investors.

Assessment: Your thoughts are appreciated.

***

Risk Management, Liability Insurance, and Asset Protection Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™8Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™

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Annuities Do Not Belong In 401(k) Plans

Here is Why?

By Rick Kahler CFP

Several weeks ago I wrote about the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, which will reform various aspects of US retirement laws. The Act was passed by the House in May and is currently stalled in the Senate.

One of the most troubling of the SECURE Act’s 29 provisions is that it will ease regulations to make it easier for financial salespeople to sell annuities to 401(k) plan participants.

This is alarming, as the act creates a safe harbor for annuities inside 401(k) plans. That means companies choosing to offer annuities would be shielded from liability—no matter how terrible an investment the annuity products may be. This provision has great potential for harm.

Annuities seem always to be a hot financial product in the market place. It’s rare when I interview a new client that they don’t have at least one in their portfolio. Often, it’s the only investment they own. Annuities are not hot because consumers are clamoring to buy them, but rather because annuity sales people love to sell them.

While I rarely recommend them, there are some good things about annuities, especially that earnings grow tax deferred until distributed. They can be useful in this regard in special situations—when stripped of their high fees and commissions. Therein lies the problem.

Sales

Most annuities sold by salespeople inherently contain high fees, big commissions, and high penalties to consumers for taking money out early. What that means for the investor is low returns. For those reasons, the negative aspects of annuities far outweigh any good.

Even worse, annuities have no place being owned by an IRA or, as the SECURE Act would allow, a 401(k) plan. Regardless of fees or commissions, no annuity belongs in a retirement plan. One of my top pet peeves as a financial planner is so-called “financial advisors” who sell people fixed and variable annuities for a retirement account. This makes no sense.

An annuity is a tax-deferred container to put investments in, not an investment itself. It’s what investments are inside it that matters. The same is true of  IRAs and 401(k) retirement plans. Since a retirement plan is already a tax-deferred investment container, it makes no sense to put an annuity—another tax-deferred investment container—inside of it. The silliness of this is obvious to even the most casual observer, unless your livelihood comes from selling these products.

Agents and their companies spare no expense in developing convincing storylines, half-truths, and slight-of-hand explanations of why it makes perfect sense for a retirement plan to own an annuity.

The bottom line is that annuities are sold, they are not bought. The only reason annuities are purchased in someone’s retirement account is because the salesperson receives a much higher commission from the transaction than selling a mutual fund, individual stocks, or CDs.

Why?

So why did our Representatives vote 417-3 to open up investors’ 401(k) plans to these high-cost, high-commissioned, financially disastrous products? I can only surmise that most of them didn’t fully understand what they were voting on and that the insurance lobby did their normal amazing job of selling the alleged benefits of annuities. Oh, and maybe there was a campaign contribution or two.

Assessment

Most annuities are expensive investment vehicles that benefit the salesperson and the company far more than they benefit you. If you are thinking of buying one, or in the future your 401(k) offers the option of buying an annuity, do some digging before you sign on the dotted line. Make sure you get advice first from someone other than the annuity salesperson—someone with no vested interest in selling you this product.

Your thoughts are appreciated.

Risk Management, Liability Insurance, and Asset Protection Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™8Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™

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On Prioriting Money Beliefs

“Money is supposed to be spent!” “Money is supposed to be saved!”

By Rick Kahler CFP®

We may not hear talk-show participants shouting these opposing views at each other with the same level of anger that characterizes some of our political rhetoric. Yet the core polarization that pervades so much of today’s society also shows up in people’s beliefs about money.

I saw this polarization recently in a conversation with a group of friends in Europe. The topic of money came up, as it usually does when people find out one of my specialties as a financial advisor is financial therapy. The thinking of my friends was that money is meant to be spent, not saved. They felt that people who saved money were faithless and greedy hoarders who by their saving threatened the economic system.

At the other extreme, I know other people who strongly believe a person’s first duty is to save and invest. According to them, those who don’t save as much as possible for emergencies and retirement are foolish, deluded, irresponsible, and destined to live out their last days in poverty.

My friends who embrace the money script that “money is to be spent, not saved” are likely to also hold a money script that “the universe will provide.” They tend to fall into a category we label Money Avoiders. Those who embrace the money scripts that “money is to be saved and not spent,” who also believe “one can never really have enough money,” are in the category of Money Worshipers.

Like most other forms of polarized thinking, neither of these extremes is right. Nor is either belief wrong.

Money does need to be spent. The health of our economic system depends on transactions. It’s important that money flows through the selling and buying of goods and services. When a significant number of consumers stop spending, economic activity grinds to a halt. We saw the effect of this in the financial crises of 2008. It’s also important to spend money to take care of ourselves and our families. Saving or investing money to a point that we go without adequate food, shelter, health care, or similar necessities is not healthy.

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Money also needs to be saved to provide a cushion against emergencies and to provide for our needs in retirement. My European friends enjoy a higher certainty of adequate income in retirement. For them, this is the universe providing, a strong government security net. However, those that live in many Asian countries are assured very little, if anything, in the way of retirement income. For them, the universe comes up short and depends upon the generosity of family to provide. Saving in an Asian culture is therefore much more important than if you live in a Scandinavian country.

Saving and investing for retirement is important for those of us in the US, as well. Without it, we face two dubious prospects: we can depend on family to provide or we can eke out a meager living on a Social Security payment of around $2,000 a month in retirement.

Those who are not polarized around money understand that both spending and saving are important for financial health. They can balance their spending and saving, applying both when necessary in their own lives.

Assessment

Ideally, from this balanced middle ground, someone can also see past the limitations of others who are polarized. Those who believe “Money is meant to be spent” or “Money is meant to be saved” have a world view that results in such an extreme position. Labeling them as “wrong” is not a useful way to try to shift anyone’s polarized beliefs.

Conclusion: Your thoughts are appreciated.

***

Risk Management, Liability Insurance, and Asset Protection Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™8Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™

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Financial Stress in Times of Transition

Financial Stress Adaptation

By Rick Kahler CFP®

Stress is what happens when something you care about is at stake. This definition comes from Susan Bradley, CFP, author of Sudden Money and a specialist in the financial aspect of life transitions.

The stress around these transitions is a common reason that people seek out financial advice. We tend to be driven to consult advisors as a result of stressful changes in our lives, such as a divorce, a sudden money event like an inheritance or insurance settlement, an investment or job loss, retirement, or the death of a loved one.

While all these life events certainly have financial components, it’s almost always the emotional components of the change—how we respond to them—that are the cause of the stress.

Any change includes three stages: an ending, a period of passage while we relate and adapt to the change, and a new beginning. This period of transition can be fraught with emotion and behaviors that can trip us up in many ways, including financially.

Susan identifies nine such emotions and behaviors that she sees commonly in people in transition.

1. Lack of identity. If the transition results in the loss of a familiar role—spouse or employee, for example—you may struggle with “Who am I now? “There is often confusion and ambivalence about the future, and an inability to make decisions.

2. Confusion/Overwhelm/Fog. There is a sense of defeat by everything. You may physically slump, have a glazed-over look, and ask others to repeat a lot. It’s hard to understand, be present, respond, focus, or move forward.

3. Hopelessness. You may have a sense of having given up, not being in control of your fate, or being a victim. It may seem that there is nothing you can do to change yourself or the outcome. Financial decision-making is very difficult.

4. Invincibility. This can happen with a big positive change in your finances. You may think everything is going to turn out fine. You may feel euphoric, confident, and smarter than your advisors. You may spend more and take greater investment risks.

5. Mental and Physical Fatigue. Change can be exhausting, and the exhaustion can go undetected by others and even yourself. You may have difficulty following an agenda and tasks.

6. Numb/Withdrawn. You may feel ambivalent about and indifferent to exploring the changes in your life, what you want, and what the future may hold. You don’t give much feedback and are withdrawn and non-expressive. You may miss or not return phone calls or emails. The planning process often comes to a standstill.

7. Narrow or Fractured Focus. You may either be preoccupied with one area that excludes everything else or have an inability to focus on anything. In either case, focusing on what’s important becomes difficult or impossible.

