Shouldering the Burden of Financial Responsibility

“Atlas through hard constraint upholds the wide heaven with unwearying head and arms.” –Hesiod

My Wednesday morning started with five 400-meter runs, uphill, carrying a 35# sandbag. OK, maybe “run” is a bit of an exaggeration – it was more of a trudge, and there might have been some walking in there toward the top. I hated every second of it, but I kept going because, well, that’s just what you do. When I thought about it later, it struck me as an apt metaphor for the way life feels sometimes – an endless uphill struggle with the weight of responsibility resting heavily on your shoulders. This is particularly true for anyone who is the primary provider for their family. As my colleague Carrie pointed out in her recent blog post, more and more women (including me) are finding themselves in this position, whether by choice or necessity. Most of the time I am able to face each day as it comes and maintain an upbeat outlook on life, but sometimes the enormity of this responsibility is paralyzing and my mind races with worries – what if something happens to me? Have I prepared for the worst possible outcome? What more can I do to ensure that the people who depend on me to keep going will be OK if I can’t?

Since everyone loves a list, let’s break this down into 5 areas that you definitely want to address if you are the primary provider for your family:

  1. Life Insurance – This one is pretty obvious, and I hope most people have some amount of life insurance in order to provide for their dependents should the worst come to pass. But do you have enough? Many companies provide life insurance as an employee benefit, but the standard amount will probably not be enough to replace your salary for an extended time. As a starting point, consider your current salary and how old your children are, so you can estimate how much financial support they will need and for how long. Beyond that, you may want to provide your spouse with your lost income until retirement age. Take these factors into consideration when determining the length of the term and amount of coverage you need.
  2. Long Term Disability Insurance – This one is a little less common, but no less important than life insurance. Think of it this way – if you become disabled and cannot perform the job that supports your family, how will you replace your income? What if your disability adds to the household expenses in the form of ongoing medical care? Now you’ve not only lost your earning power, but you’ve also become a liability to the family you once supported. Don’t let that happen.
  3. Estate Planning/Will – Many times younger people who are still in the asset accumulation phase tend to put off drafting a will, despite its importance. It is especially imperative if you have young children, since it allows you to determine who will become their guardian if both you and your spouse are gone. Make sure your beneficiary designations are up-to-date for any IRAs, 401(k) plans, pension plans or life insurance policies. For more complex estate planning strategies you might want a trust – your financial advisor can help you figure out what you need to do to make sure your estate plan is sufficient.
  4. Retirement Savings – If the worst doesn’t happen and you live to a ripe, old age, you need to be sure that you are saving money to provide for your golden years. As the primary earner, the bulk of this responsibility falls to you to contribute to your company’s 401(k) or another retirement plan, but it is equally important to include your spouse in your retirement projections and contribute to a plan for him or her if you can. Again, your advisor can help you figure out how much you need to be putting aside and how to navigate the ever-complicated IRS rules and requirements for retirement savings.
  5. Education Savings – Though not as imperative as the first four points, saving for your children’s education expenses will relieve them of significant financial pressure when they are in school and will help them avoid taking on massive amounts of student loan debt. You can rest easier knowing that if you predecease your spouse and children, you won’t be leaving them with an insurmountable tuition bill. As with retirement plans, there are several investment vehicles available to you for education savings. Work with your advisor to determine the best plan for you and your family.

Shouldering the burden of financial responsibility can make you feel like Atlas, but it needn’t crush you. With a little planning and preparation, you can weather the uphills, savor the downhills, put down the sandbag every once in a while and live fully in the present.

Sarah DerGarabedian, CFA Financial Advisor

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Living Healthier – Better for your Wallet, Not Just your Waistline.

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A couple of years ago I made a significant lifestyle change. After gaining post-college weight, I realized that the carefree metabolism of a 20-year old went out the window at 21. I made the decision to stop eating unhealthy food and develop a workout regimen that I could stick to. At first I worried that I couldn’t afford to live “healthy.” I believe that this is a normal and reasonable reaction. $120 for a gym membership? WHAT! $10 for organic breakfast? HUH? Thankfully, what I realized was that I was incorrect to think that “healthy lifestyles” and “expensive lifestyles” were synonymous. I actually saved money! Here are just a few ways that you can get healthy, save a dollar or two, slim down and be happier.

