The economy is finally taking a turn upward, but the last five years definitely has all of us keeping an eye on our money.
We spoke with some of our experts about how to make sure your financial status is in tip-top shape, and provided a listing of who area top financial professionals say are the best to work with for any monetary advice.
By Anne Elsea, Alexis Evans, Caroline Lang and Alison Shapiro
Investing in Today’s Marketplace
What is the best strategy for investing in the stock market?
Studies have shown that asset allocation is the key determinant of investment performance. It is important to have an allocation you can stay with through up and down markets. This means not letting emotions drive investment decisions. To gain asset class exposure, buy broadly diversified investment vehicles such as mutual funds and exchange traded funds that track the market.
What trends are you seeing in the market?
Low bond yields are driving investors to seek yield in stocks, alternative investments and junk bonds. At this time, many high dividend paying stocks are yielding more than bonds.
What are three tips for investors doing it themselves?
1. Determine an appropriate asset allocation.
2. Diversify globally.
3. Stay disciplined to your investment strategy.
Pam Shortal, CPA, CFP is the managing director for Sullivan, Bruyette, Speros & Blayney, Inc, specializing in estate planning, investment management, retirement, personal taxes and charitable giving.
How to set your budget for Retirement
How early should people start saving for retirement?
As early as possible. Mid- to late 20s at the latest preferably.
How should people start thinking about or saving for retirement? What resources should they use?
Look towards a company for a 401K or any other type of retirement plan. If there is not an option, they should also look for funding an IRA for themselves, or both depending on their situation.
I think the big thing is you have to start to create a vision for yourself of when you want to retire and what type of retirement you are looking to have. I think [a vision] is pretty hard to formulate in your 20s, but I do think that is a major place to start. If you don’t have a vision, you can say, I want to start saving a certain percentage of my money. If you can get to having a minimum of 10 percent [of your income] getting kicked back in their retirement, that’s good; really good is more like 15-20 percent of your income saved into your retirement plan.
What should you do to check in with retirement savings?
The challenge is to challenge yourself to continue to clarify your vision of your future and to continue to challenge yourself to increase your savings percentage.
I would start to look at the type of lifestyle I like to live and replicate that lifestyle in retirement and start putting a cost on it. If your lifestyle is making $100,000 a year, look out at retirement and make sure you add inflation and what expenses are going away and what other expenses you will have. I always add in a travel bucket for my clients. You need to check in on that every year to see if assumptions make sense still.
How much should people generally be saving for retirement, maximum or minimum amount?
If you enjoy your life at $100,000 a year, you need a portfolio that needs to generate that amount of money in retirement. If you take 4 percent of $2.5 million, that will give you $100,000, and that is how I would think.
What are common problems that people run into when saving for retirement?
The number one common problem is delaying savings for retirement; then you’re losing years multiplied by money. Second is not paying attention to the investments that you’re putting your money into on a regular basis, like you’re saving it but not managing it. Third is waiting too long to gain clarity of what your vision for retirement is. The sooner in life you can get yourself to think through that, the more prepared and successful you will be.
Gregg Konopaske, CFP, CRPC, APMA is a private wealth advisor and managing director of KFA Private Wealth Group, a private wealth advisory practice of Ameriprise Financial Services, Inc. He has been in the business for 20 years.
Planning for the Unknown
What are some of the typical unknowns that people often do not think of financially?
There are so many [unknown situations]. Taking an early death, unfortunately we can’t change the outcome but we make sure the appropriate amount of insurance was on both sides of the spouses. You have to have insurance in place and cash reserves, for the first couple of weeks before insurance proceeds are available. The right type of estate planning comes into play, and communication. The surviving spouse has no clue about password usernames or accounts and with better communication that would have been less frustrating.
Another kind of loss is divorce which is in the middle of the spectrum because you can’t buy insurance. You can do prenuptials if you are anticipating the possibility that the marriage will fall apart and you can set forth who owns what. Each spouse having cash reserves is a good thing, and communication might not be as important but the willingness to remediate is.
