Key lessons for retirement savers.
You learn lessons as you invest in pursuit of long-run goals. Some of these lessons are conveyed and reinforced when you begin saving for retirement, and others, you glean along the way.
First and foremost, you learn to shut out much of the “noise.” News outlets take the temperature of global markets five days a week (and on the weekends), and economic indicators change weekly or monthly. The longer you invest, the more you learn that breaking news can create market volatility. While the day trader sells or buys in reaction to immediate economic or market news, the buy-and-hold investor has a long-term perspective and understands that the market can have periods of volatility.
You learn how much volatility you can stomach. Market sentiment can quickly shift and so can index performance. Across 2008-18, the S&P 500 had a cumulative total return (dividends included) of almost 140%, compared to just 8% for the MSCI Emerging Markets Index. During 2003-07, though, the Emerging Markets index returned 391%, while the S&P returned 83%.
Here are the recent yearly total returns of the S&P: 2013, +30.71%; 2014, +13.57%; 2015, +1.30%; 2016, +11.94%; 2017, +21.83%; 2018, -4.38%. Do you see any kind of “norm” or pattern there? That is the kind of year-to-year volatility that leads people to find an asset allocation that is comfortable for them.
You learn why liquidity matters. The older you get, the more you appreciate being able to quickly access your money. A family emergency might require you to tap into your investment accounts. An early retirement might prompt you to withdraw from retirement funds sooner than you anticipate. Should you misgauge your need for liquidity, you could find yourself under sudden financial pressure.
You learn the merits of rebalancing your portfolio. To the neophyte investor, rebalancing when the bulls are stampeding may seem illogical. If your portfolio is disproportionately weighted in equities, is that a problem? It could be.
Across a sustained bull market, it is common to see your level of risk rise parallel to your return. When equities return more than other asset classes, they end up representing an increasingly large percentage of your portfolio’s total assets. Correspondingly, your cash allocation shrinks.
The closer you get to retirement, the less tolerant of risk you may become. Even if you are strongly committed to growth investing, approaching retirement while taking on more risk than you feel comfortable with is problematic, as is approaching retirement with an inadequate cash position. Rebalancing a portfolio restores the original asset allocation, realigning it with your long-term risk tolerance and investment strategy. It may seem counterproductive to sell “winners” and buy “losers” as an effect of rebalancing, but as you do so, remember that you are also saying goodbye to some assets that may have peaked, while saying hello to others that might be poised to rise.
You learn not to get too attached to certain types of investments. Sometimes an investor will succumb to familiarity bias, which is the rejection of diversification for familiar investments. Why does he or she have 9% of their portfolio invested in just two Dow components? Maybe the investor just likes what those firms stand for or has worked for them. The inherent problem is that the performance of those companies exerts a measurable influence on overall portfolio performance.
Sometimes you see people invest heavily in sectors that include their own industry or career field. An investor works for an oil company, so they get heavily into the energy sector. When energy companies go through a rough patch, that investor’s portfolio may be in for a rough ride. Correspondingly, that investor may have less capacity to tolerate stock market risk than a faculty surgeon at a university hospital, a federal prosecutor, or someone else whose career field or industry will be less buffeted by the winds of economic change.
You learn to be patient. Time teaches you the importance of investing based on your time horizon, risk tolerance, and goals. The pursuit of your long-term financial objectives should not falter. Your financial future and your quality of life may depend on realizing them.
It’s common practice for the president or CEO of a company to include a letter to shareholders in the annual report. Berkshire Hathaway’s chairman and CEO, Warren Buffett, doesn’t buck the trend.
Buffett's recently release annual letter captures plenty of attention, and this year was no exception. The focus is on the investments and operating performance of Berkshire Hathaway, but the Oracle of Omaha also includes many sound principles for wealth creation as well as his general thoughts about the U.S. economy.
From 1965-2018, the market value of Berkshire Hathaway has posted a compounded annual gain of 20.5%, more than double the S&P 500’s advance, which averaged 9.5%, including reinvested dividends.
