Orchestrating Your Retirement Accounts

An orchestra is merely a collection of instruments, each creating a unique sound. It is only when a conductor leads them that they produce the beautiful music imagined by the composer.

The same can be said about your retirement strategy.

The typical retirement strategy is built on the pillars of your 401(k) plan, your IRA, and taxable savings. Getting the instruments of your retirement to work in concert has the potential to help you realize the retirement you imagine.¹

Hierarchy of Savings

Maximizing the effectiveness of your retirement strategy begins with understanding the hierarchy of savings.

If you’re like most Americans, the amount you can save for retirement is not unlimited. Consequently, you may want to make sure that your savings are directed to the highest priority retirement funding options first. For many, that hierarchy begins with the 401(k), is followed by an IRA and, after that, put toward taxable savings.

You will then want to consider how to invest each of these savings pools. One strategy is to simply mirror your desired asset allocation in all retirement accounts.²

Another approach is to put the income-generating portion of the allocation, such as bonds, into tax-deferred accounts, while using taxable accounts to invest in assets whose gains come from capital appreciation, like stocks.³

Withdrawal Strategy

When it comes to living off your savings, you’ll want to coordinate your withdrawals. One school of thought recommends that you tap your taxable accounts first so that your tax-deferred savings will be afforded more time for potential growth.

Another school of thought suggests taking distributions first from your poorer performing retirement accounts, since this money is not working as hard for you.

Finally, because many individuals have both traditional and Roth accounts, your expectations about future tax rates may affect what account you withdraw from first. (If you think tax rates are going higher, then you might want to withdraw from the traditional before the Roth). If you’re uncertain, you may want to consider withdrawing from the traditional up to the lowest tax bracket, then withdrawing from the Roth after that.⁴

In any case, each person’s circumstances are unique and any strategy ought to reflect your particular risk tolerance, time horizon, and goals.

  1. Distributions from 401(k) plans and traditional IRAs are taxed as ordinary income and, if taken before age 59½, may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty. Generally, once you reach age 70½, you must begin taking required minimum distributions. 401(k) plans and IRAs have exceptions to avoid the 10% withdrawal penalty, including death and disability. Contributions to a traditional IRA may be fully or partially deductible, depending on your individual circumstances.
  2. Asset allocation is an approach to help manage investment risk. Asset allocation does not guarantee against investment loss.
  3. The market value of a bond will fluctuate with changes in interest rates. As rates rise, the value of existing bonds typically falls. If an investor sells a bond before maturity, it may be worth more or less than the initial purchase price. By holding a bond to maturity an investor will receive the interest payments due plus their original principal, barring default by the issuer. Investments seeking to achieve higher yields also involve a higher degree of risk. The return and principal value of stock prices will fluctuate as market conditions change. And shares, when sold, may be worth more or less than their original cost.
  4. Roth IRA contributions cannot be made by taxpayers with high incomes. To qualify for the tax-free and penalty-free withdrawal of earnings, Roth IRA distributions must meet a five-year holding requirement and occur after age 59½. Tax-free and penalty-free withdrawal can also be taken under certain other circumstances, such as a result of the owner’s death. The original Roth IRA owner is not required to take minimum annual withdrawals.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Inflation – Back to the Future

Inflation sometimes seems like one of those afflictions of an era long since passed into the history books. While it’s true that double-digit inflation has been absent for the last 30 years, you may remember the high inflation years of the 1970s.¹

Will the levels of U.S. public debt and loose monetary policy revive the inflation rates of yesteryear? No one really knows. However one thing is certain—even low inflation rates over an extended period of time can impact your finances in retirement.

A simple example will illustrate.

An income of $50,000 today at an inflation rate of 3% would have a purchasing power of just over $32,000 in year 15—a 35% erosion. Said differently, to maintain the desired lifestyle that a $50,000 income would provide requires $77,900 of income after 15 years of 3% inflation.²

Here’s something else to consider. Retirees may be subject to a higher rate of inflation than “the headline” Consumer Price Index. Why might this be the case?

