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How Americans Are Saving For Retirement

 

Recent estimates indicate that the Social Security Trust Fund will run out of its surplus in 2034. Once this occurs, program payouts are expected to be worth only about 77 percent of current benefits. Unfortunately, one-third of retirees rely on social security payments for at least 90 percent of their retirement income. With social security payouts likely headed for significant reduction, contributing to self-directed retirement accounts is more crucial than ever. Just how are Americans doing when it comes to saving for their future?

How America saves
According to a TransAmerica Center survey, the typical American expects to retire at 67 but actually ends up retiring five years earlier than anticipated. A shortened career means less time for earning and saving, as well as more time spent withdrawing from accounts. This further emphasizes how saving for retirement is even more crucial than some Americans might assume.

To understand how America saves for retirement, let's examine savings patterns by various cohorts. The following information is taken from "The State of American Retirement" report by the Economic Policy Institute. 

 

Retiring Early

It seems as if there has been increasing coverage in the media recently regarding early retirement. The prospect of having an extended retirement is incredibly appealing for many Americans.—However, with pensions becoming increasingly less common in the workplace, workers are required to be more autonomous in how they plan for their retirement; for many, the need to bolster self-directed savings makes the prospect of an early retirement seem more like a pipedream than a possibility. Though everyone has varying financial situations and future expectations, here are a few things to keep in mind when working towards your own early retirement.

Create a current household budget

Before you solidify a plan of action for retiring early, you need to take inventory of your current expenses and general spending habits. If your spending habits inhibit you from saving a sizable portion of your earnings in pre-retirement, it will be incredibly difficult to retire early. If possible, try to find ways to cut discretionary expenses and evaluate your saving habits. By developing a budget, you will put yourself in an advantageous situation. In fact, maintaining a household budget will put you in the minority of American adults; according to a Gallup poll, only one in three Americans maintain a detailed household budget.

Forecast future needs

In addition to considering how inflation will affect your budget in the future, it will be wise to also consider that certain costs, such as healthcare, will increase significantly in retirement. When calculating your needs in retirement, be sure to include rising costs and unforeseen expenses. Failure to account for increasing needs could potentially leave you short of cash at a time when you may not be physically fit enough to work the hours required to cover the shortfalls.

Stay disciplined

Cutting out your favorite guilty pleasures in order to save for the future can be difficult, especially when those around you might be going on lavish vacations and buying luxury cars. By saving your money in the meantime and remaining focused on your goal, you will significantly improve the likelihood of being able to retire early. 

Consider investing

Though everyone has a different financial situation and tolerance for risk with their money, investing in the stock market has historically produced higher returns over a long timeline than keeping money in a bank. Given low interest rates on most bank accounts, a savings account may not grow your money significantly enough, especially if your retirement plan is predicated on seeing significant growth on your savings. Though investing in the stock market inherently carries risk of potential losses, investing long-term has historically proven beneficial to investors.

Work with your financial professional

In addition to personally taking measures to ensure an early retirement, remember that your trusted financial professional is dedicated to working with you to help achieve your goal. Reach out to your Guidestream Financial, Inc. professional to help you work towards achieving your dream.

2017 Market Recap

For nearly all of the 2017 calendar year, major news outlets were consistently publishing articles about the remarkable performance of the stock market. It seemed like every week the Dow Jones Industrial average (DJIA) broke a new threshold or the S&P 500 closed at all-time high.

Now that the calendar has flipped, it is a good time to look back at how major stock market indices performed in 2017 and what it all means for the U.S. and its citizens.

What the stock market is - and what it is not

Before defining what the stock market is comprised of, it is important to note that the performance of stock market indices is not necessarily synonymous with the health of the American economy. Most economists and financial professionals measure the health of an economy based on a variety of factors, including gross domestic product, unemployment rates, and the consumer price index. Though a stock market index can certainly point to the general health of an economy, it is ultimately investors and speculators that dictate stock prices.

In the past, tulip bulbs, beanie babies, and dot-com stocks all saw sudden, dramatic increases in value due to a widespread uptick in demand. In the end, however, these meteoric rises often saw equally significant decreases in valuation once excitement wore off and the reality of the long-term sustainability of the investments set in. 