A downturn of the housing market can take your assets down. There is no insurance for that but you can have a cash reserve and not rely on selling the house under these circumstances, or relying on an investment portfolio, but it’s then about having another source of cash given the possibilities that asset prices can fall for housing.
For the extreme, job loss can come about. That’s really tough because there is no insurance for that or documents that will make it easier.
What are steps to take now to make sure your savings account doesn’t take a major hit?
Sometimes insurance comes into play, and other times a cash reserve comes into play. Yet, other times it is about doing documents ahead of time. A conversation is a very important way to address the unexpected, but not hope for it. The way to make [the unknown] less frustrating or painful, or not having the situation be aggravated, is having insurance documents, cash reserves and good communication.
Cash reserves seem to be the common denominator in all situations, a ready source, liquid accessible and it helps in just about every situation. Until the downturn of the housing market, I would have said have a home equity line of credit. We suggest that for all clients assuming they have room for it. What we saw in 2008 and 2009 is that with housing prices falling, home equity lines were frozen. There are situations when home equity line of credit is taken away from you, and there is really nothing that beats cash.
When should people be planning for these unknowns?
There are things to plan for depending on your life stage. In your 20s and single, you should be thinking that at some point you will want to leave the work force so I should start saving now. In your 20s, start saving, maximize your accumulation and make sure you have a way to protect your earned income through a group disability program or a premium for individual disability. If you are not married with kids, you do not need life insurance. Everything in your future is dependent on your ability to make money.
When married, your spouse may be dependent on your earned income, or your lifestyles may be relying on both incomes. You need not just disability income but if one spouse passes away prematurely, then having insurance on that person’s life will provide funds for the surviving spouse. Life insurance comes into play and estate planning for documents and this is where conversation starts so each spouse knows about the other person’s life both off and online.
A child is born, it increases your life insurance and with a second child it multiples, and so on. The need for better documents and insurance is multiplied because you need to plan for if something happens to the parents—Who will raise the kid? Who will manage the money so kids are taken care of and college is paid for?
You want to, at least once a year, look at your investment portfolio and look at all the pieces and strategies.
What are some common problems that people encounter either when planning in advance or planning last minute for an unknown situation?
One thing we know for certain is that the capital market is volatile. If you are on the verge of retirement, when you go from relying on income to a portfolio to meet your lifestyle, you need to be aware of the risks that come with the verge of retirement. Sequence risk is that you could have bad luck of taking from investment portfolios in the year of 2008 when the market was down and you’re pulling money from a portfolio that will never go back to recovery. What you need to be prepared for is to have cash set aside so if you have the bad luck of retiring in that type of market you can draw on that cash fund rather than sell out your stocks after they have declined. If you’re in your earning years and you are not drawing from your portfolio, then you are not at risk for bad markets—you will keep saving and it doesn’t matter what the pattern of investment returns are as long as you are earning.
The situation of markets is volatile—we can allocate more towards cash and bonds to smooth out volatility but we need stocks for growth. Stocks mean our portfolio will grow or decrease in value along with the stock market. The more money I invest, even if it lessens in value for a time, it will recover. If I’m poised to retire, I have to be a little more concerned about the pattern of returns. The last thing you ever want to do is sell an investment when it is down because you need the money or the market is making you nervous.
You ought to know who you are as an investor in advance. Come up with a portfolio that fits you. If you panic and sell [stocks] then you already did what you’re not supposed to do.
Who should people be consulting with to plan for the unknown situations?
One of the things that clients look to us for is how much insurance do I need, and insurance brokers can be very good at deciding that need. When it comes to insurance, folks may have a sense that they need some of it but don’t know how much or what kind of policy. Those are the questions that we and financial advisors deal with.
If you have too little insurance you may have saved on premium, but if something happens then you have too little. If you over insure and something happens you’re well covered but along the way you paid an unnecessary premium. It’s not too much insurance or too little, but just the appropriate amount.