  1. Get rid of your expensive bad habits:
  • Do you pay $10 a day for a double pump, venti, skinny, salted caramel mocha frappuccino? Stop it! First, whoever told you that this was “skinny” was lying to you. Second, these things add up. What bad habits do you have? Is it the lunch time soda? The mid-afternoon candy bar from the vending machine? The two packs of cigarettes a day? Once you write down your vices, tabulate them to see how much those bad habits cost over a week, a month, a year, a lifetime.
  • Example: A pack of cigarettes in North Carolina costs $4.45. You could spend more than $49,662 on smoking a pack a day for 30 years. According to the American Cancer Society, each pack of cigarettes on average will cost you $35.00 in health care costs. That’s $383,250 in health care costs due to smoking for 30 years. Is it worth it?
Vice Per day Per 30 Years 30 Yr Health Cost Total 30 Yr Cost
Cigarettes $4.45 $49,662 $383,250 $432,912

 

  1. Reduce your medical bill:
  • It’s impossible to ignore the fact that eating healthy and exercising can reduce visits to the doctor. There are a plethora of studies out there that prove a healthier diet can reduce your risk of heart disease, lower your cholesterol, reduce stress on joints from excess weight, etc. To give you a personal example, I have always had trouble with stress management. I’m a worrier (#shegetsitfromhermama). Since I was a child I have racked up numerous medical bills related to anxiety, including medications, sleep studies and doctor visits. Had I known much earlier that by slapping on a pair of running shoes and going for a jog, I could eliminate a lot of my stress, I would have saved myself and my parents a lot of money. Running is a much more affordable way to blow off steam than medication. With my routine, I was able to ditch the expensive medications and doctors’ visits.
  1. Waste not:
  • I’m marrying a Dutchman soon… literally. One thing I learned from him and his Dutch family is to waste nothing and use everything. When I first started dating Chris I couldn’t understand how he would eat 2-3 times more food than I did and spend 2-3 times less money than I did. The answer simply was he didn’t waste anything. Now, this was a bit harder for me to do. Chris could sit down and eat hummus with a spoon, but if I didn’t have crackers to eat the hummus I’d let it sit there, go bad, and then I’d throw it out. So how did I fix this little problem and save hundreds of dollars doing it? Planning! How did I shed some pounds? Planning! Sit down at the beginning of the week and plan out all your meals. When you plan ahead of time you’re more likely to make healthier choices. You also are less likely to go out and eat when you have already planned, purchased and prepped your healthy food choices. Once you realize the savings potential you start using the “waste not” mentality in other facets of your life.
  • Tip: when planning your meals ahead of time, leave yourself a day to go out and splurge. Without the occasional “cheat” you may go crazy and give up.
  1. Cut on transportation cost:
  • Now this isn’t possible for everyone, but for a lot of people you can quickly save some money, cut cost and your waistline by switching up your transportation methods. Bike and walk to work. Is there a train nearby? Then walk to the train rather than driving to your office. If you are eating out for lunch, pick a restaurant that you don’t have to drive to. A lot of people say that the time spent walking is a great way to meditate, and reflect on their day. This can offer a peace of mind that can’t be achieved with the stresses of the road.
  1. Create healthy family outings:
  • Skip the $30 movie, popcorn, and 2 hours of inactivity and do something active with your family. Spend $15 on a soccer ball and go to the park on Sunday afternoon. Take the dog on a hike or a walk. This brings up another point… working out and being active is always more rewarding and sustainable when you have a support group or community of people that you workout with. If healthy outings cannot be accomplished with busy family members, then join a running club, a biking group or a community gym.

I could write an entire blog series on ways to be healthier and save money… but the key is to start small! Pick an area that needs improvement in your life and manage it. Use the momentum of a small change to snowball into an entire lifestyle change. Fatten up that wallet by trimming up the love handles!

