Fiduciary Is Fun!
(a.k.a. I heart taxes)
(a.k.a. I heart taxes)
I started working with a new client last week. The initial conversations were around their desire to establish a retirement plan for their small but growing company. The company was started in 2014 by the 2 founders and is in construction. They have now matured to the point where expanding their benefits offering makes sense and they want to reward the employees who were with them in the beginning and attract new talent. All of this is pretty straight forward, and we will be starting up a new plan for them in the next few weeks.
The interesting part of the conversation occurred after we discussed the establishment of the retirement plan. I asked the two owners about the company and what planning they had done. In particular, I asked about their growth plans, as well as their exit plans, including if one should die unexpectedly. They did not have good answers, but their answers were not that unusual for successful entrepreneurs. They have been working hard at growing the business, making sure that it’s moving forward, but not stepping back to consider longer term opportunities and risks.
One item on which we spent considerable time involved what would happen to the business if one of them were to die unexpectedly? They did admit that they had brought this up to one another in the past, but never moved forward to take action or to visit with anyone about it. When I asked them to “give me a rough number” on what they thought the business was worth today, they both said “$1million” at the same time. This means that if one of the partners were to die that the other would need $500,000 to buy out that interest. That’s $500,000 in cash, today. How much more might be needed in 3, 5, or 10 more years? And neither has the $500,000 needed now.
Additionally, we talked about how the founders have been reinvesting most of their earnings into the business to help it grow. This is great in many respects, but by doing so they have not been doing any planning for themselves. The business is everything, but we all know it might not always be. So the conversation quickly moved to how we can begin to de-risk their personal situations by initiating some financial planning for themselves.
In total, it was a good conversation with numerous next steps. They were concerned where to begin on a couple of action items and I told them that I could work directly with their CPA and Attorney to get the ball moving on the buy/sell agreement. I’m putting together some quotes for consideration and gave them a list of items I need to begin working on their personal situations. By breaking everything down into steps and charting a path forward, both partners felt empowered about taking control.
In many respects, that is how I see my job – empowering you as the business owner to take the steps you know need to be done but are unsure where to start. Give me a call at your convenience and we can begin taking those next steps together.
Pete Welsh a/k/a 401kGuy
Now few people are against making more money, so I am not going to suggest that making more is a bad thing. At almost any wage level, people generally lift their gaze to the next level up and begin to think what life would be like if only they were there. Fortunately, many people do move up the salary scale over the course of their careers and often hit peak earning years in their 50s.
However, one common misconception about earning more money is that money alone will result in less stress and financial worry. Some new research out from the Salary Finance suggests that this is just not the case. Salary Finance interviewed over 10,000 employees recently on a variety of Financial Fitness measures. The report is voluminous, and it isn’t possible to cover all the topics mentioned, but the idea that earning more relieves stress is so ingrained in our DNA, that I thought I would use some of the research here to debunk it.
We should start by saying that there is a level of earning below which extreme stress is omnipresent. If a person is earning below subsistence level, stress will be experienced. So let’s for argument sake not consider that low of a level of income. For Salary Finance, they interviewed people at all levels and found that 58% of individuals earning between $25-40k have financial worries. That probably doesn’t surprise any of us.
What was interesting is that 40% of the people earning between $160-200k also have financial worries. Wouldn’t you think the percentage should be much less for this higher income earning group? I bet if you asked someone making $30k if they would have financial stress if they were making $180k, for example, they would say Heck No! But yet, the stress is present to a surprising extent.
So if money alone does not reduce financial stress and worry, what does? It appears that the number one difference is that people with less stress are Planners, using the language of Salary Finance. What is a Planner? Well, it’s someone who lives within their means, has emergency savings on hand, and focuses on long-term financial goals. In short…a Planner!
If you are an employer who would like to help your employees move from Coping to Planning, and thereby maybe not think that you paying them more alone is going to solve their problems, give me a call. I would love to have a discussion about how we can improve the financial lives of your employees.
Pete Welsh a/k/a 401kGuy
I saw some recent research from ValuePenguin that suggested 63% of Americans do not understand how a 401k plan works. This is as recent as May of 2019. Does this surprise you?
Last week I did a number of enrollment meetings for a client of mine. They are a Charter School here in Indianapolis and recently hired about 50 new teachers for the upcoming school year. They are technically a public school which allows them to sponsor a 403(b) plan. I started each meeting by asking for a show of hands of how many in the room understood what a 403(b) plan is. What do you think was the percentage of hands that went up? If only 37% of Americans understand a 401k plan, I can assure you that even less understand a 403(b) plan. In fact, most people in the room were surprised to learn that both types of plans get their name from the corresponding section of the Internal Revenue Code.
For my part, I do not find it surprising that the majority of employees do not fully understand how a corporate retirement plan works. After all, why should they? It’s not their job to understand how these work, it’s mine. And it’s my job to help them understand how to fully take advantage of these plans. A key challenge to doing this is a practical one – time. Most enrollment meetings are designed by the employer to last 20-30 minutes. It is enough time to cover the basics, but do you think that everyone walks out of the room with a full understanding?
What’s the best outcome that can come from an in-person enrollment meeting? For my part, the goal is not to provide a complete understanding of everything about the plan. My goal is to get the employees to take at least one step forward on their investing journey. Especially with younger folks, I encourage a modest percent of their income – 2 or 3 pennies on the dollar in the retirement plan. Once they get started, they can always increase. Certainly deferring to the match is optimal, but many employees starting out struggle with deferring 6% or so of pay. 2% or 3% is at least a start.
So after the meeting, what are the next steps? I encourage employees to contact me directly, and many do. I always find it interesting to visit with employees regarding their own situations. Exploring their own challenges allows for another learning opportunity to explain how the plan works and why they need to take advantage of it.
If you want an adviser for your employees that understands the financial future of your employees requires a long term journey and not just a 20-30 minute drive-by, give me a call!
Pete Welsh a/k/a 401kGuy
I was recently reading an article from the Pension Research Council of the Wharton School of Business and came across this little nugget from Olivia Mitchell from the School, “the baby who will live to be 200 has already been born.” Does anyone think this is a good thing?
Regardless of whether or not Ms. Mitchell is correct, the key point she is making is that people are living longer than they once did. On the whole, this is probably a good thing, right? However, it also raises some obvious issues. The first one, and one that has been noted many times in the financial press, is how are individuals going to plan for what could be a prolonged period of retirement? 100 years ago, retirement was a relatively short period of time. If Ms. Mitchell is correct, retirement in the future could last 100 years?!
The truth is probably somewhere in between, of course, but what will be the consequence for those who have not saved enough for a prolonged retirement, whether that be 20, 30, or even 40 years? Many people say they want to continue or will continue to work into the years that would otherwise be defined as their “golden years.” This is great, if they are able and allowed to do so. Let’s explore that last point
According to a study by ProPublica and the Urban Institute, between 1992 and 2016, 56% of older workers reported either being laid off or pushed out of a job at least once in their older years. Once reemployed, only 1 in 10 reported earning at or above the rate they were making. Rehiring older workers has always been a challenge, and remains so today, even though there are more and more older workers desiring to work!
What’s it going to take for employers to get more comfortable hiring older workers? Obviously there will be a large pool of such older workers available who need and want to work in the future. If we continue to harbor a bias against older workers, how are these individuals going to support themselves in their older age? This situation is going to get uncomfortable for all parties in the not too distant future
We can’t change society in a blog post, but we can at least take accountability for ourselves. If the thought of a prolonged retirement has you concerned and working into retirement is not your first option for several reasons, it is probably time to put together a plan. After all, no one wants to be 150 and standing in line for a job
Give me a call.
Pete Welsh a/k/a 401kGuy
I have long given up believing that investors are “rational” as I was taught in college. As a Finance major, I learned that investors are rational and make decisions in their own best interest. People don’t voluntarily make decisions that do not favor them, I was told, but rather “optimize” their decisions to benefit themselves. HA!
Some new research from Bankrate.com would leave some college professors scratching their heads. The survey asked 1,000 individuals about their investing preferences for 2019 for money that they would be investing for more than 10 years. Obvious categories were Stocks, Cash, Real Estate, Gold, etc. (Real Estate was #1 for 2019, by the way). What was really interesting, however, was a question about how falling interest rates would affect their investing decisions. Now for a “Rational Investor” falling interest rates should have a profound effect on where they put their money for 10 years or longer, just as rising interest rates should affect such a decision. Entire financial empires wobble on whether the Federal Reserve Board will raise or lower interest rates by even tiny percentages, for example. Certainly, a rational investor would factor declining interest rates into their investment decisions for the long term, right?
Nope. Not going to happen. According to BankRate.com’s research, the survey respondents would make almost no changes to their investments in a declining interest rate environment. It appears that people pick a preferred investment and then decide to stay with it regardless of what is happening around it that would impact their long-term returns. In fact, only 33% of the respondents said that if interest rates were declining would they put more money into the stock market. 67% of the respondents are “not rational.” Surprise!
So, what can we make of this information? If people should be making changes to their long-term investments as a result of macro changes in the economy, and the vast majority won’t, we obviously can’t rely on people making their own decisions in their best interest. Rather, the obvious takeaway for me is that investors need to have some distance from their investments and the decisions on those investments. What does this distance look like? To me, it looks like a competent investment advisor. Someone skilled in taking the emotions out of the decisions and applying financial analysis to the situation. It looks like someone who will act in your best interest. I guess, it looks sort of like me. Give me a call so we can discuss your situation.
Apparently, we do. At least you should talk about your parent's retirement with them, according to some new research from TIAA. The research just released last month indicates that 53% of Gen Xers and 66% of Baby Boomers are concerned about their parents’ financial security in retirement. The reason why this is a concern is because we get STRESSED OUT about our parents financial situations as they age. I suppose we didn’t actually need any survey to tell us this.
However, the more worried we get, the more it takes a toll on our own health and financial preparedness. The research seems to suggest a trickle down effect showing the more we are concerned about our parents, the more likely we are to lack confidence in our own retirement prospects. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this lack of confidence that we develop flows down to the next generation.
Is there any hope to break out of this cycle? The good news is yes, and it’s not that complicated, but it’s not that easy either. Evidently, we need to talk about our parents retirement WITH THEM. Having a discussion, and the sooner the better, allows both the parents and the children to understand the realities of retirement better. Discussing begets understanding, which begets planning, which, when done well, can alleviate our concerns. It’s not always a full proof strategy, but it is better than doing nothing and presuming the worse.
Now I said those discussions while simple on paper might be difficult in reality. How might such a conversation begin? I would recommend engaging with a good financial planner to who can assist leading a multi-generational discussion at a neutral location. These types of conversations are never easy, but better to have them with a financial professional than over Thanksgiving Dinner. Those never work out well.
Apparently, Required Minimum Distributions (“RMDs”) are a lot harder than you would think. A new survey from TD Ameritrade finds that only 38% of Americans actually know that RMDs are required from tax advantaged qualified retirement accounts, e.g. IRAs, 401ks. And if we are to believe that the Baby Boomers are retiring at the rate of 10,000/day, it’s safe to say that this could become an issue in the not too distant future.
Not taking RMDs is a problem because the penalty for missing one is 50% of the amount that should have been with withdrawn, in addition to the income tax due! If that seems like a pretty steep penalty, that’s because it is! The good news is that these accounts are generally at financial institutions that are aware of the need to make the RMDs and notify the individual of the amount that needs to be withdrawn. Nevertheless, this doesn’t necessarily always mean things go well
For example, do you know when you MUST begin your first RMD? The first one is due by April 1st of the year FOLLOWING the year in which you turn 70 1/2. That’s all well and good, and many people (or at least some people) actually know this. A problem can surface, however, if you wait until April 1st because delaying doesn’t mean you don’t need to take another distribution by December 31st of that same year. Consequently, you could get two distributions in one year which could do some things to your tax bill that you would rather not happen.
Another common challenge folks face is when they have multiple tax advantaged accounts – IRAs, old 401k balances, etc. Any idea how to calculate what is required there? The math isn’t necessarily that hard, but the actual distributions can be tricky. For instance, if you have multiple IRAs, you can take the total required distribution from 1 IRA or mix it up. No problem as long as the total for the IRAs is distributed. Does it work the same for 401ks? Nope, it does not. Each 401k account stands on its own. How about 403b balances left with old employers. Seems like they should be treated like 401ks, right? Wrong. Now we are back to the IRA method. Don’t worry, if you get it wrong the penalty is only 50%!
There is some legislation that will be changing the RMD rules again if it gets passed this year, which seems like a real possibility. Will the new rules make things less complicated? Maybe…maybe not. You should probably talk to a professional about this. You should probably talk to me.
Give me a call and let’s have conversation.
