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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Interest Rates and How They Impact You

This is the fifth post in a series of six blog entries focused on topics that might be of interest to the Millennial generation.

Today I’m going to touch on the exciting topic of interest rates. Okay, let’s be honest, most of us consider the subject boring and highly technical at best, and pure financial torture at worst. But hear me out. I’d like to explain why interest rates are in fact pretty fascinating, surprisingly straightforward, and worth learning about. The truth is that interest rates can have a massive impact on your current and future financial situation.

So what are interest rates? And how do they affect your financial well-being? If you think about it, everything in our modern society has a cost. You pay for a good meal at a nice restaurant, there’s a charge for staying at a hotel, and an education certainly isn’t free. The same holds true for money. It has a cost and that cost is interest rates. In order to get your hands on some money, say for a car loan, a mortgage, even groceries, you pay for that money in the form of an interest rate. When you have a good credit history, i.e. you consistently pay back other people’s money in a timely manner, you’re considered a good credit risk and it becomes cheaper for you to borrow money in the future. In other words, the interest rate you’ll get charged on loans will be lower than the average person. This is a good thing for your financial well-being. On the flip side, if you are even occasionally late on a credit card, car loan, or any other debt payment, you become a less desirable credit risk and the rate at which you’re charged to borrow money in the future goes up. In other words, the interest rate on the next loan you take out will be higher and you’ll pay out more money over the course of the loan, all else being equal.

You may have heard about the compounding power of interest and how it can help you significantly grow your wealth. This is a very true financial tenant when it comes to investing your money. However, this same principle also works against you when you step into the role of a borrower. As an example, consider that the median price of a home in 2013 was about $200,000. Now assume you take out a 30-year fixed mortgage to purchase a home. You’ve worked hard and have 10% in cash to put down. This leaves you with a $180,000 mortgage. Going interest rates for borrowers with good credit are around 4.25%. Even though these are still historically low rates, at 4.25% you can expect to pay approximately $138,960 in interest alone over the life of the loan! That’s in addition to the $200,000 cost of the house. Now let’s pretend that your credit is a little below average, making you a slightly higher-risk in the eyes of a bank. You’re still able to secure a loan, but the bank wants to charge you a 5.00% interest rate in order to compensate for the risk they take on by lending to you. At a 5.00% rate, you can expect to pay $167,760 in interest over the course of the loan, or almost $30,000 more than you would pay with a better credit score. That is some serious money.

On top of the impact interest rates have on our personal investments and debt payments they also affect our spending and saving behavior. Imagine that your bank was offering a savings account with a 10% interest rate. All else being equal, would you be more or less inclined to save? That’s right. Most people would choose to direct more of their personal income towards savings when interest rates are higher. If millions of people were forgoing spending in favor of savings, this would have a significant effect on the overall economy. Interest rates matter. What about high interest rates when you’re the borrower? As we saw above, even a small increase in an interest rate can lead to much larger debt payments. Generally speaking then, higher interest rates tend to depress credit growth and in the end can muddle economic activity as consumers take out fewer loans.

As you can see, interest rates can have a very direct and often significant effect on our personal financial situation, not to mention our saving and spending patterns, and the broader economy. Although we’ve only skimmed the surface, suffice it to say that interest rates are worth understanding, if for no other reason than to help you make smarter decisions with your money.

Carrie Tallman, CFA
Director of Research

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Roth vs. Traditional IRA – Do You Know the Difference?

This is the third post in a series of six blog entries focused on topics that might be of interest to the Millennial generation. If you would like to see our attempt at making these subject matters entertaining, visit our YouTube page to see a video version of this article.

 

“Roth IRA” and “traditional IRA” – these are terms that are bandied about willy-nilly by financial advisors and others in the business. You’ve often wondered what the difference is but haven’t asked, because you feel like you should know already. You nod along, meaning to Google it when you get home but of course you forget as soon as you step through the door and directly into a pile of something your loving pet left for you to clean up. Allow me to help! With the IRA definitions, I mean – not the mess. That’s all you.

First, the similarities – both are types of retirement accounts that allow the investments within them to grow without requiring you to pay taxes on any realized gains. So if you buy a stock for $500 and sell it for $1000, you don’t have to pay capital gains taxes on the $500 you made. Awesome, right? Another bonus – you don’t have to pay taxes on any dividend or interest income that you earn within either type of IRA. In a regular brokerage account you would have to pay taxes on realized gains, dividends, and interest income, which would cut into your portfolio return.

So what are the differences? Both traditional and Roth IRAs feature tax advantages on either contributions or withdrawals, but not both. A traditional IRA allows you to make tax-deductible contributions (so the funds you put in there are not being taxed as income). However, when you withdraw the money after age 59 ½, it will be taxed as ordinary income at your marginal tax rate.

Conversely, contributions to a Roth IRA are not tax-deductible (so this is income that has already been taxed). But when you withdraw the money (assuming you’ve had the account for at least 5 years and are older than 59 ½) it’s all tax-free! That’s why traditional IRAs are called “tax-deferred” accounts and Roth IRAs are called “tax-exempt” accounts.

Now, as with anything the IRS gets its hands on, there are all kinds of rules, guidelines, exceptions and so forth when it comes to how much a person can contribute to either type of account, how much is tax-deductible, what types of early withdrawals are allowed without a penalty, etc. Rest assured that all of this information is available on the internet, so I will spare you the details. Better yet, call your financial advisor and ask him or her how the rules affect your unique situation. There are so many different scenarios that, if I were to attempt to address them all, it would completely defeat the purpose of this blog, which is to simply explain the main difference between a Roth and a traditional IRA.

Because your situation is unique, you should talk to your financial advisor about the different account types and which ones are best for you. But now, when you hear phrases like “tax-deferred” or “tax-exempt,” “Roth” and “traditional IRA,” you can nod along knowledgeably.

Sarah DerGarabedian, CFA Portfolio Manager

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Student Loans vs. Saving

This is the second post in a series of six blog entries focused on topics that might be of interest to the Millennial generation. If you would like to see our attempt at making these subject matters entertaining, visit our YouTube page to see a video version of this article.

 

You’ve recently graduated from college and you have a load of student debt. It can be overwhelming. You think it will take forever to pay it off. To make matters worse, you know you are supposed to be saving for retirement but you feel like you can’t because you need to pay off your student loans first.

To make the best financial decision it is important to remove the psychological barriers that often accompany the ‘saving versus paying down debt’ trade-off. The millennial generation is particularly opposed to debt – more so than older generations, so they tend to pay their student loans off before they start saving. Unfortunately, this could be the wrong choice.

The long run average of large company stocks is 11.3% (1950-2013). If your student loans are at an 8% interest rate, you would be better off investing money over and above your minimum loan payment if you have the risk tolerance for investing the money in equities.

Maybe an 11.3% return sounds unrealistic. It’s common for this historical return to seem disconnected from the present. A common psychological condition causes us to take recent past experiences and extrapolate them into the future, creating a false sense of predictive ability on what the future holds. If the good times are rolling, they will always roll. If we are in crisis, we will be in crisis for the foreseeable future. But the truth is that things change. Our economy is cyclical in nature and that’s why we use long-term historical observations to make long-term decisions.

Even with the worst recession since the Great Depression the average return of large company stocks in the 10-year period from 2004 -2013 was 7.4%. And while that’s not huge, you may be willing to take the chance that we won’t soon see a repeat of the worst stock market period in history. Those loans will get paid off eventually and you’ll have more money in retirement simply by saving more and saving earlier.

Don’t forget about your employer match on your 401k. If you have a 401k match, by all means take it! Even if your student loan interest rate is 12%, you’d be better off (after paying the minimum) putting enough money into your 401k to get the free money. That’s a 100% return, guaranteed.

Harli Palme, CFA, CFP®
Partner

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College Savings for the Kids, or Retirement?

Many a financial advisor has been asked how to balance saving for retirement while also funding a child’s college education. Which brings up the question: Is it a parent’s responsibility to pay for their child’s education? And is it possible to do both? As with most difficult questions, there are no black and white answers.

While I’m not a parent myself, I’ve heard passionate positions on both sides of the argument. Some parents didn’t receive any college financial support and feel pride in having paid their own way, working and going to school part time in order to earn their four-year degree. Others, myself included, felt fortunate enough to receive monetary support from their parents, and the gift of graduating with a four-year degree debt-free. In a perfect world, most parents would choose to provide for their children’s education but unfortunately not everyone has the income to do it. In that case, what is the best course of action?

Before tackling that question, there is some good news. A recent Gallup Poll shows that expensive, prestigious colleges don’t necessarily produce happier people who lead more fulfilling lives. Specifically, graduates of colleges in the bottom-ranked U.S. News & World Report schools faired just as well as graduates from top-ranked colleges in terms of overall well being. The poll looked at several quality of life factors, including income level and “engagement” in graduates’ careers. See the article here. Of particular note, high college debt loads had a meaningfully negative impact on graduates. Sadly, 70% of students who borrow have a national average debt balance of $29,400.

I would tend to agree with these findings. As a state university graduate (go Gators!) I received a great education, learned and worked with some world-renowned scholars, and feel pretty darn satisfied in my life and career today. All-in, college cost my parents about $12,000 a year. Granted, that was seventeen years ago. Today, attending the University of Florida costs about $21,000 a year, including room and board; still a pretty attractive price tag considering sky-high tuitions at some of the top private colleges and universities. Don’t get me wrong, if money had been no option and my grades were a little better back in high school, I would have jumped at the chance to attend an Ivy League school. Such were not my cards. The point, however, is that state schools often offer a phenomenal education at a fraction of the cost of many private schools which can make the dilemma of whether to save for your retirement or your child’s secondary education a little less challenging.

However, different students have different needs and may be searching for what those more expensive colleges offer – whether that’s a smaller setting, specific academic programs or special facilities. So if your child is interested in what the pricier schools have to offer, consider applying even if you don’t have all the funds available to pay. Some of the most expensive schools have a tremendous amount of scholarship money available for qualified students in need. It’s a great reason for your child to stay motivated with grades and extracurricular activities throughout high school.

But back to our main question: should you save for your retirement or your child’s college education? Ideally, everyone would do both, but given a median US income of about $51,000, this isn’t always possible. Taking an economic perspective, the classic airplane analogy comes to mind: when the oxygen masks come down due to a drop in air pressure, air regulations require parents to first secure their own oxygen mask before helping their child. Why? Because we can’t take care of someone else, children included, until we’ve first tended to our own needs. I believe the same holds true regarding retirement savings and a child’s college education. Funding your child’s college education at the expense of your retirement savings plan implicitly shifts the financial burden of retirement from parent to child. Essentially, parents who first try to support their child at the expense of their own retirement are making the bet that their child will earn more than them, or at least enough to provide for them in their twilight years. While parents may have good intentions, this dynamic can ultimately prove unhealthy for all parties involved. As with the oxygen mask analogy, a sound strategy would suggest first meeting your own retirement savings needs and then, as you’re able, contributing to a child’s college fund. In the end, you’ll have peace of mind regarding your own financial security and likely be in a better position to further support your child – who may just be thriving on her own.

Carrie A. Tallman, CFA
Director of Research

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How much is that Doggie in the Window?

According to a recent announcement from the American Pet Products Association, Americans spent $55.7 billion last year on their pets. That’s billion, not million. An article at Time.com (http://time.com/#23451/pets-dogs-cats-spending-americans/) cleverly noted that the figure is $10 billion more than Germany spends on its defense budget.

I admit I am one of these people. My little rescue dog hit the lottery when she came to live with me. She has seven dog beds, if you include her car seat (yes, car seat). She owns more jackets than I do, although they are all for function, not fashion. She has multiple, color-coordinated harnesses, collars, and leashes so that she need never feel ashamed about how she looks. When we go on vacation, she has as much luggage as I do. Yes, she is spoiled rotten.

I am not alone. Bill Geist of the “CBS Sunday Morning” program tells a hilarious story about his “free” rescue dog: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/even-cat-people-fall-in-puppy-love/.  Sometimes, the unexpected costs can really add up.

In our industry, I see a number of fees that some people pay for investments: high commission rates for certain products, either on the front or back end of the transaction; frequent, unnecessary trade costs from a practice called “churning;” and expensive investment counsel fees. Before long, that simple purchase of 100 shares of ABC Widget Works has cost a fortune in added fees.

When you are evaluating an investment advisor, consider how the person earns his or her money. Does he receive a commission for his or her investment recommendations? Is he or she directly affiliated with a broker? Does he or she charge an additional investment counsel fee? While he or she may promise a great gross return on investment, the net return after all of those fees may be no better than what you would find with a simple savings account.

At Parsec, we do not receive commissions for any of the investment products we recommend – no commission from the trade, no commission for recommending a certain security, nothing. In addition, when we recommend mutual funds, we look for funds that do not carry significant internal fees.

We are not beholden to a particular broker. We have four brokers who we like to recommend, based upon client needs.

We do charge an investment counsel fee that we think is reasonable to industry standards. When you sign a service agreement, you see upfront what your fee schedule will be. On a quarterly basis, you receive a reports package that includes information about net-of-fee investment performance, current holdings, et cetera. We are also here to help with planning – everything from college savings to retirement to estate. We like to think service goes beyond placing a trade. Our clients pay us to act as a partner in planning their future.

Everything in life – from owning a home to adopting a rescue dog – has the potential for unexpected costs. How you invest your money, though, should be a little more straightforward. With a little research in advance, you can evaluate whether or not fees charged for service are reasonable and affordable.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to order organic food for my doggie. And maybe I will pick up a bottle of shampoo. She told me she is tired of smelling like a bowl of oatmeal.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

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Does Jiro Dream of Retirement Too?

I recently moved to the Asheville area after living in Atlanta for twelve years. Ironically, the seeds of my move started around the time I purchased my very first home in Brookhaven, a charming neighborhood in Atlanta. I say ironically because for the prior ten years I held a fairly good and financially stable job, yet had never considered buying a house. Why not you ask? Well, I wasn’t sure myself until last week when I watched the documentary, “Jiro Dreams of Sushi” – which, by the way, I highly recommend.

Jiro is a world-renowned – – perhaps the world-renowned – – sushi chef, operating a tiny ten-seat restaurant inside one of Tokyo’s hundreds of subway stations. Jiro seemed to have no worries about money as far as I could tell, and at age ninety-something, he wasn’t quite ready to retire either. Something about Jiro, his perspective on- and relationship to his work prompted questions within me, questions about my own career, my relationship to my work, and my dreams for the future. Because as far as I can tell, most of us, myself included, work and save, plan and invest, with the hope and dream of one day retiring so that we no longer have to work. But in Jiro’s case, his work was his dream. It was one and the same. Which really hit a nerve in me and at the same time provided some clarity.

What I realized was that for the ten years prior to buying my first house, despite having a good job that would allow me to do it, my dreams and plans for my future life did not involve doing the work I was doing at the time. Meaning, I was not fully engaged in my career or my life and as a result I was often on the lookout for an escape route – and buying a house would have been a major impediment to escape. The job was a good one, interesting enough, and certainly gave me financial stability, but I believed happiness lived in some other job, at some other firm, pursuing some other career. I became so hungry for change that in 2008 I actually quit my job and moved to France for nine months. Interestingly enough, despite a fantastic, and in many ways, unexpected trip, I came home to find myself in almost exactly the same place. I say almost because while the circumstances, people, and places looked about the same, my perspective had changed.

I returned to my old job, worked with the “old” coworkers, and rented another apartment in the same old city. But having lived across the pond, having had the experiences I had, and having returned, I saw in the end that there actually was no escape. Good news really, because before France I planned and saved my money to escape my life, but after France I planned and saved my money to live more deeply into my life. As a result of this small shift, life and I were much more on the same page. It was in the midst of this shift that I started taking a deeper interest in my work as a financial analyst. I became more curious and engaged, and in turn the work itself grew more engaging and satisfying. A virtuous cycle had begun and continues today. It was when I finally stepped into my life and stopped trying to escape it that a new life, as such, presented itself. Just a year and half after purchasing my first house in Atlanta, a new and exciting career and life opportunity presented itself, and in my dream-city (Asheville), no less.

All this to say, that while planning for retirement, setting goals, and making smart choices are hugely important and necessary components of a satisfying and rewarding retirement, so too is engaging with our current circumstances, in our current jobs, and in our current lives, just as they are today. Thanks Jiro.

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2013 IRA Contribution Rules

The deadline to make IRA contributions for tax year 2013 is April, 15 2014.  The maximum contribution is $5,500 of earned income or $6,500 for those 50 and over.   These amounts will stay the same in 2014.

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 $59,000-$69,000
Married,   participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan $95,000-$115,000
Married,   your spouse participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but you do   not. $178,000-$188,000
 
Do you qualify to contribute   to a Roth IRA?
Single $112,000-$127,000
Married,   filing jointly $178,000-$188,000

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 L. Palme, CFA, CFP®

Partner

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