Ashley Woodring, CFP®

Financial Advisor

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Social Security: The Spousal Benefit

If you are nearing the age of Social Security benefits, you are probably thinking about how you can maximize your benefit. If you are married, it becomes more complicated because one person’s benefit may affect his or her spouse’s benefit. File and suspend is an optional method that may help you maximize your spousal benefit.

File and suspend is a benefit allowed to those who qualify for Social Security who are full retirement age (FRA). FRA is a technical term determined by the year you were born. For example, if you were born between 1943 and 1954, your FRA is age 66.

Taking Social Security Based on Your Spouse’s Record

If you are married you have the option to take your Social Security benefit, or half of your spouse’s benefit, whichever is higher (there are some technicalities here that we won’t get into for the sake of brevity). If your Social Security benefit is less than what your spousal benefit would be, it would be more advantageous to apply for a spousal benefit. In order to take your spousal benefit, your spouse has to have filed for Social Security. If your spouse is not ready to take Social Security, the file and suspend strategy is the only way to accomplish this. Only one member of a couple can file and suspend so that the spouse can collect spousal benefits.

Why Your Spouse May Not Want to Take Social Security Right Away

If a person chooses not to take Social Security once he or she reaches FRA, those benefits will continue to increase by 8% per year until age 70 (for those born after 1943). This is called delaying retirement credits. Many people choose to delay retirement credits so they will have a larger Social Security payment later, or because they are still working and don’t have a need for the current cash flow.

Your Spouse Must File and Suspend in Order for You to Take a Spousal Benefit

The file and suspend benefit allows your spouse to delay his or her retirement credits, so that his/her Social Security benefit can continue to grow, but at the same time allows you to collect a spousal benefit on your spouse’s record. You cannot take a spousal benefit until your spouse has filed for Social Security (or filed and suspended).

Alternative Options

There are several ways to maximize your spousal benefit. If your spouse is not FRA but you would like to begin receiving benefits, you can take Social Security on your own record. Later when your spouse files for Social Security at his/her FRA, you can switch to take a spousal benefit if it is higher.

Another option is to delay your own credits while you take a spousal benefit. If you have reached FRA, you may take a spousal benefit while you allow your own retirement credits to be delayed so that they continue to grow. At age 70 you may then switch to take benefits based on your own record if they are higher.

A note regarding Medicare: Medicare is not subject to these various timing schemes. Medicare benefits begin at age 65, regardless of your FRA. You should apply three months before reaching age 65.

Consult a Professional

We recommend that you discuss your personal situation with your financial advisor to determine the best option for you. Also, the Social Security Administration is available to help you determine how you may maximize your family’s benefit. There are many details to consider when planning for Social Security benefits and they are certainly not all presented here – so be sure to consult a professional when making decisions.

Harli L. Palme, CFA, CFP®

Partner

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Why Not Use Margin?

Recent data indicate that margin debt has increased significantly over the past 12 years, although it is currently below the peak levels seen in 2000 and early 2014.

Margin is a feature that you can add to a taxable (non-IRA) brokerage account that enables you to borrow money against the value of your investments in the account. Initial margin, or the amount that you can borrow, is generally 50% of the value of the account. On a $100,000 account, you could borrow up to $50,000. The money can be used to buy more investments, or it can be taken out of the account and used for some other purpose.

Say you have an account that contains $100,000 in stocks. You write a check for $50,000 to purchase a new car. You still have stocks worth $100,000 in the account, but you owe the brokerage firm $50,000. Your net equity in the account is $50,000 (the $100,000 market value of your investments minus the $50,000 you owe).

Maintenance margin is the level of net equity which must be maintained in the account. If the equity in the account falls below this level, usually 30% of the account value, then a deposit must be made to the account or investments will be sold to reduce the margin loan balance.

Say the stock market experiences a correction and falls 15%. Your $100,000 in stocks are now worth $85,000. However, you still owe $50,000 to the broker. Your equity in the account is $35,000, or 41%. If the stock market continues to decline and your equity falls below 30%, some or all of your investments will be liquidated by the broker to reduce your margin loan. This is not good timing because you are being forced to sell stocks when they are down.

