I know it’s a couple of day early, but I just wanted to wish all my loyal readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! In a year that has seemed like a decade and where we’ve had to redefine the way we live, work, and interact with others, I hope you and your family are able to at least enjoy some time together this holiday season. I also wish you, and those most important to you, health and happiness this Christmas and into the New Year. I’ll be back next week with a end of the year post, but for now…Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!
We are less than two weeks away from the end of 2020 (which we can all agree, probably can’t come soon enough!). As the year wraps up, now is a good time to review your budgeting and expenses over the past 12 months and see where, and how, you spent your funds. If you had a budget you were working in, did you meet your benchmarks? Did you spend more than intended in certain areas or less? Where there legitimate reasons for overspending? If you don’t have a budget, did you find yourself spending more than you thought on particular items/services? Do you want to get your expenses in order or under control? Use the answers to these questions to help guide you as you prepare your finances for 2021. If you find your expenses or spending habits make you a bit uncomfortable, you may want to consider getting more serious about budgeting. If you need help with getting your finances in order, I encourage you to meet with a certified financial planner or wealth manager who can help you both organize your money as well as place it in a spot where it can grow or help your future.
If you’ve been staying on top of stimulus bill talk over the past 10 months or so, then maybe you’ve heard the phrase Coronavirus Related Distribution (CRD) and are aware that they are penalty free distributions from your retirement accounts. I think I’ve mentioned them a few times in past blogposts as well. If you have been considering taking advantage of a CRD due to hard times, then you should do so as soon as possible. The deadline to take a CRD is December 30, 2020, which is a little less than two weeks away at this time. Now, I am not encouraging you to take a CRD as I am against taking money out of a retirement account early unless it is the absolute last resort. However, if you find yourself in certain situations that meet CRD requirements–such as being diagnosed with Coronavirus or having lost a job because of it–then you may want to consider a CRD to tide you over for just a short time. And remember, there’s only a couple weeks to do so, so you need to make that decision soon! If you do consider taking a CRD, I encourage you to read up about them or speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager about it to make sure it’s really the best decision for you.
Many Americans choose to make charitable donations with their retirement funds. For some it’s a way to give back to the community, while others use it as a way to support causes that are important to them. Whatever the reason for donating–if you choose to do so–you should understand the ramifications of that decision as well as the most efficient way to make a donation. It’s been a while since I’ve written about it, but qualified charitable distributions (QCDs) are probably the most efficient and effective way to make a charitable donation from your retirement funds. In case you forgot what a QCD is, it’s a charitable donation of up to $100,000 to a qualified 501(c)(3) charity made from an IRA. A QCD can offset any RMDs that need to be made for that year, but can only be made if you are 70 1/2 years old. QCDs offer a similar tax outcome to itemizing your charitable giving, if that matters to you. And yes, QCDs are allowed this year even though RMDs are suspended. Which leads me to my next part of charitable giving–the tax implications. While I cannot offer tax advice, I can advise you to speak with a tax professional if you are making substantial charitable donations in the hopes of taking advantage of tax incentives for doing so. That goes for whether you are over 70 1/2 and are making a QCD or are not yet retired, but want to make a substantial donation to your favorite charity. A tax professional should be able to give you a good idea as to how a donation may impact your taxes and whether it’s overall a good idea. However, if you want to know how a QCD or other charitable giving might affect your nest egg or financial plans, you will want to also speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager.
While I try to be somewhat positive with what I write in this blog, sometimes I find that I have to be real and that being real sometimes requires being a little cynical. This is one of those “being real” blogposts. Retirement doesn’t always happen how you want it to and, with that in mind, sometimes you need to think about those worst case scenarios. For example, how much would an early retirement change your plans? What if you are forced to retire sooner than anticipated due to injury or downsizing–can you handle tapping into your nest egg sooner than expected? These are things you need to think about and, ideally, have a plan to handle such situations. In fact, you probably should think of at least a few “worst case scenario” situations regarding retirement and make plans for how you would tackle them if they occurred. For example, if you were forced to retire early are there assets you could sell or tap into to make ends meet before reaching into your nest egg? What if you find yourself in the opposite type of scenario and don’t have enough saved for when you plan on retiring? Will you work longer or change your retirement plans? Thinking about these worst case scenario situations won’t be pleasant, but it is an important part of planning. You need to be prepared for whatever may come your way and at least thinking about such bad situations is a part of that. If you need help with planning for retirement or want to discuss having a backup plan, of course I always encourage you to speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager. What’s your worst case retirement scenario?
I don’t mean to state the obvious with the title, but I feel like it’s worth mentioning, especially as we head into a winter that may be like none other that we have seen. The next few months seem to be on course to create a lot of anxiety for many Americans. We are currently in the middle of a pandemic that many healthcare professionals are predicting will see a second wave of infections over the next month or so. There is also a transitional period occurring politically that is fraught with unpredictability. And then there is the added stress of the holiday season. Those first two stress points have the ability to shake up the markets and have impacts on the investments that could further impact your portfolio. The third stress point is always there, but could be further complicated by job losses or worry about what the future may hold for your nest egg. I’m not going to sugarcoat it, it can be a bit scary, especially when you don’t know what might happen to send the stock market on a wild ride. While I don’t have any magic solution to your anxiety, I do want to make sure you realize that you are not alone in your worries. Sometimes there’s not much you can do aside from track your investments, make necessary changes and adjustments, and keep living life. We will get through this and we will eventually return to normal. It may be a “new” normal, but it will be much more normal than what we have been going through for most of 2020. Now, as you head into this holiday season, I suggest you focus your time and energy on family and friends and the people who mean the most to you. Yes, you can check your portfolio daily and adjust as needed, but try not to let it be all you think about. Take some time to think enjoy what’s around you and don’t let fear or stress overpower you. Of course, if you do have concerns about your retirement plans, I suggest you speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager who should be able to relieve any concerns or answer any questions you may have.
Did you know that the total amount of student loans held by Americans is larger than that of credit card debt? That may be a bit surprising to some. While I am well aware that most of my clients and readers of this blog are beyond their student years and probably paid off their student loan debts years ago, it’s still worth talking a bit about as the topic has become relevant over the past few years, particularly during the recent election season. There has been a lot of discussion centering around how much student loan debt has impacted the spending habits of younger generations and possibly hindered their interest in buying homes and starting families, as well as spending on big ticket items in general. Heck, there’s a really good chance that you have a child or grandchild currently paying off students debts, so for some of my readers it might just be a personal topic. Ideally, those younger generations would find jobs that pay enough to efficiently pay down those debts and allow them to save up for those big “adult” purchases (i.e. a car, a house, etc.). However, more often than not and for a number of different reasons, that is not the case. So, what does this have to do with you and your financial/retirement planning? Well, probably nothing, but it is worth noting. Furthermore, it may have long-term impacts such as slower economic growth as fewer younger people are spending on the large ticket items that can help fuel booms. Furthermore, if you have kids and grandkids weighed down by student debt, you may want to talk with them about their situation and educate them about what they can do to better their situations. Maybe they need a second job or maybe they need some guidance on smart spending habits. Whatever it is, don’t be afraid to help them get on the right path. Also, if you were planning on relying on your children to help with your retirement, such as moving in with them or having them pay for some of your needs, you may want to know whether their student loan debt early in their adult lives may have long term impacts (i.e. they aren’t able to save enough for the future). Lastly, if you are a retiree considering going back to school–and yes, they do exist–you will want to know whether taking on any student loan debt is doable. Obviously, you really only want to go back if you can do so without taking out any loans, but if you can do so for a small amount, it may be worth considering. Again, while you may not be directly impacted by student loans, it may have a long-term impact on the economy that affects your portfolio and investments, especially if it takes markets and the economy longer to recover from downturns due to enough people not spending. So, what do you know about the student debt situation and does it impact you?
Many financial advisors and wealth managers encourage their clients to have goals when it comes to retirement. Of course, that can mean different strokes to different folks. For example, one person may have a goal of saving a certain amount of money for retirement. Another person may want to save up to buy a retirement home in a warm weather locale. Another may want to have enough saved up to take a big trip every year. Whatever it is, it’s good to set a goal to work towards. However, the road to retirement can be long and along the way things can change. Layoffs happen. Unexpected bills occur. Having children and a family can add some costs along the path to your post-working life. Thus, those retirement goals and benchmarks you set out with can change. And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s a good thing to reassess your retirement goals every so often. Maybe living far away from children and grandchildren doesn’t sound so appetizing. Or maybe you realize that you’re saving more than you anticipated and have a little more freedom with retirement to get a little more fancy with your goals. Or maybe you realize you need to save more. Whatever you find, don’t be afraid to change your retirement goals and use those new goals and benchmarks moving forward. If you need help with your current goals or want to make a change, don’t be afraid to speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager to get some advice.
If you’ve been following the stock market over the past 30 years or so, then you are probably well aware of the fact that bubbles occur and eventually they burst. It happened a little over 15 years ago with the tech bubble, followed less than 5 years after that by the housing bubble. Those bursts were felt throughout the markets and the country. billions of dollars were lost during those bubble bursts, along with jobs in many sectors and homes in many regions. Why am I bringing this up? Well, I’m using it as a reminder that despite how good things may be–and let’s not kid ourselves, the stock market is still trending upwards–there will come a time when the fun ends. After all, what goes up, eventually comes down. So what can you, as a retirement investor do to take advantage of the good fortunes while also protecting yourself (as best as possible) from the bad? Diversify and make sure to review your investments at multiple periods throughout the year or when you hear of market changes. Diversification spreads the risk around and prevents all your money from going into one area of the market. If you diversify, you can limit the damage that a downturn in one market sector can do to your portfolio as a whole. Of course, along with diversifying, you want to track your investments. That means checking your portfolio at regular intervals and checking it when you hear of changes within market sectors that you are invested in. Tech companies struggling? Make sure your tech investments are safe. Homebuilding ramping up? Maybe you should look to make some investments in that area. Those are just a couple of examples. If you need help with your portfolio or just want to talk about your risk appetite, you should of course speak with a certified financial planner, wealth manager, or investment professional.
If you are an educated retirement saver, then you are probably well aware of the 10% penalty you can get hit with if you take a withdrawal from your IRA or employer retirement plan before age 59 1/2. For many Americans–particularly those hit hard financially over the past 8 months–it can be tempting to take that early withdrawal to stay afloat. However, you’re a smart saver and you’ve most likely put yourself in a situation where you don’t need to hit your nest egg. That said, though, you should be aware of the exceptions to the 10% penalty. Now, I’ve mentioned these exceptions in the past, but I feel the need to mention them again as it’s been a while. There are a few exceptions, though, when you can take that early withdrawal and not have to worry about the 10% penalty. Buying your first home? Take that early withdrawal with no penalty. Want to help out a child with college tuition? Take that penalty free withdrawal. Lose your job and need help affording health insurance? Again, take the withdrawal and not worry about the penalty. These tend to be commonly used exceptions to the 10% early withdrawal penalty. Now, before you go taking huge early withdrawals from your retirement savings accounts, make sure it’s the right decision above all else. If you can get the funds you need from other places (ideally, an emergency savings account) that may be the wiser route to go. Remember, your retirement savings accounts should be an absolute last resort when it comes to taking early withdrawals. You should also meet with a certified financial planner or wealth manager to make sure you are making the best decision for you and your future and to ensure you take the proper steps when taking that early withdrawal.
I believe I wrote about this a number of months ago as the election season was starting to ramp up, but I feel the need to mention it again: Don’t let politics drive your portfolio decisions. In the weeks leading up to the election, it can be easy to get caught up in the theories and predictions about what might happen if a particular candidate wins or a certain party gains power. Some will take those predictions and make portfolio decisions in the hopes of getting ahead of the curve regarding how the markets might react to certain administrations. First off, it is incredibly difficult to predict how the markets will react to elections. What economic pundits predicted at the start of the past two administrations did not come to pass with the markets performing much stronger than expected. Rather, you should make your portfolio as you normally would and ignore the election when doing so. Don’t give you portfolio any special treatment between now and Nov. 3. That can be hard to do, especially with the news cycle (and social media and conversations with friends) being filled with election talk, it won’t be easy. However, trust me, it will be worth it to keep your portfolio on the same road it’s be going on.
It’s well known within the retirement planning industry that about half of all Americans are having a tough time with their retirement finances. That’s a lot of people. Furthermore, uncertain economic times can push the number of those struggling north of 50%. Considering how many retirees are out there–and it’s impressive due to one of the largest demographics reaching retirement age (*cough* Baby Boomers *cough*) as we speak–that’s a lot of Americans struggling to either save for retirement or stretch out their finances in retirement. With all that said, I want to remind you that you are not alone if you are struggling to either save or make your nest egg last. Many people do and there’s nothing wrong with asking for help in doing so. If you can afford it, a good wealth manager or financial planner can be a huge help. Despite the tone some of my blogposts, I fully understand that saving for retirement is no easy task and it’s been particularly tough over the past 15 years or so. That doesn’t mean you should give up on it, though. In fact, I want to encourage you to save as much as you can and to take steps to maximize your saving, regardless of where you are in your life. Something is better than nothing. So, are you struggling with saving for retirement? You’re not alone, but what are you going to do about it?
Retirement can seem like a long ways off as you make your way through your career–and, of course, life–during your 20s, 30s, and 40s. However, when you get into your 50s, suddenly it might not seem so far off in the distance. Your early 50s, in particular, are a really good time to get serious about retirement. What does it mean to “get serious” about retirement? It means sitting down and taking a long, hard look at where your finances stand and when exactly you want to retire. You will also want to reassess your retirement goals and get a good understanding of what life in retirement will be like. What will your retirement budget be? Do you plan on paying down your debt before retiring? Are you going to move for retirement? These are some important questions you will need to ask yourself as you near retirement age. The answers may surprise you and will give you a good sense of what is realistic regarding retirement. Now, I’m not saying you need to wait until your 50s to get serious about retirement (the earlier you start, the better), but I am encouraging you to not wait until your late 50s/early 60s to start thinking about your post-work life. Remember, retirement is serious business that requires a plan and hard work, both before and during. Taking the time to properly prepare for it so that you can enjoy it is very important. So, are you ready for retirement?
It can be tempting to look at your nest egg and see an untapped source of money, particularly if your nest egg is sizeable and you are nearing retirement. For example, maybe you found your dream retirement home and need money for a down payment. You may look to your IRA for a short-term loan to meet those money requirements. I’m here to tell you that that is a bad idea and to discourage you not to do so. The biggest reason being that you don’t want to tap into your IRA monies until you actually retire and, even then, you will want to have a plan for doing so. You’ve worked hard to save up for your post-work life and you want to make sure that money goes towards your retirement goals (of course, if purchasing a retirement home is part of your plan, then that’s a different discussion). The other risk of viewing your IRA as a loan source is the risk of making a mistake when taking out money. Keep in mind that there are two routes you can go when taking money out of your IRA before reaching retirement age. First off, you can take a distribution, pay the taxes and penalties, and then not have to worry about what you do with the money. The other option is to take out the money and do a 60 day rollover, which will involve paying back the money within that 60 day window. There’s a lot of risk involved with that. I repeat, there is a lot of risk involved with doing this. Mainly, if you take out the money, is there any guarantee that you will recoup it within that 60 day window? Chances are, you are going to be making a large purchase if you need a loan (probably talking thousands of dollars), so what are the chances that you will make that money back in two months? If you are certain that you can do that, then maybe you can consider it. However, if you aren’t so sure that you can complete such a transaction in that timeframe, stay away from this idea. That can lead to a lot of problems if you aren’t able to put the money back within those 60-days. Hint: Don’t open yourself up to the IRS taking more of your money through penalties! If you are in need of money, you should consider other types of loans or selling off other assets before even considering your IRA as a loan source. You may even want to really think about whether you even need to make the purchase at that time and whether you can put it off until you actually have the funds and leave your retirement money alone.
It may not be obvious, but we have a retirement problem in this country and the economic crisis created by the efforts to combat COVID have exposed it. Not enough people have enough saved for retirement. The economic conditions that began back in the early Spring have forced many older workers into forced retirements that they were not fully prepared for. For those younger workers who suddenly found themselves on unemployment, there aren’t enough jobs that offer strong retirement benefits or high enough wages to allow them to look beyond the survival necessities (i.e. rent, food, gas, etc.). Demographics and class also play a role in whether people have the opportunities to save for retirement. While there are a lot of tools available today for anyone to save for retirement, the tools are not the issue. The issue is that fewer people have wiggle room financially to save enough for retirement. Most people with hefty retirement accounts either had jobs that paid well or spent years working for big companies that offered strong benefits. For many in the gig economy or working for small businesses, the opportunities to save and the benefits of things like matching contributions or stock ownership plans are just not there. And yes, there are more working in the gig economy or small businesses than many of us realize. So what’s the solution? Well, there was recent legislation passed that makes it much easier for small businesses to band together and offer retirement benefits as well as pushes back the age for requirement minimum distributions (RMDs). However, we may need to have a larger discussion about how we go about saving for retirement after these current economic conditions improve, particularly about pay and the cost of living in this country. There may also need to be further reform of the tools that we have, making them easier to use and understand. We will see what the future brings regarding all this.
You’ve probably heard me say on this blog that the best way to save for retirement is to start early. The same goes for investing. One of the best ways to teach your kids about the stock market and get them thinking about their financial future is by allowing them to invest in the markets. Many of the major investment platforms offer custodial accounts, which allow parents to set up trading accounts for children under 18 and which require adult permission to complete transactions. Once you have the account, you can decide how to best teach your teenager the importance of risk and investing. If you have more than one teenager involved, maybe make a game out of it and see whose investments perform the best over a set amount of time. If your teenager is more goal oriented, maybe encourage them to use the account as a way to grow money for something like a car or product they want. Whatever you choose to do, be sure to guide them and set some limits. You may want to limit what investments they can put money into (no options, etc.). You will also want to encourage them to use properly vetted resources, such as popular investment books or well-sourced blogs. Heck, you yourself may want to use it as an opportunity to read back up on the latest investing trends and advice out there, if you haven’t already. Of course, you will also want to teach your children about risk as they will most likely experience some loss. It may be hard for them at first, but if you encourage them to be patient and learn from why the investment went down, then it will be a good thing in the long run. Just make sure they don’t lose too much, or for that matter, gain too much without learning about trends and why their investment performed the way it did. With the right guidance and some sound advice, your children can learn about the stock market and hopefully set themselves up for a solid financial future. What did you wish your parents taught you about investing growing up?
“Change is the only constant.” You’ve probably heard this expression before. I believe it is sometimes attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus, but it gets used often as a business mantra or by people who are seemingly always in motion. It’s also a reminder that despite our best efforts at times, change happens. I’ll admit, change can be scary, but it can also be a wonderful thing. It can force us to reflect on where we are and where we want to go. It can also provide us with an opportunity to try new things and make decisions that we have been putting off. For example, changes in the markets can force you to re-evaluate your investments and portfolio (did you really think I wasn’t going to tie this back to investing or retirement planning some way? lol.). That can be a really good thing. Markets are prone to change as companies come and go and stocks trend up and down. As such, you will need to buy and sell investments from time to time, especially if you are investing for the long-term. Same goes for your retirement planning. Over time, your benchmarks and goals will change and you will need to act accordingly. Yes, it can be a bit scary to think about having to pivot your retirement saving plan, but it can also be exciting. It can be refreshing to have a new interest or goal that fits with what you want more than what you currently have. It really all depends on how you look at it. Change can be a wonderful thing, are you ready for it when it eventually comes?
If you’re serious about saving for retirement, then you’ve probably done a lot of research and reading about the strategies you can use to do it, the tools the use, and things to look out for. Over time, that knowledge can really build up and it can be tough not to want to share it with family and friends. Guess what? There’s nothing wrong with that. After all, knowledge is power. That means the more you–and in this case, others–know the better you can be when it comes to making financial and retirement decisions. Now, before I go any further, I want to caution to you to be careful when it comes to giving advice regarding taxes or particular investments. Furthermore, if you find that you’re gathering a large following or are taking payment in return for financial advice, you should be very careful and maybe should consider becoming a financial advisor or wealth manager so as to protect yourself and get the credentials needed. In regards to taxes or tax-based strategies, you can potentially open yourself up to some legal liability, particularly if you are not properly credentialed to do so and if things go south (in other words…don’t mess with people’s taxes or tell them what to do with their taxes if you’re not a CPA). Anyways, in regards to sharing your knowledge, maybe you’ve learned some really great tips from an financial advisor or maybe you really like crunching numbers and want to help others who aren’t so skilled. Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge and skills to help others obtain a better grasp of their finances and retirement savings. Even if it’s just a matter of helping a friend set up a spreadsheet to track their expenses or helping a family member research an investment opportunity, you can share what you know and help others. Of course, if you aren’t comfortable with helping others with financial planning or preparing for retirement, you could also always just pass on the name of a reputable wealth manager or financial advisor.
There was a lot of fuss around the most recent COVID-19 stimulus bill, which President Trump signed into law shortly after Christmas. While most of what is in the bill is clear at this point–it has been about three weeks since it was signed–one area that seemed to produce at least a little confusion was whether the bill extends tax breaks from Coronavirus-related distributions (CRDs) from retirement accounts. I have written about CRDs in past blogposts over the past year. As you may recall, CRDs allowed you to take a aggregate distribution of up to $100,000 from your retirement accounts in you were directly impacted by COVID-19 (i.e. you were diagnosed and had to quarantine or you were laid off due to Coronavirus restrictions) and that the distribution was not subject to the 10% early withdrawal penalty and you have three years to pay back the distribution. CRDs were designed to help those in financial distress as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic and was most likely a lifeline for many struggling Americans in 2020. Back to the latest Stimulus package. It was reported by at least one news source that the new stimulus package extended CRDs into 2021. I want to be clear here that such information is incorrect and that the new legislation did not carry CRDs into 2021. This is important because if you planned on taking a CRD in 2021, you can’t and also as a reminder to do some research and read up on any Coronavirus-related relief legislation to see how it might impact you. Now, I don’t know what the future holds and depending on how this pandemic continues to play out, the next administration might put CRDs back on the table, but I have heard no definite inklings about that, I’m just saying anything is a possibility at this point. If you took a CRD in 2020 and want to figure out how to pay it back or find yourself in further Coronavirus-related financial hardships in 2021, you will want to speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager to figure out what the best moves might be best for you.
Now that we are over a week into 2021, now is as good a time as ever to make sure your retirement plan paperwork is current and reflects your personal choices. Mostly, I would worry about your beneficiary designations. Has anything changed with your beneficiaries over the past 12 months? Have you had any major life changes that may require updates to your beneficiary listings? If so, don’t delay in making updates. The sooner you do so, the better. Plus, it’ll be one less thing you need to worry about. Also, this is a good time of year to check on your investments and make any tweaks you feel are necessary. Of course you can also just leave things as is if you find that changes are not needed. If you have a financial advisor or wealth manager, the beginning of the year is also a really good time to check in with them and talk about both your long-term and short-term goals. You might want to set a few goals for the year and make sure you are on the right path with the goals you have that may take years to reach. If you find that nothing needs to change, then you at least have the comfort of knowing you checked.
Welcome back, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful, safe, and relaxing holiday season. Now that we are a few days into 2021, it’s a good time to start putting your financial plans for 2021 into action. What are your goals for the next 361 days? It doesn’t have to be anything crazy. It could be something as big as purchasing a home or making a push to finish paying off a mortgage or car loan. Or maybe it’s something smaller like saving up a certain amount of money or cutting back on certain expenditures. Or maybe you just want to get better with your budgeting over the next 12 months. Whatever your goals/plans are, you’ll find it easier to reach them if you get started early. If you are looking to pay something off or save up a certain amount, then you may want get started by looking at what you will need to pay or save monthly to meet your goals and then determine what spending habits need to change to meet those goals. If you want to do something like budgeting, starting on Google and seeing what advice regarding budgeting it out there is a great place to begin. Of course, if you want further help or already have an existing relationship with one, you can also always speak with a certified financial planner or wealth manager to get the advice you need/want. So, what are your financial goals for the next year?