Primed and Ready to Spend

For the past year-and-a-half, scientists raced to develop effective COVID-19 vaccines and governments and companies worked to make vaccines available. Today, seven vaccines are approved in 176 countries. More than 2 billion doses have been administered, and about 14 percent of the world’s population has been vaccinated. It’s a remarkable achievement.

While there is a lot of work left to do, the Centers for Disease Control offered new and more lenient guidance for fully-vaccinated people in May, and restrictions across the country are being lifted. The result has been a surge in social activities we used to take for granted. According to the latest Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index:

“…Americans’ reemergence is moving full steam ahead. A majority have dined in a restaurant or visited friends and relatives in the past week – and these numbers continue to climb each week…At the same time, Americans are reporting small improvements to their mental and emotional health.”

One unexpected side effect of the pandemic is Americans spent less and saved more than normal. As a result, credit card balances are lower and personal finances have improved.

You know what they say about money burning a hole in your pocket.

Americans are ready to spend some of their savings. While some remain reluctant to venture far from home, others are ready to travel. The 2021 Summer Travel Index showed:

  • 63% of survey participants planned to take a trip in the next three months
  • 74% planned to travel in the United States
  • 13% will travel abroad
  • 29% have weekend jaunts planned 
  • 28% will be traveling for 10 or more days

People who aren’t ready to travel are spending, too. Morning Consult asked Americans what they were excited about doing as the economy reopens and found that 46% were ‘very excited’ to return to a ‘normal’ routine. The list of activities includes eating at a restaurant, socializing, attending parties or weddings, going to the movies, visiting amusement parks or museums, and attending concerts and sporting events.

While having extra money inspires many people to splurge, it’s important to keep a level head. Spending has risen sharply during 2021. According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, spending increased:

  • 20.6% in January
  • 14.7% in February
  • 27.7% in March
  • 14.9% in April

While the idea of ‘revenge spending’ may be appealing, very few household budgets can withstand sustained increases in spending without significant increases in income. So, as you break free from pandemic restrictions, it may help to keep some basic principles in mind:

  1. Decide which savings habits you’d like to keep. During the pandemic, Americans saved a lot of money. The average household saved about $245 by not going out to eat, $1,400 by not vacationing, and almost $5,700 by not making major purchases, according to the Covid-19 & Finances Survey. Consider whether and how much to continue saving.
  2. Be aware of how much you are spending. When people have extra money saved, it’s just fine to splurge on something fun, especially after a long stretch of missing out on traditional everyday activities. Decide the amount to spend and then track how much has been spent. 
  3. Eliminate things that are not needed. During the last year, many people prioritized spending differently. Optional expenses, like dry cleaning, house cleaning, commuting, and happy hours, were eliminated. In some cases, the result was an increase in savings. Review your financial priorities to see if they have changed. 

Many people experienced financial insecurity during the pandemic lockdown. As a result, emergency savings accounts and other types of saving have become more important. If your financial priorities have shifted, be sure to talk to a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. Spending less and saving more may help you build wealth and improve financial security.

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Managing Risk In Your Portfolio

Risk is one of the most difficult investment variables for individuals to control. All aspects of life have a risk component. A friend of mine attempted to prove his strategy for removing all risk was valid. He simply stated that he could bury his money in his backyard. When I reminded him, that thieves may discover his hiding spot, he may forget where he hid the money or environmental changes, such as a flood, may prohibit him from accessing his funds, he quickly withdrew his comment about safety.

When you invest your money in an investment account, the custodian bank will provide you coverage using membership in SIPC or the Securities Investor Protection Corporation. This type of insurance protects you in case of a bank failure in a similar process as FDIC, or Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Limits are higher for securities investors at $500,000 per investor and accounts insured under FDIC are limited to $250,000 per account. These coverages are only available if the custodian bank is insolvent.

Another form of risk is market risk. The probability of losing value in the markets may be reduced by implementing a systematic approach to investing. For example, a portfolio’s inherent risk will rise when the total investment positions within a portfolio consists of more equities than bonds or cash. However, based on the current economy of the United States, bond yields are below inflation. Simply put, your bond investments, particularly those that are rated investment grade or better, provide interest yields that will not sustain the purchasing power of your dollar. Gasoline, food and other necessary staples of life are rising faster in cost than bonds can create income.