Healthcare inflation has outstripped CPI inflation by as much as 3% in recent years.³ And retirees may expect to spend more on medical expenses than most Americans.

Inflation is a thief; it steals the purchasing power of your retirement savings. But, as with your other possessions, there are strategies that may help you from being robbed of your purchasing power.

  1. InflationData.com, 2015
  2. This is a hypothetical example used for illustrative purposes only. It is not representative of any specific investment or combination of investments.
  3. YCharts.com, 2016; USInflationCalculator.com, May 17, 2016

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Money that Buys Good Health is Never Ill Spent

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average person covered by Medicare has out-of-pocket medical expenses in excess of $4,700 a year. Premium costs accounted for 42% of the total, while long-term facility costs, medical supplies, prescription drugs, and dental care claim the rest.¹

With healthcare expenses in the spotlight, it’s incumbent upon us to make sure our retirement strategy anticipates these costs.

But that’s not enough.

Remember, healthcare coverage (including Medicare) typically does not cover extended medical care. And it’s a prospect we shouldn’t overlook.

The Department of Health & Human Services estimates that about 70% of people will need extended care at some point in their lives.²

These annual costs can range widely based on geographic location, from over $60,000 in Oklahoma to over $300,000 in Alaska.³ When workers were surveyed, only 14% said they were “very confident” they would have enough money to pay for long-term care in retirement.⁴

Finally, you may want to consider a Medigap policy, which may help cover some of the healthcare costs not covered by Medicare.

Making sure that you are properly insured for your medical costs may help strengthen the foundation of your retirement.

  1. MedicareResources.org, October 24, 2015 (Based on 2010 data, which is the latest available.)
  2. Department of Health & Human Services, 2015
  3. Genworth Cost of Care Survey, 2015
  4. 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey, Employee Benefit Research Institute

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Certain Uncertainties in Retirement

The uncertainties we face in retirement can erode our sense of confidence, potentially undermining our outlook during those years.

Indeed, according to the 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey by the Employee Benefits Research Institute, only 37% of retirees say they are “very confident” about having enough assets to live comfortably in retirement. Almost 28% were either “not too confident” or “not at all confident.“

Today’s retirees face two overarching uncertainties. While each on their own can lead even the best-laid strategies to go awry, it’s important to remember that remaining flexible and responsive to changes in the landscape may help you meet the challenges of uncertainty in the years ahead.

An Uncertain Tax Structure

A mounting national debt and the growing liabilities of Social Security and Medicare are straining federal finances. How these challenges are resolved remains unknown, but higher taxes—along with means-testing for Social Security and Medicare—are obvious possibilities for policymakers.

Whatever tax rates may be in the future, taxes can be a drag on your savings and may adversely impact your retirement security.¹ Moreover, any reduction of Social Security or Medicare benefits has the potential to place a further strain on your retirement.

Consequently, you’ll need to be ever mindful of a changing tax landscape and strategies to manage their impact.

Market Uncertainty

If you know someone who retired, or looked to retire in 2008, you know what market uncertainty can do to a retirement blueprint.

The uncertainties haven’t gone away. Are we at the cusp of a bond market bubble bursting? Will the Euro Zone find its footing? Will U.S. debt be a drag on our economic vitality?

Over a 30-year period, uncertainties may evaporate or resolve themselves, but new ones historically have emerged. This means understanding that the solutions for one set of economic circumstances may not be appropriate for a new set of circumstances.

Scottish Philosopher Thomas Carlyle said “He who could foresee affairs three days in advance would be rich for thousands of years.”² Preparing for uncertainties is less about knowing what the future holds as it is about being able to respond to changes as they unfold.

  1. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.
  2. Brainy Quote, 2015

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Thinking of Retiring Abroad?

According to a 2015 report from International Living Magazine, Ecuador tops the list of places to retire abroad. Panama ranks second, followed by Mexico, Malasia, and Costa Rica.¹

Many retirees consider moving out of the country in search of greater affordability, adventure, and a change in lifestyle. However exciting retiring abroad may sound, it deserves considerable planning.

