The Tried-and-True Way to Build Wealth

In today’s ultra-connected world it’s even more tempting to compare ourselves to our family, friends, and neighbors. Are we falling behind in our career? Is our family life sub-par? Should we be making more money? Although we all know that people post their best images and experiences on social media, it’s easy to forget that we are tuning in to a lop-sided view of reality. Ironically, this warped perspective can encourage ideas and behaviors that move us further away from what we’re trying to find: a happy and rewarding life.

At Parsec, we work with one aspect of a happy and rewarding life: helping our clients reach their long-term financial goals. Often these include becoming financially independent and retiring comfortably.  While social media and the popular press would have you believe that the right image, owning an expensive car or home, and living a lavish lifestyle translates into financial success, it doesn’t. What does lead to financial independence – and happens to be highly correlated with happiness – is much less glamorous and a lot simpler. It’s the age-old adage of living below one’s means.

Although it’s not sexy, spending less than you earn month-in and month-out is one of the most dependable ways in which to accumulate wealth. Sure there are a handful of folks who will strike it rich with the next great idea, but for the vast majority of us, we will earn our livelihoods working for a company. This is good news, really. The risks are much lower with a nine-to-five job, along with stress levels, and the path to financial independence is quite clear. Time and again, research confirms that spending less than you earn while regularly contributing to a low-cost, well-diversified investment portfolio can lead to significant wealth accumulation.

No, it’s not very exciting and unfortunately, it’s not that easy either. We can see how difficult it is for Americans to live below their means by examining our aggregate retirement savings metrics. According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), the median retirement savings of all working-age families in the U.S., defined as those between 32 and 61 years old, is a mere $5,000! That stands in stark contrast with the amount of money most experts suggest we need to retire at age 67. While retirement savings will vary considerable from one person to another, one rule of thumb recommends having ten times your final salary in savings. Given a median U.S. income of $59,039, this suggests that the average American needs about $590,390 in savings to retire.

So why is it so difficult for most Americans to live below their means? Of course, it varies from person-to-person, but there are some recurring themes. In general, Americans seem to want instant gratification more so than in the past. One theory is that as an over-worked, time-crunched culture, we are dealing with higher stress levels than earlier generations. We then try to manage our stress by turning more and more to material things and experiences. While we know intellectually that spending on items we don’t really need only provides temporary relief, our tendency to accumulate things often becomes habit-forming. Big money problems can then arise when our need for immediate gratification gets paired with a lack of financial awareness. America’s current retirement savings situation reflects just such a scenario.

All that said, if you are reading this article it suggests you have or are starting to cultivate financial awareness, which we believe is a big part of the solution. As we start to question our spending motivations individually and as a culture, it will help us become clearer on what we’re really after and how to get there. While we are a vastly diverse nation of people, it would seem that at the end of the day most of us are after the same thing: a happy and fulfilling life.

Once we realize this, we can start to eliminate habits or tendencies that get in the way. We can start to simplify our lives and spend our time, energy, and money on things and activities that contribute to a happy and fulfilling life. Doing so naturally helps us live below our means and comes with the added benefit of reduced stress levels. From a financial perspective, a simplified lifestyle not only helps accelerate your ability to save for retirement but it means that once you reach retirement, you will require less income in your golden years. Starting to live below your means early-on, questioning your spending motives, and simplifying your life can become a virtuous cycle that suggests your retirement years can truly be golden.

Carrie Tallman, CFA, CFP®

Guest Blogger

Share this:

Why Trying to Time the Market is a Losing Game

The U.S. stock market has returned 282% since bottoming in March 2009, following the Financial Crisis.  Since that time, the S&P 500 Index has delivered positive returns in seven out of the last eight years and appears poised to produce another gain in 2017.  While it’s true that valuation levels are above long-term historical averages, in this email we’ll explore why trying to time the market is a losing game.

