Pay Down Debt or Save for Retirement?

You can use a variety of strategies to pay off debt, many of which can cut not only the amount of time it will take to pay off the debt but also the total interest paid. But like many people, you may be torn between paying off debt and the need to save for retirement. Both are important; both can help give you a more secure future. If you’re not sure you can afford to tackle both at the same time, which should you choose?

There’s no one answer that’s right for everyone, but here are some of the factors you should consider when making your decision.

Rate of investment return versus interest rate on debt

Probably the most common way to decide whether to pay off debt or to make investments is to consider whether you could earn a higher after-tax rate of return by investing than the after-tax interest rate you pay on the debt. For example, say you have a credit card with a $10,000 balance on which you pay nondeductible interest of 18%. By getting rid of those interest payments, you’re effectively getting an 18% return on your money. That means your money would generally need to earn an after-tax return greater than 18% to make investing a smarter choice than paying off debt. That’s a pretty tough challenge even for professional investors.

And bear in mind that investment returns are anything but guaranteed. In general, the higher the rate of return, the greater the risk. If you make investments rather than pay off debt and your investments incur losses, you may still have debts to pay, but you won’t have had the benefit of any gains. By contrast, the return that comes from eliminating high-interest-rate debt is a sure thing.

An employer’s match may change the equation

If your employer matches a portion of your workplace retirement account contributions, that can make the debt versus savings decision more difficult. Let’s say your company matches 50% of your contributions up to 6% of your salary. That means that you’re earning a 50% return on that portion of your retirement account contributions.

If surpassing an 18% return from paying off debt is a challenge, getting a 50% return on your money simply through investing is even tougher. The old saying about a bird in the hand being worth two in the bush applies here. Assuming you conform to your plan’s requirements and your company meets its plan obligations, you know in advance what your return from the match will be; very few investments can offer the same degree of certainty. That’s why many financial experts argue that saving at least enough to get any employer match for your contributions may make more sense than focusing on debt.

And don’t forget the tax benefits of contributions to a workplace savings plan. By contributing pretax dollars to your plan account, you’re deferring anywhere from 10% to 39.6% in taxes, depending on your federal tax rate. You’re able to put money that would ordinarily go toward taxes to work immediately.

Your choice doesn’t have to be all or nothing

The decision about whether to save for retirement or pay off debt can sometimes be affected by the type of debt you have. For example, if you itemize deductions, the interest you pay on a mortgage is generally deductible on your federal tax return. Let’s say you’re paying 6% on your mortgage and 18% on your credit card debt, and your employer matches 50% of your retirement account contributions. You might consider directing some of your available resources to paying off the credit card debt and some toward your retirement account in order to get the full company match, and continuing to pay the tax-deductible mortgage interest.

There’s another good reason to explore ways to address both goals. Time is your best ally when saving for retirement. If you say to yourself, “I’ll wait to start saving until my debts are completely paid off,” you run the risk that you’ll never get to that point, because your good intentions about paying off your debt may falter at some point. Putting off saving also reduces the number of years you have left to save for retirement.

It might also be easier to address both goals if you can cut your interest payments by refinancing that debt. For example, you might be able to consolidate multiple credit card payments by rolling them over to a new credit card or a debt consolidation loan that has a lower interest rate.

Bear in mind that even if you decide to focus on retirement savings, you should make sure that you’re able to make at least the monthly minimum payments owed on your debt. Failure to make those minimum payments can result in penalties and increased interest rates; those will only make your debt situation worse.

Other considerations

When deciding whether to pay down debt or to save for retirement, make sure you take into account the following factors:

  • Having retirement plan contributions automatically deducted from your paycheck eliminates the temptation to spend that money on things that might make your debt dilemma even worse. If you decide to prioritize paying down debt, make sure you put in place a mechanism that automatically directs money toward the debt–for example, having money deducted automatically from your checking account–so you won’t be tempted to skip or reduce payments.
  • Do you have an emergency fund or other resources that you can tap in case you lose your job or have a medical emergency? Remember that if your workplace savings plan allows loans, contributing to the plan not only means you’re helping to provide for a more secure retirement but also building savings that could potentially be used as a last resort in an emergency. Some employer-sponsored retirement plans also allow hardship withdrawals in certain situations–for example, payments necessary to prevent an eviction from or foreclosure of your principal residence–if you have no other resources to tap. (However, remember that the amount of any hardship withdrawal becomes taxable income, and if you aren’t at least age 59½, you also may owe a 10% premature distribution tax on that money.)
  • If you do need to borrow from your plan, make sure you compare the cost of using that money with other financing options, such as loans from banks, credit unions, friends, or family. Although interest rates on plan loans may be favorable, the amount you can borrow is limited, and you generally must repay the loan within five years. In addition, some plans require you to repay the loan immediately if you leave your job. Your retirement earnings will also suffer as a result of removing funds from a tax-deferred investment.
  • If you focus on retirement savings rather than paying down debt, make sure you’re invested so that your return has a chance of exceeding the interest you owe on that debt. While your investments should be appropriate for your risk tolerance, if you invest too conservatively, the rate of return may not be high enough to offset the interest rate you’ll continue to pay.

