The Dilemma of Two Homes

Roxanne Alexander

Roxanne Alexander, CAIA, CFP®, AIF®, ADPA® Senior Financial Advisor

Downsizing your home is a big decision. What if you find your ideal home but haven’t sold your current one? This can be quite stressful, since you don’t want to lose out on the new property but may not be able to sell your existing property fast enough. The first place you may want to turn to for help is your investment portfolio, but that can create tax consequences.

If your money is in an IRA, you have the option of choosing a 60-day rollover – if you think you will be able to close on your existing property within 60 days and put the money back in your account, this would be a non-taxable loan to yourself. The risk is that if the 60-day window closes on you, you will not be able to return the money to the IRA and will have to pay the taxes, which can be significant and may include a hefty penalty. Another issue to consider is the opportunity cost of being out of the market for 60 days and losing out on market returns.

Liquidating an investment account is quick and easy and can usually be done with minimal transaction costs. However, if you have large unrealized gains in the account, the tax consequences can be meaningful, so looking at less costly options may be on the table. If your account is very large in comparison to the funds needed, it may be possible to pick out tax lots or securities with lower gains and leave the investments with the high gains alone. The downside of this is your portfolio may be out of balance for the duration of the “loan”/rollover, which could lead to increased overall portfolio risk.

So what are your other options?

Go on margin. You can usually borrow around 50% of the value of your individual, trust, or joint account. This is very quick to set up and you may be able to get special margin interest rates depending upon whether you work with an adviser. Usually it is recommended to borrow less than 50% to avoid margin calls that may accompany a decline in markets. All margin loans must maintain a certain amount of equity as a requirement of the loan.

Apply for a pledged asset line (PAL). This option would allow you to borrow closer to 70% of the account value. Basically, your assets in the account are held as collateral for the loan. The PAL process is similar to applying for a mortgage, since it is more involved and takes longer to perform thorough credit checks and other verifications, but it allows you to borrow more. There are no closing costs or prepayment penalties. The main risk is that the lender can demand the loan at any time and or close your line, but if you plan to pay it off in a couple of months, this may not be a concern.

Keep in mind that you cannot margin or add a PAL on retirement accounts.

Get a traditional mortgage/home equity. Obtaining a mortgage has a high up-front cost if you plan to pay it off immediately after your existing home is sold. The closing costs are high for a short-term loan, but may end up being less than liquidating a taxable account or taking the risk of a 60-day rollover. That said, if you have no income other than social security and portfolio income, this may not work since the lenders want to see that you can make the payments on top of paying for your living expenses.

Borrow from a friend or family member. This option is more complicated that it appears since you would want to draft a legal document as proof that this is a loan and not a gift for tax and estate planning purposes. For example, you do not want the IRS to think this is a gift and have both of you end up with tax ramifications. Also, if something happens to the lender or borrower, there is proof of an outstanding debt. If you decide to go this route, you will want to contact an attorney, which will incur a cost. Although borrowing from a friend seems like the cheaper and easier alternative, you both need to protect yourselves legally. There is an interest rate called the AFR (Applicable Federal Rate), which is the minimum interest rate a friend or family member needs to charge you so that the loan is not considered a gift. The minimum rate is usually lower than other loan rates.

You can also do a combination of all of the above. For example, if the new property is going to be more expensive, you could borrow on margin or PAL and also get a mortgage for the balance; then, when the home sells, you can pay off the margin or PAL and just keep the mortgage indefinitely, which provides some flexibility. You may be able to get a home equity loan on your current home — it will unlikely be enough on its own to buy a new place, but may be an option if combined with one of the options above.

 

Feel free to reach out to Roxanne Alexander by email: RAlexander@Evensky.com or by phone: 305.448.8882 extension 236

 

Previous Blogs by Roxanne Alexander:

Thought on Transferring Wealth to the Next Generation

Protecting Elderly Family Members – What Can You Do?

Turning Age 70.5 with an IRA Account – What You Need to Know

 

Visit www.Evensky.com for more.

My Own “Jiminy Cricket”

Brett Horowitz

Brett Horowitz, CFP®, AIF® Principal, Wealth Manager

Whether you are working with a doctor, lawyer, or financial professional, you need to be aware of who is watching over you. It’s not enough to simply assume that they are on your side. When someone gives us recommendations, we want them to be like the Jiminy Cricket character in Pinocchio—a trustworthy person who is looking out for us and helping us make good decisions. Let’s look at an example to help frame this discussion.

You go to the doctor’s office complaining of muscle pain, and the doctor offers you a choice of medications. He hands you Medicine A and you walk out the door, feeling comfortable that he gave you the right medication that will make you feel better in no time. Why are you so at ease with the doctor’s recommendations? The short answer is that you trust the doctor. You believe that they will follow the Hippocratic Oath, which says in summary “above all, do no harm.” You have come to expect that they are providing you with advice that is in your, the patient’s, best interest. What if I told you that the financial profession doesn’t work that way? Surprised? Confused? If you’re like most Americans, you’re not alone.

According to a recent study by the RAND Corporation, commissioned by the SEC, most Americans have trouble distinguishing between advisors and brokers. As the study’s authors note, “Our analysis confirmed findings from previous studies and from our interviews with stakeholders: Investors had difficulty distinguishing among industry professionals and perceiving the web of relationships among service providers.” When a financial professional can have dozens of different titles, ranging from investment advisor to wealth manager to financial planner, it’s not hard to see why consumers are confused. One of the major differences comes down to a popular buzzword in the industry that every investor should understand: the term FIDUCIARY.

What is a fiduciary?

Quite frankly, one of the first questions you should ask your investment professional is this: Are you a fiduciary and do you acknowledge this in writing? (If you’re already working with someone and are unsure of their status, it’s a good idea to call them up and ask them.) A financial advisor held to a fiduciary standard occupies a position of special trust and confidence when working with a client. As a fiduciary, the financial advisor is required to act with undivided loyalty to the client. This includes disclosure of how the financial advisor is to be compensated, elimination of any significant conflicts of interest to the extent possible, and full disclosure of any remaining significant conflicts of interest. In other words, the financial advisor must place their client’s interests first.