There are several other disadvantages to borrowing on margin that investors should be aware of. Interest rates are high; particularly when you consider that the lender is fully secured. Currently, the interest rates at major custodians are in the 5.5%-8% range, depending on the amount borrowed. Also, the interest rates are floating, so there is no protection against rising rates. Tax deductibility of margin interest is complex and more restrictive than other interest deductions such as on your home mortgage.

Using margin always increases your portfolio risk, particularly if you use the proceeds to buy more stock. Let’s go back to the previous example of the $100,000 account, but this time you take a $50,000 margin loan and use it to increase your stock holdings. You now have $150,000 in stock and owe the broker $50,000. Your net equity is $100,000. Say the stock market falls 20%; your stocks are now worth $120,000. You still owe $50,000 to the broker, and you’ve lost 20% of 150,000 instead of 20% of 100,000. In other words you have a $30,000 loss instead of a $20,000 loss. You’ve lost 30% of your initial $100,000 on a 20% market decline. Your loss was 1.5 times that of the overall market, plus you paid interest on the margin loan. Not a good outcome.

There are some situations where margin can be appropriate, say for short- term needs where the amount borrowed is a small percentage of the account value. We generally advise against using margin on a longer term basis.

Bill Hansen, CFA

Managing Partner

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2014 IRA Contribution Rules

The deadline to make IRA contributions for tax year 2014 is April, 15 2015.  The maximum contribution is $5,500 of earned income or $6,500 for those 50 and over.   These amounts will stay the same in 2015.

There are income limits which determine whether you can deduct your Traditional IRA contribution or if you qualify to make a Roth contribution.  The following table gives the phase-out range for the most common circumstances.

Do you qualify to deduct your   Traditional IRA contribution?

If   your income is less than the beginning of the phase-out range, you qualify.  If your income is over the phase-out range, you do not.  If your income falls inside the range, you partially qualify.

Modified   Adjusted Gross   Income  Phase-Out   Range
Single,   participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan: $61,000-$71,000
Married (filing jointly), participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan: $98,000-$118,000
Married (filing jointly), your spouse participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but you do not: $183,000-$193,000

Do you qualify to contribute   to a Roth IRA?

Single: $116,000-$131,000
Married, filing jointly: $183,000-$193,000

If your filing status differs from those listed above, please contact your advisor and he or she can help you determine whether you qualify.

Harli Palme, CFA, CFP®
Partner

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Top 10 rules to a frugal life:

Those that know me well can vouch for the fact that I am a frugal person.  I feel that there is much that is virtuous about living a frugal life.  Learning about delayed gratification and the important limits to set upon our role in a consumption based economy is a great path to happiness and peace.  The famous economist and philosopher John Stuart Mill once said, “I have learned to seek my happiness by limiting my desires, rather than attempting to satisfy them.”  This simple phrase rings true to me.  This is especially evident as you stand witness to the constant bombardment of consumerism in our media and markets.  Take stock of what you have and the blessings of life and you might not fall prey to the treadmill of consumption that will always be tempting you.

Top 10 rules to a frugal life:

  1. Budget – know where your money goes.
  2. Be guarded against lifestyle inflation; try to keep income growing faster than expense growth.
  3. Don’t be wasteful. Consider gently used items when buying cars, and other depreciating assets.
  4. Find discounts whenever possible.
  5. Trips and vacations are about experiences, not necessarily lavish accommodations.
  6. Frugal people rarely eat out, preferring to prepare their own food.  I find it better and healthier, not to mention less costly.
  7. While there are many worthwhile private schools, there is a great value to be found in many of our public schools as well. Consider whether public schools, for both young children and college, may be right for your family.
  8. Frugal people care less about fads and trends; keeping up does not matter to them.
  9. Know the value of a dollar, if there is a lower interest rate find it.
  10. Don’t be cheap, stay generous.  It is ok to part with money to help others.

Richard Manske, CFP®                                                                                                                                      Managing Partner

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What is an Index (and why should you care)?

Recently I was on vacation with a friend, and while enjoying the sunshine she received a CNN alert…

Breaking News: Dow Jones Industrial Average soars to an all time high.

