Breaking Down the Barriers to Sustainable Investing

Breaking Down the Barriers to Sustainable Investing

 

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.

 

 

Reference: https://www.morganstanley.com/content/dam/msdotcom/infographics/sustainableinvesting/Sustainable_Signals_Individual_Investor_White_Paper_Final.pdf

 

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 5 Biggest Financial Planning Mistakes Made by Tech Professionals | Mistake #2

The 5 Biggest Financial Planning Mistakes Made by Tech Professionals | Mistake #2

 

 

I love working with the tech community. I started my career at Microsoft and have since been inspired by the creative and innovative minds of folks working at tech companies large and small. I also enjoy working with tech employees, because as a personal finance nerd, I get to help people navigate the plethora of benefits available that are often only available at tech companies. Between RSUs, ESPP, Non-Qualified or Incentive Stock Options, Mega Backdoor Roth 401(k)s, Deferred Compensation, Legal Services, and even Pet Insurance, it is the benefits equivalent of picking from a menu of a Michelin three-star-rated restaurant.

 

Through my own experience as a tech employee and my experiences now as an advisor working with tech professionals, I’ve identified some of the biggest financial planning mistakes that can hold the tech community back from achieving financial independence and success.

 

Mistake #2 – Building and Maintaining Concentrated Stock Positions

 

I consider a concentrated position to be any investment that comprises over a quarter of your investable assets. It can be easy to accumulate a concentrated stock position in the same company that is responsible for your paycheck. If you receive stock as part of your compensation, without a disciplined plan to sell shares on an ongoing basis, you will continue to accumulate more and more company stock. Over the past several years, countless families have become wealthy because of the stock compensation they’ve received and its seemingly never-ending climb in price. While the strategy of holding onto RSUs and ESPP over the recent past has worked out incredibly well, we know that continuing to maintain a concentrated stock position is incredibly risky if you want to ensure you maintain your newly built wealth.

 

There are two explanations for not reducing a concentrated position that I hear most often: (1) My company has outperformed the rest of the market several years in a row. If I believe in my company and our growth prospects for the future, why would I sell? (2) If I sell my company stock now, I’ll have to pay a significant amount of tax on the gain. Let’s debunk each of these as reasons not to diversify:

 

(1) Typically, returns of a single stock position are intensely more volatile than the returns of a market index. This can work out in your favor, or it can work to your detriment. Historically, about 12% of stocks result in a 100% loss.* In addition, approximately 40% of stocks end up with negative lifetime returns, and the median stock underperformed the market by greater than 50%.* This means that a few star performers drive the positive average returns of the market. The odds of randomly picking one of these extreme winners is 1 in 15.* If you’ve been lucky enough to hold one of these outperformers, I encourage some humility around acknowledging that maybe being in the right place at the right time has attributed to your rapid accumulation of wealth.

 

Companies that achieve such success and become the largest company in their sector may become subject to what is called the winner’s curse. Since the 1970s, data shows that sector leaders underperform their sector by 30% in the five years after becoming the largest company in that sector.* Over a long time horizon, you are probably more likely to obtain positive investment returns by ensuring you hold the future Microsofts and Amazons of the world through broad diversification, not concentration.

 

(2) I hate to tell you this, but unless you hold onto an investment until you die, you will have to pay tax on the growth at some point. I encourage people to think of paying long-term capital gains taxes as a good thing, because it means your investments went up and you made money. A surprisingly small fluctuation in stock price can wipe out any benefit of delaying the recognition of capital gains tax. As advisors like to say, “Don’t let the tax tail wag the dog.” If you’d like to discuss your situation, don’t hesitate to contact me.

 

Be sure to read our previous and upcoming blog posts for additional mistakes to avoid as a tech professional.

Source: * Avoid Gambler’s Ruin: Bridging Concentrated Stock and Diversification 

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.

Should I Set Up a Traditional 401k for My Business?

Should I Set Up a Traditional 401k for My Business?

 

Whether you recently transitioned to being self-employed or have been a business owner for years, you may have wondered what the best way is to save for retirement. While it is commonplace for established companies to offer a retirement plan to their employees, many self-employed individuals may not realize the potential for significant retirement savings by establishing their own plan.

However, the decision as to which type of plan to choose is far from simple. There are a multitude of questions a business owner must ask themselves before they can identify the best fit for their goals and preferences. To assist in this decision, the following flowchart poses the most pertinent of these questions.

 

 

Whether you are considering a SIMPLE IRA or are curious how a defined benefit plan can help you achieve your savings goals, Merriman’s team of knowledgeable advisors are here to help you make the most optimal selection. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if you have questions about your unique situation.

 

 

 

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.

Spring Document Cleaning

Spring Document Cleaning

 

It’s almost spring, which means it’s time for some spring cleaning—and this spring’s focus is paperwork. I don’t know about you, but I don’t love paperwork. I’ve spent years working toward zero paper, and I’m now finally down to a handful of documents. I’ll share some tips below so you can minimize your paperwork, too!

