Category Archives for "Financial Planning"

Jan 17

Five Common Questions About Divorce

By Chris Chen CFP | Divorce Planning , Financial Planning , Retirement Planning

divorcing-swansdivorcing-swans5 Common Questions About Retirement and Divorce

divorce and retirementRetirement accounts are often one of the major assets of divorcing couples. Analyzing and dividing retirement accounts can be fairly complex . Some of the major questions that I come across include the following:

1. Is My Retirement Account Separate Property?

People will often feel very proprietary about their retirement accounts. They will reason that because the account is in their name only, as opposed to the house which is usually in both their names, they should be able to keep those accounts. Most of the time, this is flawed reasoning. The general rule is that assets that are accumulated during marriage are considered marital assets regardless of the titling.

However, there are cases when part of a retirement plan can be considered separate. This often depends on state law, so it is best to check with a specialist before getting your hopes up.

2. Can I Divide a Retirement Account Without Triggering Taxes?

Most of us know that taking money out of a retirement account will usually trigger taxes and sometimes penalties. However, dividing retirement accounts in divorce provides an exception to that rule. You can divide most retirement accounts in divorce tax-free through a Qualified Domestic Relations Order  (QDRO). As a result of the QDRO, both spouses will now have a separate retirement account.

QDROs are used for 401(k)s, defined benefit pension plans, and other accounts that are “qualified” under ERISA . Many accounts that are not “qualified” such as 403(b)s use a “DRO” instead. The federal government uses its own procedure known as a “COAP”. Some accounts such as IRAs and Roth IRAs can be divided with a divorce agreement without requiring a QDRO.

Since there are so many different retirement accounts, the rules to divide them vary widely. Plan administrators will often recommend their own “model” QDRO. It usually makes sense to have a QDRO specialist verify that the document conforms to your interests.

3. Can I Take Money out Without Penalty?

In general, you cannot take money out of retirement accounts before 59½ years of age without triggering income taxes and a 10% penalty . It makes taking money out of retirement accounts a very expensive proposition as you may only get 60 to 70 cents for every dollar that you withdraw, depending on your tax bracket and the State that you live in.

In addition, that money that was set aside for retirement will no longer be there for that purpose. Although you might tell yourself that you will replace that money when you can, that rarely ever happens.

However, if you have no other choice, it so happens that divorce is one of the few exceptions to the penalty rule. A beneficiary of a QDRO (but not the original owner) can, pursuant to a divorce, take money out of a 401(k) without having to pay penalties. However, you will still have to pay income tax on your withdrawal. Note that this only applies to 401(k)s. It does not apply to IRAs.

4. How Do I Compare Retirement Accounts with Non-Retirement Accounts?

Most retirement accounts contain tax-deferred money. This means that when you get a distribution, it will be taxable as ordinary income. At the other end of the spectrum, if you have a cash account, it is usually all after-tax money. In between you may have annuity accounts where the gains are taxed as income, and the basis is not taxed; you may have a brokerage account where your gains may be taxed at long-term capital gains rate; or you may have employee Restricted Stock which is taxed as ordinary income. All of these accounts can be confusing.

In order to get an accurate comparable value of your various assets, you will want to adjust their value to make sure that it takes the built-in tax liability into account. Many divorce lawyers will use rules of thumb to equalize pre-tax and after-tax accounts. Rules of thumbs can be useful for back-of-the-envelopes calculations , but should not be used for divorce settlement calculations, as they are rarely correct.

What is the harm you might ask? Rules of thumb are like the time on a broken clock – occasionally correct, but usually wrong . In the best of cases, they may favor you. In the worst cases they will short change you. If the rule of thumb is suggested by your spouse’s lawyer, it will have a good chance of being the latter.

Because these calculations are not usually within a lawyer’s skill set, many lawyers and clients will use the services of a Divorce Financial Planner to get accurate calculations that can form a solid basis for negotiation and decision making. It is usually better to know than to guess .

