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Bloggers Are Encouraging Adding 1% More to Your Savings Rate

English: Chart of United States Personal Savin...

Chart of United States Personal Savings Rate from 1960-2010. Data source: FRED, Federal Reserve Economic Data, Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis: Personal Saving Rate [PSAVERT] ; U.S. Department of Labor: Bureau of Labor Statistics; accessed August 14, 2010. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

In November we financially-oriented bloggers have banded together to encourage folks to increase their retirement savings rate by at least 1% more than the current rate.  It’s a small step, but it will pay off for you in the long run.  Given the poor level of savings rate (less than 5%) these days, even this small step will be a big boost for many people’s savings.

Below is the list of my fellow bloggers who have written articles showing ways that you can start to increase your savings rate, as well as showing what the benefits can be.  Thanks to everyone who has participated so far – and watch for more articles in the weeks to come!

The Journey of $1 Million Dollars Begins with 1% by Richard Feight, @RFeight

Give Yourself A Raise by Ben Rugg, @BRRCPA

The 1 Percent Solution by John Davis, @MentorCapitalMg

Friday Financial Tidbit-What increasing your retirement contributions 1% can do for your retirement account by Jonathan White, @JWFinCoaching

THE 1% MORE BLOGGING PROJECT by Robert Flach, @rdftaxpro

A Simple Strategy to Maximize Open Enrollment by Jacob Kuebler, @Jakekuebler

Take a Small Step: Increase Your Savings by 1% by Jim Blankenship, @BlankenshipFP

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What You Can Do If Your 401(k) Has High Fees

Image courtesy of anankkml at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of anankkml at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Now that we’ve all been receiving 401(k) plan statements that include information about the fees associated with our accounts, what should you do with that information?  Some 401(k) plans have fees that are upwards of 2% annually, and these fees can introduce a tremendous drag on your investment returns over a long period of time.

There are two components to the overall cost of your 401(k) plan.  The first, and the easiest to find, is the internal expense ratios of the investments in the plan.  Recent information shows that, on average, these investment fees are something on the order of 1% to 1.4% or more.  The second part of the costs is the part that has recently begun to be disclosed: the plan-level fees.  These are the fees that the plan administrator has negotiated with the brokerage or third-party administrator to manage the plan.  These fees can average from 1% up to around 1.5%.  When added together, these fees can amount to nearly 3% for some smaller 401(k) plans.  Larger employers’ plan fees average about 1% less, at approximately 2% per year.

For example, if average investment returns are 8% you should be doubling your investments (on average) every 9 years.  However, if there is just a 1% fee deducted from the average investment return (so that now you’re only earning 7% annually) the doubling will take a bit more than 10 years.  A 2% fee brings you down to a 6% net average return, and so now your account won’t be doubled until 12 years has passed.  If you started our with $10,000 in your account, this would result in a differential of more than $42,000 over the course of 30 years – at 8% your account could grow to $100,627, while at a 6% return would only grow to $57,435.

The information about fees used to be kept pretty much secret, but beginning in 2012 the plan-level fees have begun to be disclosed to participants in the plans.  Now you know more about the overall fees that are charged to your plan and thereby reduce your overall investment returns.

What Can You Do?

So, now that you know what your expenses are in your 401(k) account, there are a few things that you might do to improve the situation.  While it’s unlikely that you can have an impact on the plan-level fees, you may be able to control some of your exposure to investment fees.  Listed below are a few things you can do to reduce your overall expenses in your 401(k) account.

  1. Lobby for lower fees.  Talk to your HR representatives and request that your plan has lower-cost options made available.  Index funds can be used within a 401(k) plan to produce the same kinds of investment results as the (often) high-cost managed mutual funds, with much lower expense ratios.
  2. Take in-service distributions, if available.  If your plan allows for distributions from the plan while you’re still employed, you can rollover some or all of your account to an IRA, and then choose lower-cost investment options at that time.  Typically a 401(k) plan may offer this option only to employees who are at least 59½ years of age – but not all plans offer in-service distributions.
  3. Balance the high-fee options with lower-cost options outside the plan.  If your 401(k) plan is unusually high-cost, if available do the bulk of your retirement investing in accounts outside the 401(k) plan, such as an IRA or Roth IRA, if you are eligible to make contributions.  Review the investment options in your 401(k) plan for the “diamonds in the rough” – such as certain institutional funds with very low expenses – that can be desirable to hold.  Then complete your allocations using the open marketplace of your IRA or Roth IRA account.

Don’t forget that there are sometimes very good reasons to leave your money in a 401(k) plan, even if the expenses are high.  See the article Not So Fast! 9 Special Considerations Before Rolling Over Your 401(k) for more information on why you wouldn’t want to make a move.

