Another Glitch Hits Wall Street

The NYSE freezes floor trading for more than three hours. 

Floor trading was abruptly halted at the New York Stock Exchange Wednesday. At 11:32 am EST, a sudden problem forced the NYSE to interrupt trading in all symbols and cancel all open orders in its main market. Trading continued, meanwhile, on the NYSE Arca Options and NYSE AMEX/Arca Options platforms, and the NASDAQ continued trading of NYSE-listed shares.1,2   

The stoppage continued until the final hour of the trading day: floor trading resumed shortly after 3:00pm EST with closing auctions proceeding as normal.3 

Was it a cyberattack? A U.S. government official told the Washington Post that there was “no indication” of terrorism, and the NYSE also said no, attributing the halt in trading to an “internal technical issue.”1,2

Still, Wednesday morning saw some other strange happenings – the Wall Street Journal’s website went down for a spell at approximately the same moment, and hours earlier, United Airlines had to ground all flights temporarily because of what it deemed “a network connectivity issue.”1,2

Tuesday night, the notorious hacker group Anonymous posted a tweet that read “Wonder if tomorrow is going to be bad for Wall Street…we can only hope.”2

Reuters reported that the FBI, the Treasury Department and White House were all monitoring the shutdown Wednesday, with the FBI simply stating that “no further law enforcement action is need at this time.” Securities & Exchange Commission Chair Mary Jo White told Reuters that it was “in contact” with the NYSE and keeping tabs on the problem.2,4

The trading freeze had little immediate impact on retail investors. As UBS director of floor operations Art Cashin cautioned CNBC, “This will not cause a move in any particular direction, so I would kind of wait it out and see what happens.” The day was certainly frustrating for institutional investors, triggering memories of the 2013 NASDAQ “flash freeze” and the exasperating Facebook IPO of 2012.2    

One of the leading reasons why floor trading took so long to resume might surprise you. When the NYSE froze trading Wednesday morning, all open orders had to be called off manually – an archaic repair given that NYSE floor trading amounts to about a quarter of the exchange’s composite volume.5

“Is the NYSE technologically the most (robust) exchange in the world? No,” Themis Trading principal Sal Arnuk explained to CNBC. “The fact of the matter is the different exchange operators have diverse standards, different architecture. Some of them are more legacy than others.”4

As the afternoon progressed, the NYSE tried furiously to enable floor trading before the close, as volume notably escalates at the end of a trading day. They succeeded, restoring some sense of “business as usual” while Wall Street again pondered its necessary and fragile relationship with technology. 

Citations.

1 – washingtonpost.com/business/economy/nyse-trading-has-been-halted/2015/07/08/46b51974-2588-11e5-b72c-2b7d516e1e0e_story.html [7/8/15]

2 – tinyurl.com/otqw7gr [7/8/15]

3 – bostonglobe.com/business/2015/07/08/nyse/7KVPWRUlqcIcIFJREPsgIJ/story.html [7/8/15]

4 – reuters.com/article/2015/07/08/us-markets-stocks-idUSKCN0PI19Y20150708 [7/8/15]

5 – tinyurl.com/nonlszo [7/8/15]

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, ING Retirement, Pfizer, Hughes, AT&T, Qwest, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Merck, Northrop Grumman, Verizon, Bank of America, Chevron, 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 Yourself Against Cyberattacks (2015)

How vulnerable is your data?

25% of Americans were cyberhacked between March 2014 and March 2015. The American Institute of CPAs announced that alarming discovery in April, publishing the results of a survey conducted by Harris Poll. Disturbing? Certainly, but the instances of pre-retirees being victimized were even greater – 34% of adults aged 55-64 reported having their data stolen or compromised within that period.1

Small businesses are also commonly victimized. While identity theft has eroded consumer and employee trust in Target, Sony, Home Depot, Anthem and Wells Fargo, they will survive; a small business with limited IT resources may not. Symantec says that 30% of all targeted cyberattacks occur against firms employing fewer than 250 workers. The National Cyber Security Alliance says that the average small business that gets hacked has a 60% chance of closing its doors within six months.2

Hackers will not put your household out of business, but they can steal the assets within your checking account or your workplace retirement plan in seconds. They can also take your Social Security number, email address, annual income data and more and sell it or retain it to hurt you in the future.

Cyberattacks within the financial world are especially frightening. Bank and brokerage accounts are respectively insured by the FDIC and SIPC, yet that insurance only protects a customer or client in cases of institutional failure. It does not cover cybertheft.3

How can you strengthen your online defenses against cyberthieves? One way to do that is through two-factor authentication, or 2FA.