Things to consider

  1. Where do you want to retire?

    There are many starting points for this search, but primary considerations may include cost of living, stability of the country, access to health care, the type of experience you desire, and the climate.

    Engage your spouse in the conversation since both of you need to be happy and excited in order for a move to work long term.

  2. Visit prospective candidates

    Test drive the country you are considering. No amount of research from your living room can replace being on the ground experiencing the people and actual living conditions.

  3. Check visa and residency requirements

    Each country has different requirements for permanent residency. Some have programs designed to welcome retirees. In any case, you’ll need to know what is required of you before putting down roots.

  4. Make an appointment with a tax advisor

    While visiting prospective countries, spend time with a local tax advisor to understand the country’s taxation of U.S. retirees. You don’t want any surprises.²

  5. Nirvana doesn’t exist

    As you go through this process, appreciate that each country will have its pluses and minuses. You will need to balance them based on your personal priorities. Also, try to remember that most countries will not offer a U.S.-style living.

  6. Consider health insurance

    Since Medicare generally does not cover health care expenses incurred overseas, as is the case for private U.S.-based health insurance, you should research health insurance that will cover you in the country of your choice.

  7. Consider renting first

    Moving into an unknown area makes intelligent real estate decisions difficult. Consider renting to learn the area, understand the neighborhood, and learn whether it offers the range of activities you want.

  8. Beware of Scams

    A retiree working on a dream is fertile territory for people looking to separate you from your money. Work with only reputable businesses that you’ve identified from research and referrals.

  1. International Living, January 1, 2015
  2. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Should You Borrow from Your 401(k)?

The average credit card balance in June 2015 was $15,706, down from its peak of $18,600 in 2009.¹ With the average credit card annual percentage rate sitting at 14.9%, it represents an expensive way to fund spending.²

Which leads many individuals to ask, “Does it make sense to borrow from my 401(k) to pay off debt or to make a major purchase?”³

Borrowing from Your 401(k)

  • No Credit Check—If you have trouble getting credit, borrowing from a 401(k) requires no credit check; so as long as your 401(k) permits loans, you should be able to borrow.
  • More Convenient—Borrowing from your 401(k) usually requires less paperwork and is quicker than the alternative.
  • Competitive Interest Rates—While the rate you pay depends upon the terms your 401(k) sets out, the rate is typically lower than the rate you will pay on personal loans or through a credit card. Plus, the interest you pay will be to yourself rather than to a finance company.

Disadvantages of 401(k) Loans

  • Opportunity Cost—The money you borrow will not benefit from the potentially higher returns of your 401(k) investments. Additionally, many people who take loans also stop contributing. This means the further loss of potential earnings and any matching contributions.
  • Risk of Job Loss—A 401(k) loan not paid is deemed a distribution, subject to income taxes and a 10% penalty tax if you are under age 59½. Should you switch jobs or get laid off, your 401(k) loan becomes immediately due. If you do not have the cash to pay the balance, it will have tax consequences.
  • Red Flag Alert—Borrowing from retirement savings to fund current expenditures could be a red flag. It may be a sign of overspending. You may save money by paying off your high-interest credit-card balances, but if these balances get run up again, you will have done yourself more harm.

Most financial experts caution against borrowing from your 401(k), but they also concede that a loan may be a more appropriate alternative to an outright distribution, if the funds are absolutely needed.

  1. NerdWallet, June 25, 2015. Average for U.S. Households
  2. CreditCards.com, April 2015
  3. Distributions from 401(k) plans and most other employer-sponsored retirement plans are taxed as ordinary income and, if taken before age 59½, may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty. Generally, once you reach age 70½, you must begin taking required minimum distributions.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Volunteering in Retirement

“This generation got no destination to hold
We are volunteers of America”

“Volunteers” by Jefferson Airplane¹

Those of a certain age will recall these Jefferson Airplane lyrics as a call to action, though for a different period and place. Even with the passage of time and through a lifetime of changes, the desire of baby boomers to make an impact on the world has not diminished.