Our website specifically states, “As a fee-only financial advisor, our revenues derive solely from fees paid directly to us by our clients. We have no potential conflicts associated with commissions or proprietary products.”

Our firm charges fees based on the amount of money that we are managing for our clients (i.e., assets under management). If you are a client of our firm and are interested in paying off a mortgage to free yourself of the debt, we acknowledge the potential conflict of interest that exists in you withdrawing money from the portfolio and the resulting drop in our fees, but we will help you make the right decision. In fact, over the last few years, we have helped many clients pay off their mortgage. It’s with this peace of mind that they can sleep comfortably knowing that we are on their side.

Let’s say that you just found yourself the recipient of an inheritance or a large bonus check and are thinking about possibly investing it in your portfolio. Without this fiduciary relationship, the answer would be simple: invest everything, because the more you invest, the more fees the firm will reap. But that’s not how we answer the question. We would want to know whether you expect to make any significant withdrawals from the portfolio during the next five years. We do not believe any investor should invest money in the market if they expect to need it back within the next five years. If you’re likely to need funds annually to supplement other outside income, we would make sure that you have enough cash set aside in case the markets go down so that you don’t have to sell anything in the next year and you know exactly where your grocery money will come from. Once again, the decision is not how to maximize our short-term profits; instead we are looking to make smart decisions that will benefit our clients.

On the other hand, brokers and other commission-based advisors are held to a “suitability” standard, which states that they must recommend a product that is suitable for the client, but that may not necessarily be the best recommendation for that person. For example, you’ve probably seen situations where a representative from XYZ Company recommends buying the XYZ Bond Fund, the XYZ Large Cap Growth Fund, and the XYZ International Fund. Is it really likely that XYZ Company could have the best mutual fund in every category?

Fees, fees everywhere

Some firms charge an annual rate, some charge based on assets under management, and some build the fees into the stock and bond transactions. None of these are inherently unfair as long as you know exactly how the advisor is getting paid, whether the fees are reasonable, and what their duty is to you (i.e., business standard or fiduciary). There may also be additional fees—such as mutual fund expenses, transaction fees, account opening or closing fees, and such—so it’s important to know how much those fees are and who receives those fees. At our firm, we use no-load mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. As there are no commissions involved, these investments have relatively low expense ratios, and fees are paid directly to the fund companies. There are small transaction fees as well, and these fees are paid directly to the custodian. We are paid only by our clients, who receive a bill each quarter with the calculation and amount of those fees. Performance is calculated net of fees where possible so that it’s in our best interest and the client’s best interest to limit all fees as much as possible.

You should always be aware of conflicts of interest as they pertain to fees. Will buying the mutual fund, annuity, or life insurance contract primarily benefit you or the person selling the product? The type of legalese you might look for is something to the effect of “Your account is a brokerage account and not an advisory account. Our interest may not be the same as yours … We are paid both by you and, sometimes, by people who compensate us based on what you buy. Therefore, our profits, and our salespersons’ compensation, may vary by product and over time.” (Italics are my emphasis.)

For example, a representative at the XYZ firm may recommend a high-yielding bond to their client. What the client doesn’t know is that the firm is trying desperately to sell the bond to everyone it can so that it doesn’t have to keep the bond on its books due to expected losses (I have taken this example from the book Liar’s Poker by Michael Lewis, a nonfiction book describing his experience as a bond salesman in the 1980s). Who is the best prospect to sell the bond to? Their client, of course. They can do this because as long as the client asked for income in their portfolio, this investment would be suitable.

None of this by itself implies that there is anything wrong with compensation by way of commission. The bottom line is that you, as the client, need to understand how the advisor is getting paid, whether they are being held to a fiduciary or suitability standard, and whether these details are in writing. If in doubt, simply ask your advisor if they will sign a statement similar to the following:

  • In our relationship I will always place your interest first.
  • I will act with prudence; that is, with the skill, care, diligence, and good judgment of a professional.
  • I will not mislead and will provide you with conspicuous, full, and fair disclosures of all important facts.
  • I will avoid conflicts of interest.
  • I will fully disclose and fairly manage, in your favor, any unavoidable conflicts.

It’s time that we break down the confusion surrounding investment professionals so that the public understands who their Jiminy Cricket is.

Feel free to contact Brett Horowitz with any questions by phone 305.448.8882 ext. 216 or email: BHorowitz@Evensky.com

For more information on financial planning visit our website at www.Evensky.com

 

 

Unexpected Expenses When Buying a Home

Roxanne Alexander

Roxanne Alexander, CAIA, CFP®, AIF®, ADPA® Senior Financial Advisor

Buying a new home can be an expensive process, and if you are not careful, you can end up paying for items you don’t need or have already paid for.

Loan Costs

When applying for a mortgage and receiving quotes from various mortgage companies, make sure you are comparing apples to apples. You will want to find out the average closing costs in your state or county and compare them to what you are being offered. There are some costs which are fixed, such as recording fees and transfer taxes, but there are other costs you can shop around for, such as title and insurance fees. These numbers can vary quite widely depending on the lender.

If you get a quote for a fixed-rate mortgage and have it locked or remove escrow, make sure you don’t see points added to your closing statement that you didn’t agree to. Paying points may not be worth it unless you plan to keep the loan for a long time. Points do lower your interest rate and your monthly payment, but it takes some time to break even.

For example, assume the monthly payment difference between paying 1.125 in points vs. no points is $64 per month, which is $768 per year. If it costs roughly $6,000 to pay points, it will take you around eight years to break even. Paying points may make sense over the long term provided you plan on living in the home indefinitely or possibly keeping it and renting it out in the future. If you think you are going to sell and move in less than eight years, paying points is more expensive.

You probably should avoid escrow if you are disciplined about setting aside funds. Paying escrow gives the bank extra funds to hold on to for you to pay taxes and insurance when you could be earning some interest on those funds in the interim.

