Posts Tagged ‘Pensions’

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

Pension Plans: Who’s Funding Who?

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

 

According to studies by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a growing number of DFP’s (Defined Benefit Plans, better known as pension plans) are funding their obligations by purchasing Hedge Funds and Private Equity Funds. While the prevalence of this usage funding is constituted in larger pension funds, their usage is not forbidden in smaller plans.

 

So, you might be thinking, “Thanks for the tidbit Kurt, who cares?” I’ll tell you exactly ‘who’: anyone. This affects any and every person who has a pension plan.

 

Hedge & Private Equity Funds

 

Stories of hedge fund disasters are regular features on the news, the most notable of which involved the former head of NASDAQ, Bernie Madoff. This is not to say that every Hedge Fund and Private Equity Fund are being run fraudulently, because the vast majority are ethical and well run. However, the valuation issues stemming from the lack of a regular market for these issues, combined with the challenge of transparency further magnifies their unpredictable nature.

 

Due to the rapid increase in the usage of these types of investments, (60% of large pension plans used hedge funds in 2010 compared to only 11% which used them in 2001), further scrutiny of their attributes is necessary. Private Equity Funds, which typically provide working capital for expansion, product development and restructuring to other entities, were utilized by 92% of large pension funds in 2010, up from 71% in 2001. This is a trend that shows no signs of reversing anytime soon.

 

Equally prevalent in the news these days are the horror stories regarding underfunded pension plans. Scads of separatist managed plans for fire, police and even now, teachers, are coming to light as being incapable of living up to the payout demands promised to their populations. And that is, scary – very scary.

 

The lack of transparency and illiquid nature makes overseeing these kinds of investments also more laborious (and perhaps neglected?) versus the management of stocks, bonds, cash and other easily valued asset portfolios in kind. Hedge Funds and Private Equity Funds often fly under the radar.

 

Diversify, Diversify, Diversify!

 

Today, perhaps more than ever before, alternative pension planning is imperative. We need to plan for the possibility that full pensions may not be received as expected whether due to fund performance, mismanagement or any other unforeseen factors. Alternatively, look to the following: 1) Additional funding to an IRA, Roth IRA, annuity or any other tax qualified product. 2) Investing additional funds in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, CD’s, etc.

 

There is safety in diversification. If you count on your pension 100% and it is no longer there or not to the extent expected, you will have serious problems. If, on the other hand, there are problems with your pension but you have done alternative planning with provisional investments in other asset classes, the impact will be lessened.

 

Kurt Rusch CLU, ChFC

 

The Top 2 Things You Can Do To Battle Market Fatigue

Monday, August 22nd, 2011

 

You need only turn on the TV, radio, or skim a newspaper to realize we are right in the middle of some challenging economic times. The BIG question is what can we do when our individual abilities to change the quagmire we’re stuck in is minimal? Here is the shortlist.

 

#1 Look at your personal situation and choose the best plan of action

 

If you are trying to accumulate funds for retirement, do you really want to retreat to the safety of CD’s or money market funds when returns are struggling to yield 1% on your money? Yes, you would at least have a guaranteed return of your money but at these rates, even the slow but sure tortoise would give up the race.

 

Historically, the market is a very predictable and much higher yielding place to be. That being said, the number one prerequisite of market investing will be your ability to weather the volatility that is inherent in equity investments. Simply put: don’t be a jack rabbit about it.

 

Investors who cycle through euphoria and misery only to jump in and out of the market typically do so at precisely the wrong times. The scenario plays out something like this:

When the market is doing well, investors feel renewed confidence it is the place to be. They plunge wholeheartedly in, at a point that reflects a price that is much higher after two years of outstanding returns. The market may or may not continue on its upturn for a while. However, at some point, the market will sour and begin a hasty retreat. These same people who got in at or near the top begin to panic. They decide they can no longer stomach the volatility and opt out after the market has been in a free fall for some time.

 

This is a recipe for disaster and one reason why we see such a roller coaster of reports in the news each day. If you lack the fortitude to invest in the market and weather the vacillations, don’t jump in and out – stay out. Buying high and selling low is not the way to go.

 

#2 Consider alternative strategies for investing in the market

 

An example of a strategy that may take some of the trepidation out of investing in the market is using the strategy of dollar cost averaging. This is already inherent in payroll deduction retirement plans. Since the funds are invested on an ongoing and regular basis, investors will automatically get the benefit of purchasing more of the investment when prices are low and less when they are high.

 

This same strategy would work in investing non-qualified money. Instead of investing it all at once, take the sum to be invested and invest a certain portion each month over a period of time instead of plunging it all in at once. This way, if the market does go down, you will be able to capture a lot more shares or units at the lower price.

 

Kurt Rusch CLU, ChFC