Regardless of your choice, perhaps the most important decision you can make is to take action and get started now. The sooner you decide on a plan for both your debt and your need for retirement savings, the sooner you’ll start to make progress toward achieving both goals.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, Chevron, Pfizer, AT&T, Bank of America, Qwest, Verizon, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Inflation-Fighting TIPS

It’s easy to see how inflation affects your daily life. Gas prices are higher. Electric bills are steeper. Wallets are thinner. But what inflation does to your investments isn’t always as obvious. Let’s say your money is earning 4% and inflation is running between 3% and 4% (its historical average). That means your so-called “real return”–the stated return minus inflation–is only 1% at best. After you subtract any account fees, taxes, and other expenses, you could actually end up with a negative number. What can you do to keep from losing the race against inflation? One way is to buy investments that are designed to keep pace automatically.

Take stock of TIPS

Since the U.S. Treasury introduced them in 1997, Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities (TIPS) have become the most widely known example of what are generally referred to as “inflation-protected securities.” TIPS may be attractive to long-term investors who want to preserve the purchasing power of their money over time. Investors also may like the security of knowing their investment is backed by the U.S. government as to the timely payment of principal and interest.

Like other Treasury bonds or notes, TIPS are basically loans to the U.S. government. You receive interest payments every six months based on a fixed interest rate specified in advance. With most bonds, it’s easy to know the exact amount of money you’ll receive each year. You simply multiply the principal–the amount of your initial investment–by the interest rate.

TIPS work a little differently. Instead of guaranteeing how much you’ll be paid in interest, an inflation-protected security guarantees that your real return will keep up with inflation. The interest rate stays fixed; what you won’t know is the exact dollar amount of the payments you’ll receive. If inflation goes up, your return will increase to match it. With TIPS, you’re trading off the certainty of knowing exactly how much you’ll receive for the knowledge that, as long as you hold the bond until it matures, your investment will maintain its buying power.

How do TIPS work?

TIPS pay slightly lower interest rates than equivalent Treasury securities that don’t adjust for inflation. The reason for that reduced rate? Your TIPS principal is automatically adjusted twice a year to match any increases or decreases in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a widely used measure of inflation. If the CPI increases, the Treasury recalculates your principal to reflect the increase.

For example, let’s say you buy $20,000 worth of TIPS that pay a fixed interest rate of 2.5%. Over the next six months, the CPI rises at an annual rate of 3%. Your $20,000 principal would go up by 1.5% (half of the 3% annual inflation rate) to $20,300.

This adjustment will affect the amount of your semiannual interest payments. Even though the interest rate stays the same, it’s applied to the recalculated amount of your principal. In this example, the 2.5% interest rate would be applied to the new $20,300 figure. The actual dollar amount paid in interest goes up because it’s based on a higher principal; instead of $250, your next semiannual payment would be $253.75. If inflation goes up again, your next payment will be higher still. (The return on a specific bond may be different, of course, since this is only a hypothetical illustration designed to show how the return on a TIPS is calculated.)

If the CPI figure is lower in six months, your principal will be adjusted accordingly when it’s recalculated; that in turn will affect the amount of your next interest payment. If there’s a period of deflation and the CPI is actually a negative number, your principal and interest payment would both drop.

The inflation adjustment feature means that if you hold a TIPS until it matures, your repaid principal will likely be higher than when you bought the bond. Even if the CPI turns negative and the economy experiences deflation, the amount you’ll receive when the bond matures will be the greater of the inflation-adjusted figure or the amount of your original investment.

Calculating the TIPS Advantage

How do you know whether owning a TIPS makes sense? Subtract the TIPS interest rate from the rate for an equivalent bond without the inflation protection feature. If the inflation rate is higher than the difference between the two rates, the TIPS may have an advantage.
If a TIPS pays… And equivalent non-TIPS yield is… Inflation rate needed for a TIPS advantage is…
2.5% 4.5% More than 2%
3% 6% More than 3%

Things to think about

You can still lose money with a TIPS if you don’t hold it until it matures. Inflation rates rise and fall, and as with any bond, the returns offered by other investments can affect the market value of your TIPS. Also, if inflation turns out to be less over time than you had anticipated when you invested, the total return on a TIPS could actually be less than that of a comparable Treasury security without the inflation-adjustment feature.

If the inflation rate over time isn’t high enough to make up for the difference between the lower interest rate of a TIPS and that of an investment without inflation protection, the TIPS has no advantage. That’s why TIPS may only be appropriate for part of your bond holdings.

