Monthly Archives: October 2013

Getting It All Together for Retirement

couple peeping through hole in white paper
Where is everything? Time to organize and centralize your documents.

BY GREG OLIVER

Before retirement begins, gather what you need. Put as much documentation as you can in one place, for you and those you love. It could be a password-protected online vault; it could be a file cabinet; it could be a file folder. Regardless of what it is, by centralizing the location of important papers you are saving yourself from disorganization and headaches in the future.

What should go in the vault, cabinet or folder(s)? Crucial financial information and more. You will want to include…

Those quarterly/annual statements. Recent performance paperwork for IRAs, 401(k)s, funds, brokerage accounts and so forth. Include the statements from the latest quarter and the statements from the end of the previous calendar year (that is, the last Q4 statement you received). You don’t get paper statements anymore? Print out the equivalent, or if you really want to minimize clutter, just print out the links to the online statements. (Someone is going to need your passwords, of course.) These documents can also become handy in figuring out a retirement income distribution strategy.

Healthcare benefit info. Are you enrolled in Medicare or a Medicare Advantage plan? Are you in a group health plan? Do you pay for your own health coverage? Own a long term care policy? Gather the policies together in your new retirement command center and include related literature so you can study their benefit summaries, coverage options, and rules and regulations. Contact info for insurers, HMOs, your doctor(s) and the insurance agent who sold you a particular policy should also go in here.

Life insurance info. Do you have a straight term insurance policy, no potential for cash value whatsoever? Keep a record of when the level premiums end. If you have a whole life policy, you want to keep paperwork communicating the death benefit, the present cash value in the policy and the required monthly premiums in your file.

Beneficiary designation forms. Few pre-retirees realize that beneficiary designations often take priority over requests made in a will when it comes to 401(k)s, 403(b)s and IRAs. Hopefully, you have retained copies of these forms. If not, you can request them from the account custodians and review the choices you have made. Are they choices you would still make today? By reviewing them in the company of a retirement planner or an attorney, you can gauge the tax efficiency of the eventual transfer of assets.1

Social Security basics. If you haven’t claimed benefits yet, put your Social Security card, last year’s W-2 form, certified copies of your birth certificate, marriage license or divorce papers in one place, and military discharge paperwork or and a copy of your W-2 form for last year (or Schedule SE and Schedule C plus 1040 form, if you work for yourself), and military discharge papers or proof of citizenship if applicable. Social Security no longer mails people paper statements tracking their accrued benefits, but e-statements are available via its website. Take a look at yours and print it out.2

Pension matters. Will you receive a bona fide pension in retirement? If so, you want to collect any special letters or bulletins from your employer. You want your Individual Benefit Statement telling you about the benefits you have earned and for which you may become eligible; you also want the Summary Plan Description and contact info for someone at the employee benefits department where you worked.

Real estate documents. Gather up your deed, mortgage docs, property tax statements and homeowner insurance policy. Also, make a list of the contents of your home and their estimated value – you may be away from your home more in retirement, so those items may be more vulnerable as a consequence.

Estate planning paperwork. Put copies of your estate plan and any trust paperwork within the collection, and of course a will. In case of a crisis of mind or body, your loved ones may need to find a durable power of attorney or health care directive, so include those documents if you have them and let them know where to find them.

Tax returns. Should you only keep last year’s 1040 and state return? How about those for the past 7 years? At the very least, you should have a copy of last year’s returns in this collection.

A list of your digital assets. We all have them now, and they are far from trivial – the contents of a cloud, a photo library, or a Facebook page may be vital to your image or your business. Passwords must be compiled too, of course.

This will take a little work, but you will be glad you did it someday. Consider this a Saturday morning or weekend project. It may lead to some discoveries and possibly prompt some alterations to your financial picture as you prepare for retirement.

GREG OLIVER 7986789687687567859765976486548654//

ofs //jhghu565
Citations.
1 – fpanet.org/ToolsResources/ArticlesBooksChecklists/Articles/Retirement/10EssentialDocumentsforRetirement/ [9/12/11]
2 – cbsnews.com/8301-505146_162-57573910/planning-for-retirement-take-inventory/ [3/18/13]

What’s Next in the Debt Ceiling Debate?

