At DWM, our job is wealth management. We look to help our clients secure their financial futures through comprehensive financial planning and prudent investment management. Today, I’d like to focus on the investment management part which adheres to our philosophy of protection first, growth second.

Some readers may be familiar with DWM’s approach to investment management. At its core, it starts with the identification of our clients’ goals and constraints. We do this by identifying their goals, risk tolerance, return objectives, income needs, time horizon, and other special requirements. As every client is unique, so is each client portfolio.

We then match the characteristics of their goals and constraints with a specific Asset Allocation mix tailored to them. For example, x% equities via the DWM Core Equity Portfolio, y% fixed income via the DWM Core Fixed Income Portfolio, and z% alternatives via the DWM Liquid Alternatives Portfolio.

But many of our readers may not know the logistics of building those three DWM exclusive portfolios. Here is a little bit of the secret sauce:

The three major asset classes of equities, fixed income, and alternatives are further broken down into subclasses, which also have different exposures, risks, and potential returns. For example, we divide the equity portfolio into different sectors and market capitalizations, as well as between domestic and foreign stocks. We also pay attention to value vs growth. Then, in the fixed income portfolio, we split out exposure into government debt, corporate debt, and international debt, while paying special attention to credit risk and duration.

From there, there are several ways to go about choosing the securities to fulfill the subclasses. Our affiliation with Charles Schwab & Co- and its investment platform which makes most of the public investment universe available to us, there are lots of securities – some great, some not so great – to choose from.We further filter by looking at the following:

  • What type of exposure do we want to have in that subclass (for example, is market-cap weighted okay or is better to use a different methodology like factor-weighting)?
  • Total price to own and trade that security (e.g. the Operating Expense Ratio “OER” and ticket charge if applicable)
  • Volume: does the security trade enough for our firm to take a position for our clients’ portfolios
  • Security vehicle (ETF or Mutual Fund): both come with different characteristics
  • How do the securities complement one another, keeping in mind that non-correlating assets maximize your diversification benefits

It should be noted that from a risk management perspective we aren’t big fans of individual stocks. In fact, we began phasing out the use of individual stocks within our DWM-managed portfolios over a decade ago. Why?

  1. Company-specific risk: When allocating percentages of your portfolio to individual stocks, you run the possibility of the company represented by said stock going bankrupt or having a similar setback that can greatly increase the overall risk of your portfolio.
  2. More diversification with low-cost mutual funds and exchange-traded funds: With MFs and ETFs, we can incorporate the exposures to different individual stocks in one bundle, without having to have the aforementioned company-specific risk.

As you can now see, a lot goes into building and maintaining a portfolio. Once the initial portfolio is established with the appropriate weights to various investment style exposures, it is anything but “set and forget”. These “weights” or allocations to asset classes and the underlying investment styles can significantly fluctuate and will need to be rebalanced. Or we may find that we want more or less exposure to a specific area and thus adjustments are needed. Furthermore, new products – some great, some not so great – come to the market every day. If we identify one that is potentially a better fit to our model and it passes our due diligence process, we will make changes accordingly, whereby we execute trades via our sophisticated channels.

In conclusion, portfolio management is constantly evolving. Ongoing education and research is paramount to a solid investment management practice. At DWM, we don’t take that responsibility lightly. Through diligence and care, we seek to help our investors make their money work harder by eliminating the unforeseen landmines in their portfolio. Diversification, low-cost mutual funds/ETFs, and consistent portfolio monitoring are wonderful tools that DWM implements to help accomplish this hefty task, and keep our clients on track to meeting their financial goals.

College Funding Solutions

Last night, our Palatine team at DWM performed a presentation for the parents of students attending Quest Academy, a private K-12 school right here in Palatine, IL. The focus of the night was putting a spotlight on two important topics, tax reform and college savings. We’ve covered the effects of tax reform quite a bit in blogs from the past few weeks, so we wanted to focus in on the savings portion of the presentation for our blog this week.