Opportunity Cost

ChoicesNearly every day in our lives we experience trade-offs and make choices affecting whether or not we’ll do something, buy something or do nothing and buy nothing. Some of us will choose to walk rather than drive, some will choose to pack a lunch rather than dine out, some of us will choose to save money while others will choose to spend it.

These trade-offs are what can be referred to as opportunity costs; meaning what we’re giving up in order to take advantage of another availability opportunity.

Financially, we make the choices all the time; the choice to dine out versus saving the extra money towards retirement; the choice to not save in our employer’s retirement plan so we can have more money to spend today. These opportunity costs can add up. Here’s why.

When a person makes the choice to not save in order to spend for today, they are missing the opportunity for their money to grow and compound over time towards a nice retirement nest egg. Their opportunity costs may be giving up a nicer retirement for immediate gratification today. For the person who decides to eat lunch every day at a restaurant rather than packing a lunch is potentially giving up the opportunity to save more for retirement, their children’s college or another goal that they “wish” they could achieve,  but just can’t “afford”.

The truth is that we prioritize what we can afford and what we think we can afford. A great example is the person that says they can’t afford to save for retirement but they can afford to pay over $100 for their smartphone plan, $75 for cable TV, and daily coffees and lunches. This is an example of opportunity costs. In this case the person is willing to forgo saving for retirement in lieu of watching TV, talking on the phone and drinking coffee.

It doesn’t mean that these things are bad; it simply means what a makes a priority becomes what they can afford.

The crux of this article is to help our readers think about their own opportunity costs and what they’re giving up in choosing another alternative. When it comes to saving money and being able to afford retirement, is there anything we can give up today in order to afford our future?

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Stretching an IRA When There Are Non-Individual Beneficiaries

Ira and Charlie

Ira and Charlie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we’ve discussed here previously, one of the requirements to enable an inherited IRA to be “stretched” over the lives of the beneficiaries is that all of the beneficiaries must be individuals.  That is to say, none of the beneficiaries can be something other than a person, such as a trust (specifically a trust that is not a see-through trust), a charity, or an estate.  If even one beneficiary is not a person, then all of the beneficiaries must take distribution within five years.

But there’s a way around this, and it has to do with the timing of distributions.

When an IRA owner dies, there is a key date to know: September 30 of the year following the year of death of the owner.  On that date, the beneficiaries are “set” for the IRA, and if available, the Designated Beneficiary is named.  It is on this date that the applicable distribution period is defined for the beneficiaries of the IRA.  If all of the beneficiaries are persons (not some other entity as described above) and the IRA is not split into separate inherited IRAs for each beneficiary, the oldest beneficiary becomes the Designated Beneficiary.  It is the lifetime of the Designated Beneficiary which will determine the applicable distribution period for all beneficiaries.  However, if the IRA is split up into separate inherited IRAs for each beneficiary, then all beneficiaries are Designated Beneficiaries, and each separate inherited IRA’s beneficiary will be eligible to use the distribution period referencing his or her own age.

However – as mentioned above, if one or more beneficiary(ies) on September 30 of the year following the year of death of the original owner is a non-person entity, then all beneficiaries must take distribution of their portion of the IRA within 5 years.  The date is the key: if distribution of the non-person entity’s portion is completed prior to September 30 of the year following the hear of the death of the original owner, then as of that date there would be only “person” beneficiaries.  This would allow for the remaining individuals to split up the IRA into separate inherited IRAs and take distribution over their individual lifetimes, per the IRS’ tables.

For example…

John died at the age of 68 in June of 2012, leaving his IRA and other assets primarily to his two children, Chuck and Sally.  However, he also wanted to make sure that his alma mater, Enormous State University, received 1/3 of his IRA, worth $1 million at his death.

If John’s executor does nothing with the IRA assets prior to September 30, 2013, Chuck, Sally, and ESU will have to take distribution of $333,333 each before the end of 2018.  This could amount to a considerable tax burden for Chuck and Sally (ESU wouldn’t have to pay taxes as an educational institution), since each would have to withdraw as much as $66,667 each of the five years. It should be noted that the distribution doesn’t have to be evenly split over the five years as long as the account is fully distributed by the end of five years.

On the other hand, if John’s executor were to distribute the 1/3 share to ESU before September 30, 2013, then ESU is no longer a beneficiary of the IRA on the Beneficiary Designation Date.  With that fact in place, the IRA has only “individual” beneficiaries, and so the account can be split evenly between inherited IRAs for Chuck and Sally, and then Chuck and Sally can stretch the IRA distributions over their own lifetimes. per the IRS tables.

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The Crystal Ball

The Swami

Every so often we get asked by our clients or prospective clients which direction the market is going to go. This is always and entertaining question to get – and some of our “regulars” already know the answer.