As a client you may be concerned that higher stock valuation levels coupled with a long-running bull market could mean an imminent pullback.  If so, you’re not alone.  Many investors have noted that it’s been a while since we’ve had a major stock market correction (defined as a drop of 10% or more).  This makes sense given that historically, the stock market has averaged three pullbacks of about 5% per year, with one of those corrections typically turning into a 10% or greater decline.  While it has been twenty-two months since our last market correction, we’ve seen longer.  Since 1990, we’ve experienced three periods lasting longer than twenty-two months over which markets did not experience a 10% or greater pullback.  So although we’re not in uncharted territory, the historical record suggests we could be closer to a market decline than not.

Given the above facts, clients often ask why we don’t sell stocks and raise cash in order to avoid the next market correction.  It’s a fair question, but when examined more closely we find that it’s a very difficult strategy to implement successfully.

Research has shown that trying to time the market is a losing game.  One reason is that an investor has to accurately predict both when to get out of the market and when to get back in.  While it’s difficult enough to time an exit right, the odds of then correctly calling a market bottom are even lower.  Part of this relates to the nature of market declines.  Looking back to 1945, the average stock market correction has lasted just fourteen weeks.  This suggests that investors who correctly sell their stocks to cash may be sitting on the sidelines when equities surge higher, often without warning.  While moving into cash may avoid some near-term losses, it could come at the higher cost of not participating in significant market upside.

Another reason to avoid market timing relates to the nature of market returns.  History shows that since 1926, U.S. large cap stocks have delivered positive returns slightly more than two thirds of the time.  As a result, you’re much more likely to realize higher long-term gains by remaining fully invested in stocks and weathering some of the market’s admittedly unpleasant downturns.

At Parsec, instead of market timing, we recommend investors stay invested throughout market cycles.  While this can be difficult at times, investing in a well-diversified portfolio has been shown to help mitigate market volatility and provide a slightly smoother ride during market downturns.  This is because portfolios that incorporate a thoughtful mix of asset classes with different correlations can provide the same level of return for a lower level of risk than a concentrated or undiversified portfolio.  It also ensures that investors participate in market gains, which often materialize unexpectedly.

In addition to constructing well-diversified portfolios, we believe in setting and maintaining an appropriate asset allocation based on your financial objectives and risk tolerance.  We then rebalance your portfolio to its target weights on a regular basis.  This increases the odds that you sell high and buy low.

Share this:

Time to Update your Estate Plan?

Now that we have started a new year, it’s a good time for many of us to stop putting off getting an estate plan created or updated.

Under current tax law, most people do not have a concern with estate tax.  The current Federal estate tax exemption is $5.49 million per person. If properly elected, any unused exemption is portable between spouses.  Therefore, a married couple with an estate of $10.98 million or below could pass their entire estate to heirs without any Federal estate tax liability.

While much attention is focused on the tax aspects, estate planning is more a matter of organizing and simplifying your affairs so that your heirs are not burdened with additional stress at the same time they are grieving for the loss of a loved one. We recommend that you engage the services of a qualified attorney to guide you and create the appropriate documents.

Your estate plan should include a will and possibly living or revocable trusts. Advanced directives and incapacity planning are other items that are typically addressed as part of your estate plan. This includes having documents prepared such as a durable power of attorney, health care power of attorney and living will.

As part of your estate plan, you should review your beneficiary designations. By filling out a beneficiary designation form, individuals can bypass the probate process and pass specific assets upon their death directly to their heirs. Many types of assets such as IRAs, qualified retirement plans, life insurance policies and commercial annuities pass via beneficiary designation rather than through your will. In addition, beneficiary designations can be added to taxable investment accounts (known as Transfer on Death or “TOD”) and bank accounts (known as Payable on Death or “POD”). Note that while the assets passing by beneficiary designation bypass the probate process, they are still included as part of the decedent’s estate for calculating any potential estate tax liability.