Check your closing statement in detail and make sure everything you have already paid is included in the calculation. You may be surprised to find that the numbers sometimes don’t add up if you plug all the line items into a spreadsheet. You may save yourself from overpaying if you happen to find a mistake. You will sometimes be asked to pay a good-faith deposit when moving forward with a lender. This deposit is usually applied toward the appraisal or other fees, so make sure you are not charged twice.

Quick mortgage checklist:

  1. Compare interest rates and closing costs being offered. Are points being paid? What is the percentage difference between variable rates and fixed rates?
  2. Make sure lenders do not tack on points after they have locked your rate (unless you intentionally want to pay points and agreed to this in advance).
  3. Make sure any items you have prepaid are not included again in the closing costs.
  4. Make sure the lender does not add escrow unless you want it.
  5. The buyer has the right to use their own attorney or title company – you may be able to lower title costs if you shop around.
  6. The lender may ask you to pay a good-faith deposit, which they usually use for appraisal, etc. Make sure you get that back as a credit.
  7. Check your property tax calculation against the property appraiser’s website or property tax bill.

 

Homeowners associations

If the home is covered by a homeowners association, read the condo documents to make sure there are no rules and restrictions that you cannot live with, such as rules against pets (if you have them) or alterations you are planning to make. Pay attention to the association’s financial statements, since this will give you clues on potential assessments, whether there are enough reserves for large repairs, or if you will have to find a lump sum when the roof needs to be replaced or the house painted. You will also want to find out if there are any outstanding lawsuits or liabilities against the association.

Inspection and property disclosure

You are not obligated to use the inspector recommended by the realtor, title company, or lender. It is usually best to shop around for someone you trust who is independent from all the other parties that have interest in the deal. Some inspectors just go through the motions and miss checking the smaller problems, which can end up costing you money later on. You want to make sure the appliances are all in working order and that you are aware of when the air conditioner and water heater, etc., were last replaced or serviced. The inspector should check all the electricals and plumbing to make sure everything is in working order. It is advisable to verify that all permits have been closed out and that new construction meets code if the previous owner made any major renovations.

Homeowners insurance

Insurance is sometimes included in the mortgage estimate and is usually quoted higher than you would actually pay on your own. Shop around and don’t assume the number they state is what you will ultimately have to pay. You will need to purchase homeowners insurance prior to closing. Find out if the association covers any of the insurance costs, as this may be included in your maintenance fees. This lowers your costs of insurance, since you only have to insure contents and fixtures.

Homestead and property taxes

Property taxes are usually paid up once the sale goes through. Closing agents make estimates on the property taxes, which may be higher than the actual taxes stated on the county property appraiser’s website. Check the closing statement to make sure the taxes match what needs to be paid and that you are not overpaying. You should only be responsible for the portion of the year you own the home. For example, if you close on October 31, you should only be responsible for the days in November and December. If taxes are $8,500 for the year, then a rough calculation would be $8,500/365 = $23.28 per day x 61 days = $1,420.

Feel free to contact Roxanne Alexander with any questions by phone 305.448.8882 ext. 236 or email: RAlexander@Evensky.com

For more information on financial planning visit our website at www.Evensky.com

 

 

Intergenerational Planning: Time to Start Planting Seeds

Brett Horowitz

Brett Horowitz, CFP®, AIF® Principal, Wealth Manager

It takes the average recipient of an inheritance 19 days until they buy a new car.1

                Over the past several years, some of our clients have participated in client advisory boards in which they tell us what they want and what keeps them awake at night. One of the biggest challenges is bringing up finances and financial planning with their children. They are not alone. Intergenerational planning, in which families look at long-term financial needs together, is sorely missing. But to the surprise of many, it’s not just the parents who want this connection—it’s the kids as well. A study from MFS Investment Management reports that more than one-third of those in the “sandwich generation” (people ages 40 to 64) worry about aging parents’ financial issues in addition to their adult children’s financial issues.2 It’s about time to get everyone involved.

                According to the same study, less than half of the sandwich generation has prepared a list of assets, created a durable power of attorney or living will, purchased long-term care insurance, or established a trust. Further, even if they have checked off the boxes for these basic estate-planning tools, many have not communicated this information to their children.

Given that the older generation has been reluctant to have needed discussions, should we be surprised that the sandwich generation is concerned about their parents’ finances, yet hasn’t done anything to prepare their own children for what’s to come? All too often, the burden of managing a parent’s deteriorating health or financial situation falls to an adult child, who must step into a parent’s shoes at the last minute and try to cobble together information to form a basic plan. If a parent doesn’t discuss their specific assets with their adult children, and if no one knows they exist, those assets may not be used for their care. Assets may wind up being claimed by the state or federal government, adding to the more than $58 billion in abandoned property. Recent statistics suggest that 70% of families lose control of their assets when an estate is transferred to the next generation and 90% of the wealth is spent by the third generation. Why? About two-thirds of high-net-worth individuals have disclosed little about their wealth to their children, with the most common reason being that they do not feel that the next generation is financially responsible enough to handle an inheritance. Parents can head off this asset transfer problem, while at the same time avoiding divisive and costly family feuds, by taking the lead in these transformative conversations.

                The good news is that many of our clients have become more organized while working with us, and a lot of this information is in one place. But unless this information is disseminated to adult children, it remains stressful for everyone involved. Parents should suggest a family meeting with all their children at the same time to help ensure that their message is received uniformly. Having these conversations one-on-one may cause family members to fight, harbor grudges, or get confused, with the result that the discussion has the opposite of the intended effect.

For instance, parents may choose to leave money to their children in a trust, much to the dismay of the children, who may believe that this is being done to prevent them from having unfettered access. But perhaps the parent is trying to protect the children from creditors, due to having litigious jobs. Another reason could be a desire to protect money from a child’s former spouse. There could be estate or income tax reasons to form the trust in a certain way. Or it could be as simple as wanting to make sure that their frivolous-spending children do not run out of money within the first few years of receiving the inheritance. Parents may think that they are encouraging hard work by not disclosing their financial situation to their children, but they may in fact be fostering ignorance and anger.