Corporations are starting to realize the vulnerability of a username-password combination. Given that so many usernames are derivations of real names, and given that many passwords are still mentally convenient, a hacker can access such accounts with relative ease.

If a company installs another security factor beyond the username-password combination – such as a voiceprint audio I.D. or a one-time numeric code texted to your phone to permit account access – hacking an account becomes much harder. This two-factor authentication may become the norm in the near future.

Too many Americans use simple passwords, sometimes at multiple websites. (Did you know that “password” is one of the most commonly used passwords?) Fortunately, free software has emerged to generate random passwords for different accounts. High net worth households are discovering Norton Identity Safe, RoboForm, LastPass, Dashlane and other apps capable of creating super-strong passwords.4

Aside from using stronger passwords, avoid falling prey to the classic mistakes. When you use free Wi-Fi at a coffeeshop or airport or make a bid at an online auction site of questionable origin, you are taking your chances. The same goes for opening mystery email attachments and sharing private data on websites lacking the HTTPS protocol.

Will cybersecurity improve in the coming years? A widely adopted 2FA standard may make online theft much harder to pull off. Other defenses are being touted, some with more merit than others. Using a fingerprint as a password sounds good, but has a crippling drawback: you can change a password, but try changing your fingerprint. Some consumers are getting new EMV-equipped credit and debit cards that rely on microchips rather than magnetic strips; many of these are not the chip-and-PIN cards common to Europe, however. Instead, they are chip-and-signature cards. The second security factor is simply you signing your name. Cybersecurity analysts believe that while the chip-and-signature cards are better than the old technology, they fall short of chip-and-PIN cards.5

True cybersecurity may prove elusive, but personal vigilance and password management software are good steps toward building a better defense against cyberattacks. 

Citations.

1 – aicpa.org/Press/PressReleases/2015/Pages/AICPA-Survey-One-in-four-Americans-Victimized-by-Information-Security-Breaches.aspx [4/21/15]

2 – wscpa.org/more/news/article/wscpa-blog/2015/04/23/think-you-are-too-small-to-be-a-target-of-cyber-crime-think-again-?Site=WSCPA#.VVExkpMsDCo [4/23/13]

3 – dailyfinance.com/2015/02/12/anthem-customers-protect-your-accounts/ [2/12/15]

4 – businessinsider.com/9-things-youre-doing-that-make-you-a-perfect-target-for-hackers-2015-5?op=1 [5/6/15]

5 – washingtonpost.com/news/get-there/wp/2015/04/30/your-new-credit-card-may-not-be-as-safe-as-you-think/ [4/30/15]

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, ING Retirement, AT&T, Qwest, Chevron, Alcatel-Lucent, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Bank of America, Raytheon, Merck, Pfizer, ExxonMobil, Glaxosmithkline, Verizon 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.

Exchange-Traded Funds: Do They Belong in Your Portfolio?

Exchange-traded funds (ETFs) have become increasingly popular since they were introduced in the United States in the mid-1990s. Their tax efficiencies and relatively low investing costs have attracted investors who like the idea of combining the diversification of mutual funds with the trading flexibility of stocks. ETFs can fill a unique role in your portfolio, but you need to understand just how they work and the differences among the dizzying variety of ETFs now available.

What is an ETF?

Like a mutual fund, an exchange-traded fund pools the money of many investors and purchases a group of securities. Like index mutual funds, most ETFs are passively managed. Instead of having a portfolio manager who uses his or her judgment to select specific stocks, bonds, or other securities to buy and sell, both index mutual funds and exchange-traded funds attempt to replicate the performance of a specific index.

However, a mutual fund is priced once a day, when the fund’s net asset value is calculated after the market closes. If you buy after that, you will receive the next day’s closing price. By contrast, an ETF is priced throughout the day and can be bought on margin or sold short–in other words, it’s traded just as a stock is.

How ETFs invest

Since their inception, most ETFs have invested in stocks or bonds, buying the shares represented in a particular index. For example, an ETF might track the Nasdaq 100, the S&P 500, or a bond index. Other ETFs invest in hard assets–for example, gold. With the rapid proliferation of ETFs in recent years, if there’s an index, there’s a good chance there’s an ETF that tracks it. More and more new indexes are being introduced, many of which cover narrow niches of the market, or use novel rules to choose securities. Many so-called rules-based ETFs are beginning to take on aspects of actively managed funds–for example, by limiting the percentage of the fund that can be devoted to a single security or industry.

