I’ve Been Laid Off — What Now?

I’ve Been Laid Off — What Now?


News headlines everywhere are talking about widespread layoffs, particularly in the technology industry. Thousands of people have lost their jobs with still many more losses predicted in Q1 of 2023. With so many heavy hitters right here in the Pacific Northwest—Microsoft, Google, and Amazon, just to name a few—it’s likely these tech world layoffs affect you or someone you know.  Many of our own clients have expressed concern over their own job security, understandably anxious and full of questions.


Of course, the primary concern when facing a layoff is finding a new job, but that can take time. Here are a few things to think about as you adjust to your new normal. Perhaps most importantly, DON’T PANIC!


Here are the things that should be first on your list:

  • Give us a call! Your Wealth Advisor is here to help put your financial picture into perspective and to assist with planning to protect your investments. We can help you wade through the pros and cons of everything in this article—decisions regarding your 401(k), insurance, benefits, cash flow, taxes, retirement concerns, and more.
  • Start networking! Reach out to alumni groups, job boards, professional organizations, former colleagues, recruiters, etc.
  • Understand your rights under state law.
  • Review company documents and your severance agreement. There may be some terms of the layoff you can negotiate, like extending healthcare or retaining some company perks.
  • Apply for unemployment benefits.
  • Once you know the details of your severance agreement and unemployment benefits, plan out how to fill the income gap. See below for the pros and cons with some of the different options available.
  • Look at your options for any vested and unvested stock options or RSUs.
  • Review healthcare options. Should you sign up for Cobra, get coverage via a Marketplace plan, or join your spouse’s coverage? A layoff is a triggering event, so these options are all available to you, but there are pros and cons to each that depend on your situation.
  • Review your expenses and cut back if needed.
  • Consider your 401(k) options.



What are your options for filling the income gap?


Spending down your assets – Sarah Kordon, CFP®, CRPS®, Wealth Advisor

Ideally, you have an emergency savings account specifically appointed for a situation like this. If so, this should be the first asset you begin to use to supplement your income. Keep in mind that you will want to rebuild your emergency savings account after you are settled in a new job, so don’t spend frivolously. Revisit your monthly budget and look for ways to cut costs so you can stretch these savings for a longer period and rebuild them quickly when your new income stream picks up.

Spending down assets may also affect your larger financial goals, so before you dip into your savings and investments too heavily, be sure to consider the ramifications. Hopefully shorter-term goals, such as buying a new home or taking a grand vacation, can simply be postponed. Longer-term goals, such as retirement at a certain age, can also be adjusted if needed, but hopefully your emergency cushion is large enough to keep that from being necessary.

If you need to take distributions from investments, we can help you evaluate the tax consequences and understand the impact of such actions on your goals, which may make some tough decisions a little easier and provide you peace of mind.


Taking a 401(k) loan or withdrawal – Sierra Butler, CFP®, CSRIC™

When you’ve stopped getting a paycheck, using some of your 401(k) assets through a loan or withdrawal might seem like an attractive choice, but here are some reasons why it should be your last resort.

Most 401(k) plans do not allow new loans after an employee has left the company. If you already have a 401(k) loan, the plan may demand an immediate repayment or a shorter repayment plan. The loan must be repaid before rolling over the balance into a new 401(k) or IRA, which would prevent you from consolidating your accounts and potentially taking advantage of superior investments in a different account.

If you instead take a withdrawal from your 401(k), or if the loan is not repaid, it will be treated as a taxable withdrawal and is subject to ordinary income tax. Additionally, you will incur an early withdrawal penalty of 10% if you are younger than age 55.

One of the biggest risks of a 401(k) loan or withdrawal is missing out on market gains should the investments do well after you take the withdrawal. I caution folks from viewing their retirement accounts as piggy banks for current spending as it can be a quick way to deplete their retirement nest egg.


Should I take on gig or contract work? – Frank McLaughlin, CFP®, CSRIC

This question depends entirely on your financial situation and tradeoff preferences. Assess these by asking yourself questions like:

  • Have I saved up enough cash to weather this period between jobs?
  • Am I able to cut back on certain expenses to allow me to search for a new job without taking on a gig? Is cutting back on expenses worth it, or do I prioritize maintaining a certain lifestyle?

Note: Don’t forget to consider new potential expenses, such as healthcare costs.