These joint meetings may help a parent spell out their reasoning for how they are dividing their assets (including the house and personal belongings) and how they have decided who will be the estate’s executor, have durable power of attorney, or be the primary caregiver for minors. It’s much easier to understand what a parent wants to accomplish with their estate plan if they’re still around to explain it to their family. This doesn’t mean that specific numbers have to be included and that full disclosure be given, but it’s up to the parents to start the conversation and share what they are comfortable sharing.

In other cases, the parent is more interested in handing down values than money. Perhaps all that’s needed is a simple conversation about the importance of having a financial team—consisting of a financial planner, estate attorney, and accountant—establishing a financial plan, saving and investing money, and giving back to charity. So often we hear from clients that a discussion early in their childhood about money formed the foundation for their lifelong financial habits. If the situation is more complex, a family facilitator might need to be hired, someone who can broach difficult, personal, and possibly painful subjects, with the end result being a unified family that is more aware of each other’s feelings and goals. These conversations can be done at the 30,000-foot level if not everyone is comfortable sharing information, or they can be very specific. No one wants a child to feel entitled to expect a large inheritance, but as a parent, do you want your children completely left out of the loop?

                Our firm can help parents review their long-term financial plan with their children, discuss where accounts and important documents are located, and provide contact information for the parents’ financial team. The family should review the will/trust and communicate their wishes about health care preferences to avoid squabbles (who will ever forget the Terry Schiavo situation?). Getting everyone in the same place keeps the message consistent and unequivocally removes any doubts that may have been building. It’s not going to be the easiest of conversations, and all parties may start off anxious, but reticence about the subject will surely backfire. If parents are concerned about their children and children are concerned about their parents, doesn’t it make sense to get everyone together in a room to talk?

1 The source for cited statistics is a Time article, available at: http://time.com/money/3925308/rich-families-lose-wealth/

 

2 The source for cited statistics is an MFS study available at: http://www.mfs.com/about/news/press_080296.html

 

Feel free to contact Brett Horowitz with any questions by phone 305.448.8882 ext. 216 or email: BHorowitz@EK-FF.com

For more information on financial planning visit our website at www.EK-FF.com.

Steps for Identity Theft – Equifax

AnneBednarz_175x219

Anne Bednarz, CFP®, AIF® Financial Advisor

As many of you have likely heard by now, Equifax (one of the three credit reporting bureaus) recently experienced an extensive data breach. Therefore, we are encouraging everyone, including those who were not directly affected by this breach, to take preventive and proactive steps to protect their credit.

We have outlined below main steps to take regarding protecting your credit and identity.  First, we believe in today’s environment a prudent step would be to enroll in a credit monitoring and identity protection service.  Additionally, two other options exist of additional protection layers, a fraud alert or a credit freeze.

Check Equifax

You can first check to see if Equifax believes your information was stolen by entering your last name and the last six digits of your social security number here. Be sure to check any names you have used in the past, such as a maiden name.

If your information is deemed to be compromised, you can go through the steps provided to sign up for a credit monitoring service called “TrustedID Premier.” However, there is skepticism in the industry regarding the effectiveness of utilizing TrustedID Premier to protect one’s credit as the service is owned by Equifax.

Below are additional options available to protect your credit:

Credit Freeze

A credit freeze does not impact any of your currently established credit. However, the freeze does make it more difficult for identity thieves to establish new credit in your name. Placing a credit freeze on your accounts will require you to “thaw” your accounts if or when you need to apply for new credit. There may also be a nominal fee to place and lift a credit freeze. Note, that it takes about 3 days for your credit to “thaw,” so be sure to plan accordingly if you foresee a need to access credit in the near future.

If you decide to move forward with a credit freeze, then you must do so at each of the four credit bureaus listed below. Bear in mind that when you enact a freeze, you will be given a PIN; this PIN must be used to “thaw” your credit report if you need to establish new credit. If you lose the PIN, you will have to go through a fairly grueling process to get another PIN reissued.

Below are links to place a credit freeze at each credit bureau.

Consumers Union provides a list of credit freeze charges by state. 

Fraud Alert

Another viable option to protect your credit is to place a fraud alert on your accounts. This option requires creditors to confirm your identity. You can place a fraud alert with any one of the credit reporting bureaus; that bureau will then notify the others. The alert will only remain active on your account for 90 days, so be sure to mark your calendar to renew if you wish to maintain the fraud alert in the future.

Credit Monitoring Services

Lastly, there are companies that can both monitor your credit and alert you of any fraudulent activity on your accounts. In addition to credit monitoring and fraud alerts, many companies also provide insurance for losses incurred due to identity theft. If you plan to utilize a credit monitoring service you should activate the service prior to placing a freeze on your credit so they are able to monitor your information; otherwise, they are locked out of the information.  You should evaluate the proper service for you based on monitoring of both credit and identity, the frequency of monitoring, and any insurance available to protect against identity theft and restoration.  Other benefits available from monitoring services are availability of credit score, credit reports, etc.

Be Diligent

Other effective methods to protect your credit include keeping a watchful eye on your accounts and immediately reporting any suspicious activity as soon as you are aware of it. Furthermore, get in the habit of implementing sound personal-finance practices such as checking your credit report at least annually, filing your taxes early, using multi-factor authentication when available, and avoiding checking your accounts when connected to public, unsecured Wi-fi.

Essentially, always be cautious when entering personal, identifying information online.

Additional Help:

Report identity theft: https://www.identitytheft.gov

Correct errors on a credit report: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0151-disputing-errors-credit-reports

Access your free annual credit reports: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/

Data security breach list (not comprehensive): https://oag.ca.gov/privacy/databreach/list

Additional information regarding Identity theft:

 

Feel free to contact Anne Bednarz with any questions by phone 806.747.7995or email: ABednarz@EK-FF.com.