What’s Next in the Debt Ceiling Debate?
Implications for the short term & the long term.

121social_20110127_071447Design 23

BY GREG OLIVER

In January, will the federal government be shuttered again? At first thought, it seems inconceivable that Congress would want to go through another protracted fight like the one that shut things down for 16 days in October. That could occur, however, if a new budget panel doesn’t meet its deadline.

Once more, the clock is ticking. By December 13, a group of 30 senators and representatives have to hammer out a bipartisan budget agreement. It must a) reconcile the markedly different House and Senate FY 2014 budget plans passed earlier in 2013, and b) map out a longer-term plan to shrink the federal deficit. If a) doesn’t happen, then the country will be threatened with another federal shutdown on January 15. If b) doesn’t happen, then another round of sequester cuts from the 2011 Budget Control Act will be initiated as of that same date.1,2,3,4

Does this seem like déjà vu? It does among many political and economic analysts, who fear a repeat of the supercommittee debacle of 2011, when a bicameral, bipartisan group of 12 Capitol Hill legislators just gave up trying to find a way to shave $2 trillion from the deficits projected for the next decade.4

This new committee is bigger, and like the supercommittee, its leaders are far apart politically. Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) and Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) are the budget chairs of their respective chambers of Congress. The key difference lies in the modesty of its ambition. On October 18, Murray told Bloomberg that the committee would aim for “a budget path for this Congress in the next year or two, or further if we can” rather than a “grand bargain” across the next 10 years.1,3

Will they manage that? Some observers aren’t sure. Murray co-chaired the failed supercommittee of 2011, and while Ryan was quiet during the fall budget fight, he recently authored an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal reiterating his controversial ideas to slash the deficit by reforming entitlement programs. Still, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) told Bloomberg that “there’s a real desire to take another effort, not at a grand bargain, but at a sequestration replacement,” and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) commented that “we don’t want to raise expectations above reality, but I think there’s some things we could do.”1,3,5

Leaders from of both parties maintain there will be no shutdown in January. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stated that a shutdown is “off the table” this winter. On CNN’s State of the Union, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) warned that the public would not tolerate “another repetition of this disaster”; on ABC’s This Week, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said she sympathized with the public’s “disgust at what happened.” These comments do not necessarily imply expedient negotiations ahead.3,6

The short-term fix didn’t fix everything. As a FY 2014 budget hasn’t yet been agreed upon, the Treasury is still relying on stopgap funding to keep the federal government running through January 15 and “extraordinary measures” to raise the federal debt limit through February 7.2

The long-term outlook for America’s credit rating didn’t really change. Fitch put its outlook for the U.S. on “negative” and warned of a potential downgrade; Dagong, the major Chinese credit ratings agency, actually downgraded the U.S. from A to A-. Even so, S&P and Moody’s didn’t take action as a result of October’s shutdown; while S&P thinks the shutdown will cut 0.6% off of Q4 GDP, it still gives the U.S. an AA+ rating (downgraded from AAA in 2011).7,8

America lacks top-notch credit ratings, but few nations have them. In fact, only 11 countries possess the coveted AAA rating from S&P and Fitch plus the leading Aaa rating from Moody’s. If you look at S&P’s ratings for the globe’s ten largest economies, Germany is the only one with an AAA. China gets an AA- with a “stable” outlook and Japan has an AA- with a “negative” outlook. While Russia has the world’s eighth biggest economy, Moody’s, Fitch and S&P all rate it one grade above junk bond status.7

Is Wall Street all that worried about another shutdown? At the moment, no – because there are several reasons why the next debt debate could be less painful. As the goal appears to be a near-term bargain instead of a grand one, it may be more easily realized. If the newly appointed budget panel fails, the economy can probably weather $20 billion of 2014 sequester cuts. Also, many mid-term elections are scheduled for 2014; do congressional incumbents really want to damage their reputations further with another shameful stalemate?8