  • Do I have another source of income, such as a working spouse who could temporarily pick up the additional burden for a while? Would my significant other be okay with that arrangement?

If you find yourself answering no to more than one of the assessment questions above, taking on a side gig or contract work may be a great option to explore.



Could there be a silver lining?


Consider retiring early, staying home with the kids, or taking a sabbatical – Lowell Parker, CFP®

After a layoff, the most common course of action is to work toward finding a new job. But that isn’t the only path available to you. Burnout is real! Maybe this is your sign to take a break if you can afford to. Can you take this opportunity to retire early or stay home with the kids for a few years? Or perhaps take advantage of the temporary break from work and go on that long trip you’ve been dreaming about, or use the time off to work on a home remodel?

The obvious and large warning for any of these options is that your financial plan must support it. Do you know what these choices would mean for your future lifestyle? This is a major decision to make, and there are many factors to consider. What retirement lifestyle are you dreaming of? Are the assets you have saved enough if you won’t continue to have an income stream from a job? It’s important to revisit your financial plan and make sure you have saved enough to make work optional, whether temporarily or permanently, throughout a variety of potential future market scenarios. If this is something you’re considering, reach out to your Wealth Advisor to see if you can make it happen.


Make it work to your advantage at tax time – Chris Waclawik, AFC®, CFP®

After you’ve reviewed your income sources following a layoff and you have an estimate of the tax impact of using these sources for income, you may be able to create a plan to take advantage of the situation.

The “good” news is that a layoff, especially one that happens early in the year, can potentially place you in a lower tax bracket for the year, which opens up some planning opportunities. Here are a few to consider:

First, your health insurance choice may come with tax perks. When being laid off, many employees have the choice of COBRA, to extend current health insurance, or health insurance through the Marketplace. Purchasing coverage through the Marketplace can have subsidies (provided through your tax return) that can reduce the cost of coverage by over $1,000 per month depending on age, income, and the number of family members to cover.

Second, it may be possible to realize long-term capital gains at a 0% rate. This is a great opportunity to diversify out of a concentrated position without incurring a huge tax burden.

Third, finding yourself temporarily in a lower tax bracket can be a good opportunity for Roth conversions. By intentionally moving some investments from an IRA to a Roth account, you may be able to reduce taxes over your lifetime.

While I think everyone agrees layoffs aren’t fun to experience, at least we may be able to take advantage of them to reduce our tax burden for that year and potentially well into the future.


If you are experiencing a layoff yourself, remember: Your first step should be to contact your Wealth Advisor. If you’re not already working with one, schedule a meeting today. We can take some of the stress of these decisions off your plate and help you find the silver lining.





Disclosure: All opinions expressed in this article are for general informational purposes and constitute the judgment of the author(s) as of the date of the report. These opinions are subject to change without notice and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual or on any specific security. The material 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 taken as such.

The Building Blocks of Portfolio Risk Management

The Building Blocks of Portfolio Risk Management


When markets are rising, risk management seems easy—invest, sit back, and watch your investments grow. Things get a bit trickier when the markets experience volatility and decline. These are the times when you need to understand the amount of risk your investments are subject to and how that risk relates to your financial plan.


The first and least tangible measure of risk is qualitative in nature: how much risk are you willing to take? How would you feel, for example, if the markets declined more than 20%? What if the markets fell by more than 40%? Generally, what is the level of decline that you are comfortable with that will encourage you to stay invested and allow for your plan to thrive? Take some time to think about it. While it is easy to come up with a threshold or a hypothetical number, it is different in real time (consider the financial crisis or the markets’ initial response to the COVID outbreak, for example).


Once we have a handle on your subjective feelings around risk, there are a variety of tools we use here at Merriman Wealth Management to help our clients manage the quantitative measures of risk.


First and most important is answering this question: what is the amount of risk my portfolio can take within the context of my financial plan? This is a super important question. Too often, folks will bifurcate their investment and financial plans. This does not typically lead to successful outcomes. We manage this for clients by calculating statistically valid risk and return measures for our clients’ portfolios—i.e., we expect an all-equity portfolio to return 9.52% net of fees per year with a standard deviation of 20.49. A more moderate 60% equity portfolio would return at 7.95% and 13.06, respectively. Understanding these figures within the context of your accumulation and distribution plans is what matters. The typical recipe is for folks in their early years to take on more risk, as they have time for the markets to recover from declines. In contrast, folks later in life have less time to recover, and a more moderate portfolio is conducive to their plan.