To mitigate risk in your portfolio it is critical that you understand the purpose of diversifying your positions. Do not allow current market conditions to impact your allocation of investments within your portfolio. This action will lead to greater risk in your retirement assets than you may be willing to accept. 

Investment advisers utilize two methods of rebalancing portfolios to maintain an acceptable level of risk: 1) percentage and 2) time. When a certain asset class of a portfolio increases in value, the remaining asset classes lose the same percentage of their weighting. Remember, your portfolio is a pie chart. You can only have one hundred percent of the pie at any given time. If your equity positions increase in value by 10%, then remaining positions of the portfolio will have been reduced by 10%. The best means of reducing this increased risk level is to sell the equity positions back to their original percentage in the portfolio. This action is known as rebalancing based on asset allocation.

The second method of rebalancing is based on time. For example, rebalancing the portfolio based on set periods of time passing. Continuing with the previous facts presented about percentage of asset allocation rebalancing, the growth of the portfolio would cause you to rebalance to your original allocation every quarter, semiannually or annually. Again, you would sell the positions that are growing and buy the positions that have performed less. Keep in mind that you are controlling risk in the portfolio not simply maximizing return of the portfolio.

Investing is a long-term process. To create a portfolio that will meet your long-term needs such as retirement, you will need to consistently invest in a balanced portfolio that accepts the level of risk you wish to tolerate. Remember, nothing ventured, nothing gained. By consistently rebalancing your portfolio, whether using the percentage of asset allocation method or the time method, you may control the inherent risk within your investments at a level you feel is acceptable.

Managing your future is difficult. Seek out a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional to guide you in establishing, monitoring and rebalancing your retirement portfolio to gain a higher probability of reaching your long-term goals. You may qualify for a complimentary stress test for your portfolio. To live the type of life you desire, without excessive risk, may just be the plan you need for success. See you on the jogging trail!

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Small Mistakes, Big Consequences

As humans, we make mistakes all the time. Some mistakes may relate to your career choice. Other mistakes may relate to the location of your home. However, some of us make, seemingly, small mistakes and don’t realize the impact the outcomes will bring to our lives.

Small mistake #1: Failing to save for retirement early in your career. When a person is 23 years of age, the future seems so distant. Their entire career is just launching from the starting gates of their recent college graduation and time is their friend. Fast forward twenty-five years and the person is looking at their future with a different lens. Kids, mortgage, car payments, and other living expenses caused by the choices made many years earlier has redirected their otherwise retirement savings to current expenses of life.

The obvious outcome is one that none of us wishes to realize – working until we are much older than we would prefer. By initiating your future savings at the beginning of your career, time and compounding of money will help you realize your financial goals later in life. Start with your employer’s plan and contribute at least the amount the company will match. For example, if your employer matches 5% of your salary then you should seek a goal of contributing 5% of your salary. The math is easy on this one. You will have doubled your contribution amount annually with the employer’s matching contribution. Let’s assume the markets treated you favorable and the investment in your employer’s plan grew by 8% for the year. Now, you can experience growth far beyond your 5% initial deferral from your salary. 

Small mistake #2: Failing to live within your means. A philosophy practiced in our retirement planning business is one of “pay yourself first” for our clients. You want to do things differently in your life than most of your friends – save first, spend second. What this means is that you will treat your retirement contributions as a priority before incurring and spending your earnings on current pleasures of life. Too often we experience clients that meet with us that have all the toys of the day but lack any liquid savings or future investments.

Maximize your probability for retirement success by implementing a budget and focus on “paying yourself first”. By taking a more realistic approach to your future, you will continue to enjoy life and enjoy it more abundantly when you retire. Of course, prudent investment selection and monitoring are critical during the accumulation phase of life. You may wish to seek the guidance of a Certified Financial Planner practitioner to initiate your plan and provide you annual feedback on your progress.