Life Timing: What Did Lynn Hopewell Teach Us?

HRE PR Pic 2013

Harold Evensky CFP® , AIF® Chairman

You’re not average, so don’t plan the quality of the rest of your life based on averages.

I was sitting front row center in a big conference room at our national planning symposium; I’d been looking forward to this talk for a while. The speaker, financial planner Lynn Hopewell, was a good friend and one of the most thoughtful practitioners I knew. My partner, Deena, and I had been responsible for planning this program and we invited Hopewell to speak because he told us he had a few major concepts he wanted to share with his peers. Here’s what he shared that day:

And End Not So Near

Welcome, everyone. I have few stories to tell that I hope will be a wake-up call for the financial planning profession. The first is about my planning for an engineering client, Ms. Jane. She is sixty-three, a very successful and accomplished civil engineer, and president of a major structural engineering firm. She hired me to work with her in developing a comprehensive retirement plan. Well, since I too am an old engineer, I know how they think—detail, detail! So I worked very hard to provide Ms. Jane a plan that would resonate with her. Finally, I was sitting down with her, ready to blow her socks off, and after going through my complete analysis, I thought I had.

“Mr. Hopewell,” she said, “I’m very impressed with the thoroughness and depth of your plan. I have only one small question.”

Well, needless to say, I was beaming at the compliment and looked forward to answering her “one small question.”

She went on, “I understand that selecting a mortality age—the age the plan assumes I die and will no longer need income—is a critical element in the planning process.

“Obviously,” I said, “if we arbitrarily use a very old age, such as one hundred, we’re likely to have to tell you to reduce your spending so that your nest egg will last to that age. Of course, if you die before one hundred, you’ll be leaving a lot of money on the table that you could have enjoyed spending while you were alive. If we assume a much younger age and you’re long-lived, the consequences could be even worse because you’d run out of money before you ran out of time. As a consequence, we work hard to select a reasonable planning age.”

“That makes sense to me,” she said, “and I understand that the age you selected for the plan is based on the projected age of my death from a national mortality table.”

“Correct! And not just any mortality table. We spent quite a bit of time consulting with actuaries to determine which table reflected the most current actuarial data.”

“I understood that. What I’m still a little confused about is the meaning of that age. As I understand it, if the table says my mortality age is eighty-eight, that means half the people will have died by eighty-eight and half will still be alive.”

“Correct.”

“Well, doesn’t that mean if I plan to age eighty-eight, I’ll have a 50 percent chance of outliving my plan?”

That question hit me like a Mack truck. Ms. Jane was correct. Even worse, in thinking about it, I realized that anyone with the resources to need the advice of a financial planner was likely to have had better health care and nutrition than the average of the universe of individuals making up the mortality table. That means Ms. Jane had better than a 50 percent chance of outliving my plan. This was a major wake-up call for me and should be for any practitioner relying on a traditional mortality table. Lynn said, “After acknowledging Ms. Jane’s point and scheduling a follow-up visit to give me time to consider the ramifications of her simple question, I hunkered down in my office to consider how I might resolve this problem.”

So, I went back to my own office and did the same. After additional conversations with my actuary friends, I concluded that a reasonable solution would be to use more customized actuarial tables—those that allowed me to factor in whether the client is a smoker, nonsmoker, her current health, and whether the lifespan of her immediate family is long, average, or short. Then, using the appropriate customized table, we would select an age that represented only a 30 percent chance of her outliving the age indicated in the table.

Here’s an example that shows how big a range the mortality age can be depending on these factors:

Life Timing Chapter Image file - mortality age range

Obviously, there is no guarantee that the age selected will coincide with the client’s mortality; however, following this process is likely to provide a much more realistic estimate.

Well, Lynn was right. That was a major wake-up call, because I’d been using a standard actuarial table and mortality age for my planning assumption. That was about to change.

Even if Lynn had stopped there, this information would have justified all of the time and cost of attending the three-day symposium, but there was more. Lynn’s next story was about the ah-ha moment he had one day when developing a college funding recommendation.

College Calculations

Not long ago I was preparing a simple college funding recommendation for a client. You know how that goes. It’s a simple time-value calculation that requires input on how many years until college, how many years of college the client wants to pay for, the annual cost, and the college tuition inflation rate. My input looks something like this:

Life Timing Chapter Image file - college calculations

A financial calculation would result in a recommendation that the client set aside about $145,000 to fund this expense. When I presented this to the client, he asked how confident I was about my number. When I thought about his question, I realized the answer was not very. My estimate was what we refer to as a “point estimate.” This means that unless every assumption I made was exactly right, my recommendation would either over- or underfund the college tuition bill.

As a former engineer, I remembered that when trying to estimate the probability of uncertain events, we used a technique known as a “Monte Carlo simulation.” Developed at Los Alamos National Laboratory during the Second World War for the design of nuclear weapons, Monte Carlo is really a simple concept. Rather than making a single guess regarding a possible outcome, we make guesses about the likely ranges of the outcomes. We then simulate thousands of possible futures with different combinations of those possible outcomes.

Let’s expand the table I showed a minute ago to more realistically reflect the uncertainty in our estimates.

What we know with some certainty:

  • Years to college 4
  • What we’re making an educated guess about
  • Tuition somewhere between
  • Annual cost $30,000 to $50,000
  • College costs inflation 5 to 7 percent
  • Investment return 6 to 10 percent

With these ranges, there are many thousands of possible outcomes, for example:

Life Timing Chapter Image file - college calculations no. 2

The Monte Carlo simulation calculates for each of these examples how much money that investors would need to set aside today if they want to fully fund four years of education. If the analysis ran a thousand examples, the results, listed in order of decreasing savings, might look something like this:

Life Timing Chapter Image file - college calculations no. 3

In this case, the question was how much should you put away now if you want an 80 percent probability of meeting your goal? The answer would be $167,000, because 80 percent (800/1,000) of the simulations would have succeeded with that amount of savings or less.

