The “Nastiest, Hardest Problem” in Retirement

Running out of money in retirement is, according to Nobel Prize winning economist William Sharpe, the “nastiest, hardest problem” in retirement. Professor Sharpe has spent his career thinking about risk. His work on the Capital Asset Pricing Model and systemic risk produced in 1966 the Sharpe ratio, which measures risk-adjusted returns. Now, he’s tackling a much broader subject, extremely important to everyone, about possibly outliving your money in retirement. Similar to the Monte Carlo analysis that DWM uses to provide a probability of success for your financial plan, Dr. Sharpe created a computer program with 100,000 retirement-income scenarios to calculate the probability of not running out of money. He’s published a free 730 page e-book “Retirement Income Scenario Matrices.”

In short, there are three key variables that impact your retirement income; your spending, your investment returns and your eventual age (when your plan “ends.”)

The first variable, spending, is the one you can most control. Your spending before retirement will generally determine how much money you accumulate while working. What you don’t spend becomes savings/investments and these annual additions and their appreciation increase your investment portfolio overtime. Your spending in retirement will determine how much you need to withdraw from your investment pot. As your earnings during the working years increase, you need to save a larger percentage of your income in order to accumulate an investment pot at retirement time that will support the lifestyle you’ve created. Withdrawals from your investment portfolio during retirement typically should not exceed 4% of the total investment pot. It’s an easy calculation. For example, if you determine you will need to withdraw $100,000 from the portfolio in your first year of retirement, you’ll need a portfolio of $2.5 million.

Now let’s look at investment returns. No one can predict the future. Historically, we know there is a relationship between inflation, asset allocation and returns. Hypothetically, let’s assume that a diversified fixed income portfolio over the long term would produce a return of 1% above inflation. The return above inflation is called the “real return.” Equities, because of their higher risk, have earned an “equity risk premium” of roughly 3 to 7% above the inflation rate over the long term. Again, hypothetically, let’s assume that in the long-run equities earn 5% above inflation. Alternatives have a shorter historical track record but are designed to produce returns comparable to fixed income returns over time. Therefore, a portfolio with 50% fixed income holdings and 50% equity holdings might hypothetically produce a 3% real return over time. If long-term inflation is expected to be 2.5%, the nominal return could be expected to be 5.5%. A larger allocation to equities will likely produce a larger real return and a smaller (more defensive) allocation of equities would likely produce a smaller real return.

Lastly, longevity. Certainly, we can look at actuarial tables, such as those used by insurance companies and social security, to calculate life expectancy. These charts show that a male age 60 might be expected to live another 22 years; a female age 60, another 25 years. However, we suggest you not use these actuarial tables. Harvard Professor David Sinclair‘s “Lifespan- Why we Age- and Why We Don’t Have To” shows that the increases in technology and medicine are going to give those individuals who want to live a longer and healthier life the opportunity to do so. It is very possible that many of our clients and friends will live a healthy 100 plus years and younger generations, such as millennials and Gen Z, may live to 110 or longer. Accordingly, we suggest using an eventual age of at least 100 when doing your financial planning.

Dr. Sharpe’s final section in the book is about advice. He indicates that many people will need help. He outlines the “ideal financial advisor” and compares a “good financial advisor” to a “fine family doctor” who has “deep scientific knowledge, can assess client needs, habits and willpower and is able to provide scientific diagnoses and can communicate results to the client in simple terms so that the best treatments can be applied.” We like the analogy, we use it all the time.

Yes, running out of money in retirement would be a nasty, hard problem. It’s doesn’t have to be that way. You need a solid financial plan based on realistic values for investment returns and longevity. You also need to focus on spending and savings.   And, you might need some help from a “good financial advisor” that operates like a “fine family doctor,” a firm like DWM.

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Old Adages Die Hard: What Worked in the Past May Not Work Today!

More people are renting (not buying) houses, particularly millennials. The old adage that “paying rent is foolish, own your house as soon as you can” is no longer being universally followed.  Lots of reasons: cost of college education, student debt, relative cost of houses, flat wages, more flexibility and others.  Today we 327 million Americans live in 124 million households, of which 64% (or 79 million) are owner-occupied and 36% (or 45 million) are renter-occupied. In 2008, homeownership hit 69% and has been declining ever since.

It starts with the increasing cost of college.  Back in the mid 1960s, in-state tuition, fees, room and board for one year at the University of Illinois was $1,100.  Annual Inflation from 1965 to now has been 4.4% meaning $1,100 would have increased 10 times to $11,000 in current dollars.  Yet, today’s in-state tuition, room & board at Champaign is $31,000, a 28 times (or 7.9% average annual) increase.  Yes, students often get scholarships and don’t pay full price, but even a $22,000 price tag would represent a 20 times increase.