Pete Welsh aka 401kGuy
The 2018 tax filing year is over for most, but many owners, partners, and members of pass through tax entities are still on extension as they try to make sense of all the tax changes that went into effect for 2018. Many partners and LLC members are still trying to understand what the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 has done to their net income and taxes. While there were a number of positive changes for high income earners there were also some caps, particularly in the areas of State and Local Taxes (“SALT”).
For those individuals who might be looking at a tax bill that is larger than what was expected, the question could be asked “what can we do now?” The general answer is “not much”, but there is one area of planning that is still available post the close of the year, assuming you are on extension, and that includes making profit sharing contributions to your retirement plan. Such contributions can have a meaningful impact, potentially, on Qualified Business Income (“QBI”) and the available 20% income deduction. These situations are extremely fact dependent, obviously, and everyone’s situation does vary.
There are many ways to make contributions, but for partners and LLC members, the calculation is more than a little complex to say the least. The IRS did create a 21 Step Process for calculating your earnings and your deduction in Publication 560 to help make it a little easier for you. Suffice to say, however, it’s not that easy. But given the importance in getting this tax deduction contribution correct, you should consult an expert.
For those of you looking to explore your tax planning options with your retirement plan and to understand how those changes will impact your personal situation, please reach out to us for a free consultation. We work collaboratively with your tax and legal advisors to get you the maximum deduction.
Pete Welsh aka 401kGuy
The technology arms race for the financial attention of individuals and employees has never been greater. Not a day goes by that I do not see another press release or receive an email about how some financial services company is introducing a new website, or new tool, or new behavioral finance gobblegook that will revolutionize the way Americans “save and prepare for their retirement.”
To believe the hype is to believe that the average American is more engaged and prepared than ever before to save confidently on his journey to financial nirvana. Is that how it is?
According to some new research by the National Association of Retirement Plan Participants, an organization that makes “financial information transparent and universally accessible for the 145 million working Americans” we are still a wee bit away from nirvana.
Despite the plethora of new tools offered by financial institutions, it appears that only 11% of people have any generalized level of trust in them. Additionally, despite all these new tools, only 43% of employees are satisfied with the education services provided by their 401k provider and engagement is decreasing across all channels of website usage. Only 18% of employees feel comfortable planning for retirement, and only 33% of them have even tried to reduce debt or make a budget.
What the heck is going on here?! We are living in a golden age of new tools for people and across all mediums the tools are being used less and less resulting in greater financial stress and less confidence. The problem? Technology alone is not the solution.
Technology is part of the answer, but it can never be expected to be the total solution. When I see all these new tools, I concede they are great. But by themselves, they are only a starting point. Financial planning, indeed life, is too complicated to expect people to turn en mass to only electronic tools for answers.
A better solution? Pair these marvelous tools with a competent and skilled financial advisor if you really want to move the needle. The combination of advisor and technology can really deliver some powerful results. Want to learn how? Give me a call to discuss!
The word “Retirement” congers many different thoughts and images. I can tell you that after having spent 25 years working with companies and employees that “retirement” seldom means the same thing to two different people.
And the definition of retirement just keeps getting more jagged as the Baby Boomers reach their senior years. Research from AP-NORC Center shows that the idea of retiring on your own terms and putting your feet up for your remaining days is something that fewer and fewer people do. In fact, if that was ever the reality, it certainly is not prominent today.
A couple of stats from the research to get us started: over 1/3rd of Americans who consider themselves retired did not retire by choice. Most common reason people take early retirement? Health problems or disability. One out of every 3 people stop working not by choice. Find that surprising? I do. 43% of Americans over 50 say that the thought of retirement causes them to be more “anxious” than “excited.” That’s probably not good. And 56% of Americans say they expect to work past 65 with 27% of those saying they never expect to retire.
Now this last statistic may not be all that bad. Many people find purpose and enjoyment to work and working past age 65 is a choice that they welcome, not a need they bear. It’s an option, not a requirement. And that is worth keeping in mind. Rather than being forced to work beyond what your health can bear or what you need to do to provide for living expenses, isn’t it nice to think that your golden years might afford you the chance to continue to stay involved, find purpose and enjoyment without the financial requirement to do so?
What's the lesson here? It is critically important to promote savings, budgeting, and planning as early in one’s career as possible so that when those later years approach, they are not met with anxiety, but rather with hope and excitement of what can be.
If you want to work with an advisor who shares such a vision, please give me a call!