She then asked me what the Dow Jones was exactly … “Should I know what this means?” My response was, “it’s a stock market index, of course.” Seeing the perplexed look on her face, I realized that she had no idea what I was talking about. After having this conversation, I wanted to share with you what I shared with my friend.

  1. What is a market index? – A stock market index is simply a measurement of the value of the market or a section of the market. Let’s break it down into a simple example. Assume ABC index is made up of 6 companies. At the end of trading on Monday the index is at 5,000 points. On Tuesday, three of the companies go up in value, two of the companies go down and the sixth company stays the same. The total value of the stocks change by 3% on Tuesday, so now the index is at 5,150 points. This tells you that this section of the market went up in value from Monday to Tuesday.
  2. Why are market indexes important? Choosing appropriate investments is only the beginning. One of the biggest challenges of an investor is to determine how well your portfolio is performing. Are you lagging behind the market or beating it? You can only know the answer to these questions if you have something to compare your investments to. Indexes allow you to measure the performances of your investments against an appropriate benchmark.
  3. How do you choose the right benchmark? In general, when you are tracking the performance of an investment, you look at a benchmark that is most similar to your investment. For example: If your portfolio is all U.S. large cap stocks you would likely use the S&P 500 as your benchmark. If your portfolio is all fixed income then you would most likely benchmark against the Barclays Aggregate Bond index. If your portfolio is a combination of both large-cap stock and fixed income you would want to use a blended benchmark of the two indexes.
  4. All of this is for naught if you don’t know what indexes track which stocks. Here are some of the most common market indexes and the companies they are comprised of.
  • Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) – This is one of the most popular measures of the market. A.K.A. “The Dow” or “Dow 30” is a price-weighted measure of 30 US blue-chip companies. The index covers all industries with the exception of transportation and utilities, which are covered by other Dow Jones indexes.
  • S&P 500 Index – This index is based on 500 U.S. large cap companies that have common stock listed on the NYSE or NASDAQ. These companies are representative of the industries in the U.S. economy.
  • Russell 2000 – This index tracks 2,000 small-company stocks. It serves as benchmark for the small-cap component of the overall market.
  • Dow Jones Wilshire 5000 – This index covers over 5,000 US companies listed on major stock exchanges. This includes US companies of all sizes across all industries.
  • Barclays Capital Aggregate Bond Index – This is a broad-based benchmark that measures the investment grade, US dollar-denominated fixed-rate taxable bond market.
  • MSCI EAFE Index – This index is designed to measure the equity market performance of developed markets outside of the U.S. and Canada. EAFE is an acronym that stands for Europe, Australasia and Far East. (Check out Sarah DerGarabedian’s blog post from last week to read why it’s important to have an international allocation – http://wp.me/plOKq-oE)  
  1. It’s important to remember when comparing your investment returns to compare your results to the long-term market, not just the past year. Typically analysts look at 3, 5 and 10 year returns. Short-term results can often be misleading due to short-term volatility. A quick Google search should provide you with the long-term returns of any of the major indexes.

After explaining all of this information to my friend, I think she had a better grasp on market indexes and hopefully this information is helpful to you too. One realization that came from our conversation is that sometimes financial advisors (nerds) forget that things that seem so common to us aren’t as familiar to those not in the industry. We never want a client to leave a meeting or conversation feeling confused or uncertain. If you have questions, please ask! We may just write a blog post about it.

Ashley Woodring, CFP®

Financial Advisor

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Kit Kats, Blow Pops, and the Benefits of Diversification

“But international stocks are underperforming the S&P 500! Why are you buying international mutual funds in my account?”

We hear this question a lot. People often wonder why we include various sectors and asset classes in our portfolios, but the one that tends to get the most scrutiny is international equity. Many investors exhibit what is known as “home bias,” or the tendency to invest primarily in domestic securities, whether it stems from a nationalistic desire to “buy local” or simply the belief that international investing carries additional costs and complexities. Often, investors eschew international diversification to their detriment, as many studies have shown that the inclusion of international equities lowers portfolio volatility while increasing risk-adjusted return. However, these metrics are not what investors see – they see performance. They see that the return on their international fund is lower than the return on the S&P 500 and fear that it will be a drag on their returns forever. So why don’t we sell it?