Document delivery. If you’re tired of getting statements for your accounts or bills in the mail, try signing up for e-delivery instead. This will help save time and energy opening and sorting mail and having to dispose of it as well. Don’t forget to proactively visit the proper websites to check those statements and pay those bills.

Document retention. We all know we need to hang onto certain tax, asset, and legal documentation, but sometimes the specifics can be tough to remember. Here’s a quick list of the most common situations where you’ll need to keep documentation. Please see this checklist for a detailed list.

Income tax returns. Keep at least three years of state and federal tax returns and supporting documentation on file. Supporting documentation includes records that prove any income, deductions (including medical expenses), or credits claimed (W-2, 1099, end-of-year statements from banks and investment accounts). Depending on the state (like CA), you may need to keep tax returns for longer than three years. If you think you forgot to report income and it’s more than 25% of your gross income, keep six years of tax returns. If you are claiming a loss for worthless securities or bad debt deduction, keep records for seven years.

Investment accounts or bank accounts. Consider keeping the most current statements on file and the end-of-year statement until you complete your tax return.

Retirement accounts. Consider keeping documentation on any contributions, withdrawals, and conversions. If you made non-deductible traditional IRA contributions, keep Form 8606 until the account is fully withdrawn to track cost basis.

Debt (student loans, mortgage). Keep the loan documents until the loan is paid off. Once the loan is paid off, keep documentation proving that the loan has been paid in full.
Property (automobiles, real estate). Consider keeping any deeds, titles, settlement statements, or bills of sale until you sell the property. Keep documentation showing purchase-related fees that were capitalized until you sell the property.

Home improvements. Keep any receipts related to home improvements as they may be used to substantiate any adjustments to the cost basis for your property.
Insurance policies. Keep the most current policies on file.

Estate plan. Keep a copy of your Will, Trust(s), Powers of Attorney (General and Healthcare), Living Will or Healthcare Directive, and beneficiary designations on file, and store the originals in a safe place.

Document storage. To reduce your paperwork, try storing these must-keep documents on your secure personal computer. Of course, with this storage method, it’s important to back up your electronic files and have firewall protection.

Document disposal. Please remember to shred any documentation that contains sensitive personal information, such as your Social Security numbers or account numbers. A personal shredder should do the trick and will be less expensive in the long run if you’re disposing of documents each year.

Password organization. How are you currently storing and keeping track of your passwords? I recommend using a cloud-based password manager like LastPass where you can store all your passwords in one place and only need to remember the “master” password to access them. LastPass has a random password generator to help you create complex passwords that are more difficult to hack. LastPass also offers two-factor authentication and doesn’t allow your “master” password to be reset to keep your account secure.

Digitize your photos. Does your paperwork include old family photos you’ve been meaning to digitize? Try sending them to a digitizing service like Legacy Box where they’ll scan and save them to a thumb drive, DVD, or the cloud. Legacy Box works with tapes and films, too. While this service may seem pricey, it might be worth paying someone to digitize those photos as they are priceless memories and should be backed up sooner rather than later in case something happens to the physical copies.

Inform your family. Make sure your family knows where you keep your documents and what your “master” password is in case something happens to you. This is especially important for estate planning documents. Having these conversations ahead of time will help alleviate the stress on your loved ones of not knowing what to do or where to find things.

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 5 Biggest Financial Planning Mistakes Made by Tech Professionals | Mistake #1

The 5 Biggest Financial Planning Mistakes Made by Tech Professionals | Mistake #1

 

I love working with the tech community. I started my career at Microsoft and have since been inspired by the creative and innovative minds of folks working at tech companies large and small. I also enjoy working with tech employees, because as a personal finance nerd, I get to help people navigate the plethora of benefits available that are often only available at tech companies. Between RSUs, ESPP, Non-Qualified or Incentive Stock Options, Mega Backdoor Roth 401(k)s, Deferred Compensation, Legal Services, and even Pet Insurance, it is the benefits equivalent of picking from a menu of a Michelin three-star-rated restaurant.

 

Through my own experience as a tech employee and my experiences now as an advisor working with tech professionals, I’ve identified some of the biggest financial planning mistakes that can hold the tech community back from achieving financial independence and success.

 

Mistake #1 – Not Optimizing Benefits

 

We all are familiar with the paradox of choice. Most people, when faced with a long list of complicated benefits that even some financial professionals struggle to understand, will focus on the areas that are familiar and disregard the rest. Who wants to spend their free time reading about ESPP taxation or the mechanics of Roth Conversions on after-tax 401(k) contributions? Chances are that if you work for a growing tech company, you have very little free time to begin with.