There’s another catch. You’ll also need to think about the federal taxes that will be due each year on the interest and any increases in your principal. Even though the Treasury records the changes in your principal every six months, you don’t actually receive that money until the TIPS matures. However, the government still taxes that increase each year as if you’ve received the cash. Many investors prefer to postpone that tax bill by holding TIPS in a tax-deferred account such as an IRA.

How can I buy TIPS?

You can buy TIPS individually, with maturities of 5, 10, or 30 years, and in $100 increments (although individual brokers may have higher minimum purchase requirements). You could choose a selection of TIPS that mature at different times. When the shorter-term bonds mature, you could reinvest that principal into either another TIPS or some other type of bond. Known as “laddering,” this strategy gives you flexibility as interest rates change. If interest rates are higher than the bond that’s maturing, you can invest at a higher rate; if rates are lower, you might prefer an investment that offers a higher return. Also, if you will need some of your principal for a specific goal, such as college tuition, you can select maturity dates that return your principal at the right time.

Another possibility is a mutual fund, which may invest in TIPS only or mix them with inflation-protected securities from other entities, such as foreign governments. Typically, a fund invests in a variety of debt instruments to balance the higher interest rates usually offered by longer-term bonds with the flexibility of shorter maturities. A TIPS mutual fund pays out not only the interest but also any annual inflation adjustments, which are taxed as short-term capital gains. Some exchange traded funds (ETFs) also invest in an index composed of TIPS with various maturities.

Note: Before investing in a mutual fund, carefully consider its investment objective, risks, fees, and expenses, which are contained in the prospectus available from the fund. Review it carefully before investing.

Your financial professional can help you decide which choices may be appropriate as you race to keep up with rising costs.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, Bank of America, Raytheon, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Hughes, Qwest, Chevron, Northrop Grumman, Verizon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Are Your Kids Delaying Your Retirement?

Some baby boomers are supporting their “boomerang” children.

Are you providing some financial support to your adult children? Has that hurt your retirement prospects?

It seems that the wealthier you are, the greater your chances of lending a helping hand to your kids. Pew Research Center data compiled in late 2014 revealed that 38% of American parents had given financial assistance to their grown children in the past 12 months, including 73% of higher-income parents.1

The latest Bank of America/USA Today Better Money Habits Millennial Report shows that 22% of 30- to 34-year-olds get financial help from their moms and dads. Twenty percent of married or cohabiting millennials receive such help as well.2

Do these households feel burdened? According to the Pew survey, no: 89% of parents who had helped their grown children financially said it was emotionally rewarding to do so. Just 30% said it was stressful.1

Other surveys paint a different picture. Earlier this year, the financial research firm Hearts & Wallets presented a poll of 5,500 U.S. households headed by baby boomers. The major finding: boomers who were not supporting their adult children were nearly 2½ times more likely to be fully retired than their peers (52% versus 21%).3

In TD Ameritrade’s 2015 Financial Disruptions Survey, 66% of Americans said their long-term saving and retirement plans had been disrupted by external circumstances; 24% cited “supporting others” as the reason. In addition, the Hearts & Wallets researchers told MarketWatch that boomers who lent financial assistance to their grown children were 25% more likely to report “heightened financial anxiety” than other boomers; 52% were ill at ease about assuming investment risk.3,4

Economic factors pressure young adults to turn to the bank of Mom & Dad. Thirty or forty years ago, it was entirely possible in many areas of the U.S. for a young couple to buy a home, raise a couple of kids and save 5-10% percent of their incomes. For millennials, that is sheer fantasy. In fact, the savings rate for Americans younger than 35 now stands at -1.8%.5

Housing costs are impossibly high; so are tuition costs. The jobs they accept frequently pay too little and lack the kind of employee benefits preceding generations could count on. The Bank of America/USA Today survey found that 20% of millennials carrying education debt had put off starting a family because of it; 20% had taken jobs for which they were overqualified. The average monthly student loan payment for a millennial was $201.2

Since 2007, the inflation-adjusted median wage for Americans aged 25-34 has declined in nearly every major industry (health care being the exception). Wage growth for younger workers is 60% of what it is for older workers. The real shocker, according to Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco data: while overall U.S. wages rose 15% between 2007-14, wages for entry-level business and finance jobs only rose 2.6% in that period.5,6

It is wonderful to help, but not if it hurts your retirement. When a couple in their fifties or sixties assumes additional household expenses, the risk to their retirement savings increases. Additionally, their retirement vision risks being amended and compromised.

The bottom line is that a couple should not offer long-run financial help. That will not do a young college graduate any favors. Setting expectations is only reasonable: establishing a deadline when the support ends is another step toward instilling financial responsibility in your son or daughter. A contract, a rental agreement, an encouragement to find a place with a good friend – these are not harsh measures, just rational ones.

With no ground rules and the bank of Mom and Dad providing financial assistance without end, a “boomerang” son or daughter may stay in the bedroom or basement for years and a boomer couple may end up retiring years later than they previously imagined. Putting a foot down is not mean – younger and older adults face economic challenges alike, and couples in their fifties and sixties need to stand up for their retirement dreams.

Citations.

1 – pewsocialtrends.org/2015/05/21/5-helping-adult-children/ [5/21/15]

2 – newsroom.bankofamerica.com/press-releases/consumer-banking/parents-great-recession-influence-millennial-money-views-and-habits/ [4/21/15]

3 – marketwatch.com/story/are-your-kids-ruining-your-retirement-2015-05-05 [5/5/15]

4 – amtd.com/newsroom/press-releases/press-release-details/2015/Financial-Disruptions-Cost-Americans-25-Trillion-in-Lost-Retirement-Savings/default.aspx [2/17/15]

5 – theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/12/millennials-arent-saving-money-because-theyre-not-making-money/383338/ [12/3/14]

6 – theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/07/millennial-entry-level-wages-terrible-horrible-just-really-bad/374884/ [7/23/14]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, Verizon, Qwest, ING Retirement, AT&T, Hughes, Chevron, Bank of America, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

Counting on Your Husband’s Retirement Income

Women face special challenges when planning for retirement. Women are more likely than men to work in part-time jobs that don’t qualify for a retirement plan. And women are more likely to interrupt their careers (or stay out of the workforce altogether) to raise children or take care of other family members. As a result, women generally work fewer years and save less, leaving many to rely on their husbands’ savings and benefits to carry them both through retirement.1

But this reliance creates risk–risk of divorce, risk that retirement funds won’t be adequate to last two lifetimes (a risk that falls disproportionately on women, who outlive men on average by five years),2 and risk of bad retirement payout decisions. Here are three things you should know if you’re relying on your husband’s savings to carry you through retirement.

Qualified joint and survivor annuities

If your husband is covered by a traditional pension plan at work, one of the most important retirement decisions the two of you may make is whether to receive his pension benefit as a “qualified joint and survivor annuity” (QJSA). While the term sounds complicated, the concept is simple: should you elect a benefit that pays a higher amount while you’re both alive and ends when your husband dies (a single life annuity), or a benefit that pays a smaller amount during your joint lives but continues (in whole or in part) to you if your husband dies first (a QJSA)?

In order to fully understand your choices, it may help to first go over how a traditional pension plan works. Typically, you’re entitled to a “normal benefit,” payable for your lifetime and equal to a percent of your final pay, if you work for a certain number of years and retire at a certain date. A plan might say that you’ll get 50% of your final pay for life if you work 30 years and retire at age 65. If you work fewer years, your benefit will be less. If you retire earlier than age 65, your benefit will also be less, because it’s paid for a longer period of time.

For example, assume Joe is covered by a pension plan at work, and his plan contains the exact formula described above. Joe retires at age 65. He’s worked 30 years, and his final pay was $100,000. He’s entitled to a normal benefit of $50,000 per year, payable over his lifetime and ending at his death (a single life annuity).

But in order to protect spouses, federal law generally provides that if Joe is married, the plan can’t pay this benefit to Joe as a single life annuity unless his spouse, Mary, agrees. Instead, the benefit must be paid over Joe and Mary’s joint lives, with at least 50% of that benefit continuing to Mary for her remaining lifetime if she survives Joe. (That’s why it’s called a “joint and survivor annuity;” and it’s “qualified” because it meets the requirements of federal law–“QJSA” for short.)

Now, here’s where it gets a little complicated. Because the QJSA benefit is potentially paid for a longer period of time–over two lifetimes instead of one–Joe’s “normal benefit” will typically be reduced. Actuaries determine the exact amount of the reduction based on your life expectancies, but let’s assume that Joe’s benefit, if paid as a QJSA with 50% continuing to Mary after Joe’s death, is reduced to $45,000. This amount will be paid until Joe dies. And if Mary survives Joe, then $22,500 per year is paid to her until she dies. But if Mary dies first, the pension ends at Joe’s death, and nothing further is paid.

The plan will usually offer the option to have more than 50% continue to you after your spouse dies. For example, you may be able to elect a 75% or 100% QJSA. However, the larger the survivor annuity you select, the smaller the benefit you’ll receive during your joint lives. So, for example, if 100% continues after Joe’s death, then the payment to Joe might now be reduced to $40,000 (but $40,000 will continue to be paid after Joe’s death to Mary if she survives him).