5. Should I Request a QDRO of My Spouse’s Defined Benefit Pension?

Defined Benefit pension plans provide a right to a stream of income at retirement . Unlike 401(k)s and IRAs they are not individual accounts. They do not provide an individual statement with a balance that can be divided.

As a result, many lawyers take the path of least resistance and will want to QDRO the pension. It is usually painful to the pension beneficiary who will often feel very emotional about his or her pension. And it is not necessarily in the spouse’s interest to QDRO the pension .

A better approach is to consider the value of the defined benefit pension compared to the other retirement assets. With a pension valuation, you can judge the value of the pension relative to other assets and make better decisions on whether and how to divide it. A pension valuation will allow each party to make an informed decision and eventually provide informed consent when agreeing to a division of retirement assets.

Another key consideration is that defined benefit plans are complex. Although they have common features, they are each different from one another, and each come with specific rules. You will be well advised to read the “plan document” or have a Divorce Financial Planner read it and let you know the key provisions.

A common provision is that the benefit for the alternate payee can only start when the plan participant starts receiving benefits and must stop when the plan participant passes away. It is all good for the plan participant. But what if as a result of that, the alternate payee ends up losing his or her pension benefits too early?

Hence a key issue of valuing defined benefit plans is that a true valuation is more than just numbers. It also involves a qualitative discussion of the value of the plan, especially for the alternate payee. Some Divorce Financial Planners can handle the valuation of interests in a defined benefit plan easily and the discussion of the plan. Others will refer you to a specialist.

The Bottom Line

Retirement plans are more complex than most divorcing couples expect . Unlike cash accounts they do not lend themselves to a quick asset division decision.  The short and long-term consequences of a sub-optimal decision can be far reaching. It will be worth your while to do a thorough analysis before accepting any retirement asset division.

 

 

A previous version of this post was published in Investopedia

Aug 25

Is Your Portfolio Diversified?

By Chris Chen CFP | Financial Planning , Investment Planning

Is Your Portfolio Really Diversified?

Diversification is simple to understand. In the context of managing your portfolio, diversification is (simply) about investing in diverse securities so as to lower the risk of the portfolio. Ever since markowitzNobel Prize winner Harry Markowitz wrote his seminal paper “Portfolio Selection” in 1952, finance professionals (and increasingly lay people) have understood that the true risk of an asset is its contribution to the risk of a portfolio.

In a recent survey run by Insight Financial Strategists, according to 41% of respondents a single mutual fund is sufficient diversification . After all, even the most concentrated mutual fund typically has several dozen stocks. However, many mutual funds diversify within a single asset class in a single country, such as, large-company stocks in the U.S.

Others will concentrate their portfolio on a few securities, sometimes with very unfortunate results. For instance, between September 1, 2015, until November 17, 2015, the Sequoia fund (symbol SEQUX) lost 26.3% of its value largely due to its high concentration in a single stock, Valeant (VRX). Looking at the price evolution of VRX below (source: Google), and knowing that SEQUX had more than 30% invested in VRX, it is not surprising that the mutual fund tumbled.

Stock price of VRX from 9/1/2015 to 12/1/2015

Price of VRX from 9/1/2015 12/31/2015

In practice, diversification is hard to implement. There are many levels of diversification. Some of them are:

  • by individual securities
  • by asset manager;
  • by asset class; and
  • by geography.

Ideally, an investor will want to diversify so that the various investments are not correlated with one another, have low correlation or even have negative correlation. For instance, according to data from portfolio analytics firm Kwanti, Goldman Sachs (GS) and JP Morgan (JPM) have an 89% correlation based on monthly returns. In other words, buying GS and JPM in the same portfolio only provides a low diversification value.

diversification is about investing in diverse securities so as to lower the risk of the portfolio

In another example, based on monthly returns, JPM and Walmart have a negative correlation of -0.14%, according to data from Kwanti . I don’t know that I would necessarily want to buy either JPM or WMT. However, this pair provides good diversification from one another.

Most of us end up investing in mutual funds and exchange-traded funds, not in individual securities. The same principle applies there. Having a single large cap mutual fund that tracks Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index may not be sufficient diversification.