8. Inconsistent Behavior. This is the inability to hold to one position. Instead, you may change your mind repeatedly or switch between opposite positions. You are uncertain and often embrace opposites in your wants and desires in the same breath. Making decisions become impossible.

9. Combative. You may hold on to feelings of anger, resentment, victimization, and rage regardless of the facts. You are outwardly emotionally expressive and challenging. You don’t respond well to logic and practicality. A combative person doesn’t have problems making decisions, but does have difficulty making good decisions that are in their best interests.

Assessment

Emotions and behaviors like these are generally temporary. Financial decisions made in the midst of transition-based stress, though, can have lasting negative consequences. The support of trustworthy advisors can be invaluable in navigating through both painful and joyful life changes.

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Risk Management, Liability Insurance, and Asset Protection Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™8Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™

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Medicare for All?

Taxes for All?

[By Rick Kakler CFP®]

As the recent debates among the Democratic presidential candidates emphasized, the idea of government-managed health care is gaining popularity. “Medicare for all” or some form of “free” universal health care is certainly an appealing idea. Who among us wouldn’t appreciate someone else paying our medical bills?

I certainly would. My family’s personal health care costs, including premiums and out-of-pocket expenses, run just over $3,000 a month. If my health care were free, I could find a lot of uses for the savings.

But my skeptical side, and probably yours as well, knows that there is no such thing as a free medical procedure. Someone, by some means, has to pay for insurance coverage, doctor visits, hospitalizations, and other medical costs.

The tax tab for providing “Medicare for all,” as envisioned by Sen. Bernie Sanders, is $3 trillion a year, according to several analysts. Currently, the cost for Medicare is about one-sixth that amount, or $583 billion a year.

Sanders and other presidential candidates tell us the wealthy will pay this tab. The reality is that when we look at other countries that have similar universal health care plans, it isn’t just the wealthy that are paying for it.

Raising the more than $3 trillion needed annually to fund “Medicare for all” would require doubling all personal and corporate income taxes or tripling payroll taxes. This analysis comes from Marc Goldwein, a senior vice president at the non-partisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. He was cited in a May 9, 2019, Bloomberg article by Laura Davison, “Tax hikes on wealthy alone can’t pay for Medicare for all plan.” “There is a lot of money out there, but there isn’t $30 trillion [over 10 years] sitting around from high earners,” Goldwein said. “It just doesn’t exist.”

I did a little investigating of the tax rates of European countries that have universal health care and found Goldwein’s statement to be true. For example, Denmark taxes income over $7,000, with rates starting at 40%. The US rate starts at 10%. This would indicate a doubling or tripling of income taxes or payroll taxes on the lowest earners is not a politically-skewed scare tactic, but an economic reality.

The top rate in Denmark is 56%, while the top rate in the US is 50% (37% federal and 13% state). This is just one of many examples I found in my searching that strongly indicate other countries that have universal health care haven’t found much room left to tax the wealthy. Based on their experience, the majority of the cost will need to come from lower income earners.

Sadly, this message is not being disseminated to voters by proponents of universal health care. While I am not advocating for or against universal health care here, I am advocating for full disclosure and transparency.

A topic as significant as this deserves a great deal of discussion based on clear, complete disclosure of facts and educated analysis. It requires the best available answers to questions like who will be covered, what will be covered, how much the program will cost, and who will pay for it.

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Assessment

Raising six times what we are currently spending for Medicare would be a huge task. Transferring one-eighth of the US economy from the private sector pocket to the public sector one would not be easy or painless. Making the transition to some form of tax-funded universal health care would be a major shift in direction for this country that would have a significant impact on all Americans. It is not a decision to make based on inadequate information, political rhetoric, or unreasonably optimistic assumptions.

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Risk Management, Liability Insurance, and Asset Protection Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™8Comprehensive Financial Planning Strategies for Doctors and Advisors: Best Practices from Leading Consultants and Certified Medical Planners™

[Foreword Dr. Krieger MD MBA]

 Foreword by Jason Dyken MD MBA

Book of Month

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