While confidence on Wall Street and Main Street would erode with a repeat shutdown, the Treasury might face a slightly easier challenge in January than it did in October. Sequester cuts would trim the already-shrinking federal deficit further in early 2014, conserving some federal money. As a Goldman Sachs research note just cited, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could also make their dividend payments to the Treasury early in Q1, which would also help.8

Global investors can’t really back away from America. The dollar is still the world’s reserve currency, and China owns about $1.3 trillion of our Treasuries. Those two facts alone should compel our legislators to work things out this winter, hopefully before the last minute.7

Citations. oliver /// 786768768 //greg 77987[ohio //usa
1 - cnn.com/2013/10/17/politics/budget-talks-whats-next [10/17/13]
2 – csmonitor.com/USA/DC-Decoder/2013/1017/A-new-shutdown-clock-is-ticking.-Can-Washington-avoid-a-rerun-video [10/17/13]
3 – bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-18/obama-s-goal-of-grand-budget-deal-elusive-as-talks-begin.html [10/18/13]
4 – tinyurl.com/lchxblz [10/18/13]
5 – cnn.com/2013/10/09/politics/shutdown-ryan/ [10/9/13]
6 – tinyurl.com/lbp8cxn [10/20/13]
7 – globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/united-states/131018/credit-rating-debt-explained [10/20/13]
8 – cbsnews.com/8301-505123_162-57608220/5-reasons-wall-street-thinks-the-next-fiscal-feud-will-fizzle/ [10/19/13]

Entering the Yellen Years

NEW

Entering the Yellen Years
A look at the economist newly nominated to lead the Federal Reserve.

Mature CoupleDesign 1 (2)

BY GREG OLIVER

Janet Yellen – currently the vice chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve – has been nominated to succeed Ben Bernanke at the helm of the world’s most important central bank. A former UC Berkeley and London School of Economics professor and San Francisco Fed president, Yellen is a globally admired economist with many fans on Wall Street. The way it looks now, in January she will become the most powerful woman in the world.1,2,4

The average investor doesn’t know that much about Yellen and may be wondering what kind of course Fed policy may take under her watch. So here is a closer look at her.

Is Yellen just a clone of Ben Bernanke? It is true, Yellen has often voted in line with Bernanke regarding Fed policy; that was partly why Wall Street cheered her nomination. It also liked the fact that the controversial Larry Summers had withdrawn his name from consideration. Yet there are discernible differences between Yellen and Bernanke.1

The Fed has a mandate to focus on two goals: the goal of full employment, and the goal of price stability. Some Fed chairs lean more toward the first objective, and some lean more toward the second. While Bernanke built a reputation among his fellow economists as a responsive monetarist, Yellen is known as more of a Keynesian, someone who believes in the power of a sustained government stimulus to promote employment and heal the economy. In fact, earlier this year, she commented that “it is entirely appropriate for progress in attaining maximum employment to take center stage.” 1,2

So is Yellen an inflation dove? In the eyes of many, yes. She may end up sustaining QE3 longer than Bernanke might have, and putting off significant tapering of QE3 for longer than her predecessor. Interest rates may stay at rock-bottom levels under her tenure for longer than presumed. Since QE3 began, both Yellen and Bernanke have maintained that easing to the tune of $85 billion in bond purchases per month is needed to fight ongoing high joblessness and subpar growth, even with the threat of asset bubbles or the possibility of losses for the central bank when those bonds are sold.1,2,3

Yellen got it right at a couple of key moments during the 2000s. In 2006, she warned of a housing bubble that could bring down the whole economy, not a particularly dovish moment for her. (Of course, Yellen and her Fed colleagues could have chosen to tighten and try to prevent one from forming 2-3 years earlier.) As the FOMC voted to cut interest rates by 25 basis points in December 2007, Yellen wanted a half-percent cut, stating that “any more bad news could put us over the edge, and the possibility of getting bad news — in particular, a significant credit crunch — seems far from remote.” The Great Recession was a fact of life within a year.2,4

While Yellen is widely seen as extending the policies put in place during Ben Bernanke’s term with little alteration, the big question is how quickly and how ably the Fed will be able to tighten if inflation becomes hazardous after all this easing. If Bernanke’s legacy is that of a great scholar of the Great Depression who reactively managed the economy out of dire straits, Yellen’s legacy may be built on how well the Fed can control the side effects and the gradual withdrawal of its current accommodative monetary stance.