Having a bit of a sense of humor (albeit dry sometimes) I’ll joke with clients and tell them that the day they handed out crystal balls in my investment class, it was the one time I called in sick – and you only get one chance at the coveted crystal ball. Thus, I forever lost the opportunity to predict the future of the markets. Darn.

Inevitably, clients laugh and understand the joke – and take away the underlying theme of the jocularity – that we can’t predict the future, especially in securities markets. But this doesn’t mean we can’t plan ahead.

So why do we invest? Why do we save for retirement? Why do we plan for the future? The reason is this: while we can’t predict the future, we can certainly have a great idea of where we are going and where we want to be. We understand that over the long run, it’s likely that our nest egg and the contributions to it over the years will grow, so that when it comes time to retire and actually live the future that we planned for; it’s livable and enjoyable. This is why we plan ahead and this is why people seek out financial planners.

Of course, there are always the worriers and naysayers that say, “What if the market crashes?” “I don’t want to lose all of my money.” “What happens if the market dips next week?” To which the answer is, “Well…what if it does? So what?” A good planner would never put immediate or near-term money at substantial risk.

An appropriate plan and an appropriate planner will take the time to discuss your strategy, goals and based on your aptitude for risk – will properly allocate your investment assets so that fluctuations won’t wipe out your savings.

We can tell you that the market will tank, and the market will recover. And that’s why based on an individual’s plan we allocate and manage accordingly. So, technically we can predict the future (as could anyone in this case), we just can’t tell you the exact dates crashes and recoveries happen (if that were the case, there’d be no need for financial planners).

Another way to think about it is this: your doctor may tell you to eat right, exercise, don’t smoke or abuse alcohol to preserve longevity. The plan is for you to live longer. That being said, you’re still going to get a cold or the flu (analogous to small market dips) or you may get seriously injured in an accident (analogous to a market crash – pun intended). But you (and the market) will recover. We can’t predict when you’ll get a cold or be in an accident or how long recovery will take, but we can plan accordingly.

In an absolute worst case scenario, you could die prematurely (analogous to the financial markets collapsing like a dying star). But overall, we take our doctor’s advice because we’re planning to live a long and happy life. The same is true with professional financial advice. Anything can happen, but we plan for the future.

A Few Facts to Know About Retirement Plan Contributions

Deadline

As we near the tax filing deadline, there are a few things you need to be aware of as you consider your retirement plan contributions for tax year 2012 (or whatever the prior tax year is, if you’re reading this sometime later).

Regular IRA contributions are due by the filing deadline, with no extensions. That means April 15, 2013 for the 2012 tax year. Your contribution for 2012 is considered made “on time” if your payment is postmarked by midnight on April 15, 2013.

Perhaps you wish to make a more substantial contribution to a retirement plan – in 2012, you can contribute up to $50,000 to a Keogh plan. That amount is limited to 20% of the net self-employment income, or 25% of wage income if the individual is an employee of the business. Keogh plan contributions can be made by the extended due date of your return – in most cases this is October 15, 2013 (for tax year 2012). The downside is that you must have established the Keogh plan by December 31, 2012 in order to make contributions for the 2012 tax year. If you have not established your Keogh plan yet, it’s too late for tax year 2012.

However, you still have another option if you want to make significant retirement plan contributions (above and beyond the $5,000/$6,000 limit on traditional IRAs) – and this is to establish and fund a SEP-IRA. The funding limit for SEP-IRAs is the same as for Keogh plans, but you can establish the SEP-IRA as late as the extended filing date (October 15) and fund it for the prior tax year.

Happy saving!

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Your Employer’s Retirement Plan

Backcountry Provisions

Whether you work as a doctor, teacher, office administrator, attorney, or government employee chances are you have access to your employer’s retirement plan such as a 401(k), 403(b), 457, SEP, or SIMPLE. These plans are a great resource to save money into, and some employers will even pay you to participate!

Let’s start with the 401(k). A 401(k) is a savings plan that is started by your employer to encourage both owners of the business and employees to save for retirement. Depending on how much you want to save, you can choose to have a specific dollar amount or percentage of your gross pay directed to your 401(k) account. Your money in your account can be invested tax-deferred in stock or bond mutual funds, company stock (if you work for a publicly traded company), or even a money market account. Your choice of funds will depend on the company that offers the 401(k) through your employer. Generally, you’re going to want to choose funds with low fees and expenses. As of 2013, the maximum amount you can put into your 401(k) is $17,500 annually and another $5,500 “catch-up” contribution if you’re age 50 or older. At age 59 ½ qualified withdrawals are now taxed as ordinary income. Withdrawals before age 59 ½ are subject to penalties with some exceptions.