Small mistake #3: Allowing your credit card balance to remain unpaid after one month. This is something that too many of us fall victim to early in life and it is a difficult problem to solve if left unattended. Based on a survey performed by Nerdwallet in January, 2021, the average balance carried on a credit card is $7,149 and the U.S. household will pay interest charges of $1,155 on average for 2021. Further, the survey discovered 63% of the responses indicated that they feel their household finances have worsened from that of the previous year.

The best method of controlling the interest accruing on credit card balances is to remember the card is for emergency purposes only. Do not use a credit card for a purchase that can’t be paid in full with your current savings or income. To be obvious, the use of a credit card is a means to live outside your current means. 

To resolve this mistake, use a debit card that immediately withdraws the funds from your bank account. Another method of solving the credit card debt issue is to ask your credit card issuer to draft the full payment each month from your checking account. This is a critical step since you must be certain the funds are available for the payment each month.

Lastly, place your credit card in a small plastic bowl of water. Place the bowl in the freezer and leave it there for about 3 days. Remove the bowl and note the credit card is safely stored in a block of ice that requires thought and effort to free the card. I know this sounds silly, but it is effective for those people who are impulse buyers with their credit cards.

Don’t wait to improve your life by eliminating or resolving these three little mistakes from your life. Seek out a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional to guide you in managing your cash flow to maximize your future savings. What have you got to lose? Worry, anxiety, stress, etc. See you on the golf course!

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Extra Time to Fund IRA For 2020

Whenever someone tells you something that seems too good to be true, often your presumption is correct. However, since 1974, individuals have enjoyed the opportunity to “keep their money and report a tax deduction” which seems too good to be true. Sure, there are some rules and caveats that must be observed to take the deduction but overall, the Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is a powerful planning tool for your future.

Many changes have been enacted that impact IRA investors. The basic premise of “having your cake and eating it, too” continues for these types of accounts. Due to the recent IRS announcement of postponing the original due date of individual returns, you have another month to contribute to your IRA and take a tax deduction for 2020. Further, if you live in a declared disaster area, such as the State of Oklahoma, the President’s declaration postpones the filing due date for individuals to June 15, 2021. Ultimately, you can fund your IRA on or before June 15, 2021, and take a tax deduction for 2020. 

Too many individuals fail to take advantage of IRA benefits. Some misconceptions are often the cause of this misunderstanding. Many people think they are too old to contribute to an IRA. The SECURE Act of 2019 eliminated the age limit for traditional IRA contributions. No longer are you limited to contributing to your IRA at age 70½. Many of our citizens continue to work during their retirement years. By earning income, the taxpayer may be eligible to contribute to their IRA until such time they no longer work. This is a game-changer for second career individuals!

Another misunderstanding is that single-earner family inability to contribute for the non-working spouse. Assume one spouse, age 30, is working outside the home while the other is caring for the children. If the working spouse earns income, and meets other criteria, she can contribute $6,000 to her own IRA and her spouse can make a spousal IRA contribution of $6,000 to a traditional or Roth IRA based on his spouse’s income.

One of the most common excuses or misconceptions I hear from individuals when talking about saving for their future by contributing to their IRA is that they simply can’t afford it. You are not required to contribute the maximum each year to your IRA to achieve tax benefits. Every dollar you contribute to your IRA is a possible reduction to your taxable income. A little unknown is of the tax law known as the Saver’s Credit may be helpful to you in reducing your tax burden. Lower income workers who make IRA contributions may claim the credit.

If you are single and earned $32,500 or less for 2020, you may qualify for this credit against your income tax burden. The maximum amount of credit is limited to the first $2,000 of your IRA contribution and you may claim a 50% credit for a maximum of $1,000 against your income tax liability. One of the best methods of teaching your children the power of investing and allowing compound interest to help them accumulate is the gifting of funds to their traditional IRA, or better yet, a Roth IRA.

Assume your granddaughter has landed her first job as a teenager and it pays her $10,000 for 2020. Being a wonderful grandfather, and noting this is an excellent teaching moment, you gift to your granddaughter $2,000 to her Roth IRA. She will receive a Saver’s Credit of $1,000 on her 2020 income tax return. 

Individual Retirement Accounts are powerful tools that can yield tremendous tax-deferred savings over time. Start early and teach your children the power of compound interest. Albert Einstein, the famous theoretical physicist, is reputed to have said, “Compound interest is the 8th wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… he who doesn’t, pays it.”

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The Millennial Perspective: Climbing Everest

Do you ever feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders? Do you wonder how much of that weight may be lifted without the stress of growing debt? Me too! I’ve always said, “We live in America so we will always carry debt. That’s just the way it is.” But should it be? It doesn’t feel like the mindset I or anyone should have when looking at our lives. A vast majority of our country has some sort of debt. With all of the factors of life that affect Millennials differently than other generations, this can feel especially defeating.

If you combine the average student loan debt, credit card debt, mortgage debt, and car loan debt among millennials you’re looking at about $285,000 total. That’s a big, and kind of scary number. This isn’t to say that every millennial has debt in each of these categories. So, let’s break that number down. On average, millennials have about $30,000 in student loan debt, $5,000 of credit card debt, $232,000 in mortgage debt, and $18,000 of car loan debt. 

Let’s imagine you have debt in each of these categories. If you had a car loan with a balance of $2,000 with a low interest rate, the average amount of student loans, a credit card balance of $7,000 with a high interest rate, and you just bought a new home. Which of these debts would you want to pay down the fastest? Your first thought may be to pay the credit card off first because it has the highest interest. However, let’s imagine you have enough in your bank account to pay off your car immediately. Even though it has a lower interest rate, you are most likely paying more each month on your car payment versus your credit card payment. One of the best ways to handle this situation is to pay off the car and rather than adding the additional money you now have each month to your cash flow, stick to your budget and stack the extra funds on top of what you are already paying on your credit cards. Now you have eliminated one debt and you will be paying more on your principal balance of your credit cards and will be able to eliminate that debt much faster than you would have originally.

If you can continue to stack your debt, AKA snowball your debt, then you may find that a mountain that once felt like an endless Mount Everest now feels more manageable. Setting a plan to help you start that exhibition and properly manage your money is the key to success. There’s no need to change your entire budget and live off Ramen until your debts are paid. This is just one of the philosophies when it comes to paying off debt. Several others exist, but the important thing is to pick a plan and go. 

Living slightly below your means is a good way to pay off debts, but living very far below your means just because of debt may tarnish your quality of life and your relationship with money. Money is a means to an end, not the end all, be all. It is always wise to seek the advice of professionals, such as a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ to help you create a plan that works for you and ensures you maintain your quality of life. You don’t have to be uncomfortable to be comfortable. 

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Difference Between Economy and Markets

What is the driver of our economy in the United States? Is it labor? Not entirely because our nation is suffering one of its highest unemployment rates in recent history based on a report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics dated January 8, 2021, and the world keeps spinning. The current United Stated unemployment rate of 6.7% is not the actual number that concerns me. When you understand the factors that compute the unemployment rate in our country, you must also consider those individuals who have simply dropped out the job market and resigned themselves to remaining unemployable. The true number of unemployed and underemployed individuals in the United States, the quoted unemployment rate would easily double.

Is our economy built on industries? Yes. The five most productive industries in the United States, for 2019, are healthcare, technology, construction, retail and durable goods. Each month the Bureau of Economic Analysis, an official agency of the United States Department of Commerce, reports on the various components of the economy both domestic and internationally. Due to the lack of business operations in the second quarter of 2020, caused by the impact of COVID-19, the gross domestic production in our country fell by more than 31.4% but rebounded sharply when businesses reopened and employees went back to work in the third quarter of 2020.

If the economy has been so volatile, why have the markets been so robust? The answer is not a simple one but allow me to offer a response. Based on a report in Barron’s published on January 2, 2021, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index (S&P 500) returned 18.4% for the calendar year 2020. This index is representative of the overall economic condition of the United States. Consider the fate of smaller, less capitalized companies primarily based in our country. The return of the Nasdaq Composite for 2020, based on the same Barron’s report, was 45%. Smaller companies have the ability to adapt to economic conditions but may not have the funding necessary to survive economic downturns.

One word of caution when considering any investment is to think long-term. In the past couple of weeks, I have received requests from individuals for the “hottest” stock or “one that is priced low and guaranteed to rise in value in a short time”. The answer I provided each of these individuals is to think long-term, diversify to lower risk and consider your current needs. One of the individuals commented that he “didn’t have much time until he wants to retire” and intimated that he would have to earn excellent returns over the next two years to meet his goals. I am not one to trample on others’ goals but I can assure you that one should not expect the markets to behave in a predictable manner for the short-term to payoff big investments.

The most probable method of reaching your goal for investing is to start early, invest consistently in good and bad markets and stay focused on the long-term. It will reward you to discount the suggestions of those that promise “no risk” and “excellent returns” when the real world of investing contains no such attributes. All investments have risk. One of the safest investments you can make is to place cash in a savings account. However, that investment has significant purchasing power risk. Your money’s ability to buy goods and services in the next ten years will be impaired due to the impact of inflation. Think about it in an economic sense, your money is earning less than 1% and inflation is greater than 2%. Not a good outcome for your future.

To provide yourself peace of mind, it is critical you stress test your portfolio by measuring performance during market cycles that are not at the peak. If I had a crystal ball, I could inform you of market movements and the world would be swimming in butterflies and unicorns. That is not reality. What is real is financial advice given you in a fiduciary manner that addresses your needs, goals and risks. Wouldn’t you sleep better if you knew you could weather a financial storm? Seek out a Certified Financial Planner™ professional for a complimentary consultation and analysis. Sleep well, my friends.

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The Millennial Perspective: The Spirit of Giving

The holidays can be stressful for anyone, and being a millennial already comes with its own stressful baggage like expensive student loan payments and lower-paying jobs. Holidays can be a little tricky with these constraints. Gift exchanges, a tradition for a lot of people, may be nearly impossible for some. However, this doesn’t mean that you have to invoke your inner “Scrooge” and fail to participate in the giving spirit of the holidays. Below are my top five tips to alleviate stress and enjoy the act of giving when money is tight.

  1. BE the present* – Sometimes just being with family and friends for the holidays is enough, especially if you live far away from home. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “you don’t have to get anything for us. Having you here is all we really wanted.” So, if it is fiscally, and physically, possible, try to make it home for the holidays and spend time with your loved ones and friends.
  2. Give the gift of time* – If giving makes you feel good, but your budget doesn’t allow you to buy gifts for everyone, try volunteering your time to give back in other ways. Work at your local soup kitchen and help serve those in need, volunteer to work with a toy drive or a food pantry to provide meals and toys for Christmas day.
  3. Get crafty – If you want to give your loved ones something special during the holidays, try making them something! Think back to your school age days when you would make cards and masterpieces for your family in class. You don’t have to make a macaroni noodle self-portrait, unless you want to, but there are plenty of easy crafts out there that even the most artistically challenged can handle. Pinterest is a great tool for finding fun and easy crafts that your loved ones are sure to cherish for years to come.
  4. Be kind – Some people may be less fortunate than others and you never know what your neighbors are experiencing. Because of this, it is important to be kind. A little bit of kindness can cost $0 and it can go a long way. Give someone a compliment, hold the door for a stranger, or ask someone how their day has been. Anything will do and sometimes the kind, little things can make someone’s whole day. You might be surprised by their appreciation!
  5. Get focused – If the year has not quite gone the way you had hoped, sit down and make a plan for next year. No one said you must shop for the holidays in November and December. Why not shop all year? This way you can give the gifts you want to those you love and you don’t have to drop a fortune all at once doing so. Make a budget and/or set a goal. If you set a budget and want to take advantage of the savings that “holiday shopping” can have, then make a savings goal and plan so you can be prepared when you hit the stores in the Fall.

No matter how you choose to give during the holiday season, there is no sense in adding stress to your life when it already has enough. To many people, the holidays are not about the gifts, but rather spending time with your loved ones. The holidays are meant to be enjoyed and those closest to you will appreciate you and understand your situation. Remember, kindness is the only gift that is worthless until it’s given away. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

*When making plans for the 2020 holiday season, please refer to the CDC guidelines pertaining to social distancing, PPE, and large gatherings with people outside of your immediate household.

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The Habit of Saving

One of the most difficult habits to instill is saving. In this time we are living, too many of us want to experience a lifestyle that our current income cannot maintain while saving for our future. Before we realize it, our future is the present and we are in a bind. Forced working past the age of retirement that you would have desired to initiate your travel plans and other activities will not make you happy.

While reflecting on my younger days, I remember a couple of lessons learned about saving for the future. My goals were not lofty as a child except for the area of sports equipment. With limited means, my siblings and I purchased our own sports equipment if we wanted something beyond my parents’ budgeted funds for sports. This is where my saving habit came into existence. One of the most important lessons you can learn early in life is the habit of saving. Every child should be taught this valuable habit before graduating grade school. 

During my childhood, I saved depending upon the item needed in life. For example, I needed a new baseball glove because George Brett of the Kansas City Royals said so and he was a Hall of Fame Player. (Well it wasn’t only that fact but I also liked the Wilson A2000 glove and how it looked on my left hand.). My parents took me to the sporting goods store and we looked at the gloves. There it was on the rack in front of me – the baseball equipment that would make me a Golden Glove Award winner! 

I was smiling ear-to-ear until the salesman told me the price of the glove, $125. Ouch! I had saved $35 and thought it would get me a glove used by the great third baseman, George Brett. Lesson #1: The investment required for worthwhile items may cost more than you originally thought.

So, I went to work saving the remaining funds needed to buy the glove. To insure that the glove would not be sold when I returned, the salesman placed the glove in layaway for me. For the next several weeks, I would bring a payment to the store to be applied to the glove. After six weeks, I was in the store and smiling with a Cheshire Cat grin. I could take my glove home today!

This is where I learned my Lesson #2: Things don’t make you a better ball player, practice does. My new glove was my pride and joy. My abilities to play 3rd base did not immediately improve and I will a little disappointed with myself. 

The moral of this story is that you may want to examine why you want something and allow time to pass before you buy on an impulse. Saving for your future should be a habit that we develop early in life. You will find that you are less stressed in life, prepared for inconvenient hardships that arise and are more prepared to take advantage of future opportunities. The great investor, Warren Buffett, began his savings habit while a little boy. This habit helped him become one of the wealthiest people in the world. I am not saying we will all be as rich as Warren Buffett but I am saying you may enjoy a pretty good lifestyle.

If you need help finding a strategy for saving that creates your bigger future, seek out a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER professional. This is one habit that will serve you well in life. See you on the golf course!

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Elections Have Consequences

No, I am not referring to the presidential election. I am concerned about your financial future! You have opportunities, during times of disruption in life, to make decisions that will forever impact your family’s security. I am referring to retirement plan, life insurance and Individual Retirement Account elections.

For example, many of our clients are participants in the Oklahoma Teachers Retirement System (OTRS). When counseling these outstanding educators and administrators about their future, we provide guidance on the appropriate decisions that must be addressed. One of those decisions is to receive a larger current monthly benefit payment or to consider your spouse’s needs should you predecease him or her. It is difficult to make decisions when all of the facts are not known. Our role is to model different scenarios that will help them consider the probabilities of certain acts occurring in the lives of the couple.

Once an election has been filed with the OTRS, you are barred from changing the election for spousal survivor benefits. What a tragedy if your family were subjected to a considerable decrease in financial security at a time when you need it most. This is an important decision that should not be made without consultation of an experienced retirement planning specialist.

Another election is the use of your lifetime assets for immediate cash flow needs. This year has been different for all of us. Congress and the president have given individuals, under the age of 59½, the option of taking funds from their IRA without incurring a premature distribution penalty of 10% of the amount received. Although this relief granted IRA owners is generous, your lifetime retirement assets should be the last resort for purposes of funding an immediate need. For example, you may incur federal and state income taxes on the distribution amount which may be taxed, at a minimum, for a total of 20%. There are many other options where interest rates are lower than this percentage.

One of the most damaging elections one can commit is failing to review beneficiary designations. Let me explain with a story. One of our clients had divorced his long-term spouse and remarried. When experiencing a life change such as marriage, divorce, birth of a child, change of a career, etc., it is important to be aware of the collateral impact of other factors in life. In this instance, our client was asked, on several occasions, to provide us copies of all of his beneficiary designations for his retirement plan, life insurance, bank accounts and other joint tenancy property so that we may confirm their current status.

Citing his understanding of estate law and, now much bravado over his finances, he failed to bring us the beneficiary statements for review. Unfortunately, he suffered a terminal heart attack after a year of marriage to his second wife. While administering his estate, his son, the successor trustee of the decedent’s trust, discovered a shocking document! His father had not changed the beneficiary designation on a substantial life insurance policy. The sadness and desperation in the voice of this man was evident. I recommended he consult with the trust’s attorney but informed him, under federal and Oklahoma law, the beneficiary designation will stand counter to any verbal wishes or intentions of his father.

There is a happy ending to the story. Well, happy for the decedent’s first wife. The assets he attempted to shield from her during the divorce awarded her upon his death. Our newest client was a lady that we had known for many years that just inherited $2,000,000 tax free! Just like a fable in a children’s novel, there are always happy endings. The question is, will you be the one that is happy? See a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional to help you create a happy ending to your future security story.

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What is Risk?

So many people that I meet seek a panacea for their retirement assets. It is one of those facts of life that if anything yields a return, it also inherently contains risk. Let’s explore what risks are applicable in our everyday lives.

Market risk is most common among individuals that meet with us. People will look for a “happy median” and mitigate as much risk as possible while retaining enough risk to allow their investments to earn a targeted rate of annual return. How do you mitigate risk in the market? You have heard this word many times in this column but it is worthy to mention it again – diversification.

The distorted belief of market risk is that it is the overall risk of the market. However, we should look at the various types of risk contained in this general category of risk. For example, market risk can be further defined as currency risk, equity risk or interest rate risk depending on the type of investment you are considering. Should you wish to invest in a security that is issued from a foreign company, you may be subject to potential risks in the difference between the U.S. Dollar and the currency of the domicile country of the target investment. Again, there are measures to mitigate this risk. When we use the term “mitigate” you must understand that it does not mean the risk is eliminated, merely lessened or mollified.

Interest rate risk should be heeded when purchasing debt or bond instruments. Remember, the interest rate of a bond has a direct impact on the value of the holding. For example, bond market prices drop when interest rates rise and vice-versa. The longer the bond term to maturity will also be a consideration when looking at risk exposure.

Equity risk is the presence of risk when you invest in stocks or equity instrument shares and the value of the shares may decrease. This is the most prevalent of risks to investors. Every session the markets are open, and trading is occurring, is a day that equity risk is present. 

Concentration risk may be a new term for many people. This type of risk is explained within its name – concentration. Executives of publicly-traded companies are given shares of the company stock for incentives of compensation. Presumably the executives’ efforts to create profit, increase market share, etc. will cause the stock share price to increase which, in turn, will give the executives greater earnings from the ultimate sale of the stock. Risk is inherent in this type of compensation when the executive is ready to retire and their portfolio consists of the employer’s stock for more than half of the total value of their account. Tax ramifications and other considerations should be analyzed to determine the least costly method of diversifying the portfolio to reduce concentration risk.

Liquidity risk is a significant issue when holding shares or bonds that you can’t sell for a profit when you wish to sell. You may be required to sell your positions for a loss to meet a cash flow need of your family. 

One of my favorite quotes by Will Rogers, which seems very appropriate in an article on investment risks, is “I’m not so much interested in the return ON my money as I am the return OF my money.” Oklahoma’s Favorite Son was always reliable for a good turn of the word.

The types of risk listed above do not fully explain all risks an individual may encounter. However, with the acceptance of a certain level of risk, mitigating the presence of risk by utilizing diversification and other measures, you may feel more comfortable and confident about your future. One method of determining the current level of risk in your portfolio is to request a complimentary analysis or “stress test” from a Certified Financial Planner™ professional. I recommend that you consider a balance between risk and return not simply the elimination of all risk. By eliminating all risk, you may not achieve your goal of exceeding inflation with your investments. See you on the golf course!

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