You can rest assured that the QJSA option will be at least as valuable as any other optional form of benefit available to you–this is required by federal law. In some cases, it will be even more valuable than the other options, as employers often “subsidize” the QJSA. “Subsidizing” occurs when the plan doesn’t reduce the benefit payable during your joint lives (or reduces it less than actuarially allowed). For example, a plan might provide that Joe’s $50,000 normal benefit won’t be reduced at all if he and Mary elect the 50% QJSA option, and that she’ll receive the full $25,000 following Joe’s death. It’s important for you to know whether your spouse’s plan subsidizes the QJSA so that you can make an informed decision about which option to select. Other factors to consider are the health of you and your spouse, who’s likely to live longer, and how much other income you expect to have available if you survive your spouse.

You’ll receive an explanation of the QJSA from the plan prior to your spouse’s retirement, which should include a discussion of the relative values of each available payment option. Carefully read all materials the plan sends you. A QJSA may help assure that you don’t outlive your retirement income–don’t waive your rights unless you fully understand the consequences. And don’t be afraid to seek qualified professional advice, as this could be one of the most important retirement decisions you’ll make.

Qualified domestic relations orders

While we all hope our marriages will last forever, statistics tell us that about 50% of marriages in the United States will end in divorce.3 And men generally have larger retirement plan balances,4 the issue of how these benefits will be handled in the event of a divorce is especially critical for women who may have little or no retirement savings of their own. Under federal law, employer retirement plan benefits generally can’t be assigned to someone else. However, one important exception to this rule is for “qualified domestic relations orders,” commonly known as QDROs. If you and your spouse divorce, you can seek a state court order awarding you all or part of your spouse’s retirement plan benefit. Your spouse’s plan is required to follow the terms of any order that meets the federal QDRO requirements.

For example, you could be awarded all or part of your spouse’s 401(k) plan benefit as of a certain date, or all or part of your spouse’s pension plan benefit. There are several ways to divide benefits, so it’s very important to hire an attorney who has experience negotiating and drafting QDROs–especially for defined benefit plans where the QDRO may need to address such items as survivor benefits, benefits earned after the divorce, plan subsidies, COLAs, and other complex issues. (For example, a QDRO may provide that you will be treated as the surviving spouse for QJSA purposes, even if your spouse subsequently remarries.) The key takeaway here is that these rules exist for your benefit. Be sure your divorce attorney is aware of them.

You can have your own IRA

While it’s obviously important for women to try to contribute towards their own retirement, if you’re a nonworking spouse, your options are limited. But there is one tool you should know about. The “spousal IRA” rules may let you fund an individual retirement account even if you aren’t working and have no earnings. A spousal IRA is your own account, in your own name–one that could become an important source of retirement income with regular contributions over time.

How does it work? Normally, to contribute to an IRA, you must have compensation at least equal to your contribution. But if you’re married, file a joint federal income tax return, and earn less than your spouse (or nothing at all), the amount you can contribute to your own IRA isn’t based on your individual income, it’s based instead on the combined compensation of you and your spouse.

For example, Mary (age 50) and Joe (age 45) are married and file a joint federal income tax return for 2015. Joe earned $100,000 in 2015 and Mary, at home taking care of ill parents, earned nothing for the year. Joe contributes $5,500 to his IRA for 2015. Even though Mary has no compensation, she can contribute up to $6,500 to an IRA for 2015 (that includes a $1,000 “catch-up” contribution), because Joe and Mary’s combined compensation is at least equal to their total contributions ($12,000).

The spousal IRA rules only determine how much you can contribute to your IRA; it doesn’t matter where the money you use to fund your IRA actually comes from–you’re not required to track the source of your contributions. And you don’t need your spouse’s consent to establish or fund your spousal IRA.

(The spousal IRA rules don’t change any of the other rules that generally apply to IRAs. You can contribute to a traditional IRA, a Roth IRA, or both. But you can’t make regular contributions to a traditional IRA after you turn 70½. And your ability to make annual contributions to a Roth IRA may be limited depending on the amount of your combined income.)

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, ExxonMobil, Hughes, Chevron, Pfizer, Verizon, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Are Your Children Financially Literate?

New Approaches to a Changing Problem.

How bad is financial illiteracy today? So bad that your children may be at risk of making some serious financial mistakes. Some are finding that talking to children about finances has become less about the nuts and bolts of money and more about putting money’s importance to our daily lives in the correct context.