There are two things that pop out here. First, Buffett's enviable record and his ability to create long-term wealth using time-tested principles. Second, the S&P 500’s record illustrates that a well-diversified stock portfolio has been a critical component of a long-term financial plan.
In case you’re wondering, Berkshire Hathaway’s overall gain has been 2,472,627% versus the S&P 500’s still-impressive 15,019%.
One more data point – Buffet continues to perform well, topping the S&P 500 Index in eight of the last 11 years.
Focus on the forest–not the trees
Your financial plan is comprised of many parts. This would equate to what Buffett calls the “economic trees.” In other words, let’s not get to caught up on any one investment.
“A few of our trees are diseased and unlikely to be around a decade from now. Many others, though, are destined to grow in size and beauty,” Buffett writes.
He won’t get every investment right. Neither will we. Berkshire holds a substantial position in Kraft Heinz (KHC), whose shares recently tumbled after the company delivered poor results and slashed its dividend.
But, if we review the portfolio as we’d view the forest, we find a diversity of trees, wildlife, and plants. It’s a work of beauty. This is why we build our client's portfolios from the bottom up. Like the forest, we diversify our client's investments and create a portfolio that's a good fit for them with their financial goals in mind.
As Buffett opines (and we agree), “I have no idea as to how stocks will behave next week or next year. Predictions of that sort have never been a part of our activities.”
That said, you may recall the market decline just a few short months ago, where we experienced a 19.8% drop in the S&P 500 Index (September peak to Dec 24th trough).
How did that decline sit with you? We do our best to gauge our client's tolerance for risk and build their portfolios accordingly because we know how important behavior is in the investing process. The best portfolio we can create for a client is the one they're going to stick with.
If you found yourself fretting over the volatility a few months ago and we haven't spoken, don't hesitate to call us to see if we need to make any adjustments to your portfolio. If on the other hand, you slept soundly, it would suggest your investment mix in relation to your tolerance for risk is on target.
“At Berkshire, the whole is greater–considerably greater–than the sum of the parts.”
We feel the same way about your financial plan.
The American tailwind
Warren Buffett is bullish on America.
In 1942, he invested $114.75 in three shares of Cities Service preferred stock. At the time, the country was mobilizing for what would be a massive war effort.
If Buffett had invested his $114.75 into a no-fee S&P 500 index fund, and all dividends had been reinvested, his stake would have grown to $606,811 (pre-taxes) on January 31, 2019 (the latest data available before the printing of his letter).
The U.S. was victorious in WWII, but challenges never cease.
We’ve endured the cold war, the divisiveness of the 1960s, OPEC’s oil embargo, double-digit inflation, soaring interest rates, a rising federal deficit, the tragedy of 9-11, the war on terrorism, the financial panic of 2008, the ensuing Great Recession, falling home prices, and more.
Let’s say that you had had the foresight to see the oncoming explosion in the federal deficit, one that is up 40,000% over the last 77 years.
“To ‘protect’ yourself,” Buffett said, “You might have eschewed stocks and opted instead to buy three ounces of gold with your $114.75. And what would that supposed protection have delivered? You would now have an asset worth about $4,200.” Compare that to the performance of the S&P 500!
What is this nation’s secret sauce? The answer is complex and difficult; yet, the overarching theme lies in front of us.
The experiment called the United States has birthed and attracted the best and the brightest. Freedom and opportunity are its calling cards. Today, we are the wealthiest nation on Earth, and we continue to ride the wave of innovation and enjoy the benefits.
But, is that wave about to crash on the shore?
A recent piece by Morgan Stanley entitled, Millennials, Gen Z and the Coming ‘Youth Boom’ Economy, complements Buffett’s optimistic viewpoint. The population of the Millennials will overtake the Baby Boomers this year, and “Gen Z, born between 1997 and 2012, will overtake the Millennials as the country's largest cohort by 2034,” it said. For the U.S. economy, “The demographic tailwinds created by these high-population cohorts could be significant, delivering the kind of ‘youth jolt’ that the Baby Boomers were famous for.”
Sure, we can’t know when the next recession will ensue or some of the challenges we’ll face as a nation in the coming years. Yet, as Buffett sums up his annual letter, “Over the next 77 years, the major source of our gains will almost certainly be provided by The American Tailwind. We are lucky–gloriously lucky–to have that force at our back.”
2019 – A bright start to the New Year
First, let’s go back to December. A headline in the Street.com summed it up well: "Dow Gains on Last Day of Worst December Since the Depression." Even a 7% bounce in the final week of the year didn’t prevent a performance that was compared to the early 1930s.
When the S&P 500 Index touched its bottom on Christmas Eve, the broad-based index of 500 large U.S. companies had shed 19.8% from its September 20 peak. We were barely 0.2 percentage points from officially entering a bear market.
Market turmoil in the fall and December’s action were especially ugly. Steep market corrections are not something we look forward to; they are impossible to consistently predict, but they come with the territory.
As we've repeatedly said, your investment plan must incorporate unexpected detours. The disciplined investor, who divorces the emotional component from the investment plan, chooses the best path to meet his or her long-term financial goals.
That said, 2019 has been much better:
There are no guarantees a deal will be inked, but a March 4 headline in the Wall Street Journal summed up recent sentiment:
"U.S., China Close In on Trade Deal"
Both countries could lift some tariffs imposed last year, and Beijing would agree to ease restrictions on American products
A trade deal that pries open Chinese markets to U.S. products and services, protects U.S. intellectual property rights, and ends forced technology transfers (and one with strong enforcement provisions) would not only benefit the U.S. economy, but a deal between the world’s largest economies would sweep away one cloud of uncertainty that has plagued investors over the last year.
10 years gone
On March 9, 2009, the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed at 6,547. It marked the bottom of the last bear market. On February 28, 2019, the Dow finished the day at 25,916, less than 1,000 points from its prior peak.
The bull market turns ten years old this month. How much life is left in the bull? We are in the latter stages of the cycle, but much will depend on the economic fundamentals going forward. With the Fed on hold, inflation contained, and the economy moving forward, the fundamentals are currently sound.
But never discount volatility. Stocks seem to take the stairs up and the elevator down.
In the spirit of celebrating the last ten years, let’s look at a partial list of the worries that temporarily sidelined the bull market (and caused short bouts of volatility), but didn’t sideline those with a long-term view:
The European debt crisis…Greece... global growth worries…U.S. growth is slowing...China is slowing...the dollar is too strong...Japan earthquake/tsunami/nuclear disaster...U.S. debt downgrade...fiscal cliff...Obama will be re-elected...Trump will get elected...Hillary will get elected...the Fed will end bond buys...Fed will start hiking interest rates...falling oil prices...Ebola scare...Russia invades Ukraine...North Korea...ISIS...Syria...Brexit...trade tensions...acrimony in D.C....and stocks have risen too quickly.
Shorter-term risks never completely abate. But Warren Buffett’s message has been consistent. Don’t bet against America.
Start your “second act” with inadequate assets, and your vision of the future may be revised.
How much have you saved for retirement? Are you on pace to amass a retirement fund of $1 million by age 65? More than a few retirement counselors urge pre-retirees to strive for that goal. If you have $1 million in invested assets when you retire, you can withdraw 4% a year from your retirement funds and receive $40,000 in annual income to go along with Social Security benefits (in ballpark terms, about $30,000 per year for someone retiring from a long career). If your investment portfolio is properly diversified, you may be able to do this for 25-30 years without delving into assets elsewhere.
Perhaps you are 20-25 years away from retiring. Factoring in inflation and medical costs, maybe you would prefer $80,000 in annual income plus Social Security at the time you retire. Strictly adhering to the 4% rule, you will need to save $2 million in retirement funds to satisfy that preference.