It’s no surprise that in the last 20 years, many students following the old adage “get a college education at any price” found it necessary to incur debt to complete college.  Today over 44 million students and/or their parents owe $1.6 trillion in student debt.  Among the class of 2018, 69% took out student loans with the average debt being $37,000, up $20,000 each since 2005.  And here is the sad part: according to the NY Fed Reserve, 4 in 10 recent college graduates are in jobs that don’t require degrees.  Ouch. In today’s changing economy, taking on “good debt” to get a degree doesn’t work for everyone, like it did 50 years ago.

At the same time, houses in many communities have increased in value greater than general inflation.  Elise and I bought our first house in Arlington Heights, IL in 1970 when we were 22.   It was 1,300 sq. ft., 3 bedrooms and one bath and cost $21,000.  I was making $13,000 a year as a starting CPA and Elise made $8,000 teaching.  Today that same house is shown on Zillow at $315,000.  That’s a 15 times increase in 50 years. At the same time, the first year salary for a CPA in public accounting is now, according to Robert Half, about $50,000-$60,000. Let’s use $60,000.  That’s less than a 5x increase.  Houses, on the other hand, have increased at 5.6% per year. CPA salaries have increased 3.1%.  The cost of living in that 50 years went up 3.8%. Wages, even in good occupations, have lagged inflation. Our house 50 years ago represented about one times our annual income.  Today the average home is over 4 times the owners’ income.  That makes housing a huge cost of the family budget.

In addition, today it is so much more difficult to assemble the down payment. We needed 20% or $4,200; which came from $3,500 savings we accumulated during our first year working full-time and a $700 gift from my mother. A “starter” house today can cost $250,000 or more.  20% is $50,000, which for many is more than their first year gross income.  And, from that income, they have taxes, rent, food and other expenses and, in many cases, student debt, to pay before they have money for savings. Saving 10% is great, 20% is phenomenal.  But even at 20%, that’s only $10,000 per year and they would need five years to get to $50,000.  No surprise that it is estimated the 2/3 of millennials would require at least 2 decades to accumulate a 20% down payment.

Certainly, houses can become wealth builders because of the leverage of the mortgage.  If your $250,000 house appreciates 2% a year, that is a 10% or $5,000 increase on your theoretical $50,000 down payment. But what happens when real estate markets go down as they did after the 2008 financial crisis?  The loss is increased.  Many young people saw siblings or parents suffer a big downturn in equity 10 years ago and are not ready to jump in.

Furthermore, young people who can scrape up the down payment and recognize the long term benefits of home ownership, may not be willing to commit to one house or one location for six to seven years.  With closing costs and commissions, buying, owning and selling a house in too short a period can be costly and not produce positive returns.

Lastly, many people want flexibility and don’t want to be tied to a house. They want flexibility to change locations and jobs.  They want flexibility with their time and don’t want to spend their weekends mowing the grass or perform continual repairs on the house. In changing states like Illinois, with a shrinking population and less likelihood of significant appreciation, their house can be a burden.  For them, renting provides them flexibility and peace of mind.

It’s no surprise then that the WSJ reported last week that a record number of families earning $100,000 a year or more are renting.  In 2019, 19% of households with six-figure income rented their house, up from 12% in 2006.  Rentals are not only apartment buildings around city centers, but also single-family houses.  The big home-rental companies are betting that high earners will continue renting.

Yes, the world has changed greatly in the last 50 years and it will keep changing.  When I look back, I realize we baby boomers had it awfully good.  The old adages worked for us. But today, buying a house is not the “slam dunk” decision we had years ago, nor is a college degree.  The personal financial playbook followed by past generations doesn’t add up for many people these days.  It’s time for a new plan customized for new generations and that’s exactly what we do at DWM.

Climate Capitalists to the Rescue?

Record heat has hit the South. On October 1, it was 101 in Montgomery, AL. Record highs were hit in AL, TN, MS and KY. An acute lack of rainfall has dried out the Southeast as well and residents and farmers are hurting. Planet Earth continues to get warmer.

Look at the chart above showing the changes in temperatures from the 1850s until now. Each stripe is one year. Dark blue years are cooler and red stripes are warmer. The period 1971-2000 is the base line. At the same time, extreme events like Dorian are becoming more severe, more glaciers have died and seas and lakes are getting higher. The climate has changed.

The past century has seen major changes in the world. The Industrial Revolution has brought riches to some, higher standards of living to many, and the population has increased from 2 billion to 7 billion in that last century, and carbon dioxide (“CO2”) emissions have skyrocketed. Fossil fuels have been used to produce industrial power, electricity, transportation, heating, fertilizers and plastic. In 1900 about 2 billion tons of CO2 went airborne. For 2019, 40 billion tons per year will be emitted, with the biggest increase in the last 30 years.   Expanding use of fossil fuel and related increasing emissions of CO2 have gone hand in hand with the expansion of world growth. See the chart below.