A cousin to the 401(k) is the 403(b). The 403(b) is very similar to the 401(k) in that you’re allowed to allocate a certain amount or percentage of your gross pay to your account, tax-deferred. Where the 403(b) differs is that it’s only allowed for non-profits such as school districts, hospitals, municipalities, and qualified charitable organizations. Another difference is by law the money in your 403(b) can only be invested in mutual funds or annuity contracts. You’re not allowed to own individual stocks or bonds in it. Like the 401(k), you’re allowed to save (as of 2013) $17,500 annually and another $5,500 “catch-up” contribution if you’re age 50 or older. At age 59 ½ qualified withdrawals are now taxed as ordinary income. Withdrawals before age 59 ½ are subject to penalties with some exceptions.

Branching out in our retirement plan family tree we come to the 457 plan. 457 plans are reserved for certain non-profits such as hospitals, government entities, school districts and colleges and universities. As you may have guessed, 457 plans are similar to their 401(k) and 403(b) counterparts in that money from your gross pay goes into your account tax-deferred. Like the 403(b) the 457 only allows investments in mutual funds or annuity contracts.

Similar to the 401(k) and 403(b), you’re allowed to save up to $17,500 annually and another $5,500 “catch-up” contribution if you’re age 50 or older (for 2013). Unlike the 401(k) and 403(b) the 457 allows you access to your money at any age, as long as you’re separated from service from your employer. For example, if you were 40 years old and have been saving into a 457 since you were age 25 and you saved $50,000 and you were fired, laid off or resigned, you’d have access to your 457 money without penalty; you’d simply pay ordinary income tax on any withdrawals.

Another key point to make is in regards to the aggregation rule. What this means is that you’re only allowed to invest $17,500 (along with the “catch-up” if you qualify) total between a 401(k) and a 403(b). For example, you work as a professor for nine months of the year and save $14,000 in your college’s 403(b). Over the summer, you work part time for a company that offers a 401(k) plan and you want to save money there. Assuming you’re age 40, you’d only be able to save an additional $3,500 to your summer company’s 401(k) – for a total of $17,500.

There is one exception to the aggregation rule. If you have access to a 401(k) or 403(b) and a 457, you are allowed to contribute the maximum to the 401(k) or 403(b) – for a total of $17,500 and then contribute the maximum to the 457 for an annual total of $35,000. The 457 trumps the aggregation rule. Few people may be able to actually sock away $35,000 per year, but it is available to those that work for employers offering both plans or if you work for two or more employers and they offer one or the other.

SEPs and SIMPLEs work a bit different. Typically these plans are available to smaller employers and SEPs are common for those that are self-employed. Both SEPs and SIMPLEs use IRAs as the funding vehicle to place retirement money, but each has different requirements as to contribution limits and participation requirements.

SEPs (Simplified Employee Pensions) can be funded to a maximum of $51,000 annually (for 2013) or 25% of the employee’s salary – whichever is smaller. There can be corresponding tax deductions involved that may be beneficial for solo businesses or businesses with a small number of employees as there are requirements that all employees must participate.

SIMPLEs (Savings Incentive Match PLan for Employees) are another option for smaller businesses looking to start a retirement plan and looking for a cost effective way to start (a 401(k) can be administratively expensive). Essentially, both employer and employees are allowed to participate and certain rules dictate that the employer must make a matching contribution (hence the Match in the name) to participating employees. As of 2013 you can contribute a maximum of $12,000 annually to a SIMPLE plan with an additional “catch-up” contribution of $2,500 if you’re age 50 or older.

The aggregation rule that applies to the 401(k) and 403(b) also applies to SEPs and SIMPLEs. This means that of the four plans for 2013, you’re still only allowed a total contribution of $17,500 annually ($23,000 if you’re age 50 or over). Having a 457 would be the only way to increase this amount.

Like SEPs and SIMPLEs, some 401(k) and 403(b) plans also have the company match. This means that in addition to your contributions, your employer will also make a contribution or “match” to the amount you’re contributing up to a certain percent. Consider taking full advantage of this. It’s free money! There are several reasons why an employer would do this ranging from plan compliance to helping ensure employee satisfaction and loyalty.

Finally, participating in your employer’s plan does not prohibit you from participating in a Traditional or Roth IRA. You are allowed to contribute the maximum allowed by law to both your employer’s plan and your own IRA.

It goes without saying that before you decide to participate, talk with your human resources department (not your cubicle buddy) or a financial professional regarding your options and which option or combination is right for you.

Following Up on the 1% More Initiative

Retirement

As a followup to the 1% More initiative that we had going on in November, I was recently interviewed by one of the participants, Steve Stewart, who blogs over at Money Plan SOS.  Steve recorded the whole thing on a Money Plan SOS podcast, which you can listen to by clicking the link.  He also has a written summary of our conversation for your reading pleasure.

Thanks go out to Steve, and all of the other folks who took time to write and record posts in support of the “1% More” initiative!  We reached something on the order of 170,000 blog readers, over 10,000 Twitter followers, and many, many other readers.  Hopefully we have made a dent in the problem!

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