GREG OLIVER o876768768p
Citations.
1 – cnn.com/2013/10/10/opinion/ghitis-janet-yellen/?hpt=hp_t4 / [10/10/13]
2 – tinyurl.com/kawhouj [3/21/12]
3 – bloomberg.com/news/2013-10-09/janet-yellen-s-to-do-list.html [10/9/13]
4 – tinyurl.com/mlqgjyf [10/13/13]

Women & Money Paralysis..??

My REPORT : ( share with others )
Women & Money Paralysis..??
Not making a move may not be the best move to make.

Design 34Design 23

BY GREG OLIVER

A decision not made may have financial consequences. There is an old belief that women are more cautious about money than men, and whether you believe that or not, both women and men may fall prey to a kind of money paralysis as they age – in which financial indecision is regarded as a form of “safety.”

Retirement seems to heighten this tendency. If you are single, retired, and female, you may be extremely fearful of drawing down your retirement savings too soon; or investing in a way that would mean any kind of risk.

This is understandable: if you are over 80, you likely have memories of the Great Depression, and baby boomers have memories of the severe economic downturn of the late 2000s.

“Paralysis by analysis,” or simple hesitation, may cost you in the long run. Your retirement may last much longer than you presume it will – perhaps 30 or 40 years – and maintaining your standard of living will undeniably take some growth investing. As much as you may want to stay out of stocks and funds, they offer you a chance to out-earn inflation – a chance you forfeit at your financial peril.

Even minor inflation can subtly reduce your purchasing power over time. Of all the risks to quality of life in retirement, this is often the least noticed. Doing nothing about it – or investing in a way that avoids all or nearly all risk – may put you at greater and greater financial disadvantage as your retirement proceeds.

Keeping a foot in the stock market – in whatever major or minor way you choose – allows your invested assets the potential to keep pace with or outpace inflation.

Retirement is the time to withdraw retirement assets. Some women (and men) are extremely reluctant to tap into their retirement nest eggs, even when the money has been set aside for years for a specific dream. Even though they have saved or dedicated, say, $20,000 for world travel, when retirement comes they may be skittish about actually using the money for that purpose. Buying a car to replace one that has been driven for 15 years, or remodeling part of the house to make it more livable after 70 or 80 may be viewed as extravagances.

We cannot control how long we will live, how much money we will need in the future, or how well the economy will perform next year or ten years on. There comes a point where you must live for today. Pinching pennies in retirement with the idea that the great bulk of your savings is for “someday” can weigh on your psyche. What does your retirement dream amount to if you don’t start living it once you retire?

If you fear outliving your money, remember that growth investing offers you the potential to generate a larger retirement fund for yourself. If you seek more retirement income, ask a financial professional about ways to arrange it – there are multiple ways to plan for it, and some that involve little risk to principal.

Don’t forget America’s built-in retirement insurance: Social Security. For every year you wait to claim Social Security benefits after your full retirement age (either 66 and 67 for most people) and age 70, your monthly payments grow by 8%. In contrast, if you start taking Social Security before your full retirement age, it will mean less SSI per month than if you had waited.1

The 4% rule may provide you with a guideline. For many years, some retirement planners have recommended that a retiree withdraw between 4-4.5% annually from savings. (This percentage is gradually adjusted north for inflation over the years.)2

The 4% rule is a worthwhile rule for many retirees, but it is hardly the only yardstick for retirement income withdrawals. At its Squared Away blog, the influential Center for Retirement Research at Boston College notes a study from one of its economists on this topic. It suggests an alternative – termed the RMD strategy – that mimics the Required Minimum Distributions the federal government requires from a traditional IRA after the original IRA owner enters his or her seventies. In this withdrawal strategy, you start withdrawing only 3.1% of your retirement assets at age 65, which climbs to 4.4% at 75 and then 6.8% by 85. (That is just withdrawal off of principal; interest and dividends can be added to that to give you more income.)2

Are you wondering just how much money to live on in retirement? Are you also wondering how your retirement savings and income may grow? Talk with a financial professional about your options – you may have many more than you initially assume. A practical outlook on investing and decisions to work longer or claim Social Security later can also potentially help you amass or receive more money for the years ahead.

Citations. oliver.,greg., 7868757656767467546546546858
1 – forbes.com/sites/nextavenue/2013/08/22/5-cures-for-womens-retirement-spending-paralysis/ [8/22/13]
2 – squaredawayblog.bc.edu/squared-away/retiree-paralysis-can-i-spend-my-money/ [7/11/13]

The 1995-96 Shutdown & Its Impact

The 1995-96 Shutdown & Its Impact
How did the market hold up then? What can we learn from that time?

2013 with ann  end of AUG 2013 2114Design 1 (2)

BY GREG OLIVER

Will the market hold up as well as it did last time? That is the near-term question on the minds of some investors as the partial shutdown of the U.S. government drags on. Stocks bounced back quickly from the 3-week gridlock that occurred in 1995-96. Will that be the case in 2013?

In some ways, things weren’t that different. In late 1995, the economy had been expanding – similar to today. Stocks were on a tear: a powerful bull market had begun in 1992, and it was far from over. Between 1992 and 2000, the Dow rose about 7,800 points. In fact, it gained almost 3,000 points (about 75%) between January 1995 and March 1997.1,2

There were actually two shutdowns in late 1995: one lasted from Nov. 14-19, the other began on Dec. 15 and lasted until Jan. 6, 1996. How did stocks respond? The Dow dropped 3.5% during the December to January shutdown, yet rose 10.1% in the month afterward. Growth also took a hit as our GDP fell to 2.7% in Q1 1996, but by Q2 1996 the economy was expanding at better than 7%.3,4,5

In other ways, things differed considerably. The jobless rate was about 2% lower at that time, however – and the economy was growing much more impressively than it is today. Baby boomers were headed into their peak earning years, with retirement a distant thought. Even the dot-com boom was in its infancy; fax machines were ubiquitous in offices, not routers.5

Many analysts think that a 2-week shutdown could put a 0.3-0.4% dent in Q4 GDP. The final federal government estimate of Q3 growth was 2.5%, so that kind of impact would hurt in 2013 much more than it would have in 1995.5,6

This could give you a buying opportunity. The current Wall Street slump does offer investors a chance to pick up some shares more cheaply, with the real possibility of a rebound. Since 1976, the federal government has shut down on 17 different occasions; there were budget deadlocks lasting 10 days or longer during both the Ford and Carter presidencies, in fact. In the last 37 years, the S&P 500 has dipped an average of 1.4% during shutdowns lasting five days or less and an average of 2.5% during impasses lasting 10 days or longer.3

A bad month or quarter shouldn’t derail your long-term strategy. If the shutdown does last two or three weeks, stocks and the economy will almost certainly feel a significant pinch – but probably not enough to waylay the current bull market or halt the U-shaped economic recovery in progress. Patience can help you stay the course in the face of the headlines.

GREG OLIVER////ohio 76875675485637

Citations.
1 – realmoney.thestreet.com/articles/12/12/2012/revisiting-clinton-era-bull-market [12/12/12]
2 – nytimes.com/1997/03/31/business/analysts-say-1990-s-bull-market-faces-its-toughest-test.html [3/31/13]
3 – dispatch.com/content/stories/business/2013/09/29/shutdown-unlikely-to-wallop-stocks.html [9/29/13]
4 – usatoday.com/story/money/markets/2013/09/27/stock-market-scenarios-political-fiscal-brinkmanship/2877061/ [9/27/13]
5 – latimes.com/business/la-fi-shutdown-economy-20131001,0,155302.story [9/30/13]
6 – briefing.com/investor/calendars/economic/2013/09/23-27 [9/27/13]