GDP CO2

We humans also produce CO2, breathing and eating.  Trees and plants absorb CO2 and, with sunlight and water, convert it to food.   Compared to 1900, we have 5 billion more humans, expanded use of fossil fuels and, because of deforestation, we have less flora to absorb the CO2.

The first half of the 20th century scientists believed that almost all of the CO2 given off by industry and humans and not absorbed by plants would be sucked up by the oceans.  By 1965 oceanographers realized that the seas couldn’t keep with the CO2 emissions.   Climate change shouldn’t come as a surprise; we’ve known about it for decades.

There are lots of predictions about the impact of climate change in the future. No one can predict the future. But certainly, as our beloved Yogi Berra always said, “The Future is not what it used to be.”

The Economist recaps it this way: “Climate change is not the end of the world.”  Humankind is not poised teetering on the edge of extinction.  The planet is not in peril.”  However, climate change could be a dire threat to the displacement of tens of millions of people, it will likely dry up wells and water mains, increase flooding as well as producing higher temps and more severe weather.  The Economist concludes that “the longer humanity takes to curb emissions, the greater the dangers and sparser the benefits-and the larger the risk of some truly catastrophic surprises.”

Addressing climate change will also provide substantial business opportunities in the coming years.  Already some countries are abandoning coal to generate electricity. Britain, e.g., has developed a thriving offshore wind farm industry used to generate power. Germany recently announced that it will spend $75 billion to meet its 2030 goals to combat climate change, primarily in the transportation area with electric vehicles.

In addition, “climate capitalists” want to do good for the planet and well for themselves.  Elon Musk has invested billions into batteries and electric vehicles.   Chinese BYD’s Zhenzhen sprawling campus is a major provider of solar cells, electric cars, heavy machinery and other items needing energy storage.  Warren Buffet has invested $232 million into BYD.  American billionaire Philip Anschutz has spent a decade promoting a $3 billion high-voltage electric grid. Bill Joy, a co-founder of Sun Microsystems, is now backing Beyond Meat, a maker of plant-based alternatives to burgers.  Microsoft’s Bill Gates established a $1 billion company to bankroll technologies that “radically cut annual emissions.”  Even Pope Francis is using the Vatican Bank’s $3 billion fund to help fight climate change.

The UN’s one day climate summit last week concluded with a number of new announcements.  65 countries and the EU have committed to reach net-zero carbon by 2050.   Unfortunately 75% of the emissions come from 12 countries and 4 of them, India, American, China and Russia made no commitment.  However, certain businesses such as Nestle, Salesforce and have made commitments to reach net-zero by 2050 or before.

2050 will be here before we know it.  Yet, technological change can be adopted quickly, particularly when people are provided a better alternative.  In America, the shift from horse-drawn carts to engine-driven vehicles took place within a decade, from 1903 to 1913.  Let’s hope climate capitalists all over the world do well for themselves and good for planet as soon as possible and we humans and our countries do our parts as well.

 

REINVENT CAPITALISM?

Kraft Heinz (KHC) and Unilever (UL) have many things in common. Both companies own hundreds of global consumer brands- KHC includes not only Kraft foods and Heinz Ketchup but also Planter’s peanuts and Grey Poupon mustard. Unilever owns Dove soap and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Lipton’s tea and Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Both have been in business since the 1920s. Both employ tens of thousands of employees.

In early 2017, KHC offered to buy UL for $143 billion. UL’s then CEO, Paul Polman, fended off the takeover attempt because of a “corporate culture that couldn’t have been more different from Unilever’s.” Since then, KHC’s share price has dropped 70% and UL’s has increased about 35%. If we look at some of the differences between KHC and UL we will see why Mr. Polman didn’t want to merge with KHC and why he would like to see capitalism “reinvented.”

After receiving his M.B.A., Mr. Polman joined Procter & Gamble which provided the foundations for his leadership approach. In his recent NYT interview, Mr. Polman indicated that “P&G has enormous values that permeate all levels and all places in the world that it operates. Ethics, doing the right thing for the long term, taking care of your community is really the way you want a responsible business to be run.”

Fast forward to 2009. After 10 years of decline, UL hires Mr. Polman as CEO. Annual sales had dropped from $55 billion to $38 billion. Mr. Polman felt UL had good brands and good people but had become too “short-term focused.” A change was needed.

Mr. Polman brought back values from the 20s that were at the roots of Unilever’s success. He felt a more responsible business model was needed. He came up with a bold plan to double Unilever’s revenue while cutting the company’s negative impact on the environment in half. And, he committed his entire team to focus on the long-term, not the short-term, in solving important issues.

In short, Mr. Polman believes “We need to reinvent capitalism, to move financial markets to the longer term.”  He felt that “KHC is clearly focused on a few billionaires that do extremely well, but the company is on the bottom of the human rights indexes and is built on the concept of cost cutting.”