There are many variables in retirement planning, but there are also two realities that are hard to dismiss. One, retiring with $1 million in invested assets may suffice in 2018, but not in the 2030s or 2040s, given how even moderate inflation whittles away purchasing power over time. Two, most Americans are saving too little for retirement: about 5% of their pay, according to research from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. Fifteen percent is a better goal.
Fifteen percent? Really? Yes. Imagine a 30-year-old earning $40,000 annually who starts saving for retirement. She gets 3.8% raises each year until age 67; her investment portfolio earns 6% a year during that time frame. At a 5% savings rate, she would have close to $424,000 in her retirement account 37 years later; at a 15% savings rate, she would have about $1.3 million by age 67. From boosting her savings rate 10%, she ends up with three times as much in retirement assets.
Now, what if you save too little for retirement? That implies some degree of compromise to your lifestyle, your dreams, or both. You may have seen your parents, grandparents, or neighbors make such compromises.
There is the 75-year-old who takes any job he can, no matter how unsatisfying or awkward, because he realizes he is within a few years of outliving his money. There is the small business owner entering her sixties with little or no savings (and no exit strategy) who doggedly resolves to work until she dies.
Perhaps you have seen the widow in her seventies who moves in with her son and his spouse out of financial desperation, exhibiting early signs of dementia and receiving only minimal Social Security benefits. Or the healthy and active couple in their sixties who retire years before their savings really allow, and who are chagrined to learn that their only solid hope of funding their retirement comes down to selling the home they have always loved and moving to a cheaper and less cosmopolitan area or a tiny condominium.
When you think of retirement, you probably do not think of “just getting by.” That is no one’s retirement dream. Sadly, that risks becoming reality for those who save too little for the future. Talk to a financial professional about what you have in mind for retirement: what you want your life to look like, what your living expenses could be like. From that conversation, you might get a glimpse of just how much you should be saving today for tomorrow.
Are you aware of them?
The federal government offers some major tax breaks for older Americans. Some of these perks deserve more publicity than they receive.
If you are 65 or older, your standard deduction is $1,300 larger. Make that $1,600 if you are unmarried. Thanks to the passage of the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act, the 2018 standard deduction for an individual taxpayer at least 65 years of age is a whopping $13,600, more than double what it was in 2017. (If you are someone else’s dependent, your standard deduction is much less.)
You may be able to write off some medical costs. This year, the Internal Revenue Service will let you deduct qualifying medical expenses once they exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. In 2019, the threshold will return to 10% of AGI, unless Congress acts to preserve the 7.5% baseline. The I.R.S. list of eligible expenses is long. Beyond out-of-pocket costs paid to doctors and other health care professionals, it also includes things like long-term care insurance premiums, travel costs linked to medical appointments, and payments for durable medical equipment, such as dentures and hearing aids.
Are you thinking about selling your home? Many retirees consider this. If you have lived in your current residence for at least two of the five years preceding a sale, you can exclude as much as $250,000 in gains from federal taxation (a married couple can shield up to $500,000). These limits, established in 1997, have never been indexed to inflation. The Department of the Treasury has been studying whether it has the power to adjust them. If modified for inflation, they would approach $400,000 for singles and $800,000 for married couples.
Low-income seniors may qualify for the Credit for the Elderly or Disabled. This incentive, intended for people 65 and older (and younger people who have retired due to permanent and total disability), can be as large as $7,500 based on your filing status. You must have very low AGI and nontaxable income to claim it, though. It is basically designed for those living wholly or mostly on Social Security benefits.
Affluent IRA owners may want to make a charitable IRA gift. If you are well off and have a large traditional IRA, you may not need your yearly Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for living expenses. If you are 70½ or older, you have an option: you can make a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD) with IRA assets. You can donate up to $100,000 of IRA assets to a qualified charity in a single year this way, and the amount donated counts toward your annual RMD. (A married couple gets to donate up to $200,000 per year.) Even more importantly, the amount of the QCD is excluded from your taxable income for the year of the donation.
Some states also give seniors tax breaks. For example, the following 11 states do not tax federal, state, or local pension income: Alabama, Hawaii, Illinois, Kansas, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, and Pennsylvania. Twenty-eight states (and the District of Columbia) refrain from taxing Social Security income.
Unfortunately, your Social Security benefits could be partly or fully taxable. They could be taxed at both the federal and state level, depending on how much you earn and where you happen to live. Whether you feel this is reasonable or not, you may have the potential to claim some of the tax breaks mentioned above as you pursue the goal of tax efficiency.
Breaking down the basics & what each part covers.
Whether your 65th birthday is on the horizon or decades away, you should understand the parts of Medicare – what they cover and where they come from.
Parts A & B: Original Medicare. There are two components. Part A is hospital insurance. It provides coverage for inpatient stays at medical facilities. It can also help cover the costs of hospice care, home health care, and nursing home care – but not for long and only under certain parameters.
Seniors are frequently warned that Medicare will only pay for a maximum of 100 days of nursing home care (provided certain conditions are met). Part A is the part that does so. Under current rules, you pay $0 for days 1-20 of skilled nursing facility (SNF) care under Part A. During days 21-100, a $170.50 daily coinsurance payment may be required of you.
Part B is medical insurance and can help pick up some of the tab for physical therapy, physician services, expenses for durable medical equipment (hospital beds, wheelchairs), and other medical services, such as lab tests and a variety of health screenings.
Part B isn’t free. You pay monthly premiums to get it and a yearly deductible (plus 20% of costs). The premiums vary according to the Medicare recipient’s income level. The standard monthly premium amount is $135.50 this year. The current yearly deductible is $185. (Some people automatically receive Part B coverage, but others must sign up for it.)
Part C: Medicare Advantage plans. Insurance companies offer these Medicare-approved plans. To keep up your Part C coverage, you must keep up your payment of Part B premiums as well as your Part C premiums. To say not all Part C plans are alike is an understatement. Provider networks, premiums, copays, coinsurance, and out-of-pocket spending limits can all vary widely, so shopping around is wise. During Medicare’s annual Open Enrollment Period (October 15 - December 7), seniors can choose to switch out of Original Medicare to a Medicare Advantage plan or vice versa; although, any such move is much wiser with a Medigap policy already in place.
How does a Medigap plan differ from a Part C plan? Medigap plans (also called Medicare Supplement plans) emerged to address the gaps in Part A and Part B coverage. If you have Part A and Part B already in place, a Medigap policy can pick up some copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles for you. You pay Part B premiums in addition to Medigap plan premiums to keep a Medigap policy in effect. These plans no longer offer prescription drug coverage.
Part D: prescription drug plans. While Part C plans commonly offer prescription drug coverage, insurers also sell Part D plans as a standalone product to those with Original Medicare. As per Medigap and Part C coverage, you need to keep paying Part B premiums in addition to premiums for the drug plan to keep Part D coverage going.
Every Part D plan has a formulary, a list of medications covered under the plan. Most Part D plans rank approved drugs into tiers by cost. The good news is that Medicare’s website will determine the best Part D plan for you. Go to medicare.gov/find-a-plan to start your search; enter your medications and the website will do the legwork for you.
Perhaps both traditional and Roth IRAs can play a part in your retirement plans.
IRAs can be an important tool in your retirement savings belt, and whichever you choose to open could have a significant impact on how those accounts might grow.
IRAs, or Individual Retirement Accounts, are investment vehicles used to help save money for retirement. There are two different types of IRAs: traditional and Roth. Traditional IRAs, created in 1974, are owned by roughly 35.1 million U.S. households. And Roth IRAs, created as part of the Taxpayer Relief Act in 1997, are owned by nearly 24.9 million households.
Both kinds of IRAs share many similarities, and yet, each is quite different. Let's take a closer look.
Up to certain limits, traditional IRAs allow individuals to make tax-deductible contributions into the retirement account. Distributions from traditional IRAs are taxed as ordinary income, and if taken before age 59½, may be subject to a 10% federal income tax penalty. For individuals covered by a retirement plan at work, the deduction for a traditional IRA in 2019 has been phased out for incomes between $103,000 and $123,000 for married couples filing jointly and between $64,000 and $74,000 for single filers.
Also, within certain limits, individuals can make contributions to a Roth IRA with after-tax dollars. To qualify for a tax-free and penalty-free withdrawal of earnings, Roth IRA distributions must meet a five-year holding requirement and occur after age 59½. Like a traditional IRA, contributions to a Roth IRA are limited based on income. For 2019, contributions to a Roth IRA are phased out between $193,000 and $203,000 for married couples filing jointly and between $122,000 and $137,000 for single filers.
In addition to contribution and distribution rules, there are limits on how much can be contributed to either IRA. In fact, these limits apply to any combination of IRAs; that is, workers cannot put more than $6,000 per year into their Roth and traditional IRAs combined. So, if a worker contributed $3,500 in a given year into a traditional IRA, contributions to a Roth IRA would be limited to $2,500 in that same year.
Individuals who reach age 50 or older by the end of the tax year can qualify for annual “catch-up” contributions of up to $1,000. So, for these IRA owners, the 2019 IRA contribution limit is $7,000.
If you meet the income requirements, both traditional and Roth IRAs can play a part in your retirement plans. And once you’ve figured out which will work better for you, only one task remains: opening an account.
Follow the rules, and you might get a big federal tax break.
Is your annual IRA withdrawal a bother? If you are an affluent retiree, that might be the case. The income is always nice, but the taxes that come with it? Not so much.
If only you could satisfy your yearly IRA withdrawal requirement minus the attached taxes. Guess what: there might be a way.
If you gift traditional IRA assets to charity, you could see some big tax savings. The Internal Revenue Service calls this a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD), and you may want to explore its potential. Some criteria must be met: you need to be at least 70½ years old in the year of the donation, the donation must take the form of a direct transfer of assets from the IRA custodian to the charity, and the charity must be “qualified” in the eyes of the I.R.S. Any 501(c)(3) non-profit organization meets the I.R.S. qualification, as do houses of worship.
The amount you gift can be applied toward your Required Minimum Distribution (RMD) for the year, and you may exclude it from your taxable income. If you are retired and well-to-do, a charitable IRA gift could be a highly tax-efficient move.
Just how much could you save? That depends on two factors: how much you gift, and your federal income tax bracket. As an example, say you are in the 35% federal income tax bracket, and you donate $40,000 from your traditional IRA to a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. That $40,000 will be gone from your taxable income, and the donation will cut your federal tax bill for the year by $14,000 (as 35% of $40,000 is $14,000). Yes, the savings could be significant.
You can donate as much as $100,000 to a qualified charity this way in a single year. That limit is per IRA owner; if you are married, and you and your spouse both have traditional IRAs, you can each donate up to $100,000.
What about the fine print? There is plenty of that, and it is all worth reading. You may be curious if you can make a QCD from a SIMPLE or SEP-IRA; the answer is no. You can make a QCD from a Roth IRA, but there is little point in it: Roth IRA withdrawals are commonly tax-free.
Regarding the asset transfer, the critical detail is that you cannot touch the money. The distribution must be payable directly to the non-profit organization or charity, not to you. (Income tax does not need to be withheld from the distribution since the amount withdrawn will not count as taxable income.) In addition, your tax preparer must identify the distribution as a QCD on your federal tax return. This is crucial and must not be overlooked, because the custodian of your IRA will probably report your QCD as a normal IRA distribution.
If you itemize your deductions, you should know that a charitable IRA gift does not count as a deductible charitable contribution. (That would amount to a double tax break.) Of course, fewer taxpayers have incentive to itemize now, since the standard deduction is so large, thanks to the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act.
If you want to make a charitable IRA gift, start the process before the year ends. If you try to make the gift in late December, your IRA custodian might not be able to move fast enough for you, and the asset transfer may occur later than you would like (i.e., after December 31). Talk with a tax or financial professional before the year ends, so that you can plan a charitable IRA donation with some time to spare.
That truth must always be recognized.
When financial markets have a bad day, week, or month, discomforting headlines and data can swiftly communicate a message to retirees and retirement savers alike: equity investments are risky things, and Wall Street is a risky place.
All true. If you want to accumulate significant retirement savings or try and grow your wealth through the opportunities in the markets, this is a reality you cannot avoid.
Regularly, your investments contend with assorted market risks. They never go away. At times, they may seem dangerous to your net worth or your retirement savings, so much so that you think about getting out of equities entirely.
If you are having such thoughts, think about this: in the big picture, the real danger to your retirement could be being too risk averse.
Is it possible to hold too much in cash? Yes. Some pre-retirees do. (Even some retirees, in fact.) They have six-figure savings accounts, built up since the Great Recession and the last bear market. It is a prudent move. A dollar will always be worth a dollar in America, and that money is out of the market and backed by deposit insurance.
This is all well and good, but the problem is what that money is earning. Even with interest rates rising, many high-balance savings accounts are currently yielding less than 0.5% a year. The latest inflation data shows consumer prices advancing 2.3% a year. That money in the bank is not outrunning inflation, not even close. It will lose purchasing power over time.
Consider some of the recent yearly advances of the S&P 500. In 2016, it gained 9.54%; in 2017, it gained 19.42%. Those were the price returns; the 2016 and 2017 total returns (with dividends reinvested) were a respective 11.96% and 21.83%.
Yes, the broad benchmark for U.S. equities has bad years as well. Historically, it has had about one negative year for every three positive years. Looking through relatively recent historical windows, the positives have mostly outweighed the negatives for investors. From 1973-2016, for example, the S&P gained an average of 11.69% per year. (The last 3-year losing streak the S&P had was in 2000-02.)
Your portfolio may not return as well as the S&P does in a given year, but when equities rally, your household may see its invested assets grow noticeably. When you bring in equity investment account factors like compounding and tax deferral, the growth of those invested assets over decades may dwarf the growth that could result from mere checking or savings account interest.
At some point, putting too little into investments and too much in the bank may become a risk – a risk to your retirement savings potential. At today’s interest rates, the money you are saving may end up growing faster if it is invested in some vehicle offering potentially greater reward and comparatively greater degrees of risk to tolerate.
Having a big emergency fund is good. You can dip into that liquid pool of cash to address sudden financial issues that pose risks to your financial equilibrium in the present.
Having a big retirement fund is even better. When you have one of those, you may confidently address the biggest financial risk you will ever face: the risk of outliving your money in the future.
An emergency fund may help alleviate the stress associated with a financial crisis.
Have you ever had one of those months? The water heater stops heating, the dishwasher stops washing, and your family ends up on a first-name basis with the nurse at urgent care. Then, as you’re driving to work, giving yourself your best, “You can make it!” pep talk, you see smoke seeping out from under your hood.
Bad things happen to the best of us, and instead of conveniently spacing themselves out, they almost always come in waves. The important thing is to have a financial life preserver, in the form of an emergency cash fund, at the ready.
Although many people agree that an emergency fund is an important resource, they’re not sure how much to save or where to keep the money. Others wonder how they can find any extra cash to sock away. One recent survey found that 29% of Americans lack any emergency savings whatsoever.
How Much Money? When starting an emergency fund, you’ll want to set a target amount. But how much is enough? Unfortunately, there is no “one-size-fits-all” answer. The ideal amount for your emergency fund may depend on your financial situation and lifestyle. For example, if you own your home or provide for a number of dependents, you may be more likely to face financial emergencies. And if the crisis you face is a job loss or injury that affects your income, you may need to depend on your emergency fund for an extended period of time.