Women at particular risk. The U.S. Department of Labor reports that only 45% of working women ages 21-64 have a retirement plan. The DOL also notes that more women work in part-time jobs, and are more likely to interrupt their careers to take care of family, whether that be raising children or looking after parents. Some of these patterns are just luck of the draw, but others may come from what parents teach children about money, and how they teach it.1

Start at a young age. New York Times money columnist Ron Lieber’s book The Opposite of Spoiled discusses ways to prepare children for dealing with financial issues. The title refers to the author’s search for an antonym to the word “spoiled” in the context of an entitled and demanding personality. Lieber suggests focusing on values like graciousness in communication, which can lead to more openness in discussing money. Money can be frightening or mysterious to many, even well into adulthood, and Lieber encourages approaching the topic with fewer facts and figures and more as an emotional issue. The reasoning for this is that money is, for children and adults, an emotional topic.2

The emotional toll of money issues. While most people have experienced money worries at one time or another, the science surrounding this phenomenon is compelling. Many mental health organizations have special literature dealing with the emotions that surround money troubles, including Duke University’s Personal Assistance Service. They cite an American Psychological Association survey asserting that 80% of Americans experience genuine stress related to money, and that half of Americans worry about their ability to provide for their family. While money is always an uncertain and fluid factor in our lives, how we deal with these stresses may be strengthened through early experiences and developing good emotional habits early on. Frank talk about these emotions may demystify money and, in the process, boost financial literacy.3

Education is still needed. Of course, money is far more than an emotional issue; being comfortable with a topic doesn’t guarantee proficiency, it merely makes it easier to learn.

In 2014, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development tested 29,000 students aged 15 from 18 member countries or economic regions. Students in top-scoring Shanghai had the highest average score at 605, while the lowest average score belonged to 15-year-olds from Colombia at 375; the average score for U.S. students was a mediocre 490.4

While a number of factors may contribute to the lower scores, there were few obvious indicators, beyond a simple lack of financial sophistication. For example, while those with better math and reading skills were more likely to demonstrate financial literacy, not all with high proficiencies were demonstrably better with money. However, those who indicated that they enjoyed solving complex problems earned higher scores. This may be key. U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan indicated that teens needed to be more financially proficient, and in ways that their parents and grandparents never had to be.4

Prescriptions in progress. There are a number of online sources for financial education, helpful to both teens and young adults. The Ad Council and the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants have a national campaign, Feed the Pig™, to try and correct this dilemma (learn more by visiting http://www.feedthepig.org). The National Council on Economic Education has also helped launch http://www.TheMint.org to acquaint young adults with vital financial principles.

Citations.

1 – dol.gov/ebsa/publications/women.html [2/26/15]

2 – wealthmanagement.com/careers/cobbler-s-kids-have-no-shoes [2/17/15]

3 – hr.duke.edu/pas/money_emotion.html [2/26/15]

4 – pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/u-s-teens-rank-between-latvia-and-russia-on-financial-literacy-far-below-shanghai/ [7/10/14]

This material was prepared by Peter Montoya Inc, and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, Northrop Grumman, Qwest, AT&T, Hughes, access.att.com, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, ING Retirement, Chevron, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at http://www.theretirementgroup.com.

Protecting Your Savings and Investments

In the wake of turbulence in the financial markets, it’s worth reviewing the legal protections available for assets held by banks, credit unions, and securities dealers.

Bank/savings and loan deposit accounts

Generally, deposit accounts at banks and savings and loans insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) are insured up to $250,000 per depositor per bank. FDIC insurance covers both demand deposits (those that provide immediate access to cash, such as checking, NOW, and savings accounts as well as money market deposit accounts) and time deposits, such as certificates of deposit (CDs). It covers both principal and any interest accrued as of the date that an insured bank closes.

FDIC insurance does not cover mutual funds, stocks, bonds, life insurance policies, annuities, or other securities, even if they were bought through an FDIC-insured bank. It also does not cover U.S. Treasury securities (because they are backed separately by the full faith and credit of the federal government) or safe deposit boxes.

You can’t increase your protection simply by opening more than one account in your name at the same bank. For example, splitting the money between a checking and a savings account or opening accounts at different branches of the same bank do not increase your coverage.

However, deposits that represent different categories of ownership may be independently insured. For example, a joint account qualifies for up to $250,000 of coverage for each person named as a joint owner. That coverage is in addition to the $250,000 maximum coverage for each person’s aggregated single-owner accounts at that bank. For example, a married couple with three accounts at one bank–they each have $250,000 in an individual account, and they also have $200,000 in a joint account–would qualify for FDIC insurance on the entire $700,000. The limit on the amount protected in one or more retirement accounts at one bank also is $250,000; this is separate from the $250,000 coverage of individual accounts. (Remember, however, that FDIC insurance applies only to deposit accounts, not to any securities held in an IRA or other retirement account.)

There also may be additional safety nets. In some states, a state-chartered savings bank is required to have additional insurance to cover any losses beyond the FDIC limits. Some banks also may participate in the Certificate of Deposit Account Registry Service (CDARS), which enables a bank to spread large CD deposits among multiple banks while keeping the amount at each individual bank, including the original bank, within FDIC insurance limits.

You do not have to be a U.S. citizen or resident for your account to receive FDIC protection. According to the FDIC, no depositor has ever lost a penny of funds that were covered by FDIC insurance. An online calculator at the FDIC’s website, http://www.fdic.gov, can help you estimate the total FDIC coverage on your deposit accounts.