This long-term vs. short-term focus is at the heart of a recent best seller, “Prosperity” by Colin Mayer, a former dean of Oxford’s Said business school. Dr. Mayer believes that a great shift in businesses, here in the U.S. and abroad, started about 50 years ago with the overwhelming acceptance of Chicago economist Milton Friedman’s simple doctrine that “the one and only responsibility” of a business is to increase its profits for the benefits of its shareholders, as long as it stays within the rules of the game.” This has been a “powerful concept that has defined business practice and government policies and has molded generations of business leaders.” It has resulted in a huge emphasis on quarterly reporting and quarterly behavior.

Dr. Mayer believes, on the other hand, that the purpose of a corporation should consider its customers, employees, suppliers, and communities as well as its shareholders. Historically, family-owned businesses were cognizant of and responsive to all the constituencies that compose a business and focused on the long-term. Today, almost all corporations in the UK and many US corporations are no longer owned by the founders or their families. This change has accelerated due to the focus on short-term profits, often by simply merging and cutting costs. Dr. Mayer also pointed out that corporations can also have dual-class share structures (typically voting and non-voting shares) which can allow the founders and their like-minded successors to control the company and therefore focus on its long-term purpose rather than quarterly earnings reports. Ford, Google, and Facebook all have this structure. This is a positive trend.

Robert Reich’s new book “The Common Good”, sums it up this way, “In the corporate world, the single-minded-pursuit of shareholder value has displaced the older notion that companies are also responsible for the well-being of workers, customers and communities they serve.” “The common good is no longer a fashionable idea.” He defines common good as “consisting of our shared values about what we owe another as citizens who are bound together in the same society.” Regardless of political party, all Americans should embrace contributions to the common good.

For 50 years, there has been a huge focus on financial capital with less attention paid to human capital, intellectual capital, material capital and environmental capital. All five of these components of capital should be considered for the overall long-term growth and common good of America and the world.

Reinventing capitalism would require companies to focus on more than quarterly profits. Consideration of all of its constituents- customers, shareholders, employees, suppliers, communities and the environment for the long-term-could certainly benefit the common good and likely produce even better stock market returns in the long-run as well.

ECONOMY CELEBRATES 10 YEARS OF GROWTH: IS IT TIME TO PARTY?

Next week will mark the 121st month of the current bull market- the longest business cycle since records began in 1854. Based on history, a recession should be starting soon. Bond rates now form an “inverse yield curve” with shorter term rates above longer term, which typically signals a downturn. Business confidence is down. However, 224,000 American jobs were created in June and equities continue to soar, rising 16-20% year to date. Is it time to party or not?

The business cycle appears to be lengthening. The current expansion, coming after the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, has been unusually long and sluggish. Average GDP growth has been 2.3% per year, as compared to the 3.6% annual growth in the past three expansions. The workforce is aging. Big firms invest less. Productivity has slipped. And, Northwestern Economics Professor Robert Gordon continues to assert that American’s developments in information and communication technology just don’t measure up to past achievements including electricity, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, and the internal combustion engine.

However, the changing economy may now be less volatile for a number of reasons. 1/3 of American’s 20th century recessions were caused by industrial declines or oil-price plunges. Today, manufacturing is only 11% of GDP and its output requires 25% less energy than in 1999. Services are now 70% of our GDP. Furthermore, the value of the housing market is now 143% of GDP, as compared to a peak of 188%. Banks have lots of capital.

Finally, inflation has been very low, averaging 1.6% in the U.S. (and 1.1% in the euro zone) per year during the current expansion. In earlier business cycles, the economy would surge ahead, the jobs market would overheat, causing inflation to rise and leading the Federal Reserve to put on the brakes by raising interest rates. Today, it’s different. Even though the unemployment rate is at a 50 year low of 3.7%, wage growth is only 3%. As the Economist pointed out last week in “Riding High,” American workers have less bargaining power in the globalized economy and are getting a smaller percentage of company profits, keeping inflation down. The Fed recently announced that it is less concerned about rising prices and more concerned about growth slowing and, therefore, will lower interest rates at its meeting next week.

Changes in the economy to slower growth, more reliance on services and lower inflation all contribute to longer business cycles. Yet, the changing economy, particularly globalization and technology, has also produced new risks.

Manufacturing that was formerly done in the U.S. is now outsourced to global producers. These chains can be severely disrupted by a trade war. This could produce a major shock- imagine if Apple was cut-off from its suppliers in China. Also, take a look at the impact that the prolonged grounding of Boeing’s 737 MAX is having on the U.S. economy. It’s hurting suppliers, airlines, and tens of thousands of workers, while $30 billion of the MAX sit grounded. Global supply chains are extremely interconnected these days.

