Wellness as a Financial Strategy

Wellness as a Financial Strategy

 

I work with clients to create plans for spending, saving, investment, taxes, insurance, estate, and all the other items that, if managed, can lead to financial security and peace of mind.  Often, after all the planning, I get the question: What else can I do to help my financial situation?  While a good plan can help mitigate the ups and downs of the markets and the economy, it still can lead many to feel like they have little control over their situation.  This question often stems from a sense of not feeling totally in control of your financial situation because of volatile markets, the economy—and recently, a global pandemic.

One area I have started to introduce to my clients as a financial strategy is to consider doing an evaluation and plan for their physical and mental health.  The estimated average healthcare costs for a couple in retirement is $285,000.  This figure can include Medicare supplement premiums, deductibles, drugs, co-pays, dental, vision, counseling, and other care services.  Over the past 30+ years as I have been working with clients, I have seen firsthand how these costs are becoming an increasing burden to retirees as inflation in the healthcare industry is very much outpacing increases in incomes.

For many, chronic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and auto-immune diseases are a big burden physically, mentally, and financially.  My story was typical of a lot of people I see.  Busy family life, high pressure jobs, and the stresses of life slowly add up.  Late in my 40’s, I was diagnosed with high blood pressure and started taking medication.  I thought I was in pretty good shape and didn’t give it much thought as my mom had high blood pressure all her adult life, and I thought it was hereditary.  As I got into my 50’s, my cholesterol and triglycerides started steadily increasing to unhealthy levels.  Like many, I ignored the slow decay of my physical and mental health.  Denial was strong.  I would get flashes of trying to stem the aging “tide” but would eventually fall back to poor exercise and eating habits.  There were always more important things to do than focusing on my health. Between feeling the aches and pains of nearing 60 years old and waking up to the knowledge of the effect my health would have on my retirement finances, I became acutely aware that I needed to seriously focus on my health.  My motivation of wanting to feel better physically and mentally was boosted by the fact that I wanted to use my retirement savings for better things than healthcare costs.

In late 2018, I got to work.  First, I did an inventory of my state of health.  To do this, I consulted with professionals, gathered tools and health data, and did a deep dive into educating myself about nutrition and mental wellness.  I also examined my consumption of food and alcohol, my utilization of exercise, and my stress levels and other facets of improving my emotional health.  Second, I set aside feelings of ego, guilt, and pride to create a realistic road map to improving my health.  One of the main things I learned right away is that there is no quick fix.  To reverse years of poor habits and choices, it takes a long period of time.  It definitely is a marathon and not a sprint, as to do it the right way involves lifestyle changes and not diets or boot camps.  

I’m eating less with mostly plant-based meals, exercising consistently, and addressing the stresses I face on many fronts.  It has been fabulous!  My energy levels are much higher, and I have a much more positive attitude about life in general.  For many years, I felt anxious about the state of my physical and mental health and that I couldn’t get the motivation to execute a good personal healthcare plan with consistency.  I’m glad the added boost of seeing improved health as a financial strategy has motivated me to create and execute the beginnings of a sound personal health plan.

We all live with the genetic lottery, and predicting our future health is difficult, but it would be ridiculous for me not to do everything in my power to live healthily and potentially not spend my hard-earned money on healthcare.  I encourage everyone to create and execute a health and wellness plan to feel great physically and mentally.  It also is a good financial strategy.

What Women Need to Know About Working with Financial Advisors | Tip #1

What Women Need to Know About Working with Financial Advisors | Tip #1

 

I want to acknowledge that all women are wonderfully unique individuals and therefore these tips will not be applicable to all of us equally and may be very helpful to some men and nonbinary individuals. This is written in an effort to support women, not to exclude, generalize, or stereotype any group. 

 

I was recently reminded of a troubling statistic: Two-thirds of women do not trust their advisors. Having worked in the financial services industry for nearly two decades, this is unfortunately not surprising to me. But it is troubling, largely because it’s so preventable.

Whether you have a long-standing relationship with an advisor, are just starting to consider working with a financial planner, or are considering making a change, there are some simple tips all women should be aware of to improve this relationship and strengthen their financial futures.

 

Tip #1 – Work with an Advisor You Like

You may think this is obvious or that this shouldn’t matter. Unfortunately, it isn’t obvious to many people, and I would argue that it may be the most important factor. If you don’t like someone, you are unlikely to trust them; and if you don’t trust them, you are unlikely to take their advice, even when it’s advice you should be taking. You’re also more likely to cut your meetings short or avoid them altogether. Chatting with my clients is one of my favorite parts of my job, and it’s also when I usually find out about the important changes in their life that they might not even realize impact their financial plan. It’s an advisor’s job to identify the financial impacts of your life changes, and your advisor can’t help if they are not aware of the changes. The better your relationship with your advisor, the more likely you will keep them updated—and the more likely they can help you make smart financial decisions.

Take some time to consider what’s most important to you when building a trusting relationship, and don’t be afraid to ask an advisor about their personality traits or communication style. You may need someone who is approachable and compassionate, or it may be more important to you that they are straightforward and detailed. I’ve worked with enough advisors to know we come in every shape and size you can imagine, so don’t settle for someone who isn’t a good fit.

This chart can be an extremely helpful tool for identifying your preferred communication style(s). Once you’ve identified your preferred style, you should be able to easily tell whether your advisor is communicating effectively according to your personality. If they aren’t, send them the chart! Strong communication skills are essential in financial planning, so they should be able to adapt to fit your preferences.

Aside from communication style, it may be important to you that you work with an advisor who shares certain values that you hold dear. I recently met with some new clients who I could tell were not completely at ease even though I thought we had hit it off. They were squirming in their seats when they finally got up the courage to ask me about my political leanings. When they learned that we felt the same way, they were visibly relieved. It was important enough to them that I don’t think they could have had a trusting relationship without this information. If you feel this strongly about anything, ask about it when interviewing advisors.

If you find you are having a hard time getting to know your advisor, ask to go to lunch. Once you get away from the office and their financial charts, it will likely be easier to build a connection. You may even get a free lunch out of it!

There are many different considerations when hiring an advisor: Are they a fiduciary? Do they practice comprehensive planning? How are they compensated? What is their investment philosophy? They may check off all your other boxes, but if you don’t like them, you are unlikely to get all you need out of the relationship. If you’re looking for an advisor you’re compatible with, consider perusing our advisor bios.

Be sure to read our upcoming blog posts for additional tips women need to know in order to get the most out of working with a financial advisor. You’ll notice that all of the other tips are much easier to follow when you work with an advisor you like!

With the World Working from Home, How Can Real Estate Be a Good Investment?

With the World Working from Home, How Can Real Estate Be a Good Investment?

 

One of the most noted and real impacts of the coronavirus is that employees are working from home. While it has been a huge shift, four plus months in, the results have been positive for many, and headlines in business publications are examining whether a substantial fraction of these employees may never return to the office. There is solid debate about how big the impact will ultimately be, but there is no doubt that companies will be revisiting their spaces.

This trend might lead one to worry that real estate values will plummet as demand falls and supply stays constant. To this I would offer two counter points. First and foremost, commercial real estate encompasses a wide range of investments. The pie chart below shows the sub-sector breakdown of the holdings of our most widely recommended real estate investment, the Dimensional Global Real Estate Fund (DFGEX).

REITs that focus on office properties as of June 30th, 2020, made up just 12% of the fund’s allocation. Office REITs do not just own high-rise commercial office buildings in downtown cores. Much of the space they own is in suburban office parks and includes space leased by dentists, hairstylists, lawyers, and small research and engineering firms. While many more things can be done virtually, there are still many businesses, such as orthodontists and spas, that will always require an in-person experience.

While demand for some types of office space may be dropping, demand for other types of real estate in the fund is growing. As of June 30th, the top three holdings in the Dimensional fund were American Tower Corporation, Crown Castle International Corporation, and Prologis Inc. American Tower and Crown Castle are owners and providers of infrastructure for wireless communication and fall into the Specialized category. Prologis is in the logistics real estate business, leasing distribution facilities to support direct fulfillment to customers. All three of the companies are poised to see substantial growth from increasing demand. The fund owns many other businesses, from cold storage warehouses to multi-family apartments to medical facilities, where demand remains high.

The second point is that changes always follow any societal upheaval. There is no doubt that COVID will have an impact on our world. However, it is unclear that the shifts will be as radical as some are predicting or that COVID alone will cause the demise of industries or institutions. Large scale change rarely happens that quickly or dramatically.

For example, the idea that demand for office real estate will suddenly drop 60–70% seems overblown. IBM was an early proponent of telecommuting. In a 2009 report, they boasted that “40 percent of IBM’s some 386,000 employees in 173 countries have no office at all.” According to an Atlantic article from 2017, they unloaded 58 million square feet of office space at a gain of nearly $2 billion. By all accounts, it sounded like a winning strategy. Only, it did not work out, and in March of 2017, IBM decided to move thousands of its workers back to physical company offices.

The problem was likely a drop in what the Atlantic terms “collaborative efficiency”—or the speed at which a group successfully solves a problem. Physical distance still mattered when it came to team creativity, and remaining competitive in a rapidly changing landscape more and more requires novel solutions to complex problems. Offices may look different, but I believe that more than ever people and employees will need places to gather and connect.

The future trajectory is never clear even to the greatest minds. What is clear is that people will always need spaces to live, work, and conduct business. What those spaces look like will evolve, but companies are motivated to adapt. And historically, they have changed industrial warehouses and former malls into Amazon fulfillment centers and multi-family apartment complexes. Despite the recent drawdowns and changing landscape, we believe that investing in a diversified real estate portfolio continues to offer the potential for equity-like returns, current income, and solid inflation protection, all important elements of a well-balanced portfolio.

 

Inheriting an IRA? New Rules to Consider Under the SECURE Act

Inheriting an IRA? New Rules to Consider Under the SECURE Act

 

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act passed in late 2019, creating significant retirement and tax reforms with the goal of making retirement savings accessible to more Americans. We wrote a blog article detailing the major changes from this piece of legislation.

We’re going to dive deeper into some of the questions we’ve been receiving from our clients to shed more light on topics raised by the new legislation. We have divided these questions into six major themes; charitable giving, estate planning, Roth conversions, taxes, stretching IRA distributions, and trusts as beneficiaries.  Here is our sixth of six installments on inherited IRAs.

 

I’m about to inherit an IRA. Will these changes mean I pay more taxes?

Before the SECURE Act was signed into law, non-spouse IRA beneficiaries were able to stretch RMDs over their lifetime with annual RMD calculations based on their life expectancy. However, the implementation of the SECURE Act requires non-spouse beneficiaries to distribute an inherited IRA within 10 years following the death of the original owner. Inherited IRAs left to minor children must also be fully distributed within 10 years of the beneficiary reaching the age of majority.

Distributing your inherited IRA balance over 10 years instead of over your lifetime will accelerate your receipt of income. If you inherit a large Traditional IRA, income from your inherited IRA could push you into a higher tax bracket and increase your tax rate. We can help you plan the best way to distribute income from your inherited IRA within 10 years relative to your income and tax situation each year to minimize additional taxes.

For example, an individual who is earning a gross income of $150k per year would fall in the 24% marginal tax bracket after claiming the standard deduction. However, adding annual $100k+ distributions from a $1.0 million inherited IRA balance that must be distributed over 10 years will push that person into the 35% tax bracket. If income fluctuates over that period, there may be opportunities to take additional distributions in lower income years to minimize overall taxes on the inherited IRA.

We can help you avoid running afoul of the new SECURE Act requirements by evaluating your income and taxes to develop the best strategy for adhering to the latest rules for your inherited IRA.