Well, this was another major wake-up call for me. In hindsight, it seemed obvious that a point estimate was inappropriate and that a Monte Carlo simulation could provide a more meaningful answer. In wrapping up his discussion, Lynn reminded us that expanding the input matrix meant making more guesses. Despite the mathematical rigor of a Monte Carlo simulation, adding more guesses does not justify adding two more decimal places to the answer. His point was that we should use Monte Carlo as an educational tool and not suggest it is a mathematically accurate answer.

The Takeaways

When planning retirement, don’t assume average mortality—you’re not average.

When attempting to quantify an uncertain future, don’t default to a single estimate. Use a Monte Carlo simulation to develop an understanding of the likelihood of possible outcomes, but don’t take the results as gospel.

This blog is a chapter from Harold Evensky’s “Hello Harold: A Veteran Financial Advisor Shares Stories to Help Make You Be a Better Investor”. Available for purchase on Amazon.

Market Timing for Fun and Someone Else’s Profit – Don’t Do It

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Harold Evensky CFP® , AIF® Chairman

A broker stands looking out of the window of his sumptuous office down at the marina thirty stories below with his client at his side. “See those yachts down there?” says the broker to his client. “The one on the left is mine, the one in the middle is my partner’s, and the one on the right is our office manager’s.”

“Where are your clients’ yachts?”

David Samuel: Hello, Harold. It’s David Samuel again. I know you have that AAII meeting coming up next week, but this can’t wait. My brother said he just got a call from his broker, who told him to bail out of the market at least for the next few months because the firm’s technicians said they see a major correction coming within weeks. I assume you’ve probably seen the same and agree, but I just wanted to double-check.

Harold Evensky: David, I just want to be sure I have this straight. You’re saying the broker is confident enough in his crystal ball to say that everyone should run to cash?

DS: You got it.

HE: Hum, I know he works for a big wire house; I wonder if that firm has moved all its money to cash? I don’t think so, because a move of that magnitude would have made the papers, and none of the managers we monitor have made significant liquidations recently. It somewhat makes you wonder what your brother’s broker knows that no one else does.

DS: Well, I understand that he’s been in the business for decades and he’s a senior VP at the firm, so he must know something.

HE: I’m sure he knows how to sell, because the impressive title comes with generating big commissions for the firm. There are many quality SVPs who earn their commissions from long-term quality advice.

Unfortunately, there are some who succeed by focusing on generating commissions independent of the client’s needs. That’s the basis for the old joke: “How do you make $1,000,000 in the market? Start with $2,000,000.” In deciding whether market-timing advice is something you want to follow, remember, when market timing, a broker earns a commission for the sale of each and every one of the positions their clients sell and another commission when they repurchase those positions. Here are a few things you might want to consider:

Can you name the top ten musicians of all time? The top ten baseball players? The top ten presidents? Of course, you can. We might argue about the list but most people can make up a list.

Now, tell me the top ten market timers of all time? Can’t even name one, can you? Your brother’s broker may be the first, but do you really want to bet on that?

What do market reality and statistics tell us? There are innumerable problems with market timing, including transaction and tax drag. But there are two major problems. You have to make two correct calls: 1) when to get out and 2) when to get back in. Factoring in transactions and taxes, research indicates you need to be correct about 70 percent of the time.

Markets don’t just drop precipitously, but they recover quickly, so waiting for confirmation of the end of a bear market usually means missing a significant part of the recovery. That makes for a tough hurdle.

For example: In a study covering the period 1987–2007, research found that the annualized return for someone invested for 5,296 days was 11.5 percent. Unfortunately, if you missed the ten best days (less than 2/10 of 1 percent), your return would have dropped to 8 percent,

Why would you be likely to miss those best days? Because those best days occurred within two weeks of a worst day 70 percent of the time. And they occurred within six months of a best day 100 percent of the time!

In an industry study in 2008, researchers found that although the annualized market return for the prior twenty years was 11.6 percent, the average stock fund investor earned a paltry 4.5 percent. It turned out that for most investors, market timing was mighty expensive. And, David, unless you’ve recently obtained a working crystal ball, it’s likely to also prove costly for you.

To make money in the market, you have to be in the market through thick and thin. In fact, if you remember our discussion on rebalancing, you’ll remember that bear markets are great buying opportunities for long-term investors. So, my advice is to stop listening to so-called experts spouting nonsense and go back to making money in your business.

This blog is a chapter from Harold Evensky’s “Hello Harold: A Veteran Financial Advisor Shares Stories to Help Make You Be a Better Investor”. Available for purchase on Amazon.

The Three Ps of Investing: Philosophy, Process and People

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Harold Evensky CFP® , AIF® Chairman

In Real Estate, it’s location, location, location. In investing, it’s philosophy, process, and people. Most investors look at past performance when evaluating a manager. That’s a rearview mirror approach. If you’re driving forward, keeping your eyes on the rearview mirror is dangerous. Looking backward is equally dangerous for investors. You can’t buy past performance, so don’t invest based just on looking backward. To avoid that mistake, here’s a simple process that works for any investment manager you might hire—mutual funds, separate accounts, or alternatives.

Philosophy

When you are evaluating money managers, find out what their  investment philosophy is. What is their unique view of the investment world? How is it different from those of their competitors? Is it credible that a manager can overcome the drag of expenses and taxes and provide risk-adjusted returns better than other alternatives? Basically, you’re looking for a good and credible story. How might you find it? Read the manager’s letters, prospectus and marketing material; look for something more than “we buy low and sell high.”

Process

A good story is nice, but how does the manager make it work in the real world? Answers to this question may be harder to pin down, but remember, it’s your hard-earned money at risk.

People

Philosophy and process are essential, but ultimately it’s people who make the difference. People will be making investment decisions about your money.

Don Phillips is a managing director and board member of Morningstar. He is a good friend of mine and one of the most-respected professionals in finance. He has some simple advice regarding people: “You want people with passion for the job of money manager.”