IT is significantly linked as well. Many businesses outsource their IT services via cloud-computing to a few giants, including Alphabet (GOOGL).  85% of Alphabet’s $100 billion annual sales comes from advertising, which in the past has been closely correlated to the business cycle. GOOGL invested $45 billion last year, 5 times more than Ford. In fact, the S&P 500 companies invested $318 billion last year, of which $220 billion was spent by ten tech companies. The big IT companies are now facing regulatory issues worldwide. What would be the worldwide impact if GOOGL, Facebook or others get their “wings” clipped?

Also, finance issues could disrupt the expansion. Although housing and banks are in decent shape, private debts remain high by historical standards, at 250% of GDP, or $50 trillion. And, if the prime lending rate continues to decline, banks’ profits and balance sheets will likely weaken.

Lastly, politics is a big risk. There are the threats of trade wars with China and physical war with Iran. The big tax cut that pushed markets up in 2017 could now produce lower year over year earnings for companies. On Monday, July 22nd, Congressional leaders and White House negotiators reached a deal to increase federal spending and raise the government’s borrowing limit. This would raise spending by $320 billion, at a time when the annual deficit is already nearing $1 trillion, despite the continuing expansion.

Conclusion: Changes in the economy have produced reasons why business cycles are longer, yet more sluggish. Those changes have also added new risks for a continuing expansion and bull market. No one can predict the future. Focus on what you can control: Make sure your risk level is appropriate for your risk profile. Make sure your portfolio is prepared for the next downturn. And, yes, stay invested.

Real Estate: Time to Sell that Large House?

American homes are a lot larger than they used to be.  In 1973, the median size of a newly built house was 1,500 square feet.  In 2015, that figure was 2,500 sq. ft. – 67% more. Plus, with smaller families, there is lots more room per person: 507 sq. ft./person in 1973, and, almost double, 971 sq. ft./person in 2015.

In addition, Americans aren’t any happier with bigger houses.  A study by PhD Clement Bellet found that “house satisfaction in the American suburbs has remained steady for the last four decades.”  His reasoning is based on the premise that people compare their houses to others in the neighborhood-particularly the biggest ones.  The largest homes in the neighborhood seem to be the benchmark.  Dr. Bellet tracked the “one-upmanship” by owners of the biggest homes from 1980 to 2009.  He found that the size of largest 10% of houses increased 40% more than the size increase of median houses.  Apparently, the competition never ends.

Fifty years ago, a one bathroom house or a bedroom that slept 3 siblings might have felt cramped- but it also probably felt normal.  Today, many Americans can afford more space and they’ve bought it. They just don’t appear to be any happier with it.

Dr. Robert Shiller, the noted Nobel Prize winner and co-author of the Case-Shiller index of housing prices, was interviewed recently by the WSJ for an article titled “The Biggest Ways People Waste Money”.  Dr. Shiller opined that “Big houses are a waste.”  He believes that modernization has reduced our space needs.  However, he recognizes, that for some, a big house is a symbol of success. Your neighbors may not know about your finances and achievements, but they can see your big house.

Dr. Shiller suggests books such as “The New Small House”- that talk about designing houses to look impressive as well as function on a smaller scale. Living smaller can be easier on the pocketbook, the owner’s time and the environment.  He concludes: “Just like Uber and Lyft and Airbnb, using resources more efficiently, we can also build houses that are better at serving people’s needs without being big”.

As a result, we’re seeing that fewer people want to buy large, elaborate dream houses.  We know that in the high-end suburbs of Chicago that prices today, in some cases, are ½ of what they were 10-15 years ago. In the Southeast and the Sunbelt, McMansions are sitting on the market, enduring deep price cuts to sell.  For example, Kiawah Island currently has 225 houses for sale, which is a 3-4 year supply.  Of these, the largest and most expensive are the hardest to sell, especially if they haven’t been renovated recently.

The problem is expected to get worse in the next decade.  Baby Boomers currently own 32 million houses, 40% of all the homes in America, and many of these homes are big ones. As the Boomers advance into their 70s and 80s, many will be looking to downsize and/or move to senior housing and therefore will attempt to offload their big house.

When we at DWM talk with clients about housing, we generally ball park a figure of 5-7% of the market value of the house as the annual net cost.  The costs include interest, if there is a mortgage, the opportunity costs of not investing the equity in the house, real estate taxes, insurance, and maintenance and repairs. From this total we subtract the expected appreciation.  For example, a $500,000 house with a $200,000, 4.5% mortgage, might have $9,000 in interest, $18,000 in opportunity costs, $5,000 in real estate taxes, $3,000 in insurance and $5,000 in repairs. Total costs of $40,000 less 2% appreciation of $10,000 nets $30,000 in annual net costs or 6% of the market value.  Of course, values differ across the country and by house. Furthermore, there are some sections of the country experiencing excellent appreciation and some that are experiencing deprecation in value.

As we look at our spending, it’s always good to compare the value received to the cost and, if the cost exceeds the value, a change might be in order.  In our example, if the couple owning the $500,000 house feels they are getting $30,000 or more per year of value from the house, that’s great.  If they are not, particularly if they have a bigger house that may not be appreciating and may be hard to sell in the future, they may want to think about a change now.  Give us a call if you would like to discuss this very important topic.

SECURE – Update on New Retirement System Legislation

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Two weeks ago, the House of Representatives almost unanimously passed the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement (SECURE) Act, adopting their version of long-awaited retirement legislation that can now be introduced for deliberation on the Senate side and ultimately head to the President’s desk.   While Congress has discussed this for many years, these policy changes come at a time when life expectancy has increased and a greater number of American retirees must ensure that they don’t outlast their savings. The bill is now in the Senate Finance Committee, where action has slowed as a handful of Finance Committee members have some issues they want addressed before agreeing to vote on it.  

The marquee provisions in the House bill, estimated to cost $16.8 billion over 10 years, include providing tax credits and removing barriers for small businesses to offer retirement plans and boosting the minimum age for required minimum distributions (RMDs) to begin from 70½ to 72 years old. Other significant changes written in the House bill would make it easier for tax-deferred retirement plans, like 401(k)s, to offer annuities and also repeals the age cap for contributing to individual retirement accounts, currently 70 ½. There are also beneficial measures for part-time workers, parents, home-care workers and employees at small businesses, as well.

As reported by the May 23rd WSJ article, the House legislation also repeals a 2017 change to the “Kiddie Tax” that can boost tax rates on unearned income for low and middle income families that had caused surprise tax increases for many, including many military families of deceased active-duty service members . This policy change would also benefit survivors of first responders and college students receiving scholarships. This provision helped accelerate the passage of the bill to resolve a problem for military families right before Memorial Day.

To help pay for these changes, the House bill limits the “stretch IRA” provisions for beneficiaries of inherited IRAs. Currently, beneficiaries can liquidate those accounts over their own lifetimes to stretch out the RMD income and tax payments. The House bill would cut the time down to 10 years, with some exemptions for surviving spouses and minor children.  

A handful of Republican Senate members have some concerns about the House bill, including the House’s resistance to a provision that allows 529 accounts to pay for home-schooling costs. The Senate Finance Committee has introduced a bill closely resembling the House legislation – the Retirement Enhancement and Savings Act. Republican Senators are considering whether to make even broader policy changes than the House bill.

Here are the key items included in the House bill that are of most interest for our DWM clients:

IRAs if you are over 70 ½ – This bill would increase the age for the required minimum distributions (RMD) to begin from 70 ½ to 72. This will allow the accounts to grow and save taxes on the income until age 72. Also, there would no longer be an age restriction on IRA savings for people with taxable compensation – the age had previously been 70 1/2.

401(k)s – Small business employers would be allowed under this legislation to band together to offer 401(k) Plans to their employees, if they don’t offer one already. Long-standing part-time workers would now be eligible to participate in their employer’s Plan and new parents would be allowed to take up to $5,000 from 401(k)s or IRAs within a year of the birth or adoption of a child. Employers would also be required to provide more comprehensive retirement income disclosures on the employee statements and it would be easier for employers to offer annuity options in their 401(k) Plans.

Student Loans/529s – The House version of the bill would allow up to a $10,000 withdrawal from a 529 to be used for student loan repayment.  

At DWM, we are always watching for legislative changes that might affect our clients and will continue to report on these important developments. Please don’t hesitate to contact us with any questions or comments!

The Beauty in Roth Accounts

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The most common type of retirement accounts are traditional Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs) and company sponsored traditional 401(k) plans, both of which are funded using pre-taxed dollars. The goal of these accounts is to accumulate retirement assets by deferring current year taxes and reducing your taxable income. Later, when funds are withdrawn, either voluntary or as part of a required minimum distribution upon reaching age 70.5, the accumulated earnings and contributions are subject to ordinary income tax. In addition to this, if you are below age 59.5 and you withdraw funds you could be subject to an additional 10% tax penalty.

“Cue the Roth IRA.” One alternative to popular IRAs and traditional 401(k) plans is the Roth IRA and Roth 401(k) (“Roths”). Contributions to both consist of after-tax funds. The accumulated earnings and contributions are not subject to income tax upon withdrawal. In addition to this, there are no required minimum distributions for Roths until the account has reached a non-spouse beneficiary. Although no current tax break is received, there are several arguments as to why Roth accounts can be a significant attribute to your portfolio and to your estate planning. As we will discuss below, the Roth has the ability to grow income tax-free for future generations.

 Contributions:

Funding a Roth account can occur in one of two ways; either through yearly contributions, currently limited to $6,000 per year if below age 50 and $7,000 if above age 50 for 2019 Roth IRA accounts. In addition to this, contributions may be limited for Roth IRAs if your income is between $193,000 and $203,000, for married filing jointly, and you are ineligible to contribute if your income is higher than these figures. Roth 401(k) contributions limitations are currently set at $19,000 per year per employee, with an available catch-up contribution of up to an additional $6,000 if age 50 or older. Contributions to Roths are typically more beneficial for young people because these funds will likely grow tax-free for a longer period of time and they generally have a lower current income tax bracket.