Retirement is no longer about the hammock or unending hours of golf. It is a period of rejuvenation, second chances, and renewed growth. For many, this new phase includes contributing their time and talents to an organization in need.

Before You Start

An important first step is to engage in honest self-assessment. Inventory your skill set and interests. This will help identify what sort of volunteering opportunities are the best match for you.

Determine the commitment you are willing to make. Is this something that you want to devote 5-10 hours a week to, or are you willing to commit to more time? Is this something you want to do locally, around the nation, or even the globe? Will this volunteering be done individually, as a couple, or as a group?

Survey the Waters

There are plenty of resources to get a good view of the opportunities that exist. One place to start is by asking friends, family, and colleagues. Another option is to use one or more of the many tools created to help identify volunteering ideas that may deserve your consideration. For instance, Serve.gov is one such tool run by the federal government. Another website you may want to review is Volunteermatch.org.

Another approach may be to pick charities that you support and check out their volunteer opportunities. Don’t be afraid to call them since some opportunities may not be advertised.

If you do choose to volunteer during retirement, you may find that you will receive as much as you give.

  1. SongMeanings.com, 2015

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Social Security Benefits: How Much Will I Receive

Next to “When should I claim Social Security benefits?” one of the more common questions people have is “How much will I receive?”

Calculating your potential Social Security benefit is a three-step process:

  1. Calculate Your Average Indexed Monthly Earnings (AIME): The highest 35 years of indexed earnings is added together. It is then divided by the number of months in 35 years to arrive at your AIME. (“Indexed earnings” is an adjustment made to historical earnings so that they reflect a current standard of living.)
  2. Determine Your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA): AIME is subjected to a formula based on the year of first eligibility (age 62).
  3. Application Age: The final calculation will be based on the age you apply for Social Security retirement benefits. For instance, if you apply at full retirement age, you will receive 100% of your PIA. If you apply for early benefits, your benefit will be less, and if you wait until after full retirement age your retirement benefit will exceed your PIA.

If this all sounds complicated, that’s because it is. However, the Social Security Administration calculates your personal benefits without you having to do any of the math.

When to take Social Security is a complex retirement decision that requires careful thought in order to maximize the benefit to you and your spouse. You should consider working with your financial advisor and accessing the resources at the Social Security Administration to help you make the decision that best meets your needs.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Social Security: Maximizing Benefits

Most understand that waiting to claim Social Security benefits can result in higher monthly payments. However, many don’t know that there are other ways to maximize their benefits, some of which depend on their marital status.

Understanding the strategies for maximizing your Social Security retirement income benefits should be prefaced with a review of the three basic forms of retirement benefits:

  1. The Worker Benefit: This is the benefit you receive based on your own personal earnings history, and for which you become eligible after 40 quarters of work.
  2. The Spousal Benefit: This is the benefit paid to your spouse. For non-working spouses, this is 50% of the working spouse’s benefit. For working spouses, it is the greater of the benefit earned from his or her earnings or 50% of the worker’s benefit.
  3. The Survivor Benefit: This is the benefit paid to the surviving spouse, which is paid at a rate equal to the greater of his or her own current benefit, or the deceased spouse’s current benefit.

The first and most obvious strategy for maximizing your Social Security benefit is to simply wait to reach age 70 before beginning to take benefits. By waiting until age 70 to receive benefits, your monthly payments may increase by 32%, not including any cost of living increases that may be added to this amount.

Benefit Maximization Strategies
for Divorced Spouses

For divorced spouses, you can file a restricted application for a spousal benefit once you reach full retirement age, as long as you were born in 1953 or earlier and your former spouse is 62 or older at the time of your application. You can then delay receiving benefits under your own work record, allowing your delayed retirement credits to build. At age 70, you can switch over to your worker benefit, assuming it is higher than the spousal benefit you’ve been receiving.