College costs are rising, with no end in sight. Tuition prices for public and private universities increase yearly by approximately 4-8% consistently, which put them right up there with housing and gas prices as the leaders of inflation (though college costs experience much less volatility then either of the others). Per Figure 1, we can see the effect of this inflation, with tuition at an in-state public university costing parents over $100,000 over the four years of collegiate study. With inflation rates as they are, these numbers are only going to get larger.

Tuition

Figure 1: College Tuition Costs

So, as we presented last night, how can parents of children expect to be able to pay these high price tags?

Luckily, there are several different options available to parents and children alike that can help offset the huge costs of college. These different solutions vary from federal financial aid, merit-based scholarships, savings, and loans.

Let’s start with federal financial aid. The path to being awarded federal financial aid starts at the same spot for each family, the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, commonly referred to as the FAFSA form. This document helps many domestic colleges determine how much, if any, federal aid your child should be allotted. To determine this, the FAFSA form interprets your financial situation based on their calculated Expected Family Contribution (EFC), or essentially how much money the parents of a student will be able to contribute to their child’s college tuition. To determine the EFC amount, many factors including the family’s taxed and untaxed income, assets, and benefits (such as unemployment or social security) are evaluated. Retirement assets are not considered in this calculation. For example, any money held in an IRA or 401k plan will not be counted towards the EFC, since those funds cannot be used for college tuition. However, money held in a checking or brokerage account will factor into the EFC when calculating federal financial aid. One important caveat to this is that any funds held in the student’s name will be weighted more heavily towards the EFC calculation than those assets held in the parent’s name. For a quick reference, please see Figure 2 below, which gives an approximate federal aid allotment based upon your EFC and the number of children you have.

EFC

Figure 2: https://www.forbes.com/forbes/welcome/?toURL=https://www.forbes.com/sites/troyonink/2017/01/08/2017-guide-to-college-financial-aid-the-fafsa-and-css-profile

Another college funding solution is the use of merit-based scholarships, which are awarded by the schools themselves, based on a student’s academic, athletic, music, or other merits. If a student shows exceptional talents, colleges are likely to offer these students grants in order to entice them to coming to their college. These scholarships tend to be offered for at least four years of college depending on their eligibility, and can often be a hefty sum of the tuition costs (some being the full amount)! Besides the colleges themselves offering these scholarships, there are various online sources that have private funding that is given out to students who apply to them. We have done some research on these websites, and have included some of the most popular ones at the bottom of this blog. Please feel free to check them out with your student!

One of the major college funding methods that students and their parents utilize is through savings. Besides holding assets in a bank or brokerage account to pay for their child, parents have some other ways of saving money specifically for college funding that can be great resources also for tax purposes! One of the best of these vehicles is a 529 plan. In Illinois, we like the Illinois Bright Start and Bright Directions 529 platforms, and in South Carolina, our team likes the Future Scholar 529 platform. What these programs offer is a method for holding college funds and investing them, allowing for compounding tax-free growth! By contributing to these accounts, taxpayers can annually take advantage of a $10,000 state tax deduction ($20,000 for married couples) for Illinois, and can utilize the $15,000 dollar gift tax exclusion on the transfer as well, helping to lower the taxes for the parents, and save a lot of money for their child quickly. In comparison, South Carolina offers an unlimited state deduction for all contributions to a 529 plan. In conjunction with this, in all states parents are able to take advantage of a “Five-Year Forward” funding method, which allows for up to $150,000 to be contributed to a 529 plan in one year, and as long as no extra contributions are made in the following four years, the entire amount qualifies for five years of the gift-tax exclusion, a fantastic strategy for savings and estate planning, for parents and grand-parents alike! As part of the recent tax reform, the government has expanded the use of these plans to allow parents to use these funds to pay for K-12 private schooling, though this could prohibit the use of the state tax deduction, which is still a grey area. Stay alert for more updates on this particular change.