Conversions:

The IRS allows you to convert traditional IRAs to Roth IRAs without limitation. You simply have to include the converted amount as ordinary income and pay the tax. Converting traditional IRA funds to Roth is certainly not for everyone. Generally speaking, conversions may only be considered beneficial if you are currently in a lower tax bracket now, than when the funds will be distributed in the future. If you are in the highest tax bracket, it may not make sense to complete a Roth conversion. If you do not have available taxable funds, non-IRA funds, to pay applicable taxes, then a conversion may not be the best strategy for you. Lastly, conversion strategies are not usually recommended if you will have a need for your traditional IRA or Roth funds during the course of your lifetime(s).

Example:

In the right circumstances, a Roth conversion strategy may hold great potential to transfer large sums of after-tax wealth to future generations of your family. For example, let’s assume a conversion of an $800,000 traditional IRA. Of course, this would typically be done over the course of several years to limit the amount of taxes paid on the conversion. However, following the completion of the conversion, these funds will continue to grow tax-free over the course of the converters’ lifetime (and spouse’s lifetime). Assuming a 30 year lifespan, at an average rate of 5% per year, this would amount to close to $3,500,000 at the end of 30 years; a $2.7 million tax-free gain. For the purpose of this example, let’s also assume these Roth funds skip over the converters’ children to a future generation of four potential grandchildren. Split evenly, each grandchild would hypothetically receive $875,000. At this point, the grandchildren generally would be required to take a small required distribution, however, the bulk of these Roth funds would grow-tax free until the grandchild reaches 85 years of age.  Assuming they receive these Roth funds at age 30, it’s possible each grandchild could receive $5,600,000 of tax-free growth, assuming a 6% average yearly returns. For this example, the estimated federal tax cost of converting $800,000 in IRA funds may be close to $180,000, assuming conversions remain within the 24% tax bracket year-over-year. An estimated state tax cost may vary by state, however, some states such as IL, TN and FL do not tax IRA conversions. Now, if we multiply the $5.6 million times 4 (for each hypothetical grandchild) and add the $2.7 million of appreciation during the first 30 years, this is a total of $25.1 million of potential tax-free growth over 85 years. This obviously has the potential to be a truly amazing strategy. Note that because of the rules that enable people to stretch out distributions of an inherited Roth, the people who benefit the most are young.

To review if Roth strategies may be a good addition to your overall planning, please contact DWM and allow us to assist you in this process.

Leverage for the Next Generations: How to Build Credit Effectively

According to a study done by Sallie Mae recently, the younger generations, from teens to young adults, are much more likely to make payments by debit card, cash, or mobile transfer (Venmo, Paypal), than by credit card. In fact, only around 50% of them have credit cards at all. This statistic is leaving some analysts, like those at Fortune magazine (Bloomberg) wondering if credit cards will soon go the way of the video store or Toys R Us. But what are some possible reasons for this shift away from debt lending instruments in young adults, and what lessons can they learn to ensure that picking one up doesn’t lead them to further financial struggles?

One of the big reasons that can easily be identified as an answer to the first question is the looming student loan debt floating over most of those adults’ heads. The average student leaving college in 2017 had roughly $28,650 in student loan debt. On top of this, about 11% of outstanding student loans were 90 days or more delinquent or in default. With the risks of this debt compiling and carrying out, students and young people entering the workforce are less concerned about credit scores and more concerned on making sure they can pay their monthly loan amount, on top of any other recurring expenses. However, the one piece of good news coming out of paying these student loans is that by doing so, one can build up significant credit that will help take the place of missing out on credit card payments. While this avenue won’t leave much room to start borrowing to buy discretionary items, making these payments on time and for the right amount will allow young folk to build a strong credit foundation for the future.

In addition to student loans, many other issues impede those looking to get a credit card early. In 2009, the Credit Card Accountability Responsibility and Disclosure Act set forth a precedent that banks needed to have more stringent policies with which they lend money, including not offering credit cards to anyone under the age of 21 without a co-signer or proof of income. Even if these are available, with little to no credit history available, some will be turned down for credit card offers. However, most companies offer some sort of secured debt instruments at the least which ask for a deposit upfront as a collateral credit limit. These will allow those with low or new credit scores to earn it while keeping the banks/credit card companies from being at risk. One additional method for those who choose not to use these types of cards is simply to be added as an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. While at a slower pace, this can help out a young person get started even if they don’t use it at all.