Credit unions

Member share accounts at most credit unions are insured by the National Credit Union Share Insurance Fund (NCUSIF). It is administered by the National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), which like the FDIC is an independent agency of the federal government and is backed by the full faith and credit of the U.S. Treasury. (Some credit unions are not federally insured but are overseen by state regulators; they typically have private credit insurance.)

NCUSIF insurance is similar to FDIC insurance; it covers share accounts, share certificates, and share draft accounts but not investment products sold through a credit union. It covers single-owner accounts up to $250,000 per customer per institution. Retirement accounts such as IRAs and Keoghs have separate coverage up to $250,000. As with bank deposit accounts, independent coverage may be available for different categories of ownership. You can estimate your existing coverage by using the calculator at the NCUA’s website www.ncua.gov.

Brokerage accounts and SIPC

Most brokerage accounts are covered by the Securities Investor Protection Corporation (SIPC). Unlike the FDIC, the SIPC is not a government agency but a nonprofit corporation funded by broker-dealers registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. (A non-SIPC member must disclose that fact.)

SIPC was created by Congress in 1970 to help return customer property if a broker-dealer or clearing firm experiences insolvency, unauthorized trading, or securities that are lost or missing from a customer’s account. Many brokerages also extend protection beyond the SIPC limits with additional private insurance. If a member firm became insolvent, SIPC would typically either act as trustee or ask a court to appoint a trustee to supervise transfer of customer securities and cash. The SEC requires brokerages and clearing firms to segregate customer accounts from their proprietary assets and funds.

 

What’s Covered Where
  What’s covered? Limit for single-owner accounts Limit for retirement accounts Limit for joint accounts
FDIC (banks) Checking/NOW/savings accounts; money market deposit accounts; time deposits (e.g., CDs) $250,000 (includes all such accounts owned by the same person) $250,000 (includes all retirement accounts owned by the same person) $250,000 per joint owner (includes all joint accounts owned by the same person)
SIPC (brokers) Investments registered with the SEC, and cash $500,000, including up to $250,000 in cash $500,000 per customer, including up to $250,000 cash $500,000 per customer
NCUSIF (credit unions) Regular share accounts, share draft accounts, share certificates $250,000 (includes all such accounts owned by the same person) $250,000 (includes all traditional and Roth IRAs; Keoghs covered separately up to $250,000) $250,000 per joint owner (includes all joint accounts owned by the same person)
These are some of the most common accounts; additional categories of ownership, such as trusts, may offer additional protection and use category-specific ways of determining protection limits. All limits apply to accounts at a single institution; if you have accounts at more than one protected institution, you qualify for protection up to the full amount at each one.

 

SIPC covers a maximum of $500,000 per customer (including up to $250,000 in cash) at a given firm. SIPC doesn’t protect against market risk or price fluctuations. If shares lose value before a trustee is appointed, that loss of value is not protected by SIPC. In general, SIPC covers notes, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and other shares in investment companies. It does not cover investments that are not registered with the SEC, such as certain investment contracts, limited partnerships, fixed annuity contracts, currency, gold, silver, commodity futures contracts, or commodities options. Additional information about SIPC protection and an explanatory brochure are available at www.sipc.org.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Raytheon, Merck, Glaxosmithkline, Pfizer, Verizon, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.

Common Factors Affecting Retirement Income

When it comes to planning for your retirement income, it’s easy to overlook some of the common factors that can affect how much you’ll have available to spend. If you don’t consider how your retirement income can be impacted by investment risk, inflation risk, catastrophic illness or long-term care, and taxes, you may not be able to enjoy the retirement you envision.

Investment risk

Different types of investments carry with them different risks. Sound retirement income planning involves understanding these risks and how they can influence your available income in retirement.

Investment or market risk is the risk that fluctuations in the securities market may result in the reduction and/or depletion of the value of your retirement savings. If you need to withdraw from your investments to supplement your retirement income, two important factors in determining how long your investments will last are the amount of the withdrawals you take and the growth and/or earnings your investments experience. You might base the anticipated rate of return of your investments on the presumption that market fluctuations will average out over time, and estimate how long your savings will last based on an anticipated, average rate of return.

Unfortunately, the market doesn’t always generate positive returns. Sometimes there are periods lasting for a few years or longer when the market provides negative returns. During these periods, constant withdrawals from your savings combined with prolonged negative market returns can result in the depletion of your savings far sooner than planned.

Reinvestment risk is the risk that proceeds available for reinvestment must be reinvested at an interest rate that’s lower than the rate of the instrument that generated the proceeds. This could mean that you have to reinvest at a lower rate of return, or take on additional risk to achieve the same level of return. This type of risk is often associated with fixed interest savings instruments such as bonds or bank certificates of deposit. When the instrument matures, comparable instruments may not be paying the same return or a better return as the matured investment.