Lastly, there are loans. Most students and parents have come to a modern consensus that student loans are extremely hard to pay off, and as of 2018, student loan debt does indeed sit at approximately $1.5 trillion, so whenever loans are taken, it is extremely important that parents take into account how these will be paid off. There are many different options when it comes to taking these loans as well, including federal versus private loans (government vs. banks), and deferral timings (“subsidized” start payments once graduated, “unsubsidized” start payments immediately). Some important aspects of loans to look at when researching them is to ensure that they have no application fee, a soft hit on credit pulls, and no fees for paying off loans early, so you get out with the least interest accrued as possible.

All in all, paying for college is a daunting task for any parent and student. However, by planning early and utilizing the many different methods of funding, both can find peace of mind and focus on the challenges presented in reaching a higher education, and less on how they are going to pay for it.

If you have any questions on any of the above information, please do not hesitate to reach out!

Scholarship resources to check out:

bigfuture.org
cappex.com
fastweb.com

Plant the Seed & Let It Grow: How DWM is Helping Emerging Investors

Coming out of college can be a very stressful time for an individual. One goes from the structured and carefree life of being a student to someone bewildered with what is often their first glimpse of responsibility, trying to grab the wheel and get some control on their future. For a lot of recent graduates, it’s not an easy transition.

Having graduated from Carthage College in Wisconsin last May, I understand what some of these sobering realizations feel like. Fortunately, my family relationship with DWM team member, Jenny Coletti, earned me an interview at Detterbeck Wealth Management and, fast forward a few weeks, I’m proud to be a new part of the DWM team!

Even though I majored in mathematics, as a young person fresh out of college, it is extremely daunting on how to get your hands around your financial wherewithal and start planning for your future. DWM is guiding me through that process and in the near future will be doing this for other “emerging investors”!

  • Automated investment management utilizing DWM investment strategies via the Schwab IIP Platform

  • Emerging Investor On-Boarding – Financial assistance geared directly toward an Emerging Investor needs, which could include the following:

    • Budgeting/cash flow planning

    • Debt Management

    • Asset Allocation including assistance with your employer-based plan

    • Assistance with other work benefit options

    • Access to nifty financial tools

    • Educational planning (for those with kids or planning to have them soon)

    • Access to the DWM Emerging Investor Relationship Managers

      • In Charleston: Ginny Wilson & Grant Maddox

      • In Palatine: Me, Jake Rickord!

  • The ability to graduate to DWM’s Total Wealth Management (“TWM”) Platform – the one that our current clients benefit from – when their account value reaches a certain level

This platform can serve many needs, but Brett and Les are very excited about this being a nice spot for children of TWM clients and other select younger people looking to grow their portfolios, where they become their own investor and spread their own wings!

It should be noted that this Emerging Investor program is a different service package than our more sophisticated Total Wealth Management experience. Given that it is geared toward a younger audience, which have different – typically less complicated, but still important – needs, the areas of focus are much different. For example, my recently graduated college friends are more interested in cash flow/budgeting management and making sure that their 401k through work is getting the most bang for the buck, given the employer’s match and investment choices, and less interested in retirement, estate, tax planning, etc. The investment management portfolios are still constructed by the same team at DWM, but do not utilize the more sophisticated alternative investments. Also, from an administrative perspective, reporting is completely handled through the Schwab IIP Client portal – no custom Orion/DWM reports like our TWM clients receive. In fact, with this EI program, everything is on-line and paperless, which to a Millennial sounds fantastic, but may be daunting to the older generations. A co-browsing session between the new EI client and one of our team members can be scheduled to make on-boarding a piece of cake. And whereas this new EI program has many differences from our traditional TWM program, the main theme remains the same: we will help select investors make their money work harder by addressing the unforeseen landmines hidden within their financial plans by equipping them with education, knowledge, tools, and sound advice.

Overall, I am extremely excited to be a part of the DWM family. I’ve learned a great deal and met some great people since joining several weeks ago. I look forward to meeting all of the clients in due time. And I cannot wait to help roll-out this new Emerging Investors platform. We still have plenty of work to do, but stay tuned for the official launch!