Pros and Cons of Exchange-Traded Funds

Pros

  • ETFs can be traded throughout the day as price fluctuates
  • ETFs can be bought on margin, sold short, or traded using stop orders and limit orders, just as stocks can
  • ETFs do not have to hold cash or buy and sell securities to meet redemption demands by fund investors
  • Annual expenses are often lower, which can be especially important for long-term investors
  • Because ETFs typically trade securities infrequently, they have lower annual taxable distributions than a mutual fund

Cons

  • Dollar-cost averaging will require paying repeated commissions and will increase investing costs
  • If an ETF is organized as a unit investment trust, delays in reinvesting its dividends may hamper returns
  • An ETF doesn’t necessarily trade at its net asset value, and bid-ask spreads may be wide for thinly traded issues or in volatile markets

The new wave of ETFs

New and unique indexes are being developed every day. As a result, ETFs that might seem similar–for example, two funds that invest in large-cap stocks–can actually be quite different. Many indexes define which securities are included based on their market capitalization–the number of shares outstanding times the price per share. However, other indexes and the ETFs that mimic them may select or weight securities within the index based on fundamental factors, such as a stock’s dividend yield. Why is weighting important? Because it can affect the impact that individual securities have on the fund’s result. For example, an index that is weighted by market cap will be more affected by underperformance at a large-cap company than it would be by an underperforming company with a smaller market cap. That’s because the large-cap company would represent a larger share of the index. However, if the index weighted each security equally, each would have an equal impact on the index’s performance.

The cost advantages and tradeoffs of ETFs

As indicated above, one of the reasons ETFs have gained ground with investors is because of their low annual expenses. Passive index investing means an ETF doesn’t require a portfolio manager or a research staff to select securities; that reduces the fund’s overhead. Also, investing in an index means that trades are generally made only when the index itself changes. As a result, the trading costs required by frequent buying and selling of securities in the fund are minimized.

However, don’t forget that you’ll generally pay a commission with each ETF trade (depending on the type of account you have). That means a one-time lump-sum investment in an ETF will be more cost-effective than frequent, regular investments over time.

ETFs and taxes

ETFs can be relatively tax efficient. Because it trades so infrequently, an ETF typically distributes few capital gains during the year. There can be times when some investors find themselves paying taxes on capital gains generated by a mutual fund, even though the value of their fund may actually have dropped. Though it’s not impossible for an ETF to have capital gains, ETFs generally can minimize the ongoing capital gains taxes you’ll pay.

Just how much impact can reducing taxes have over the long term? More than you might think. Even a 1% difference in your return can be significant. For example, if you invest $50,000 and earn an average annual return of 5% (compounded monthly), you would have a pretax amount of $82,350 after 10 years. Even a 1% increase in that return would give you $90,970 at the end of that time. (This hypothetical example is for illustrative purposes only and does not represent the performance of any particular investment. Actual results will vary.)

Make sure you consider how an ETF’s returns will be taxed. Depending on how the fund is organized and what it invests in, returns could be taxed as short-term capital gains, ordinary income, or in the case of gold and silver ETFs, as collectibles; all are taxed at higher rates than long-term capital gains.

What are some other reasons investors use ETFs?

  • To get exposure to a particular industry or sector of the market. Because the minimum investment in an ETF is the cost of a single share, ETFs can be a low-cost way to make a diversified investment in alternative investments, a particular investing style, or geographic region.
  • To limit losses. Being able to set a stop-loss limit on your ETF shares can help you manage potential losses. A stop-loss order instructs your broker to sell your position if the shares fall to a certain price. If the ETF’s price falls, you’ve minimized your losses. If its price rises over time, you could increase the stop-loss figure accordingly. That lets you pursue potential gains while setting a limit on the amount you can lose.

How to evaluate an ETF

  1. Look at the index it tracks. Understand what the index consists of and what rules it follows in selecting and weighting the securities in it. Be aware that the performance of an unmanaged index is not indicative of the performance of any specific security. Individuals cannot invest directly in any index.
  2. Look at how long the fund and/or its underlying index have been in existence, and if possible, how both have performed in good times and bad.
  3. Look at the fund’s expense ratios. The more straightforward its investing strategy, the lower expenses are likely to be. An index using futures contracts is likely to have higher expenses than one that simply replicates the S&P 500.

Your financial professional can help you decide how ETFs might fit your investing strategy.

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, Bank of America, Alcatel-Lucent, Qwest, Chevron, Hughes, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, ExxonMobil, Merck, Pfizer, Glaxosmithkline, Verizon 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.

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.