Interest rate risk occurs when interest rates rise and the prices of some existing investments drop. For example, during periods of rising interest rates, newer bond issues will likely yield higher coupon rates than older bonds issued during periods of lower interest rates, thus decreasing the market value of the older bonds. You also might see the market value of some stocks and mutual funds drop due to interest rate hikes because some investors will shift their money from these stocks and mutual funds to lower-risk fixed investments paying higher interest rates compared to prior years.

Inflation risk

Inflation is the risk that the purchasing power of a dollar will decline over time, due to the rising cost of goods and services. If inflation runs at its historical long term average of about 3%, the purchasing power of a given sum of money will be cut in half in 23 years. If it jumps to 4%, the purchasing power is cut in half in 18 years.

A simple example illustrates the impact of inflation on retirement income. Assuming a consistent annual inflation rate of 3%, and excluding taxes and investment returns in general, if $50,000 satisfies your retirement income needs this year, you’ll need $51,500 of income next year to meet the same income needs. In 10 years, you’ll need about $67,195 to equal the purchasing power of $50,000 this year. Therefore, to outpace inflation, you should try to have some strategy in place that allows your income stream to grow throughout retirement.

Long-term care expenses

Long-term care may be needed when physical or mental disabilities impair your capacity to perform everyday basic tasks. As life expectancies increase, so does the potential need for long-term care.

Paying for long-term care can have a significant impact on retirement income and savings, especially for the healthy spouse. While not everyone needs long-term care during their lives, ignoring the possibility of such care and failing to plan for it can leave you or your spouse with little or no income or savings if such care is needed. Even if you decide to buy long-term care insurance, don’t forget to factor the premium cost into your retirement income needs.

A complete statement of coverage, including exclusions, exceptions, and limitations, is found only in the long-term care policy. It should be noted that carriers have the discretion to raise their rates and remove their products from the marketplace.

The costs of catastrophic care

As the number of employers providing retirement health-care benefits dwindles and the cost of medical care continues to spiral upward, planning for catastrophic health-care costs in retirement is becoming more important. If you recently retired from a job that provided health insurance, you may not fully appreciate how much health care really costs.

Despite the availability of Medicare coverage, you’ll likely have to pay for additional health-related expenses out-of-pocket. You may have to pay the rising premium costs of Medicare optional Part B coverage (which helps pay for outpatient services) and/or Part D prescription drug coverage. You may also want to buy supplemental Medigap insurance, which is used to pay Medicare deductibles and co-payments and to provide protection against catastrophic expenses that either exceed Medicare benefits or are not covered by Medicare at all. Otherwise, you may need to cover Medicare deductibles, co-payments, and other costs out-of-pocket.

Taxes

The effect of taxes on your retirement savings and income is an often overlooked but significant aspect of retirement income planning. Taxes can eat into your income, significantly reducing the amount you have available to spend in retirement.

It’s important to understand how your investments are taxed. Some income, like interest, is taxed at ordinary income tax rates. Other income, like long-term capital gains and qualifying dividends, currently benefit from special–generally lower–maximum tax rates. Some specific investments, like certain municipal bonds,* generate income that is exempt from federal income tax altogether. You should understand how the income generated by your investments is taxed, so that you can factor the tax into your overall projection.

Taxes can impact your available retirement income, especially if a significant portion of your savings and/or income comes from tax-qualified accounts such as pensions, 401(k)s, and traditional IRAs, since most, if not all, of the income from these accounts is subject to income taxes. Understanding the tax consequences of these investments is important when making retirement income projections.

Have you planned for these factors?

When planning for your retirement, consider these common factors that can affect your income and savings. While many of these same issues can affect your income during your working years, you may not notice their influence because you’re not depending on your savings as a major source of income. However, investment risk, inflation, taxes, and health-related expenses can greatly affect your retirement income.

The Retirement Group is not affiliated with nor endorsed by fidelity.com, netbenefits.fidelity.com, hewitt.com, resources.hewitt.com, access.att.com, ING Retirement, Chevron, Glaxosmithkline, AT&T, Qwest, Merck, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Pfizer, Verizon, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent or by your employer. We are an independent financial advisory group that specializes in transition planning and lump sum distribution. Please call our office at 800-900-5867 if you have additional questions or need help in the retirement planning process.

This material was prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc., and does not necessarily represent the views of Linda Bullwinkle, and The Retirement Group or FSC Financial Corp. This information should not be construed as investment advice. Neither the named Representatives nor Broker/Dealer gives tax or legal advice. All information is believed to be from reliable sources; however, we make no representation as to its completeness or accuracy. The publisher is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting or other professional services. If other expert assistance is needed, the reader is advised to engage the services of a competent professional. Please consult your Financial Advisor for further information or call 800-900-5867.

Linda Bullwinkle is a Representative with FSC Securities and may be reached at www.theretirementgroup.com.