Sure, the S&P 500 ETF provides more than one security and is, therefore, diversified. But in general, most of the securities within a single asset class will be highly correlated with one another (such as with JPM and GS). With that, you would be protecting yourself against the risk inherent in any given company in the portfolio, but not against risks inherent to the asset class or other factors.

Ideally, you would want to be diversified across asset classes, across regions of the world and across asset managers. The following jelly bean chart from Schwab demonstrates the benefits of a wide diversification program: the ranking of the assets by performance changes seemingly randomly from year to year. A fully diversified portfolio (the orange boxes in the chart) is intended to avoid the peaks and valleys of individuals asset classes while providing a more middle-of-the-road return experience.

Jelly Bean chart

Is your portfolio diversified? A detailed analysis from a fee-only Certified Financial Planner can give you the full scoop on your portfolio and provide suggestions to mitigate the risks that you are exposed to. Like any other sound advice, apply it now, not later.

Check out some of our other blog posts on investing:

Market Correction? Hold On To Your Socks!   

3 Mistakes of DIY Investors 

5 Symptoms of Fake Portfolio Diversification   

4 Counter-Intuitive Steps to Make Your 401(k) Rock   

Sustainable Investing: Doing Good While Doing Well   

 

A previous version of this post was published in Kiplinger.

Jul 19

Getting Help When You Need It Most

By Chris Chen CFP | Divorce Planning , Financial Planning

Getting help when you need it most

chess pieces divorcingWhen “Lindy” was trying to figure out the implications of the latest divorce settlement offer that she received from her soon-to-be ex-husband “Ted,” she panicked. She would have asked her lawyer for
guidance, as 79% of divorcing individuals end up doing, but she was not sure that her divorce lawyer could give her the guidance she needed .

The previous offer had come two days before their last court appearance. There was just not enough time to understand the implications of the various components of the offer and assess whether it was an equitable division of marital assets. Lindy was just too nervous to make the decision “on the steps of the courthouse”, so she said no.

Even Lindy’s lawyer was happy with the process

Clearly, there is something wrong with a process in which the financial outcome is so critical to both parties but people like Lindy and Ted get no professional financial support despite spending substantial sums of money litigating a divorce. Yet it is not surprising. The financial issues of divorce have become terribly complex ranging from shorter-term tax issues to longer-term financial planning issues.  Divorce lawyers have enough on their hands with the legal issues of divorce. Increasingly, divorce lawyers are unable to counsel their clients in depth on the financial implications of divorce , which inevitably have a lasting impact on their quality of life and stability long after the divorce itself is finalized.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Institute of Divorce Financial Analysts, 75% of respondents believe that a divorce financial specialist would have been helpful in the preparation, negotiation or recovery phases of their divorces . According to this same survey, 45% of people litigating their divorces felt unprepared to enter financial negotiations and 40% of those mediating their divorces feel the same way.

No wonder divorce financial planning has risen as a specialty. Professionals dedicated to meeting the needs of divorcing individuals can help people such as Lindy and Ted understand the financial issues of divorce, negotiate settlements and recover into a financially stable post-divorce life.

In Lindy’s case, she was fortunate to be referred to a Divorce Financial Planner by a divorce coach. Divorce Financial Planners build on financial expertise often acquired by Certified Financial Planners (CFP®) or Certified Public Accountants (CPAs). They also often hold the Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA®) designation. They excel in their ability to simplify the complex financial issues of divorce so that people like Lindy and Ted can understand the consequences of their decisions and plan accordingly for their separate futures. In addition, Divorce Financial Planners bring to the table an understanding of tax issues in divorce, employee stock options, retirement plans, pension plans, Social Security, real estate and long-term financial planning.

They help assess potential outcomes of strategies such as trading home equity for ownership of retirement accounts—is that a good idea for you for the long term?

In Lindy’s case, the new offer seemed to address her needs better. Ted offered to give Lindy more of the 401(k) in exchange for keeping his pension. In addition, Ted offered more alimony.