Think ahead, plan ahead and have a cash reserve. Having that cash reserve may just be part of the answer and the rest of the answer may be insurance, documents or conversation. And then thinking though these different things by yourself or with a financial advisor. Planning ahead no matter what we are talking about is golden.
Marjorie Fox is the founder and partner of Fox, Joss and Yankee LLC, which specializes in financial planning and investment management.
Steps Towards Savings
1. Reduce debt.
Before you can start saving your money, you must chip away at standing debts, which cover a whole spectrum from outstanding student loans, car payments, credit card debt and mortgage payments.
2. Open a checking account.
There are two main categories of savings accounts, retirement and preretirement, and both are equally important as you start to invest your money. The primary preretirement account everyone college-aged and above should have is a personal checking account into which you can directly invest your money for personal use, otherwise known as “emergency/opportunity” (E/O) funds. These accounts acquire negligible interest, but allow you full access to your money at any time. Personal savings accounts are not as crucial, but earn interest and are a great investment in the long run.
3. Check into brokerage accounts.
After even just your first job, you should look into diversifying your investments within brokerage accounts. By opening accounts with companies such as TD Ameritrade, Merrill Lynch, Fidelity, Charles Schwab, etc., you can purchase and centralize a variety of investments in everything from additional checking accounts to certificates of deposit (CDs) to municipal bonds and mutual funds. Brokerage accounts offer investment flexibility and help you keep track of what money you’ve put where, both of which are crucial to personal finance.
4. Invest in your future.
It’s important to start saving for retirement as soon as you receive a steady income. Retirement accounts typically include lots of confusing acronyms and numbers such as IRAs, 401ks and 401bs, but the gist of each type of account is that you put away a portion of your current income (typically 10-15 percent) until you have saved up at least 20 times your salary to pull from and live comfortably upon retirement. Often times, employers will match the amount of funds you put into these savings accounts, but they’re a crucial investment regardless. Since the idea in these funds is to save for the future, banks will attach a significant early withdrawal penalty fee. However, these accounts are typically tax-deferred and have tax-free—though often limited—growth potential.
“It’s important to diversify your investments so you have plenty of places to pull from. It’s just a balancing act of how much to save to preretirement accounts verses retirement accounts while still paying off debt at a healthy rate.”
Daniel Joss is the chief operations officer and chief compliance officer at Fox, Joss and Yankee Financial Planning and Investment Management, He is one of fewer than a dozen Life Planners in the Metro-D.C. area and has been serving the community since 2000.
The Healthcare Conundrum
With the new healthcare laws in place, do people going into retirement have to rethink how they save for medical costs?
It depends on who you are. When I say that I mean are you a person with low income, person with high income, you work for a company that has health coverage and provides retirees coverage. The answer is all over the board. I actually looked up the word ‘labryinth’ when doing research on the healthcare law. … This law has 10 parts and each part has multiple, multiple revisions. I would say the good news is: everyone wants coverage, gets coverage regardless of employment status and regardless of pre-existing conditions.
Do people need to rethink how much they need to have saved in their emergency fund when it comes to medical care and the new healthcare laws? Will this help or harm individuals?
I don’t think so because people will have coverage. The question is how much will the coverage cost. Its two parts: one, cost difference, two, cost of healthcare that is not covered by insurance. I think the second part, will not be any greater; for many, less. Cost of coverage will be relatively low for people with low incomes, it’s already high. There’s nothing in the law about how much things are going to cost.
How much will it cost once the Affordable Care Act takes effect if you didn’t have healthcare before?
If you don’t have healthcare you have two choices: One, to continue going without healthcare, and there is a penalty cost for that. Second choice is to get coverage. Those without coverage pay a tax penalty that it will be $95 in 2014, $325 in 2015, $695 in 2016 or 2.5 percent of taxable income. So that’s the cost of going without healthcare coverage. If you do purchase coverage we don’t know the cost of that; it’s not prescribed in the bill.
Brown is a financial advisor and market manager at Savant Capital Management in McLean. He has published articles in Bloomberg Wealth Manager and Financial Planning magazines.