Archive for October, 2011

Static Planning: The Need for Review

Friday, October 21st, 2011

 

In a perfect world planning would be easy. You would figure out how much of a resource you would need at a specific time and allocate assets either in a lump sum or systematically over time until this goal was reached. The account would grow steadily over time until the mark was reached – perfect indeed and static.

 

Enter my ism for today: static planning.  Something static doesn’t move; static planning is planning that doesn’t take into consideration market gyrations and changes in business. Static scenarios and the real world do not resemble each other much. Reality dictates that different times call for different assumptions and actions.

 

Here are two real world situations which at different times would have greatly skewed static planning assumptions and results:

 

MORTGAGE LOANS

The average interest rate on a 30 year fixed rate mortgage on October 19, 1981 was 18.45%.  The interest rate on that same 30 year fixed rate mortgage on October 13, 2011 was 4.12%.

 

The difference in these two figures is staggering. Where it would have taken regular monthly mortgage payments of $1,544 to pay off the mortgage under the previous figures, that payment would only require principal and interest payments of $484 per month currently to retire the same $100,000 balance over thirty years. Staggering!

 

MARKET INVESTMENTS

 

Market investments are far from a steady growing figure. For example, so far in 2011, the first four months of the year saw the S & P 500 average increase by 9.1%. Subsequently, that same average fell 18.6% through October 3rd. In the following nine days, the market rallied to 11.5% providing a return total of -1.1% for the year as of 10/14/2011.

 

Volatility like this is certainly not for the faint of heart. That being said, short term bank interest rates of less than 1% hardly seem the place to park assets in hopes of reaching long term goals.

 

MORAL OF THE STORY

 

These are but two examples of the need to revisit plans to see if they are still living up to wants and needs. While everyone is bullish in a good market (just ask them) reality indicates that many people are not anywhere near the risk takers they thought they were. Typical investors have a difficult time allocating enough resources to meet long term goals utilizing low fixed rate products.

 

This is precisely why all types of financial considerations, mortgages, retirement plans, investment strategies and the like, should be regularly reviewed. Advisors are trained to assess different economic environments and tailor them to investor profiles. Can you walk the walk or do you have commitment issues? Matching goals with disposition and financial change requires trained and routine review.

 

Kurt Rusch  CLU,ChFC

Proactive Retirement Planning

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

 

I just read an article entitled, “5 Biggest Planning Retirement Mistakes”. The problem with titles like these in general is they are negative, and many times, as misleading as they are disheartening.

 

Proactive retirement planning on the other hand, is a different workhorse (pardon the pun) altogether. It should be ongoing and positive, starting over the course of your working years and cultivated throughout your retirement years. It also involves deliberate consideration beyond the lone act of making regular payments to employee contribution plans.

 

What type of proactive things should you be doing to plan for a life of leisure? Consider these 5 things now (even if you’re still working):

 

1.      VALUATION  

 

Project your current retirement programs forward to see how big of a lump sum you will have when you reach retirement and begin systematic liquidation.  While this may seem a monumental undertaking with market upheavals and historic lows in fixed income options, getting to that number will provide the baseline figure you need to work with.

 

If you tend to be risk averse, project your account balances into the future by using rates of return that could be obtained using less volatile investment choices. The worst case scenario here is that things change and you receive a higher rate of return netting a larger sum of distributable retirement funds.

 

On the other side of the coin, the market tends to be a lot more dependable over long periods of time than generally assumed. Utilizing these returns has not historically been as risky as you may think.  A volatile market is, in reality, a friend to those systematically investing via retirement plans at work and independently because: fixed amounts invested on a regular basis will always purchase more when the markets are at their lows and less when they are at their highs. This system allows you to buy low without ever having to consciously make investment decisions.

 

2.      DISRUPTION   

 

No one can possibly plan for every “what if?” in life, but addressing the types of disruptions to retirement income streams which may occur is essential.