Did the managers you are considering invent the firm’s philosophy and process or have they at least been around long enough to have developed a passion for it? If not, even if the investment passes the test of the first two Ps, move on to your next investment alternative.

Testing the Ps

In this conversation with a gentleman I will call Happy Promoter, I put the three Ps to the test.

Happy Promoter (HP): Good morning, Mr. Evensky. My name is Happy Promoter. I’m familiar with your firm and I appreciate your taking the time to see me this morning.

Harold Evensky (HE): Mr. Promoter, it’s my pleasure. I understand you represent Sophisticated Hedge Fund Strategies and you have a new offering available. My friend Mr. Jones suggested I meet with you; I’m always interested in learning about new potential investments for our clients. Please tell me about your program.

HP: It’s a very sophisticated long-short strategy based on an evaluation of a myriad of market dynamics that guide our trading algorithms to ensure that we provide consistent alpha in all markets. Because we can profit in both rising and falling markets, we can mitigate downside risk, and by the judicious use of margin, we can provide returns that significantly exceed the S&P 500. We’ve backtested our strategy for the last ten years and the results substantiate the success of our strategy.

Well, at this point, I’m thinking I need to know a lot more before I take Mr. Promoter’s pitch seriously. Backtesting is a common but questionable way of evaluating a new investment strategy. It mathematically simulates how the strategy would have fared if it had existed in the past. One obvious problem is that unless the strategy is 100 percent automatic—no active decisions or modifications are made by the manager along the way—there is no way of knowing if the simulation is a fair representation of how the strategy will be implemented in the future. An even bigger problem is that there’s no reason to believe that future markets will mirror the historical environment used for the backtesting. Bottom line: because it theoretically would have worked in the past is no reason to believe it will succeed in the future. The financial world is full of failed investment strategies that had wonderful backtest results.

So, I decide I need to take Mr. Promoter through the process I call the “three Ps.”

HE: Mr. Promoter, what you’ve said sounds good, but I need more meat to the story. Can you tell me what your basic investment philosophy is? What do you see in the financial markets that the thousands of other professional investment managers don’t? After all, the market is a zero-sum game. For everyone who makes a buck, there has to be someone else losing one.

HP: Harold—may I call you Harold?

HE: Certainly.

HP: We believe that our sophisticated algorithms will provide the edge.

HE: I understand that, but can you be more specific?

HP: No, I’m afraid that our process is quite confidential and proprietary.

HE: Well then, can you at least give me some details about the procedures you use to implement your sophisticated process?

HP: Good lord, no! Our system is a black box and all the details are carefully guarded secrets. It’s the “secret sauce” that enables us to provide the low-volatility, high returns your clients are seeking.

HE: I see. Then I guess I’d have to look to the experience and quality of the intellectual capital behind your strategy. Will you tell me who developed your sophisticated strategy and what experience they have in implementing it?

HP: Harold, I’m the lead creator of the strategy and I’m supported by a two-man team of MBAs. My educational background is a master’s in History; however, I’ve been fascinated by the market for decades and I spent the last few years studying market movements. I finished developing my strategy just last month. I know that as a sophisticated practitioner you’re aware that alternative managers with well-established track records work only with large institutional clients and have no interest in dealing in the retail market, so a new manager such as I can provide your clients with the best alternative.

Mr. Promoter seemed like a nice guy, but he miserably failed the three Ps, so I thanked him for his time. My only thought after this brief meeting was, “What a waste of time; wait until I get hold of Jones!”

This blog is a chapter from Harold Evensky’s “Hello Harold: A Veteran Financial Advisor Shares Stories to Help Make You Be a Better Investor”. Available for purchase on Amazon.

Pascal’s Wager: The 0.1 Percent Risk

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Harold Evensky CFP® , AIF® Chairman

Playing Russian roulette with a thousand-chamber gun might not seem so risky, until you consider the consequence of that 0.1 percent risk.

I’ve been working with Linda, my client, for the last hour entering data into MoneyGuide, our planning program. We’re now discussing the plan’s time horizon—how long her nest egg needs to last so she can keep groceries on the table.

“Linda,” I asked her, “one of the major guesses we need to make is how long you will need money.” (That’s my tactful way of asking what age she thinks she’ll die.)

Years ago, we used a standard actuarial table to estimate how long someone might live. Unfortunately, as a thoughtful friend pointed out, that means you’d have a 50 percent chance of outliving your nest egg, so today we use an age that, based on your current health, your family’s health history, and if you are or are not a smoker, represents a 30 percent chance of your reaching that age. (Chapter 15, Life Timing. What Lynn Hopewell Teach Us?”)

“Linda,” I continued, “based on your current health and your family health history, we should consider using age ninety-three for planning.”

“Harold, you must be kidding. I’ll never make it to ninety-three! Let’s use eighty-five.”

“Sounds like a nice number. How did you decide on eighty-five?”

“Well, actually no particular calculation. It just seems like a reasonable age to use and I want to be reasonable in my planning.”

“Tell me, Linda, are you familiar with Pascal’s wager?”

“Pascal’s what?”

“Pascal’s wager is a philosophical construct devised by the seventeenth-century mathematician, Blaise Pascal. Here’s my version: If you knew for certain there was only a 10 percent chance that God exists, you would have two ways to live your life: You could conclude the probability of God’s existence was so low you’d elect to ignore morals and ethics and live a totally outrageous life. If, when you died, it turned out that there really is no God, hence no consequences for your immoral life, you lucked out. Of course, if, when you died, you discovered God was not a myth and you found yourself chest high in fire and brimstone, where you’d be roasting for eternity, you might not be very pleased with your choice.

“On the other hand, suppose you decided that, even with the low odds, you would live a moral and ethical life. If, when you died, you discovered there is no God, you would still have lived a comfortable life. If there is a God and you’re rewarded in heaven for your exemplary life, you will have won the eternal lottery.”

“So, what’s this got to do with retirement planning?”