However, Ted’s offer was still not clear about his employee stock options, as he did not know how to value them. In addition, the offer did not address the issue of college funding for their 13 year old daughter.

Lindy’s Divorce Financial Planner carefully reviewed the settlement offer in light of her individual circumstances, explained the various issues and made recommendations for her lawyer. After some more negotiations, Lindy and Ted were able to come to an agreement and avoid a costly trial. Even Lindy’s lawyer was happy with the process , as it helped him to focus on his area of expertise: writing the agreement and managing the legal process.

A previous version of this post was published in Kiplinger

Jun 13

Alimony…not far from Acrimony

By Thomas Seder | Divorce Planning , Financial Planning

Alimony...not far from Acrimony

Alimony issuesA major issue between divorcing and divorced spouses is that of spousal support, or alimony.  The issue is freighted with significant financial and emotional ramifications.  The aim of spousal support is to provide needed economic support to the lower-earning spouse.  It takes into account a variety of factors, including length of the marriage, ages and health of the parties, earning capacity, assets of the parties, needs of the recipient, and the payor’s ability to pay.

In 2011 the alimony laws in Massachusetts underwent significant reform .  Prior to this enactment of alimony reform, alimony was “forever”, even for short-term marriages.  Under the old laws, retirement of the payor didn’t necessarily provide relief from the payor’s having to continue support payments indefinitely.  You can get a summary of the new law here.

Not surprisingly, there are countless horror stories regarding alimony and how it has contributed to financial and emotional ruin.  The Alimony Reform Act of 2011, which took effect in March 2012, was intended  to bring more fairness to the alimony calculation and is highlighted by the following:

(1) it ends payments for life;

(2) it ties the duration for paying alimony to the length of the marriage;

(3) for long term marriages (more than 20 years), alimony ends at Full Retirement Age , as defined by Social Security (though the judge has discretion in awarding indefinite alimony in long-term marriages); and

(4) alimony may be terminated, reduced, or suspended when the recipient spouse lives with another person for at least three months (the “cohabitation” issue).  

To get your comprehensive summary of the Massachusetts Alimony Reform Law click here.

One conclusion gleaned from the legislation’s focus on limiting the duration of alimony is that it becomes more critical for the lower-earning spouse to find employment, in order to be self-sufficient when alimony ends.  

Child support in many ways is tied to alimony .  For example, in cases where the combined incomes of divorcing spouses is above $250,000, there may be no alimony granted…the only form of support may be child support.  Also, depending on the respective tax brackets of the divorcing parties, it may sometimes be beneficial to both to consider using “Unallocated Support”, which is essentially re-characterizing child support as alimony.

While Alimony Reform does much to clarify certain issues, there still remains room for interpretation, and different judges may adopt very different positions on the same fact patterns…one should bear in mind that nothing is etched in stone.  Nonetheless, familiarity with these guidelines should help to point you in the right direction on the subject of alimony.  The issues are complicated and intertwined and should be reviewed with an attorney, or divorce financial planner.  However, to start our handy reference may suffice!

Jan 04

PORTFOLIO RISK MANAGEMENT or Can you sleep at night?

By Jim Wood | Financial Planning , Investment Planning , Retirement Planning

Can You Sleep At Night?

Shy moon

When choosing an investment or an investment advisor we pay great attention to investment results. We all want the highest possible return on our investments . Most of us understand that the more risk we take the more gain we may make, but also the more we may lose. It is a wonderful thought to consider how much we might make, but it is very prudent and wise to consider how much we might lose if things go bad. What can YOU afford to lose? Does the risk in YOUR portfolio match your needs?

The average gain of the S&P 500 from the start of 2010 to the end of 2014 was 15.45% . Quite a nice average gain and one that most professionals believe cannot be expected to continue in the long term.

In the bear market of the recent Great Recession, the S&P 500 lost over 54.9% of its value from October 9, 2007 to March 9, 2009 . If you had stayed invested in the S&P500 throughout the same period, you would have needed an estimated 122% return for your investment to return to its pre-recession level.