 

Case in point; what would you do if Social Security changed drastically by the time you were counting on receiving it? Currently, with no modifications or adjustments, the Social Security Administration projects that by 2036 the Social Security Trust Fund will only be able to pay 75% of their obligations.  Would you be able to handle this decrease? Or any other type of unplanned reductions? If not, have you considered what you can do to make up possible shortfalls?

 

If you begin making up the gap sooner rather than later, the amount that would need to be set aside on a regular basis would be comparatively small. Conversely, if this gap is left unaddressed, the magnitude of future contributions could be daunting. Remember: Compound interest (really) is the Eighth Wonder of the World.

 

3.      VISUALIZATION 

 

Envision (literally) your retirement and what you (actually) want it to look like. While there are numerous statistics and figures utilized in planning, the best way to assure that you are planning for YOUR retirement is to personalize it.

 

Some people may think this silly but if you’ve never really taken a moment to think about how you’d like to see yourself in this future, you may be surprised what comes to mind. Are you planning on traveling a lot? Are you planning on working? If so, what is the magnitude of your commitment to work? What do you envision your living situation as being?

 

These kinds of questions and many more will affect the dynamics of your retirement plan. For example, if extensive travel is part of your plan, you must put more money aside than someone without these ambitions. On the other hand, if you plan on working, that may decrease the amount that must be set aside to meet expenses in retirement.

 

Housing will also greatly affect your financial situation. Many people “downsize” in retirement. Downsizing can often free up funds that can be invested to subsidize other plans already in place. These are just a few examples to consider.

 

4.      SAFEGUARDING

 

Have you safeguarded your plan for longevity?

 

If a husband and wife have plans in place as a couple in retirement, will they still be okay if one of them was no longer around? Upon passing, a surviving spouse will receive the higher of the two spouses’ Social Security payment. Would you be able to live the retirement lifestyle you envisioned without the aid of dual Social Security payments? Beyond Social Security, pension options must also be reviewed closely.

 

Pensions generally have irrevocable options that must be elected at the time of retirement. A sample of the array of these types of elections would include a single life option for the pensioner. This option would yield the highest monthly payment because it would continue only for the life of the pensioner. There would be no continuation of payment to a surviving spouse if the pensioner predeceased him/her.

 

At the other end of the spectrum, is a spousal option paying the surviving spouse 100% of the pensioner’s payment at the time of the pensioner’s death. This option would yield the lowest monthly payment to the recipient because essentially this pension plan is buying life insurance on the pensioner to be used to continue payments in the event of predeceasing their spouse. Examination of these costs should be made to see if the pensioner would be better off financially to receive the higher single life pension payment in combination with a taking out a private life policy to provide for the surviving spouse. This would also provide the flexibility to drop the policy or change beneficiaries to children in the event of the spouse predeceasing the pensioner.

 

5.      INCAPACITY   

 

Have you addressed the possibility of incapacity? While this is a very distasteful subject to broach, statistics indicate that up to 75% of couples will have at least one spouse needing some sort of long term care within their lifetimes. Given the state of rising healthcare costs, this situation can devastate a retirement plan very, very quickly.

 

Those who elect not to address the subject make a default decision to self-insure. This works out well only if you remain healthy without the need for support services. It is also a risky choice to make for the time period in your life when your options for financially rectifying an error in planning will be drastically limited.

 

Chicago nursing home costs currently run about $200 per day. For those who assume that this will be handled by Medicare, you are mostly incorrect. Medicare only covers follow up treatment after release from a hospital. There is no provision for convalescent care (long term daily living) from Medicare.

 

Coverage for long term care is available through Medicaid but to qualify, your assets must be liquidated and spent down. This radically limits your future choices. Home health care is also not covered by Medicaid. Many of the better nursing facilities may also refuse admittance to people   already on Medicaid. The last thing your loved ones need to face at a time like that is the challenge  of finding a geographically desirable and decent facility to take you in.

 

Valuation, Disruption, Visualization, Safeguarding and Incapacity are all key factors in planning for life after work. Safe, secure and solid navigation of this terrain should be done with the assistance of a licensed professional.

 

Kurt Rusch  CLU, ChFC