There is talk that the estate tax may be changed or even eliminated this year. For most people that shouldn’t be a deterrent to getting their estate plan done, since few are affected by the estate tax in the first place. Having an updated estate plan gives you peace of mind and helps prevent additional stress on your heirs. Once you have a plan in place, it can always be modified as tax laws and your personal circumstances change.

William S. Hansen, CFA
President
Chief Investment Officer

bill

Share this:

2016 IRA Contribution Rules

The deadline to make IRA contributions for tax year 2016 is April, 18 2017. The maximum contribution is $5,500 per individual ($6,500 if age 50 or over) or 100 percent of earned income, whichever is less.

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
Tax Filing Status For 2016 Contributions For 2017 Contributions
Single, participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan: $61,000 – $71,000 $62,000 – $72,000
Married filing jointly, participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan: $98,000 – $118,000 $99,000 – $119,000
Married filing jointly, your spouse participates in an employer-sponsored retirement plan, but you do not: $184,000 – $194,000 $186,000 – $196,000

Do you qualify to contribute to a Roth IRA?

Modified Adjusted Gross Income Phase-Out Range – Roth
Tax Filing Status For 2016 Contributions For 2017 Contributions
Single: $117,000-$132,000 $118,000-$132,999
Married, filing jointly: $184,000-$194,000 $186,000-$195,999

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

Harli Palme

Share this:

The Perfect Gift? Ideas…From a Planning Perspective

December is here and 2016 is drawing to a close.  As we enter the holiday season, we scramble to pick the perfect gift for our family members, our friends, teachers… the list goes on.

At Parsec, we work with clients to create gifting strategies that fit into their overall financial plan.

This December we encourage you to think about giving and its potential longer term impact on both your family (children and grandchildren) and your taxes.  Let’s first review a powerful gifting strategy to younger family members: the custodial Roth IRA.

As long as there is earned income, which can come from mowing lawns, housework, babysitting etc., contributions to a custodial Roth IRA can be made up to the amount of the earned income but not over $5,500*.  For example, your 9 year old grandchild earned $1,000 over the summer through his lawn mowing business.  You can open a custodial Roth IRA for him and deposit a matching gift of $1,000. Let’s say he continues to mow lawns each summer for the next 10 years and you continue to match his earnings with a $1,000 holiday gift.  Assuming a 7% return each year, your gifts will grow to over $15,000 at the end of 10 years.  Remember this is only the beginning, the approximate $5,000 earnings in this example will continue to compound over time and ALL earnings are tax free upon withdrawal later in life.  Rewarding your grandchild’s hard work through Roth contributions is a holiday gift that offers valuable lessons on many levels.

Let’s switch gears to philanthropy.  Each year Parsec’s client service team processes hundreds of charitable gift requests from our clients.  These gifts of course offer tax advantages in various forms.  For many of our clients, the qualified charitable distribution or QCD brings the most formidable tax savings.  How does it work?  If you are over 70 1/2, up to $100,000 of your required minimum distribution (RMD) can be given directly to charity through a QCD.  The result: your AGI will be reduced dollar for dollar by the amount of the QCD.  A simple, yet impactful strategy:  on not only your charity of choice but also on your tax dollar.

As we enter this holiday season we hope that you reach out to your financial advisor to talk about gifting strategies that may be appropriate for you and your family.  Happy Holidays!

Betsy Cunagin, CFP®

Senior Financial Advisor

*$5,500 is the IRA contribution limit for 2016 and 2017.  

Share this:

Hidden Costs of College

Congratulations!  You have four years of tuition, room and board stashed away in your 529 Plan and Junior hasn’t even graduated from high school yet.  Now you can breathe easily, right?  Well…maybe, maybe not.

The published cost of college attendance can vary substantially from the actual cost for numerous reasons.   The primary contributor to this variance; a surprisingly small number of students graduate in four years.   In fact only 59% of students graduate within six years according to the National Center for Education Statistics.       Now before you blame Junior for taking too long to get that degree (and blowing your budget), understand that getting the classes needed to fulfill degree requirements at a large university can be a daunting, if not impossible, Hunger Games-like experience resulting in an extended stay.   Changing majors, transferring schools and required remedial classes are other common contributors to a longer than expected the graduation time line.