As with all new legislation, we will continue to track the changes as they unfold and notify you of any pertinent developments that may affect your financial plan. If you have further questions, please reach out to us.

 

 

 

First Installment: I’m Planning to Leave Assets to Charity – How Does the SECURE Act Change That?

Second Installment: How to Optimize Your Accounts After the SECURE Act

Third Installment: Must-Know Changes for Your Estate Plan After the SECURE Act

Fourth Installment: How to Circumvent the Demise of the Stretch: Strategies to Provide for Beneficiaries Beyond the 10-year Rule

Fifth Installment: The SECURE Act: Important Estate Planning Considerations

 

 

Disclosure: The material provided is current as of the date presented, and is for informational purposes only, and does not intend to address the financial objectives, situation, or specific needs of any individual investor. Any information is for illustrative purposes only, and is not intended to serve as personalized tax and/or investment advice since the availability and effectiveness of any strategy is dependent upon your individual facts and circumstances.  Investors should consult with a financial professional to discuss the appropriateness of the strategies discussed.

 

Is the Market Running on Irrational Hope?

Is the Market Running on Irrational Hope?

 

With coronavirus cases rising, unemployment at historic levels, and ongoing protests across America, the strong market rebound feels like it could be driven by irrational hope. Are the markets assuming there is an effective vaccine by the fall? Are they ignoring the effects of a worldwide 100-year pandemic that has killed over 650,000 people as of July 30th?

While there are certainly times when markets can behave irrationally, such times are few and far between and usually concentrated in a certain asset class or sector. At this point, with the exception of the FAANG stocks (Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, and Google), we do not see signs that the global equity markets are acting irrationally. It is important to distinguish that this belief does not mean that the market might not experience another significant downturn.

Market prices represent the aggregate predictions of thousands of professional and individual investors regarding the value of the company’s future earnings plus the book value of its assets. The operative words here are prediction and future. The stock markets typically bottom when investors have the most fear and have the bleakest outlook on the future. Historically, bottoms have typically coincided with the point of peak unemployment. A rise in the stock market does not mean that the recession is over or that it might not continue for several more years. It simply means that investors are anticipating a better future down the road.

For example, according to Charles Schwab’s analysis of data from Refinitiv, the market consensus estimates for S&P 500 companies for Q3 2020 is a -23.5% drop from the previous year. That does not seem very optimistic to me. Ned Davis and Charles Schwab recently showed that historically the S&P 500 has performed best when year-over-year earnings growth was between -20% and 5%. It seems very counterintuitive that stocks would be rising when earnings growth is negative, but again, markets are predicting the future, not what is happening at present.

Many of you are probably still wondering or worried about the market going down from here. As the future is uncertain, the answer is, unfortunately, yes, the market could go down from here. But that does not mean you should pull all your money out.

Ironically, your risk of losing money in the markets today is less than it was in January. Markets account for uncertainty by keeping prices below fair value. The difference between true fair value and the market price is the compensation investors receive for taking risk. In times of perceived low uncertainty, market prices are close to fair value and investors get little compensation for taking risk. As the pandemic has taught us, risk is always with us whether we see it coming or not. Currently, because of the high degree of uncertainty, market prices incorporate more downside risk, and investors who stay in the market are getting higher compensation for taking that risk. Taking risk is a necessary part of investing, but as investors, one of the most important things we can do for long-term success is to ensure that we are being appropriately compensated for those risks. Staying in markets when we receive high compensation for taking risk is a key part.

I would love to have a crystal ball that could tell you how the market is going to move tomorrow or next month or next year. It seems very possible that the economic recovery could slow, and the market could go sideways or take another dip. It also seems very possible that through a combination of growing knowledge, human adaptation, and government stimulus, the economic impact will not be as severe as some fear, and the market will continue its steady climb. A wide variety of data suggests that current market valuations are not irrational and that markets are appropriately accounting for the high degree of uncertainty surrounding the trajectory of the economic recovery that will ultimately occur. There are plenty of investors who are pulling money out or who are continuing to sit on the sidelines as well as plenty of buyers. Our recommendation is to continue with your target equity allocation. This approach allows you to benefit from the relatively high compensation you are getting for taking on risk right now while providing sufficient downside protection that your financial well-being is not at risk.

 

 

Disclosure: Past performance is no guarantee of future results. No client should assume that future performance of any securities, asset classes, or strategy will be profitable, or equal to the previous described performance. The S&P 500 is a market capitalization-weighted index of 500 widely held stocks often used as a proxy for the U.S stock market.

The SECURE Act: Important Estate Planning Considerations

The SECURE Act: Important Estate Planning Considerations

The Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act passed in late 2019, creating significant retirement and tax reforms with the goal of making retirement savings accessible to more Americans. We wrote a blog article detailing the major changes from this piece of legislation, which we recommend reading prior to this series.

We’re going to dive deeper into some of the questions we’ve been receiving from our clients to shed more light on topics raised by the new legislation. We have divided these questions into six major themes; charitable giving, estate planning, Roth conversions, taxes, stretching IRA distributions, and trusts as beneficiaries.  Here is our fifth of six installments on how the SECURE Act could impact you.

I set up a trust to protect this money for my children after I pass. What impact will the SECURE Act have on this?

If you have significant retirement plan assets, you may have considered naming a trust as the beneficiary of your IRA. Trusts can provide asset protection from creditors and ensure that beneficiaries cannot receive all inherited assets at once. This aspect of control is appealing to many parents or grandparents who want assurance their heirs won’t be able to quickly spend down an inheritance. Previously these trusts would have been set up as pass-through or conduit trusts that allowed Required Minimum Distributions (RMDs) to pass through to the beneficiary over the course of their lifetime.

Under the new rules of the SECURE Act, most non-spouse beneficiaries are no longer subject to yearly RMDs, but they are required to distribute all funds by the end of year 10. there are no RMDs for most non-spouse beneficiaries until year 10. Conduit trusts would now hold IRA assets within the trust for 10 years and then distribute the entire account balance at once at the end of the 10 year period. This means that trusts previously set up to protect children or grandchildren from having access to inherited IRA assets all at once no longer serve this purpose. There are also significant tax implications to all assets being paid out as income in one year.

If it is important to you that beneficiaries receive an inheritance over a longer period and not all at once, there are a couple of strategies you might consider:

  • A discretionary or accumulation trust can retain IRA funds, even after 10 years. The downside is that income retained within these types of trusts are taxed at high trust tax rates. However, this is a potential solution if control of assets is much more important than minimizing taxes.
  • Some are turning to life insurance products as a way to leave assets to a trust. Since there are no RMDs and the proceeds are tax-free, this option provides a lot more flexibility around how funds are distributed.

If you’ve named a trust as a beneficiary to an IRA, we recommend reviewing your estate plan with an attorney.

As with all new legislation, we will continue to track the changes as they unfold and notify you of any pertinent developments that may affect your financial plan. If you have further questions, please reach out to us.

 

 

First Installment: I’m Planning to Leave Assets to Charity – How Does the SECURE Act Change That?

Second Installment: How to Optimize Your Accounts After the SECURE Act

Third Installment: Must-Know Changes for Your Estate Plan After the SECURE Act

Fourth Installment: How to Circumvent the Demise of the Stretch: Strategies to Provide for Beneficiaries Beyond the 10-year Rule

Sixth Installment: Inheriting an IRA? New Rules to Consider

 

Disclosure: The material provided is current as of the date presented, and is for informational purposes only, and does not intend to address the financial objectives, situation, or specific needs of any individual investor. Any information is for illustrative purposes only, and is not intended to serve as personalized tax and/or investment advice since the availability and effectiveness of any strategy is dependent upon your individual facts and circumstances.  Investors should consult with a financial professional to discuss the appropriateness of the strategies discussed.