 

While it may not be the most enjoyable use of your evenings or weekends, I can’t emphasize enough how valuable it is to invest the time to learn how to optimize your benefits now. Choosing to invest additional savings in your Mega Backdoor Roth 401(k) over a taxable brokerage account may shave a couple of years off your retirement date. Maximizing HSA contributions and investing the growing account balance can provide for a substantial amount of money to pay for high healthcare costs if you retire before you are Medicare eligible (age 65). Making strategic Roth Conversions during lower income years, such as in early retirement or during breaks from paid employment, can save hundreds of thousands of dollars in future taxes over the course of your lifetime. The list goes on, trust me.

 

If I don’t exercise for a week, or even a month, I probably won’t notice a significant difference in my overall health. If I keep telling myself that I’ll start a workout routine, but years go by without investing my time and energy into making the plan a reality, my physical fitness will take a toll, and I will also lose out on all the amazing benefits that exercising regularly provides. I may look back with regret at some point later in life that maybe certain health issues could have been minimized or prevented if I had spent the time to prioritize what is truly important. It is critical to think beyond how something may impact us in the short term and recognize the long-term impacts of choosing to continue to put something on the back burner. Ask yourself, what impact will this have on my life if I wait a year to prioritize my personal finances? What effect will it have on my life if I wait ten years to prioritize my personal finances? Chances are that impact is even greater than you think. If you want help assessing and optimizing your benefits, don’t hesitate to reach out to me.

Be sure to read our upcoming blog posts for additional mistakes to avoid as a tech professional.

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.

 

Is It Time to Hire a Financial Advisor? | 5 situations when the answer could be yes

Is It Time to Hire a Financial Advisor? | 5 situations when the answer could be yes

 

 

A financial advisor is a professional who is in charge of guiding an individual or entity towards their financial goals in the most efficient way. At Merriman, we love taking on the burden of financial planning so our clients can get back to spending their time and energy doing the things they love.

 

Thrive Global describes the financial sector as complex and dynamic, with assets and trends changing and interdependent with other factors, and a financial advisor has the skills required to study these processes and trends. However, only 17% of Americans hire a financial advisor, with the rest either managing their own finances or simply winging it. But in a time where debt and living expenses are increasing, having and following a financial plan is more important than ever. If you find yourself in any of the following situations, you should consider hiring a financial advisor:

 

You’re starting a new business

Starting a new business can be a costly endeavor, as it involves expenses and procedures you wouldn’t immediately be aware of, such as filing for a certificate of formation and providing initial reports and paying their respective filing fees. A financial planner can advise you on the best structure to form your business in, taking into account startup costs, annual taxes, and filing fees. LLCs in Washington need to be aware of the taxes they need to pay at the federal, state, and local levels, as well as a sales tax and state employment tax. All of these can become overwhelming to keep track of, especially if you’re a budding business, and a financial planner can help you get it all sorted out.

 

You’re a DIY investor

A simpler investment plan is usually better; however, this isn’t true with financial planning. An overall financial plan should also consider factors such as retirement planning, tax planning, and insurance planning. Market Watch explains that DIY investors would still need a financial advisor in order to be sure that nothing is being missed out. Clients don’t realize that an advisor will do more than just manage their portfolio and help with investment plans. Financial advisors can take charge of a range of money-related management tasks, such as making a comprehensive saving and spending plan and guiding the client towards making sensible financial decisions.

 

You’re starting a family

Raising a child is not cheap: It costs an average of $233,610* to raise a child for the first 17 years of their life. Having a financial advisor can help you review your finances to see if you can actually afford being a parent. An advisor can also help you plan when to start saving for your child’s college expenses, while also keeping your retirement plan on track and leaving space for a growing family. They can help settle any future inheritance as well as ensure that your children will be taken care of.

 

You’re close to retirement age

Though you may have a retirement plan, the financial decisions you make in retirement might be more complex than the decisions you’ve had to make in the years leading up to it. A financial advisor can help you consider what you should do so you don’t end up outliving your money. Even when you’re already in retirement, a financial advisor can help you manage a spending plan. You might even consider an investment plan as well, and an advisor will help you make decisions that won’t sacrifice what you already have.

  

You’re financially illiterate

There is a financial literacy crisis in America, but financial advisors can help solve this problem. Americans would rather talk about anything else, such as religion, politics, even death, rather than personal finances. Aside from the embarrassment, another major factor that makes money talk taboo is that it is considered rude to talk about it with other people. However, talking about money is the first step to being a financially literate person. Advisors let their clients ask anything without judgment, creating a learning environment that empowers people to expand their knowledge about their own financial situation.

 

The circumstances requiring a financial planner aren’t just limited to the points discussed above. Overall, it’s important to plan for your financial future. Read our “Why Do I Need a Financial Plan?” for a deeper understanding of why a financial advisor is the right person to develop a financial plan for you. And to learn more about the value that a financial advisor can provide, check out the “10 Reasons Why Clients Hire Us.” If you would like to start looking for an advisor to help you with your plans, get in touch with us to discuss the necessary steps.

Article written by Ellie Hartwood
Exclusively for Merriman

 

Source: *https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2017/01/13/cost-raising-child#:~:text=Middle-income, married-couple,Where does the money go?

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.