One cost-effective way to manage the timeline is to plan on taking required classes you couldn’t get during the regular school year at your local community college during the summer.   Budget for this (hopefully minimal) additional expense and have the classes pre-approved so your student receives credit for their work.  Also, insist that your student meet with their advisor before scheduling classes to confirm they are on the right path to meeting their degree requirements.  Now that you are on the four-year plan, it’s time to understand some of the other hidden costs of college.

While wandering the park-like grounds and admiring the architecture of the colleges on your tour list, it can be easy to forget a very important question.  Is this a comprehensive fee?  Quite often the answer is yes at a private college and hard to ascertain at a public school.   To help compare apples and oranges, take a checklist of possible extra fees or expenses on your tour so you ask the same questions everywhere.

  • Are there class-specific fees? For example, lab fees for science classes or studio fees for art or music classes.
  • Are there differential fees for specific majors?
  • Does the school charge more for additional credit hours? Some schools have a  50% tuition surcharge for credits in excess of degree requirements.
  • Is tutoring an additional expense? Is the tutoring remedial only?
  • Are there use fees for athletic facilities, the health center, and tech support?
  • Is there a fee for printing?
  • Can you rent textbooks at the campus bookstore?
  • What percentage of the student body lives on-campus vs. off-campus? If your student lives off-campus budget for rent, security deposit, utilities, furniture, and renters insurance.
  • How far is the school from your home? You may need to budget for travel expenses and summer storage fees.
  • What does it cost to have a car on-campus?
  • Do you receive college credit for study abroad programs?
  • What extracurricular activities interest your student? Greek organizations and club sports teams can cost thousands of extra dollars each year.
  • What is the process to get student tickets to football or basketball games and what do they cost?
  • What are some of the other small fees you can expect? Many schools charge an orientation fee, a matriculation fee, and a commencement/graduation fee.
  • And last but not least… expect a 3% fee for paying the other fees with your credit card.

Once you have narrowed down your list of potential colleges, find someone who has a student there and ask about the hidden extras.   You may be surprised to find that the private school, with a high four-year graduation rate, and a comprehensive fee compares more favorably than you expected to a large, public university.

Nancy Blackman
Portfolio Manager

Nancy Blackman - Parsec Financial Corporate Headshots

Share this:

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.

Share this:

George, I Can Lie About My Age!!

This year, I celebrate a milestone birthday. Let’s just say I am now officially too old to be George Clooney’s girlfriend.

As often happens with milestone birthdays, you reflect about how you imagined your life would be at this stage. Perhaps you had envisioned retiring at an early age. Maybe you wanted to start your own business. Or save tons of money, quit your job, and travel around the world for a couple of years. (Hey, you can dream.)

Then, life happened. You devoted yourself to a career. You bought a home. You got married and started a family. The years go by. You wake up one day and realize you’re that age.

When you first began your journey with Parsec, your goals were just rough ideas of where you thought you wanted to be in 10, 15, 20 years. Now that time has passed, are those goals still the same? Have you been affected by any of these events:

• Started a family
• Sent a child to college
• Lost your job
• Dealt with aging parents

We would also be remiss if we overlooked the extraordinary market volatility of the last two years.  All of the above events can significantly alter your financial plan.

Do you still have the same goals now that you did before these events occurred? Has your “deadline” for achieving those goals shifted? It is very easy in the day-to-day rush to not think about these things. However, it is important to evaluate your financial situation and goals periodically so you can stay on track.

Your financial advisor is here to help you. Together, he or she can review your financial plan and work to keep it in line with your changing life. Just call him or her anytime.

Cristy Freeman, AAMS
Senior Operations Associate

Share this: