Wow—2020 was a year unlike any that we have ever experienced. In addition to a global pandemic, events throughout the year exposed many causes that need great support. At Merriman, we are about much more than just the numbers. We aim to have a deep understanding of our clients in order to help them incorporate their values in all aspects of their lives. This led to us having conversations with families about climate change, social issues dealing with race and gender, how to help neighbors and struggling communities, and how to make individual voices heard by large corporations and governments, amongst many other important topics. During the year, did you feel sad, confused, shocked, or overwhelmed by any of these? I know that I sure did, so you are not alone. There is hope, and you can take action in ways that you may not have previously considered. It doesn’t take a large financial or time commitment. You can incorporate your values and support causes through sustainable, responsible, and impact (SRI) investing. Equally important, you can implement an SRI strategy without having a negative impact on your investment returns or retirement goals. It may even lead to the opportunity for outperformance. I want to use this article to break down the barriers to sustainable investing.
It is helpful to first look at some data. In September 2019, Morgan Stanley conducted a study with 1,000 individual investors that they surveyed in two-year increments starting in 2015. Then they published the white paper Sustainable Signals: Individual Investor Interest Driven by Impact, Conviction and Choice. I want to take a moment to highlight two graphs from that white paper:
Chart 1: Interest in Sustainable Investing
Source: Morgan Stanley, Sustainable Signals white paper, 2019.
Chart 2: Perceived Barriers to Adoption
Source: Morgan Stanley, Sustainable Signals white paper, 2019.
The first chart shows that there is a significant interest in sustainable investing, and that interest continues to grow. The second chart shows the perceived roadblocks that prevent investors from choosing sustainable funds. This explains why currently the actual implementation and use of sustainable funds is much lower than the interest levels show. Below are the reasons why those perceived barriers shouldn’t stop you.
I’d like to share a story to address the investment performance roadblock. In 2007, I went to Costa Rica as part of a school group called The Eco-Explorer’s Club. Our mission for the trip was to protect sea turtles from poachers and predators during the turtle’s nesting season. The trip was a success, and it was one of the greatest things I have ever been a part of. I remember being filled with so much joy that we had made a positive impact for the wildlife there and also for the wonderful people of Costa Rica. Tourism intended to support conservation efforts is a large part of their economy and provides many jobs. That is when I first made the connection that it is possible to simultaneously support planet and profit. The best of both worlds. Investment funds are able to achieve this as well, as companies increase their revenue by adopting sustainable practices, cutting costs, and listening to client demands.
The next roadblock is thought to be lack of investment products. That was true at one point in time, but it is no longer the case. There are hundreds of publicly traded mutual funds and ETFs available that thoroughly integrate environmental, social, and governance factors into their investment processes and/or pursue sustainability-related investment themes and/or seek measurable sustainable impact alongside financial returns. We are big fans of the DFA Sustainability Funds.
The third and fourth roadblocks go hand in hand. It is true that it requires time to understand sustainable investments and to stay current. That is why there are professionals such as us to help. You don’t need to do this alone. We are here and available to help you get the best plan in place. You can schedule a conversation directly on my calendar by clicking HERE.
After reading this article, I encourage you to click the link above for a virtual coffee chat or to forward this article to a friend who may be interested. Thank you.
Disclosure: The material is presented solely for information purposes and has been gathered from sources believed to be reliable, however Merriman cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of such information, and certain information presented here may have been condensed or summarized from its original source. Merriman does not provide tax, legal or accounting advice, and nothing contained in these materials should be relied upon as such.
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 second of six installments.
In light of the SECURE Act, should I convert my IRA to a Roth IRA, and if so, how much of it should I convert?
The answer is maybe. First, some old Roth conversion strategies may still hold true. If you are in an especially low tax bracket for a few years (e.g. you are retired and no longer bringing in employment income, but you haven’t started taking social security yet), then a Roth conversion may make sense for you. It would likely be a good idea to convert as much as possible during those lower income years without pushing yourself into the next bracket. The idea is to pay the least amount of tax possible on that tax-deferred money so more makes it into your pocket. In light of the SECURE Act, there are now additional considerations due to the elimination of the stretch IRA for most non-spouse beneficiaries. These beneficiaries will now have to withdraw inherited IRAs down completely within 10 years, which could have major tax ramifications for them. A Roth conversion might make sense if all the following criteria are met:
You will not need your IRA for your own retirement needs.
You can afford to pay the tax bill out of pocket or with non-retirement assets.
You want to leave the money to someone other than your spouse, your minor child, someone not more than 10 years younger than you, or someone who is chronically ill.
The beneficiary will likely be in a higher tax bracket than you are now.
Example: Gertrude dies in 2020 and leaves her IRA to designated beneficiary Suzie, her granddaughter. Suzie is not an eligible designated beneficiary because she is more than 10 years younger than Gertrude and not her minor child. The balance in the inherited IRA must be paid out within 10 years after Gertrude’s death, which means a large tax bill for Suzie as she is in her prime working years. Had Gertrude converted that IRA money to a Roth, the taxes would have been paid at Gertrude’s much lower bracket, and thus Suzie would have received more money when all is said and done. With the Roth IRA, Suzie must still abide by the 10-year withdrawal rule, but now she can let that money grow tax free in the Roth until year 10 and then withdraw it without paying taxes.
I’m still working. Should I be contributing to a Roth IRA / Roth 401(k) / taxable account instead of a pre-tax account now?
It depends, and there are a lot of factors to consider. To start, please see the question and answer directly above and consider whether an IRA or Roth account makes more sense for you today. The analysis will consider your current tax bracket, your estimated future tax bracket, whether or not you will need the money for your own retirement, and who your beneficiaries are.
If you are nearing retirement while in your prime working years, it likely makes sense to contribute to a pre-tax account versus a post-tax account. You are potentially in your highest tax bracket now, so getting the tax break with a pre-tax contribution is generally more valuable. After retirement, when you are in a lower tax bracket, you may decide to make Roth conversions at that time to take advantage of the lower rates.
Taxable accounts are another story completely. Due to their flexibility, having a taxable account is beneficial whether you are also contributing to an IRA or a Roth. If you plan on leaving money to non-spouse heirs, then a taxable account can be a great way to do so. There is no contribution limit on these accounts and there will be a step up in basis upon your death. This will eliminate capital gains as the account passes on to your heirs and they will not have to deal with the forced 10-year withdrawal rule.
Again, this is a loaded question with many moving parts and will be very specific to each individual. It would be best to speak your advisor about which type of account makes the most sense in your situation.
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.
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.
Life can throw you curveballs and if you aren’t prepared financially, these curveballs can turn into major problems. That’s why it’s so important to have a savings buffer, also called an emergency fund. An emergency fund is a cash account that you keep separate for life’s unexpected events. It can help prevent additional stress when these events occur. (more…)
Tip #1 – Build up at least three months’ worth of emergency cash
When you have unexpected expenses, like those associated with a job loss or a major house repair, an emergency fund can help fill the gap so you don’t have to turn to credit cards or withdraw from a retirement account. Holding three months’ worth of expenses in an emergency fund at the bank is a good start. You should increase this fund over time as your income and living expenses grow. (more…)
Getting married can be one of the happiest moments in a person’s life. I know this firsthand as my wedding was just a few months ago and the word incredible would be an understatement. But to go along with all the great times, there are also important, sometimes difficult changes that two individuals must make when they get married. As a Wealth Advisor, I’ve seen the tension and distrust that money can bring if couples aren’t on the same page. I want to equip you and your significant other with questions and considerations to set you up for a long, happy life together. (more…)