Quite simply, we keep it for the diversification benefits. With Halloween just around the corner, perhaps an analogy will help. When you’re trick-or-treating, you knock on the door of every lighted house and collect as much candy as you can carry home. Then you dump it out on the floor and sort through it to revel in the spoils. Hopefully you’ll come home with lots of chocolate candy bars, M&Ms, Milk Duds, Junior Mints, and Reese’s cups. Then there might be a smattering of Smarties, Starburst, and Skittles, which are fine. Invariably there will be a few of those orange and black-wrapped peanut butter taffies, some chalky Dubble Bubble and a handful of Dum Dums – but that’s OK. A few crummy candies won’t ruin the night, since you have so much more of the good stuff. And you never know which houses are going to hand out what candy, so you have to hit them all. (And to the person handing out raisins, just stop. Don’t be that guy.)

Now imagine that your portfolio is a bag of Halloween candy. Even if you love Snickers, it would be pretty disappointing if your entire haul was nothing but Snickers – that would defeat the purpose of trick-or-treating, because you could simply go to the store and buy a bag. No, you want a wide variety from which to choose, based on changing moods and cravings! In a similar way, you need to diversify your investments so that the mood of the day doesn’t destroy your savings in one fell swoop. If your entire portfolio consists of the stock of one bank and the bank goes under, you lose all of your money. If you buy the stock of 5 different banks, but the entire banking industry hits a rough patch, your portfolio plummets…so you buy the stock of 40 different companies in different sectors and industries to spread the risk. But what if they’re all domestic companies and the domestic economy tanks? I think you see where this is going. Different investments zig and zag, moving in opposite directions simultaneously, which dampens the overall volatility of the portfolio.

You may not be a huge fan of Blow-Pops, but what happens if you fill your bag with Kit Kats and you’re suddenly in the mood for Sour Apple? What if you leave your bag in the sun and all the Kit Kats melt? It’s true that if particular sector (such as international equity) underperforms and you have it in your portfolio, you might get a lower return on your portfolio for that period. But when that sector rallies, you’ll be happy you had a couple of Blow-Pops in your bag.

Sarah DerGarabedian, CFA

Portfolio Manager

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Why not Short the Market?

A “short sale” refers to selling stock that you do not own with the hope of repurchasing it at a lower price later. It is a way for an investor to try and profit from their view that a particular investment is overvalued and likely to fall in price. This technique can be used on individual stocks, or on Exchange Traded Funds (“ETFs”) that represent anything from individual sectors to the overall market. While there are many successful investors who have done well on the short side, for most people this strategy doesn’t make a lot of sense due to the risks involved.

The mechanics of a short sale are as follows: An investor goes to their broker, borrows shares of a stock and sells them. The short sale proceeds are credited to the short seller’s account, less a fee for borrowing the stock. You must have a margin account in order to short stock. If the price of the shorted stock rises, the short seller will need eventually to borrow on margin to keep the position open.

The short seller receives interest on the short sale proceeds, although this is minimal currently since interest rates are low. In practice, this interest is often split with the buyer of the shares or the brokerage firm that is facilitating the short sale. The short seller must pay any dividends on the borrowed stock to the purchaser of the shares.

Risks of Short Selling:

Swimming Against the Tide –Since 1926, about 7 out of 10 years have been positive for the overall market. If you are short the overall market, chances are you will be in a losing position after a year.

Timing is Critical—Stocks can move quickly in either direction, and it is difficult to predict the future. If the event that you are betting on fails to materialize, or if the opposite happens, your losses can mount quickly. For this reason, short selling is more common among professional and institutional investors.

It can be Expensive to Maintain a Short Position— With today’s low interest rates, the combination of the borrowing cost and the dividends the short must pay to the long far outweighs the interest on the short sale proceeds that the seller is earning. For example, say you short 100 shares on Johnson and Johnson at $108 because you think Band-Aid sales are going to decline sharply. You receive proceeds of $10,800 and earn money market interest at 0.01%, or $10.80 per year. Your annual cost to carry the position is the 2.8% dividend, or $302.40 plus any borrowing costs charged by your broker. These additional costs can be quite high for stocks that are hard to borrow.

Limited Profits but Potentially Unlimited Losses–At most, any stock can go down 100% in value. However, there is no limit to how far a stock or the overall market can go up. If it goes up by enough to wipe out the equity in your margin account, the brokerage firm will buy-in the security at a loss and close the trade. Say you short a stock at $8/share. The most you can make is $8 if the company goes out of business and you are able to buy back the borrowed shares at $0. But what if good news comes out and the stock goes from $8 to $18? You just lost $10/share when your maximum theoretical profit was $8. In reality, few companies go out of business so your maximum profit is even more limited.

We believe that, rather than trying to profit on short-term price movements, our clients should place the equity portion of their investments in a diversified portfolio of quality companies with the potential for rising earnings and rising dividend income.

Bill Hansen, CFA

Managing Partner

Bill

 

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A Real World Retirement Story

My father was ready for retirement. We had several discussions about picking the right time. Choosing when to retire is always a big decision. Conventional wisdom suggests the longer you wait, the better. You have more time to save and eliminate debt. Your Social Security benefit could be higher. On the other hand, how many people do you know who died before they could retire? There is something to be said for “getting out of the game” and enjoying your life.

We discussed a myriad of items. In the interest of brevity, let’s talk about two of them: finding the right insurance coverage and managing your time.

Health care is a big ticket item. No matter how well we take care of ourselves, our bodies will need more attention as we get older. Finding the right coverage is vital. Individuals over age 65 have Medicare Part A. Most people obtain supplemental insurance coverage since Part A does not pay for everything. Some plans are very expensive. Some plans provide minimal coverage at a reduced cost. Penalties can be incurred if one does not sign up for Medicare when required. And, if someone retires before age 65, coverage must be found to bridge the gap between the retirement date and Medicare eligibility.

I was overwhelmed. I arranged for my parents to meet with an insurance agent who specializes in Medicare plans.

Thanks to the draft, my dad spent a few years in the Army. His service gave him a permanent distaste for peeling potatoes. More importantly, it provided him with access to health care benefits. His previous employer’s insurance plan was awful, so he used the VA coverage as a supplement for years. He said the prescription drug discounts are good.

The agent found appropriate policies for both of my parents. My father’s supplemental policy needs were reduced by the VA coverage, whereas my mother needed increased coverage. It helped to have someone with Medicare knowledge guide them through the process. I highly recommend seeking help instead of trying to research it on your own.

She could not help us with the other problem: occupying my dad’s time. He is not a “lounge around the house” kind of guy. He must stay busy. He made a plan for the first year of retirement. He wanted to remodel the kitchen – build cabinets, replace the countertop himself, install new flooring, et cetera. He planned to tackle some home improvement projects at my house (yeah!). He wanted to get a dog which would give him a buddy and an excuse to get outdoors. Then, in about a year, he hoped to get a part-time job at a nearby home improvement store. He would be perfect for the job, and the store employs a lot of older workers.

He knew he could not be happy unless he was busy doing something. When considering retirement, it is very important to think about how one will occupy time previously spent working. We all have fantasies about what we would do. When faced with the reality of filling those hours, though, it can be a daunting task.

In the end, my father did retire. I saw an immediate “lightness.” He smiles and laughs easily. Plagued with ulcers and wicked reflux most of his life, his gastro issues have greatly improved. Retirement definitely agrees with him.

Someday, you may have the same conversations with your parents. My advice is to get help from people who know more than you – financial advisors, insurance experts, estate planning attorneys – whenever you encounter unfamiliar issues.

The same advice applies if you are considering retirement. There is more to the issue than whether or not you will have enough money. My parents and I spent almost a year talking about it. Just as you took time to find the right career or the right house, care should be taken with retirement planning too.

Of course, Parsec is here to guide you. Retirement matters are too complex to tackle alone.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS®
Senior Operations Associate

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