Coming Up with Cash. If saving several months of income seems an unreasonable goal, don’t despair. Start with a more modest target, such as saving $1,000. Build your savings at regular intervals, a bit at a time. It may help to treat the transaction like a bill you pay each month. Consider setting up an automatic monthly transfer to make self-discipline a matter of course. You may want to consider paying off any credit card debt before you begin saving.
Once you see your savings begin to build, you may be tempted to use the account for something other than an emergency. Try to budget and prepare separately for bigger expenses you know are coming. Keep your emergency money separate from your checking account so that it’s harder to dip into.
Where Do I Put It? An emergency fund should be easily accessible, which is why many people choose traditional bank savings accounts. Savings accounts typically offer modest rates of return. Certificates of Deposit may provide slightly higher returns than savings accounts, but your money will be locked away until the CD matures, which could be several months to several years.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation insures bank accounts and certificates of deposit (CDs) up to $250,000 per depositor, per institution in principal and interest. CDs are time deposits offered by banks, thrift institutions, and credit unions. CDs offer a slightly higher return than a traditional bank savings account, but they also may require a higher amount of deposit. If you sell before the CD reaches maturity, you may be subject to penalties.
Some individuals turn to money market accounts for their emergency savings. Money market funds are considered low-risk securities, but they’re not backed by the federal government like CDs, so it is possible to lose money. Depending on your particular goals and the amount you have saved, some combination of lower-risk investments may be your best choice.
Money held in money market funds is not insured or guaranteed by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation or any other government agency. Money market funds seek to preserve the value of your investment at $1.00 a share. However, it is possible to lose money by investing in a money market fund. Money market mutual funds are sold by prospectus.
Please consider the charges, risks, expenses, and investment objectives carefully before investing. A prospectus containing this and other information about the investment company can be obtained from your financial professional. Read it carefully before you invest or send money.
The only thing you can know about unexpected expenses is that they’re coming – for everyone. But having an emergency fund may help alleviate the stress and worry associated with a financial crisis. If your emergency savings are not where they should be, consider taking steps today to create a cushion for the future.
Seniors will see their retirement benefits increase by an average of 2.8% in 2019.
Social Security will soon give seniors their largest “raise” since 2012. In view of inflation, the Social Security Administration has authorized a 2.8% increase for retirement benefits in 2019.
This is especially welcome, as annual Social Security cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs, have been irregular in recent years. There were no COLAs at all in 2010, 2011, and 2016, and the 2017 COLA was 0.3%. This marks the second year in a row in which the COLA has been at least 2%.
Not every retiree will see their benefits grow 2.8% in 2019. While affluent seniors will probably get the full COLA, more than 5 million comparatively poorer seniors may not, according to the Senior Citizens League, a lobbying group active in the nation’s capital.
Why, exactly? It has to do with Medicare’s “hold harmless” provision, which held down the cost of Part B premiums for select Medicare recipients earlier in this decade. That rule prevents Medicare Part B premiums, which are automatically deducted from monthly Social Security benefits, from increasing more than a Social Security COLA in a given year. (Without this provision in place, some retirees might see their Social Security benefits effectively shrink from one year to the next.)
After years of Part B premium inflation being held in check, the “hold harmless” provision is likely fading for the above-mentioned 5+ million Social Security recipients. They may not see much of the 2019 COLA at all.
Even so, the average Social Security beneficiary will see a difference. The increase will take the average individual monthly Social Security payment from $1,422 to $1,461, meaning $468 more in retirement benefits for the year. An average couple receiving Social Security is projected to receive $2,448 per month, which will give them $804 more for 2019 than they would get without the COLA. How about a widower living alone? The average monthly benefit is set to rise $38 per month to $1,386, which implies an improvement of $456 in total benefits for 2019.
Lastly, it should be noted that some disabled workers also receive Social Security benefits. Payments to their households will also grow larger next year. Right now, the average disabled worker enrolled in Social Security gets $1,200 per month in benefits. That will rise to $1,234 per month in 2019. The increase for the year will be $408.