The next risk management tool to understand centers around the sequence of returns. While one can craft statistically valid long-term expectations for portfolio risk and return, it is extremely difficult to predict returns in any given year. Consider 2020: who would have thought the markets would have rebounded so swiftly?


One thing to keep in mind with respect to sequence risk is what we call “bad timing.” What happens if you retire (switch from accumulating to decumulating) and the markets have two successive bad years? This is a good stress test for your portfolio. Pass this test, and your plan is likely in good shape.


The next measure to consider is the longer-term variability of returns. We measure this by running 1,000 different return trials for our clients (Monte Carlo analysis), effectively looking at everything from years of sustained above-average performance to years of sustained below-average performance and everything in between. The results are considered a success if greater than approximately 80% of the trials result in money remaining at the “end” of your plan. 


In conclusion, consider the list of questions below as you evaluate the risk metrics of your plan:

  • What are the risk dynamics of my current portfolio, and how do these relate to my financial plan?
  • What is the outcome of my financial plan if I retire and the markets have two successive bad years?
  • How am I accounting for the sequence of returns? What is my plan’s probability of success—will I have money left at the end of my plan?


Here at Merriman Wealth Management, we live by our tagline of “Invest Wisely. Live Fully.” If you are a Merriman client, we’ve got you covered. If you are not a Merriman client and would like a holistic review of your financial plan and corresponding risk metrics, let us know, and we would be happy to take you through our complimentary Discovery process.



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. Nothing in this presentation in intended to serve as personalized investment, tax, or insurance advice, as such advice depends on your individual facts and circumstances. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.

Filling the Various Estate Planning Roles

Filling the Various Estate Planning Roles


At Merriman, we partner with our clients to ensure no stone goes unturned with respect to their complete Wealth Management plan. One of the more complicated issues clients face is crafting and updating their estate plans.

This is not surprising as estate planning preparation and upkeep come with difficult questions—both qualitative and quantitative. The burden of these questions can often drive folks to put off the discussion and leave their plan vulnerable. The purpose of this brief post is to let you know that it does not have to be so difficult.

This article serves as a starting point to initiate the estate planning discussion. It is a discussion of the various estate planning roles you need to fulfill. Like most things, having a process and a plan will lead to peace of mind and planned success.

Let’s start with the various roles that need to be filled:

  • Guardian
  • Trustee
  • Financial Power of Attorney (POA)
  • Medical POA
  • Executor/Personal Representative.

One commonality for all these roles is proximity. If you can find someone close, that is a prudent solution. For example, in selecting a guardian for your children, it is best they are local to avoid changing schools, establishing new friends, etc. Similarly, if there is property to sell in your estate, it is best to have a local executor, as opposed to having someone across the country who is unfamiliar with the local scene and would have to travel extensively to manage the estate.

A Guardian is someone who looks after and is legally responsible for your children until they are adults. This person should embody all the traits you would want in someone who will take care of your kids in the event you are no longer around. Often, this is a family member with close proximity (as outlined above). Keeping your kids in their current environment is so important, especially when they are already trying to deal with your absence.

A Trustee is the person who has control or powers of administration over the trust assets in your estate. The trust assets do NOT belong to the Trustee. Rather, the Trustee is safeguarding the assets per the terms of the trust and for the trust benefactors.

The role of Executor “triggers” if one or both spouses pass away. This person’s job is to fulfill all of the requests and wishes as outlined in your will. This person should have high financial competence and a good understanding of what you own and how you want your assets distributed. Technically, they will follow the wishes as outlined in your estate plan. However, we advise clients to draft a less formal letter of instruction to confirm your wishes are carried out as precisely as possible.

The next two items are in effect during your lifetime. A Financial POA grants that person the ability to make financial decisions on your behalf if/when you no longer have the ability to do so of your own accord. A Medical POA functions the same but is related to medical decisions. Both of these roles should be set up with your initial estate plan.

If you have already crafted your estate plan, take a few minutes to consider who is currently filling these roles. Are they still the right person for the job? If not, who is better suited? If changes are required, let your estate planning attorney know and get to work on updating your documents. If you have yet to complete your estate plan, consider who would best serve in the aforementioned roles. If you already have an estate planning attorney, get to work on crafting your plan. If not, let us know, and we can connect you with one.