Additionally, once their credit is established and starts going in the right direction, they must remain diligent to avoid having what they worked for diminished. There are many different factors that go into a person’s score, however following some key principles will be more than enough to continue pushing this score up:

  1. Use 30% max of the allowed total credit line. This 30% rule is used to ensure that one’s spending habits are in-line with how much they can borrow.
  2. Pay all bills on time. Either through setting up auto-pay or keeping a calendar with important payment deadlines written down, this is one of the most important factors.
  3. Continue using the debt instrument. Even if it’s only being used to pay for small monthly charges or gas bills, continuing to use the card will build up credit.
  4. Pay as much as is feasible. The balance set on the card is not nearly as important as the fact that it’s being used. In order to keep interest down (some go as high as 17%!), one should pay off as much of the balance as they can each month. This is especially important since roughly 25% of millennials have carried a credit card debt for over a year!

All in all, younger generations of people have sincere trepidation when it comes to using credit cards or any other item causing them to incur more debt than they’ve already been exposed to through student loans. They’re still fearful, having grown up through the Great Recession, and face several hurdles even if they decide to pursue getting a credit card. However, once they have them, and through loans, they can still build up a reasonable credit score and attain their financial dreams by remaining diligent and following advice like those points listed above. Please let us know if you have any questions on the above information for you, your family, or your friends.

Billionaire Investor Ray Dalio: “Capitalism Needs Reform”

 

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Ray Dalio is the founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds. Bloomberg ranked him as the world’s 79 wealthiest person earlier this year. Like many of us, Mr. Dalio was “fortunate enough to be raised in a middle-class family by parents who took good care of me, to go to good public schools, and to come into a job market that offered me equal opportunity.” He has lived the American Dream. America created the first truly middle-class society; now, a middle class life is increasingly out of reach for many of its citizens.

Mr. Dalio “became a capitalist at age 12, using earnings from part-time employment to start an investing career.” Mr. Dalio has been a macro global investor (making predictions on large-scale world events) for 50 years, which required him to gain a practical understanding of how economies and markets work. (In 2007, Bridgewater predicted the coming global financial crisis that hit in 2008-09). Mr. Dalio has learned that capitalism can be an effective motivator to make money, save it, and invest it, rewarding people for their productive activities that produce a profit. “Being productive leads people to make money which provides capital resources, which when combined with ideas can convert them into the profits and productivities that raise our living standards.” Even communist countries, including “communist China” have made capitalism an integral part of their systems.

As part of his work, Mr. Dalio has studied what makes countries succeed and fail. In short, “poor education, poor culture (that impedes people from operating effectively together), poor infrastructure and too much debt cause bad economic results.” The best results come from more equal opportunity in education and work, good family upbringing, civilized behavior, and free and well-regulated markets.

So, how is the US doing?

“Capitalism Is Not Working Well for Most Americans” says Ray Dalio. His research looked at the differences between the haves and have-nots in American- those in the top 40% and those in the bottom 60% of income earners. He found the following key stats:

  • There has been little or no real income growth for most people (the bottom 60%) for decades.
  • The income gap is about as high as ever and the wealth gap is the highest since the 1930s.
  • Most people in the bottom 60% are poor- they would struggle to raise $400 in the event of an emergency.
  • The economic mobility rate is now one of the worst in the developed world- US people whose fathers were in the bottom income quartile have very little chance of moving up to higher quartiles.
  • Many of our children are poor, malnourished and poorly educated.
  • Low incomes, poorly funded schools and weak family support for children lead to poor academic achievement, which leads to low productivity and low incomes of people who become economic burdens on the society.
  • The US scores in the bottom 15% of developed countries on standardized educational tests. High poverty schools really push our average test scores down.
  • Poor educational results can lead to students being unprepared for work and having emotional problems which manifest in damaging behaviors, including higher crime rates.

And, most importantly, he found that the income/education/wealth/opportunity gap reinforces the income/education/wealth/opportunity gap.

 These gaps weaken us economically because:

  • They slow our economic growth because a large portion of our population doesn’t have money to spend
  • They result in suboptimal talent and human development and, in many cases, lack of having a job that honors the dignity of one’s work
  • They result in a large percentage of our population detracting from our GDP, not contributing to it.
  • In addition, these gaps can cause dangerous social and political divisions that threaten our cohesive fabric and capitalism itself.

In conclusion, Mr. Dalio suggests capitalism is now producing a self-reinforcing feedback loop that widens the income/wealth/opportunity gap to the point that capitalism and the American Dream are in jeopardy. Ray Dalio believes what is needed is a long-term investment program for America that achieves good “double bottom line” returns on investments; producing both good economic returns and good social returns.

The nice bump in economic growth brought on by tax reform has already started to fade. GDP growth is expected to be less than 2% next year. While capitalism has likely worked very well for most of us, who are in the top 40%, it hasn’t worked so well for the bottom 60%. Let’s hope our politicians, of both parties, focus on long-term investments for our country with double bottom line returns. That could really make a difference in long-term economic growth.