The answer is everything! All too often in planning, we get caught up with the power of probability. Live until ninety-three? Possible, but not likely, so I want to make plans based on living until age eighty-five. Based on probabilities, that’s not an unreasonable response. However, as Pascal taught us, that conclusion is missing an important half of the equation, namely, the consequences. Often the terrible negative consequence of coming out on the short side of the probability overwhelms the low probability.

Let’s suppose Linda does live only until age eighty-five. That means she can spend more between now and then because her money doesn’t have to last for another seven years. Good outcome.

Suppose she lives well beyond eighty-five. If we use eighty-five, as a planning age, that means by eighty-six, if her plan works out as expected, her nest egg will be approaching $0! The consequences of living another seven years supported solely by her Social Security income? That means reducing her standard of living by about two-thirds, which may not be on a par with fire and brimstone forever but it’s high on the quality-of-life disaster scale. The moral? Don’t just consider probabilities when planning—consider the consequences.

“Still want to plan only to eighty-five, Linda?”

This blog is a chapter from Harold Evensky’s “Hello Harold: A Veteran Financial Advisor Shares Stories to Help Make You Be a Better Investor”. Available for purchase on Amazon.

Taxes: It Pays to Treat Them Right

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Harold Evensky CFP® , AIF® Chairman

I know how most people feel about taxes: don’t tax me, don’t tax thee, tax the man behind the tree. Unfortunately, ultimately we gotta pay. Everyone’s interested in minimizing the pain and that’s why I’m sitting here trying to put together a talk on tax planning for our local Rotary Club. It’s a great group of sophisticated professionals, and I don’t want to talk down to them, but I do want to provide some useful information.

Trying to balance those issues reminded me of a complaint one of my client’s accountant had about how we had selected some of his bond investments. I remembered that sophisticated doesn’t necessarily mean knowledgeable. So here’s what I came up with:

Don’t Let the Tax Tail Wag the Dog

The accountant’s complaint about our choice of bonds was a result of his focusing on the tax tail. Our client was in a moderately high tax bracket; however, we had his short-term, fixed-income investments in corporate bonds. “Move ’em to tax-free municipals” was the accountant’s advice. Well, it’s true, our clients would have paid less tax if we’d invested them in municipal bonds, but they would also have had a lower after-tax return. Why? At the time, taxable bonds were paying 5 percent and similar quality and maturity municipals were paying 3¼ percent. That meant our 30 percent marginal tax bracket client had a choice of earning 3¼ percent with no tax obligation or 5 percent with the obligation of paying 30 percent of his interest payments to Uncle Sam. Which would you choose? I hope the 5 percent.

Even if you peel off the 30 percent tax bite, that would leave 3½ percent in your pocket. It’s not rocket science to see that 3½ percent is better than 3¼ percent. The moral? When choosing between equivalent-quality taxable and tax-free investments, don’t worry about how much you’ll have to pay Uncle Sam (even if painful). Instead, keep your eye focused on how much you’ll have after paying taxes.

Turnover Doesn’t Tell All

It’s common for investors to use turnover as a measure of tax efficiency. Don’t do it. When you look at an investment’s turnover number, it’s natural to think it represents a pro-rata turnover of all the securities in the portfolio. For example, a 60 percent turnover would mean that 60 percent of the positions in the portfolio are sold in one year. Sound reasonable? As my brother, the economist, would say, au contraire. A 60 percent turnover doesn’t necessarily mean that 60 percent of the stocks have been traded. It might well mean 20 percent of the stocks have been traded three times. All of those trades may have been the sale of stocks with losses, not gains, so the manager not only generated no tax bite, he also realized losses that can shelter future gains.

And the Rest of the Story (the Most Important Part)

Taxes are a function of something called a holding period, not turnover. The holding period is the average number of years it would require to turn over all of the positions in the portfolio. To explain: let’s assume that the manager has a portfolio chock full of stocks with taxable gains and he is trading all of the stock in his portfolio pro rata. So a 20 percent portfolio turnover would mean one-fifth of the stocks would be sold each year, or 100 percent in five years. That means, on average, the manager holds stocks for two and a half years.

Obviously, a portfolio with a 90 percent turnover would realize pretty much all of the gains in the first year, which means lots of taxes; consequently, a 50 percent turnover sounds a lot better. But if you think about it, 50 percent means selling one-half this year and paying the taxes, and one-half next year with more taxes. The difference between paying all of the taxes in year one versus one-half of them in year one and one-half in year two is negligible. The graph below shows the relationship. Unless turnover is very low—less than 10–15 percent, there is no real tax efficiency.

The moral? Avoid the murky middle. A few years ago, my partner, Deena Katz, and I co-edited a book called the Investment Think Tank (Bloomberg Press). We invited several friends (practitioners and academics) to contribute chapters on subjects they believed were of vital importance for advisors.

Recognizing the importance of the holding period, Jean Brunel, managing principal of Brunel Associates, introduced the concept of the murky middle. He noted that the more active the manager, the more you’d expect him to add value. After all, why would you want to pay the trading cost and suffer the tax inefficiency of active trading if you weren’t rewarded with extra net returns? He also noted the reality of the elbow graph above: no matter the manager’s intention, as turnover increases a tax-efficient manager will be no more tax efficient than a tax-oblivious manager.

Brunel’s excellent advice is to avoid the murky middle—hire very low-turnover managers (indexes and ETFs) when you want to just capture market returns. Hire go-go, active managers with the funds you’re prepared to invest at higher risk to earn better-than-market returns. Stay away from those managers who, for marketing purposes, try to straddle the fence, going for both tax efficiency and extra return. They may have performance numbers that look good before taxes, but after taxes, the numbers don’t look so good. Here’s how Brunel depicts the murky middle:

I think my Rotary audience will like this talk. For more on the murky middle, check out Chapter 3, “Net, Net, Net: Expenses, Taxes, and Inflation Can Eat Your Nest Egg – What To Do?”

This blog is a chapter from Harold Evensky’s “Hello Harold: A Veteran Financial Advisor Shares Stories to Help Make You Be a Better Investor”. Available for purchase on Amazon.