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Will Retirement Be a Bust for [Doctor] Boomers?

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Are Doctors Different?

By Rick Kahler MS CFP® ChFC CCIM

www.KahlerFinancial.com

If you’re a lay or medical professional Baby Boomer, or your parents are, here’s a ray of sunshine to brighten your day: Boomers have so severely underfunded their retirements that Congress may turn to their children to bail them out.

Dr. Basu Speaks

This is the gist of an article in the April issue of Financial Advisor magazine, by ME-P “thought-leader” Dr. Somnath Basu PhD, professor of finance at California Lutheran University. He notes, “The problem could be as big, if not bigger, than the 2008 financial crisis.”

The Study

A new study by the Center For Retirement Research, Boston College, detailed on CNBC.com, finds the retirement years for Boomers will be much leaner than for their parents. An estimated 51% of them will be unable to maintain their current lifestyles in retirement.

Ironically, one major contributor to this bleak picture is the Boomer generation’s own optimism and positive thinking. Raised in a society of abundance with expectations of prosperity, Boomers have over-spent and under-saved for decades. Many of them assume they will receive ample inheritances. They see increased life expectancy as a wonderful thing, forgetting to factor in the higher medical costs that will come with it. They expect to work well into their 70′s, disregarding statistics that show many of them will be forced to retire sooner due to health problems or job layoffs.

The Numbers

Let’s look at some decidedly pessimistic numbers from the Center For Retirement Research study. The median 401(k) and IRA balance for Boomers nearing retirement is $78,000. Only around half can expect to inherit from their parents, with the median inheritance amount $40,000. That adds up to a total nest egg of $118,000, which at a 4% withdrawal rate provides less than $400 a month for life. Combining that with the average Social Security check of $1,077 means retiring on an income just above the poverty level.

What’s the Solution?

Many Boomers say they plan to never quit working. Unfortunately, this is delusional. According to a new survey by the Society of Actuaries, “The 2011 Risks and Process of Retirement Survey,” over one-third of Boomers think they will never retire and only 10% say they will retire by 60. Statistics show, however, that 50% have actually retired before age 60. The main reasons are health and downsizing, which boomers discount. Well over 90% of them maintain they have a healthy lifestyle and won’t get sick. Boomers are so out of touch with reality I wonder how many, if asked, “Will you ever die?” would answer, “No,” or “Maybe.”

Sadly, only one-third of Boomers have a plan for financing their retirement, other than planning to work until the day they die. What’s the solution for the remaining two-thirds who are unprepared?

Unfortunately, for many older Boomers it is already too late. Their lack of planning for their retirement years may mean forcing their children and grandchildren to decide whether taxpayers can afford to pick up the tab.

Assessment

Younger Boomers can take control of their retirement by radically downsizing their lifestyles and increasing their income. This means selling expensive homes, cars, and toys and living as frugally as possible. The resulting savings should first go to pay off high-interest debt, then to fund to the max every available retirement plan. Another possibility is to consider various employment options, including government jobs which offer pension plans unavailable in most private sector jobs.

Conclusion

Wise Boomers will also encourage their own children to emulate the frugality and money skills of their grandparents. The kids will need those skills for their own futures—especially if they have to help their Boomer parents pay the bills.

But, are doctors the same as the rest of us – or do they differ on this issue?

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Dr. Somnath Basu on Retirement Happiness [Video Clip]

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A PodCast Clip

This brief podcast clip features Dr. Somnath Basu, director of the California Institute for Finance [CIF].

Dr. Basu, a popular ME-P thought-leader, shares his insights on what makes people happy in retirement.

Assessment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iTrtmW831Xk

Conclusion

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Dr. Somnath Basu on Financial Planning Client Expectations [PodCast]

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On Client Attitudes in the New Economy

In this encore podcast, Somnath Basu PhD examines how the recent economic turmoil has changed financial planning clients’ attitudes and expectations.

Dr. Basu is a popular ME-P contributor and thought-leader.

Assessment: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzAkB8h5v3Q

Conclusion

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Are You Scared of Investment Losses?

Well Doctors – You Should Be!

By Somnath Basu PhD, MBA
President: AgeBander
Thousand Oaks, CA

There is a very simple way for medical professionals, and us all, to approach investment decision making. To start with, begin by asking yourself some basic and preliminary questions such as what is the investment for (to buy a house, to fund a kid’s education, or is it to fund retirement and the like) and how long these investments will last (for example, up to 40 – 50 years sometimes when one starts planning for retirement early).

Basic Questions

Once these basic questions are answered then ask this $64 million dollar question of your-self. Over your planning time horizon, how much of this money are you willing to lose? For example if you are trying to accumulate $100,000 for a house, how much could you afford to lose and still not lose your bearings? What if it is a five-year plan and in the 4th year you lose 50% of your accumulated funds with only one more year to go. How would you feel? This is the critical question in any investment decision. Typically you will not hear a financial planner [FP] or financial advisor [FA] talk in such terms; but perhaps they should!

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Conservative Investing

When financial planners and financial advisors talk about conservative investing, they couch the same idea in terms of risk and return. In the language of these experts such measures are often quantitative and difficult to understand for the average investor. While return on investments seems like a fairly straightforward concept (8% or 11% for example), risk is mentioned usually in terms of standard deviation, a statistical terminology difficult both to explain and to understand. Hence, most physicians and investors are pretty much in the dark when it comes down to making the decision itself since it is their sole responsibility. Thus, the investor is left with no other choice but to decide on whether the suggested investment return sounds attractive or not. On this track, the higher the return, the more attractive the investment seems.

Furthermore, FAs may suggest that a return such as 8-10% is a conservative rate whereas 12-15% is aggressive. Hence if an 8-10% based investment is being suggested, the investor is likely to go with what she/he thinks is the most conservative decision, being the conservative investors they believe they are. (As an aside, there is a whole theory about physician investors being conservative and risk averse)

Unwinding the Mystery

To unwind this basic mystery, simply ask the FA the likelihood of various amounts of losses in any single year including the last year of the investment. Could half your funds be wiped out in any year including the last year? What is the likelihood of such an event? What is the likelihood that it could be 25% in any given year? Suppose your planner shows how your $100,000 will grow to $150,000 in five years if you were to earnings the average rate of 8% per year for five years. Under such a scenario, what is the likelihood that you could lose half your accumulated funds in the last year and come out with a negative investment return even though you still earned that 8% average rate over the five years? As we know now such possibilities not only exist but are not uncommon either. As an extreme case in point consider the 2008-09 financial debacle [flash-crash]! If your investment was maturing in 2009, the outcome would have been a lot worse.

The Driver of Concern

This concern of loss is what should drive us in our investment decisions. Most planners are unable to explain this concept of loss aversion to their clients because they themselves are not adequately educated to understand the concept themselves. However, as mentioned before, the solution is simple. Now reconsider the example above of earning an average annual rate of 8% over 5 years. While it sounds conservative on the surface, it is actually quite aggressive. Earning 8% a year for five consecutive years (or averaging out over the five years to an 8% rate) is a very tall order. To do so, especially under most circumstances, one would actually be exposed to a large amount of loss in any given year.

Without getting into the details of how the standard deviation measurement of risk converts into the loss propensity and using very rough estimates, another way to view the 8% investment opportunity is to understand that in any year, you may not even earn a dollar (0%) and this could happen in each and every year. The likelihood of such an outcome is astonishingly high – about 25%. Thus, the investment decision is about whether you are willing to bet where the odds of loss is one to four (25%) every year for each of the five years. Of course the reverse is also true that in each of the years you have a 75% chance to  earn a positive return on your investment and the earning rate itself could be anywhere from zero to the highest rate imaginable. Further, there is a 12% chance that you could be actually losing 8% a year for each of the five years! In prolonged economic downturns, which are not so uncommon, such are the outcomes. Now ask yourself this question: If you were told about these odds of losses, would you still consider the 8% investment opportunity to be conservative? Hopefully not, especially when you feel unsettled about the existing economic state of affairs. Further, would you consider a 10% return to be attractive and conservative if you were rejecting a 15% investment and choosing the 10% one?

Assessment

As mentioned earlier, this idea of loss aversion is probably the most powerful tool in the investor’s bag. Once you understand the implications of loss from any investment decision, then the loss aversion approach to making this decision is a dimensional shift, something that can be easily understood and applied by all investors. Furthermore, if most physicians and investors behaved similarly, collectively we would make the investment market a much safer place. Unfortunately for now, there are no known ways of educating all investors about this critical aspect since the tools that currently exist are all based on statistical concepts of risk and return which make little sense to most lay investors.

Conclusion

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Mental and Physical Well-Being for [Physician] Boomers and Their Retirement Plans

By Somnath Basu PhD MBA

President – AgeBander
Thousand Oaks, CA

A  Pew Research Center study[1] on the effects of financial stress on health finds 42.4% of respondents in a survey on the subject indicated that their health had been affect by financial problems. The study also found that 1 in 8 baby boomers were raising children, planning for retirement and at the same time caring for their elderly parents. This is the unfortunate reality for many baby boomers who face the implications of being a sandwich generation.

The Boomer Spectrum

For boomers across the spectrum of age (1945-64) financial stress has also contributed significantly to relational strife and has exacerbated many medical conditions. It has been linked to depression and sleep disorders and has been known to negatively affect the autoimmune and digestive system. For retirees who find themselves on a limited income with few options for augmenting that income the additional stress of financial problems has certainly  been detrimental to their mental, emotional and physical well being.  For such retirees who had an improper perception of their retirement needs the realization of the truth is definitely overwhelming. For others, who had thought they had planned ahead and were diligent, are now wrestling with guilt and remorse over their failure to provide for their retirement years. These individuals too are likely also facing fairly severe mental health conditions related to retirement security. Additionally these retirees will likely look back on the sacrifices they did make and feel these were in vain further exacerbating the state of their mental health. This in turn leads them also to resist reasonable advice because their fears make them more suspecting of any advice including the reasonable ones.

The Emotional Culprits

Two of the chief culprits have been the tendency of boomers (as a solace, all other generations suffer from these same problems though boomers have been most affected) to overestimate and have overconfidence about their financial knowledge and understanding of key financial concepts. Their lack of knowledge about overestimating themselves and being overconfident about their understanding of key financial concepts has proved to be detrimental to many a boomer’s health and well being in retirement. This is mainly due to these weaknesses leading them to not having enough funds for their retirement expense needs. A national collaborative strategy initiative on this problem has identified five action areas needed to help alleviate this problem – the need to educate consumers on the areas of financial policy, education, practice, research, and coordination. The reality is that when retirees are affected mentally, physically and emotionally (leading to overconfidence and over optimism), their financial decisions become faulty due to acting on their perceptions of retirement risk. This makes them tend to drastically under-estimate their retirement expenses. In such cases they experience or will experience significant reductions in their quality of retirement life. To ensure that expectations of retired life are realistic and risk perceptions are aligned to realistic and achievable goals are the first steps for boomers to ascend in order to improve the quality of their overall mental and physical health in retirement.

Objective Retirement Planning

An objective of planning for retirement thus becomes the need to find some kinds of lifelong guaranteed pensions since it is well known and understood that retirees who have such luxuries are many times more satisfied in retirement than their peers. The more satisfied in retirement the better mental and financial well-being one has. The main thrust in achieving such a mental state is to understand the importance of a secure and assured income that arrives in the bank consistently every period (such as monthly or bi-weekly).  

Perception too plays a big role in mental health as does the security of regular income. However, those receiving Social Security as their regular income are known to be less satisfied than others. Studies show that Social Security benefits carry a “hand-out stigma” for those who rely on them for their well being. From the boomers perspective, living a simpler life but funding retirement from a disciplined pension fund approach (using 401(k) funds, IRAs, personal financial portfolios, etc.) ensures the chances that their mental and physical well-being in retirement will not be reduced in any way by their financial well-being. Now is the time for boomers to exact such a lifestyle and bring in a certain semblance of stability in the vision for the rest of their lives.

Conclusion

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Notes: [1] http://personalfinancefoundation.org/research/efd/Negative-Health-Effects-of-Financial-Stress.pdf

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Why Physicians Need to Deal with Debt

Understanding the Impending Retirement-Planning Crisis

[By Somnath Basu PhD, MBA]

A serious retirement-planning crisis is looming in the US with many Baby Boomer physicians, and others, having already spent a portion of their nest egg and undermining any hope for a comfortable lifestyle unless they continue to work. Notwithstanding medical professionals, look no further than an annual “retirement confidence” survey conducted by the Employee Benefit Research Institute and Mathew Greenwald & Associates in each of the past 17 years. Nearly two in five of working Americans responding to the latest survey indicated that they have taken no action in the face of reductions in their employer-provided retirement benefits.

Consumption Equals Happiness?

The population is constantly told that consumption equals happiness. At the same time they are not being asked to understand about the implications of borrowing to fund for such consumption. Before we can expect to effect a change in the ensuing pattern of a vicious cycle, the population mass must have a clear understanding of the difference between needs (e.g., retiring with peace of mind) and desires (e.g., cruises or living the high life).

Negative Savings Rate

When savings first dipped into negative territory during the Great Depression in 1932 and 1933, people didn’t have enough to eat, whereas there has been no such urgency to raid nest eggs since the repeat of this performance in 2005 when the rate fell to minus 0.5 percent. Our grandparents were shining stars in the way they worked hard to build this country’s infrastructure and manufacturing sector, saved every red cent they could get their hands on and created affluence on a mass scale. Today we’re able to enjoy the fruit of their labor. But, somehow their values were lost on future generations.

Changing American Culture

Many of the nation’s top engineers and scientists now hail from China, India and other Asian countries as American culture has undergone a dramatic change to the point where jocks and cheerleaders are more valued than computer geeks and science nerds in our schools. We inherited so much affluence that it made us lazy as a society. The seeds of our destruction have been sown, but it’s up to our politicians, educators and other leaders, including financial advisors, to help reverse this disturbing pattern before it’s too late.

Many people fall into the trap of rushing through dinner and unwinding in front of the TV where a big part of the problem lies in slick and subtle, and hard to resist, primetime advertising and marketing messages (prime time for subtle messages) that seduce viewers into purchasing luxury cars or flying to far-flung resorts where they can sip umbrella-clad cocktails alongside affluent vacationers.

Americans in Debt

A recent wave of foreclosures has put Americans deeper in debt, with the sub-prime crisis exposing despicable predatory lending practices. But, research has shown the wreckage also could be found strewn across in the mid-prime and prime markets as middle-class borrowers struggled to pay adjustable rate mortgages. High hopes have been pinned on the stock market helping people crawl out from this crisis just like when the real estate market had softened the blow when the tech-bubble burst at the turn of this century. So far, this has happened, to an extent. But, if the stock market starts reeling again, then it will spell even bigger trouble. Add to this the international trade imbalance, which implies foreign governmental funding of our conspicuous consumption, and which comes with high interest rates that need to be paid to the lenders, again to such countries as China, India and other emerging economies, and a bigger, worse picture emerges.

Personal Bankruptcies

Personal bankruptcies have an even more devastating effect on an individual’s ability to plan for the future, particularly since the laws pertaining to this area were toughened to a point where reckless spenders will need to muster fiscal and financial discipline as never before. The doomsday scenario is that children now run the risk of inheriting debt instead of wealth, and it’s unconscionable to think future generations would have a standard of living that’s worse than their parents or grandparents.

Assessment

The true grit associated with being an American is to rise up in the face of adversity – a frontier spirit that drew me this remarkable country. We’ve weathered numerous storms and can do it again. But, it requires a serious commitment to stopping mindless consumption of goods and services, as well as understanding there’s a difference between basic needs and pie-in-the-sky desires.

NOTE: Dr. Somnath Basu is a Professor of Finance at California Lutheran University and the Director of its California Institute of Finance. He is also the creator of the innovative AgeBander technology www.agebander.com for planning retirement needs.

Conclusion

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The “Life Cycle Investment Hypothesis”

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Physicians Returning to Zero?

[By Somnath Basu PhD, MBA] 

How have your investments done over the last three years? If you were to ask doctors, or the myriads of people who are or even pose as professional financial advisors, they would generally say that it would depend on how well your portfolio was diversified. By this jargon, they would mean how your money (in what proportions) was invested among various asset classes such as stocks, bonds, commodities, cash etc. The more it was spread out around various asset classes, the safer they would have been.

To see how safe (or how risky) your portfolio was over the last few years, it’s useful to view how these asset classes themselves fared over this time period. That is what is shown in the next chart where the following asset class performances over the last few years are shown. The chart shows the performances of stocks (S&P 500 shown by the symbol ^GPSC, in red), bonds (symbol IEI, Barclay’s 3-7 Year Treasury Bond index etf, in light green), Commodities (DBC, Powershares etf, in dark green), Long dollar (UUP, Powershares long dollar etf, in orange; this fund allows speculating on the dollar going up against a basket of important currencies; whenever the world financial markets are in turmoil, this index generally goes up as investors around the world seek the “safe haven” status of the dollar.

Alternately, note that this index value will also typically rise when the domestic economy is in a sound condition and both domestic and international investors favor the U.S. financial markets) and the short dollar (UDN, the Powershares inverse of UUP). Note that the “Cash” asset class has been left out and returns on cash (or money market funds) have been close to zero the whole time.

There are a few startling observations from this period. The first part that arrests the eye is how commodities performed over this time period. If your portfolio was heavy in this sector, you had a heck of a ride these last three years. If you had a lot of stocks as well, heck, your ride just got wilder. As can also be seen from the picture, healthy doses of bonds and currencies would have made your ride that much smoother.

On the other hand, what is additionally startling to observe is that we all started this period close to zero returns in the beginning of 2007 (around March 2007) and in June 2010, we are all converging back to zero returns. No matter how you were diversified, you either took a smooth ride (well diversified portfolio) from a zero return environment to a zero return environment or a wilder ride. That is why diversification is so important. Another way to gauge your diversification benefit is to use a two-pronged system.

The first is what I refer to as the “monthly statement effect”. When your monthly financial statements come in, you first observe the current month’s ending balance, then the previous month’s ending balance and then have a great day, a lousy day or an uneventful day. Depending on how good or bad (how volatile the ride) the monthly effect is, it may last for much more than just a day, maybe days. The second piece is your age.

Life Cycle Investment Hypothesis

As you grow older, you ask yourself how wild a ride can you tolerate at this point in your life? Hopefully, as you age, this tolerance level should show significant declines. If it does, you are then joining a rational investment group practicing a “lifecycle-investment hypothesis” style. Finally, did anything do well during this time? Yes, and surprisingly from an asset class whose underlying asset is shaped too like a zero – mother earth and real estate. Having some real estate in your investment basket (another important diversification asset) would not only have smoothed your ride but would have made your financial life so much more pleasurable. Just take a look at this picture below (FRESX, an old Fidelity’s real estate index fund) which says it all.

Assessment

Even in the darkest days of falling real estate markets of 2008, this fund produced a positive return. Of course many other real estate indexes lost their bottoms; thus finding these stable indexes in all asset classes are well worth their salt. That is, if it is time for you to diversify.

Conclusion

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