If instead in the same period you had been invested 50% in the S&P 500 and 50% in the Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index, you would have lost approximately 23.84%. You would have then needed a return of only 31.35% for your investment to return to its pre-recession level.

Obviously, this example is hypothetical. There are many other factors that weigh into portfolio design. Although real life portfolios will often contain many more components, this simple example illustrates the benefits of diversification, and the importance of managing risk in a portfolio.

It is up to you and your financial planner to judge the risk that you can afford, and up to your financial planner to help you implement a portfolio that reflects that risk.

Jim Wood Graph

Percentage Gains Needed to Offset Losses

The bar chart to the left will allow you to estimate the amount of gain required to offset any loss that you might have experienced.

How did 2015 do for you? At the end of November 2015 the S&P 500 was up 3.01% for the year . Many investors with all stock , and therefore, high risk portfolios, are still down for the year, and perhaps still not sleeping well.

What to do? After a financial planner has assessed your risk capacity, he/she will be able to recommend a fully diversified portfolio that includes all relevant asset classes to match your financial objectives.

Note: The above hypothetical example is based on historical performance of the S&P 500 and Barclays US Aggregate Bond Index using Morningstar data. You cannot invest in indices. Trading and management fees are not computed in the example. This is not investment advice, which can only be given individually based on your risk tolerance and circumstances.

 

A previous version of this post appeared in the Colonial Times

Dec 23

Interest Rates, the Economy and You

By Chris Chen CFP | Financial Planning

Interest Rates, the Economy and You

Janet Yellen official portrait

Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserve recently announced on December 16 that it would increase the Federal Funds rates by 0.25%.  It has been 3,457 days since the Fed increased rates, with the last rate increase in 2006, or almost 9.5 years.  The Fed’s policy of ultra low rates was initiated during the Great Recession and was intended to help stimulate an economy that was reeling from the sub-prime mortgage crisi. Evidently, the Fed believes that the economy is strong enough to withstand a return to a more normal rate environment.

Most observers believe that the Federal Reserve will continue to raise rates through 2016 and 2017. Some believe that the Fed will increase rates three or four times in 2016. According to Brian Wesbury, Chief Economist at First Trust, on December 17, the federal funds future market is priced to anticipate two rate hikes next year.

Here is a guide to what it means for the rest of us:

Mortgage borrowers may consider that now may be the time to refinance , especially if you are on an Adjustable Rate Mortgage (ARM). The December 16 increase is not likely to have a very strong impact on long term interest rates, which tend to follow the 10 year Treasury rate. However future fed funds rate increases will most likely push the yield curve up, leading to more costly refinancing down the road.

the very modest increase in the Fed Funds rate will not yet trigger an increase in bank and CD rates sufficient to cause a stampede from mattresses to CDs

On the other hand, short term mortgage rates will be affected immediately thus leading to an immediate increase in ARM payments. As noted above, conventional wisdom is that rates will continue to increase , and will eventually have a substantial upward impact on traditional long term mortgage rates. Get yours while you can!

Borrowers with Home Equity Lines of Credit (HELOC) will be impacted directly by the fed funds increase with increased monthly payments which will become more painful as the Fed continues to step up rates over the next few years. If you have the income, the credit score, and the debt ratio, you may want to refinance your HELOC into a long term fixed rate mortgage. If not, make efforts to pay down your balance to keep your payments manageable!

Credit card borrowers are likely to see an increase in interest rates and payments, even though credit card interest rates are already sky high. If you can pay those credit cards down, do so . For those who use 0% credit cards to roll balances from one period to another, expect that the 0% interest rate period will shorten over time: you will have to roll over balances more often.

From an income standpoint, long suffering fixed income investors are not out of the woods yet. As the Boston Globe reported me saying in October, the very modest increase in the Fed Funds rate will not yet trigger an increase in bank and CD rates sufficient to cause a stampede from mattresses to CDs. However it is a marginal improvement, and perhaps savers will be rewarded with increased returns as rate hikes continue over the next few months and the next few years.

Investors saw the stock market close up on the day of the Fed’s announcement, with the S&P 500 closing at 2,073.07. Clearly, the market was not spooked by the modest .25% increase , or the prospect of more increases next year. This may be an opportunity to do a portfolio check and ensure that you maintain a well diversified portfolio that is adapted to your needs, risk tolerance and time horizon. In particular you will want to understand the impact that your bond allocation will have on your portfolio.
If you have not done so already, schedule a review on your debt and investment strategies with your CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional.

 

A previous version of this post appeared in the Boston Globe’s Managing Your Money blog

Nov 23

Four Year End Financial Planning Tools

By Chris Chen CFP | Financial Planning , Investment Planning , Retirement Planning , Tax Planning

Four Year End Financial Planning Tools


Couple_sitting_at_a_kitchen_table (Rhoda Baer)As we are coming to the end of a lackluster year in the financial markets, it is time again to focus on year end financial planning before time runs out in a few weeks .

Much of year end financial planning seems to be tax related . Any tax move, however tempting, should be made with your overall long term financial and investment planning context in mind. It is important not to let the tax tail wag the financial planning dog .

Here are four key areas to focus on that will help you make the best of the rest of your year end financial planning.

you should never forget to ask why you bought that security in the first place

1) Realize your Tax Losses

At the time of this writing the Dow Jones is down 0.16% for the year and the S&P500 has been up just 1.35% for the year. There are a number of stocks and mutual funds that are down this year, some substantially, and could provide tax losses. Now may be a good time to plan tax loss harvesting. The IRS limits individual deductions due to tax losses to $3,000 . However, realized losses (i.e., stock that you sell at a loss) can be offset against realized gains (i.e. stocks that you sell at a profit), thus providing you with a great tool to rebalance your portfolio with minimal tax impact.

2) Reassess your Investment Planning

While it is important to take advantage of tax opportunities, you should never forget to ask why you bought that security in the first place . Thus tax loss harvesting opportunities can provide a great opportunity to reassess your portfolio strategy. It may have been a few years since you have set your investment strategy. Perhaps you did so when the market looked better than it does now.

As we know, it is very difficult to predict the market, especially in the short term . The last eleven months should have reminded us that bear markets happen. On average the market has been flat (so far) in 2015. Are you ready, and equally important, is your portfolio ready for a potential significant downturn? This is a good opportunity to review your portfolio’s asset allocation, and determine whether it makes sense for your situation.

3) Revisit your Retirement Planning

As you probably know retirement planning is also a little about taxes . In 2015, you may contribute  a maximum of $18,000 to a 401(k), TSP, 403(b), or 457 retirement plan . In addition, if you’re age 50 or over, you may contribute an additional $6,000 for the year. Have you contributed less than the maximum to your retirement plan? You have until December 31 to maximize your contributions to your plan , receive the benefit of reducing your 2015 taxable income, and improve your retirement planning.

The contribution limits are the same if you happen to contribute to a Roth 401(k) instead. While your contributions to the Roth 401(k) are made with after-tax income, distributions in retirement are tax-free. Consult with your Certified Financial Planner professional to determine whether a Roth plan or a traditional would work best for you.

4) Plan your charitable donations

Charitable donations can also help reduce your taxable income, as well as provide other financial planning benefits. If you have been giving cash, consider instead giving appreciated securities. You can deduct the market value of the securities at the time of donation from your current income, and legally avoid the capital gains tax that would be due if you sold the stocks and realized a gain instead. Now, who would not want an opportunity to save on taxes?

If you are retired and need to balance income with your philanthropic impulses, consider giving with a Charitable Remainder Annuity: you may be able to reduce your taxable income, secure a stream of income for the rest of your life, and do good. Check in with your Certified Financial Planner professional about opportunities that may fit your needs.  

Nov 01

Four Keys to Successful Investing

By Jim Wood | Financial Planning , Investment Planning

Four Keys to Successful Investing

Successful Investing

Warren Buffet

On September 8, 2015  Beverly Quick of CNBC “Squawk Alley” spoke with Warren Buffett about investing:

According to Buffett: “ I’m no good on what’s going on in the markets . I have no idea what will happen tomorrow or next week and sometimes they get very volatile like this and other times they put you to sleep, but the important thing is where they’re going to be in five or ten years. And I’m confident they’ll be considerably higher in ten years, and I really have no idea where they”ll be in ten days or ten months.”

an investment plan utilizing a systematic approach will eventually pay off

Warren Buffett is arguably one of the outstanding investing gurus of our age and if he does not believe that he can “time” the markets, why should we believe that we, our brokers, financial planners, stock market letter writers, and, especially, television market commentators can make accurate predictions about stock prices and market levels?

As has been demonstrated by Buffet, an investing plan, utilizing a systematic approach will eventually pay off over a long period of time regardless of all market perturbations if adhered to conscientiously.

The keys to successful investing are to

1) Determine your goals,

2) Determine the time you have left to accomplish these goals,

3) Determine a savings plan, and

4) Invest in a fully diversified portfolio.  

With the memories of the Great Recession of 2008 still fresh in our minds, it is understandable if the unsettling stock market of the past few months, would instill in us a sense of panic.

That would be the wrong move.

The right move is to make sure that your investing reflect your goals, your time horizon, and your means .  A Wealth Strategist with a steady hand can help you ensure that you get on the right path and stay there.

Please note: The above blog post is general in nature and not intended to address any specific person’s needs or circumstances.  Investment advice is specific to each individual and is provided only after detailed discussion and understanding of personal circumstances. The above article is general in nature and not intended to address any specific person’s needs or circumstances.   

 

Check out some of our other investment blog posts:

Market Correction? Hold On To Your Socks!   

3 Mistakes of DIY Investors 

5 Symptoms of Fake Portfolio Diversification   

4 Counter-Intuitive Steps to Make Your 401(k) Rock   

Sustainable Investing: Doing Good While Doing Well   

 

A previous version of this article appeared in the Colonial Times of Lexington MA

Sep 29

Pension Division in Divorce

By Chris Chen CFP | Divorce Planning , Financial Planning , Retirement Planning

 

Pension Division in Divorce

Pension Division

Themis, Goddess of Justice

Jenni (specifics details have been changed) came to our office for post-divorce financial planning. Jenni is 60, a former stay-at-home Mom and current yoga instructor with two grown children. She never had a professional career and spent much of her adult life with a series of low-paying part-time jobs. She is thinking about retiring now and wanted to know whether she would be able to make it through retirement without running out of assets.

Jenni traded her interests in her husband’s 401(k) in exchange for the marital home, an IRA and half of a brokerage account . The lawyers agreed that the 401(k) should be discounted by 25% to take into account the fact that a 401(k) holds pretax assets.

Adjustments to the Value of a 401k

That sounds reasonable on the surface. But as a professional financial planner, I believe that it was a mistake for Jenni to agree to a 25% discount adjustment to the 401(k). After analyzing her finances, it became clear that Jenni would likely always be in a lower-than-25% federal tax bracket after retirement. Had she met a Divorce Financial Planner sooner, he or she would have likely advised against agreeing to a 25% discount to the value of the 401(k).

Jenni and Ron, her ex-husband, also agreed that she would get half of her marital interest in a defined-benefit pension from his job as a pediatrician with a large hospital.  At the time that pension division was agreed to, Ron thought that there was no value to the pension, and it was probably “not worth much anyway.” Neither lawyer disagreed.

[A Pension does] not come with a dollar balance on a statement

This underscores the importance of seeking the advice of the right divorce professional to analyze financial issues!  Working in a team with mediators and divorce lawyers, divorce financial planners usually pay for themselves .

After a little research I found that Jenni would end up receiving a little over $37,000 a year from the pension division at Ron’s retirement, assuming he is still alive then. This is far from an insignificant sum for a retiree with a projected lifestyle requirement of less than $5,000 a month!

There are also restrictions with dividing Ron’s defined-benefit pension: the ex-spouse or alternate payee (Jenni in this case) can get his or her share only when the employee takes retirement. Furthermore, the payments stop when the employee passes away. (Each defined-benefit pension has its own rules . Each defined benefit pension division should be evaluated individually ).

The Value of  Pension Division Analysis

A defined-benefit pension such as this one does not have a straightforward value in the same way as a 401(k). It does not come with a dollar balance on a statement. A pension is a promise by the employer to pay the employee a certain amount of money in retirement based on a specific formula . In order to get a value and for it to be fairly considered in the overall asset division, it needs to be valued by a professional.

In her case, Jenni’s share of the pension division was 50% of the marital portion of the defined-benefit pension. Was it the best outcome for Jenni? It is hard to re-evaluate a case after the fact. However, had she and Ron known the value of the pension, they might have decided for a different pension division that may have better served their respective interests. Jenni may have decided that she wanted more of the 401(k), and Ron may have decided that he wanted more of the pension. Or possibly Jenni may have considered taking a lump-sum buyout of her claim to Ron’s pension . In any case, they would have been able to make decisions with their eyes open, instead of taking the path of least resistance.

The news that her share in Ron’s defined benefit pension had value was serendipity for Jenni. It turned out that the addition of the pension payments in her retirement profile substantially increased her chances to make it through retirement without running out of assets. But it is possible that an earlier understanding of the pension division and other financial issues could have resulted in an even more favorable outcome for Jenni .

 

A previous version of this article was published at Kiplinger.

Sep 23

Planning for Long Term Care

By Jim Wood | Financial Planning , Retirement Planning

Planning for Long Term Care

Long Term CareLive Long.   We are, and that is the problem.

However, without early financial planning we may not” live long” in prosperity. Many of us will outlive our resources.  According to the Social Security Administration, the average 65 year old woman will live to 86. The Federal Government says that 70% of people turning age 65 will use some form of long term care” .

Do you have an integrated financial plan that takes the high likelihood that you will need Long Term Care into consideration?  

The need for long term care will affect all of us in one way or the other

If we do end up in a nursing home, the AVERAGE cost today is $76,000 for one year in a nursing home according to the American Association for Long Term Care Insurance (AALTCI).  In Massachusetts the average cost of a private room in a nursing home is $141,894 .

Long Term Care is not something that we rush to buy.  Before you delay it too long, you may want to consider how the denial rate goes up with age.  If you wait too long you may not be able to get it. Review the information at both the LongTermCare.gov and the AALTCI web site for a broader understanding of these topics.

  Age

Coverage Denial Rate

40-49 11%
50-59 16%
60-69 24%

 

In broad terms, there are four ways to fund long term care :

  1. Spend out of your own funds.  You need to make sure that there will be enough.  Consult a financial planner to make sure that this is the case
  2. Medicaid planning.  With this method you would be putting your asset in a trust that would shelter them from the government.  Medicaid would end up paying for long term are.  This is a complicated procedure that requires careful financial and legal planning.
  3. Long Term Care insurance. With this method, a senior can shift the responsibility for long term care  expenses to a third party.
  4. A combination of the above.  For instance many people end up using a combination of spending their own funds and long term care insurance.

Most Long Term Care Insurance Policies buy you a “Pool of Money” that can be used for home care, assisted living, nursing home and adult day care.  Importantly, most seniors prefer to stay home as long as possible.  Most long term care policies will pay for home care.  For example, 40% of people buying a Long Term Care Policy bought a policy with 3-year of benefits (with an inflation rider) valued at $165,000. Costs and policy benefits vary greatly from company to company and policy to policy so close attention to detail is required as is a financial soundness assessment of the insurance company under consideration.

Wealth Management often ties in different disciplines. Planning for long term care needs to ensure that all the other parts of the retirement puzzle (investments, cash flow planning, other insurance, tax planning) are tied together.

The need for funding Long Term Care will affect all of us in one way or another . Give yourself your best chance of a good outcome by starting your planning now to avoid what could become a crisis.

 

A Previous version of this post appeared in the Colonial Times of Lexington MA