Benefit Maximization Strategies
for Widows and Widowers

Remember, there is no spousal benefit for a widow/widower, but he or she does qualify for a survivor benefit that is equal to 100% of the deceased spouse’s benefit (versus the 50% spousal benefit if the working spouse is still alive). This survivor benefit is available at age 60.2

If you are widowed and also have worked for 40 quarters, you will have a worker benefit and a survivor benefit. This presents you with several choices. One choice is to file for the benefit that provides you the greatest monthly benefit amount.

Another choice may be to start your worker benefit at age 62 and then switch to the survivor benefit once you reach full retirement age. This option is advantageous in instances where the widowed spouse did not accumulate the same level of benefits as the deceased spouse. Choosing this option allows the surviving spouse to take the higher survivor benefit amount. Because there are no delayed retirement credits earned on survivor benefits, there is no advantage to waiting past full retirement age to apply for survivor benefits.

A final choice is to consider starting the survivor benefit at age 60 and then switching to your own worker benefit at age 70. This strategy allows you to begin receiving income based on the survivor benefit as early as possible and provides you time to build up the maximum worker benefit.

As you can see, there are ways you can potentially raise your Social Security benefits. These strategies can help you maximize your benefits beyond what is available to those who simply delay retirement to age 70.

  1. Social Security Administration, September 2015
  2. Social Security Administration, September 2015

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.

Social Security: The $64,000 Question

One of the most common questions people ask about Social Security is when they should start taking benefits.

This is the $64,000 question. Making the right decision for you can have a meaningful impact on your financial income in retirement.

Before considering how personal circumstances and objectives may play into your decision, it may be helpful to preface that discussion with an illustration of how benefits may differ based upon the age at which you commence taking Social Security.

As the accompanying chart reflects, the amount you receive will be based upon the age at which you begin taking benefits.

Monthly Benefit Amounts
Based on the Age that Benefits Begin¹

Age Benefit Amount
62
63
64
65
66
67
68
69
70
$750
$800
$866
$933
$1,000
$1,080
$1,160
$1,240
$1,320

*This example assumes a benefit amount of $1,000 at the full retirement age of 66.

At first blush, the decision may seem a bit clear-cut: Simply calculate the lifetime value of the early benefit amount versus the lifetime value of the higher benefit, based on some assumed life expectancy.

The calculus is a bit more complicated than that because of the more favorable tax treatment of Social Security income versus IRA withdrawals, spousal benefit coordination opportunities, the consideration of the surviving spouse, and Social Security’s lifetime income guarantee that exists under current law.²

Here are three ideas to think about when making your decision:

  1. Do You Need the Money?
    Retiring before full retirement age may be a personal choice or one that is thrust upon you because of circumstances, such as declining health or job loss. If you need the income that Social Security is scheduled to provide, however reduced, then taking benefits early may be the only choice for you.
  2. Consider the Needs of Your Spouse
    If your wife is expected to depend on your Social Security income, it’s important to remember that, based on current life expectancy tables, she will likely live longer than you. Consequently, the survivor benefits she receives may be reduced substantially if you begin taking benefits early—a penalty with which she may be burdened for many years to come.
  3. Are You Healthy?
    The primary risk in retirement is living too long and running out of money. The odds of living a long life in retirement argues for waiting at least until you reach full retirement age so that you receive a full benefit for as long as you live. However, if your current health is poor and/or you have a strong family history of premature death, then starting early may make sense for you.

There are several elements you should evaluate before you start claiming Social Security. By determining your priorities and other income opportunities, you may be able to better decide at what age benefits make the most sense.

  1. Social Security Administration, 2016
  2. Withdrawals from traditional IRAs are taxed as ordinary income and, if taken before age 59½, may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty. Generally, once you reach age 70½, you must begin taking required minimum distributions.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. This material was developed and produced by FMG Suite to provide information on a topic that may be of interest. FMG Suite is not affiliated with the named broker-dealer, state- or SEC-registered investment advisory firm. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security. Copyright 2017 FMG Suite.