Another tool you can use to begin to formulate your plan is our “After Death Occurs” checklist. While this outlines a post-mortem list, it also serves as a great tool to get you thinking about the roles described above.

At Merriman, our goal is to ensure clients’ plans are buttoned up from top to bottom. While we emphasize financial planning and investment portfolio management, we also partner with our clients to ensure they are covered in the areas of estate planning, taxes, and insurance. Ensuring your estate plan is taken care of will provide peace of mind on your journey to Investing Wisely to Live Fully.

For additional reading on this topic, check out our ebook The Transparent Legacy for advice on conversations you must have with your loved ones before it’s too late.



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. Advisory services are only offered to clients or prospective clients where Merriman and its representatives are properly licensed or exempt from licensure. No advice may be rendered by Merriman unless a client service agreement is in place.”


Employee Spotlight | Lowell Parker

Employee Spotlight | Lowell Parker

Scott: How long have you worked at Merriman?

Lowell: I’ve worked at Merriman for 13 years. I started in client services before moving to my current advisor role. I made the switch because I wanted to help people achieve their goals and provide peace of mind along the way.


Scott: What do you love about working here?

Lowell: The opportunity to help my clients articulate, achieve, and expand upon their financial and associated life goals.


Scott: What’s on your wish list for the next 10 years?

Lowell: To raise my children in a way that they are responsible, give back, and are well rounded. Professionally, I want to continue developing in my career; and now that I’m getting older, I’m excited to help the next generation do well and advance through their careers.


Scott: If you could give one piece of advice, what would it be?


“‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’ said Alice.

‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.

‘I don’t much care where—’ said Alice.

‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.”

–Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

What an amazing quote! My takeaway is that if you have clear direction, you can achieve whatever you set out to do.


Scott: Where are you originally from?

Lowell: Issaquah/Preston/Enumclaw, WA.


Scott: What’s the weirdest thing you’ve ever eaten?

Lowell: Chicken feet at Dim Sum in Vancouver, BC.


Scott: How was it?

Lowell: Awful!  


Scott: What’s your hidden talent?

Lowell: I took up the guitar about 20 years ago and have steadily improved. My next level goal is to start playing acoustic sets at local venues.  


Scott: What is the last experience that made you a stronger person?

Lowell: Coaching my son’s basketball team. Patience and repetition!


Scott: Merriman has employees take the StrengthsFinder quiz so we can understand how to best work with each other. What are your top five strengths?


Achiever: Those with the Achiever theme have a constant need for achievement. Every day they need to achieve, no matter how small. They take immense satisfaction in being busy and productive.

Learner: Those with the Learner theme love to learn. The process, more than the content or the results, is especially exciting for them.

Self-Assurance: People with this strength feel confident in their ability to take risks and manage their own lives. They have an inner compass that gives them certainty in their decisions.

Competition: People exceptionally talented in the Competition theme measure their progress against the performance of others. They strive to win first place and revel in contests.

Focus: People exceptionally talented in the Focus theme can take a direction, follow through, and make the corrections necessary to stay on track. They prioritize, then act. 


Source: https://www.gallup.com/workplace/245090/cliftonstrengths-themes-quick-reference-card.aspx

Investing in Coral Reefs

Investing in Coral Reefs

Maui was always a favorite vacation spot of mine growing up. One of the best parts was my aunt and uncle’s snorkel business. We would wake up early for the calm water, quickly eat a pineapple donut for breakfast, and set sail. Having been in business for decades, they knew the island well. Whatever you were looking for (or not looking for, like sharks), they could find it.

Thirty years later, I am now taking my family to Hawaii. While we still enjoy the water and all it has to offer, things have changed, most notably the coral reefs and the ecosystems they support. (more…)

Cyber Hygiene

Cyber Hygiene

This post was co-authored by Wealth Advisor Lowell Parker, CFP® and Information Systems Manager Rodney Gonzales.

As banks become increasingly difficult for cybercriminals to hack, high net-worth families are the next logical targets. These criminals are organized, patient, and in some cases, well-funded. Cybercrime is also underreported, and while the court system is catching up with the expansion of laws and penalties for cyber-related crimes, cases remain hard to solve or even prove.

Having your personal information compromised isn’t a matter of “if,” but “when.” It’s less expensive to take preventative measures than it is to investigate and eliminate threats. It’s imperative that you take the right precautions both externally, with your vendors and service providers, as well as internally with your home computers and networked systems. (more…)