This is not to say that the growth major indices experienced last year was a fluke. It is important, however, to carefully examine the more tangible aspects of the companies whose stocks saw increases in value - such as debt-to-equity ratio, return on equity, return on assets, and operating margins.

What made the markets newsworthy in 2017?

The DJIA experienced an increase of more than 25 percent from the previous year, its second-best year since the beginning of the Great Recession. There have been only seven instances since 1976 where the DJIA has increased by at least 25 percent in a calendar year. When compared to the historical average of about 7.75 percent growth, the DJIA far outpaced what most investors come to expect from a year's worth of growth. Additionally, the DJIA did not experience a net loss in value in any calendar month in 2017, which had previously never happened. For all intents and purposes, stockholders saw truly remarkable growth in their investments, adding trillions of dollars to the aggregate net worth of Americans.

Who does the stock market affect the most?

The individuals most affected by stock market fluctuations are those who directly own stock - which, according to a Gallup poll released in May 2017, is only about half of American households. A closer examination reveals that stock ownership increases in lockstep with earnings. In 2017, only 21 percent of those making less than $30,000 invested in the stock market. Conversely, 89 percent of individuals making $100,000 or more own stock.
A well-performing stock market is undoubtedly beneficial for those who own stocks, and the resulting effects create positive ripples across the economic landscape of the U.S. Keep in mind that a successful stock market, however, does not offer as significant of a direct benefit to those who have below-average earning power.

Conclusion

America is in the midst of one of the longest bull markets of all time, as the DJIA has risen by about 300 percent since hitting its nadir in March 2009. While history has shown that bull markets eventually fizzle out, investors are enjoying an incredibly lucrative period in the history of the stock market.

 

Financial Education Basics

by Kirk Hoffman

For many children, basic financial education is not part of their school curriculum.  Many adults didn’t have this offered either and generally learned from their parents or on their own.  Here are some financial education basics that you can share with your children to help them be better prepared.

Clarify your financial experience
Share your own perspective on money, including how you got to where you are now, your views on cash management, debt and liquidity, and how your outlook has changed over the years.  Sometimes the discussion of financial matters is uncomfortable or considered taboo.  Being open about financial issues is a great benefit for your children and can help them avoid mistakes that you might have made.  Let them know if you’ve managed things yourself or if you’ve had a financial advisor.  

Establish and maintain a simple budget
Budgeting in its most basic form is just a plan for spending.  Teach your children to think about how their purchases impact one another and how the budget can help them make better spending decisions.  You can use anything from a simple spreadsheet to an online tool like Mint.com.

Encourage savings and investing
Saving and investing are tools for reaching financial goals.  Explain different saving and investing alternatives.  Share the choices you’ve made in your own plan.

Establish a bank account
Help your children learn what a savings and checking account are.  Show them how to view the accounts, how to make deposits, withdrawals, transfers, and how to write a check.  Explain how to balance their checking account.  Teach them how to read a bank statement.  Get them in the habit of reviewing their account regularly.

Learn about credit
Explain how credit cards work and how you feel they should be used.  Explain how mortgages, car loans, and personal loans work.  Discuss how to build a positive credit history.

Stress the importance of insurance
Encourage your children to establish an emergency fund. Help them understand the importance of homeowners and auto insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, health insurance, and long-term care insurance.  Share how you have used insurance in your own plan.

Encourage retirement planning
The earlier you start planning for retirement, the more funds you will accrue.  Explain how Roth and traditional IRAs work.  Talk to your children about company sponsored retirement plans like Roth and traditional 401(k) plans and how to take advantage of company match offers. 

Develop financial relationships
If you have a financial advisor, give your children the opportunity to meet with him or her on their own. This can give them the opportunity to ask questions they may be embarrassed to ask when you are there.  Use your financial advisor as a resource to help explain any of these issues.

Don’t take for granted that your children know the basics.  Discussing these with them is a good way to see how much they already understand and it allows you to share your values in these important areas.

Year-End Financial Checklist

As we near the end of the year, it is time to look back at what has happened and see how it will affect your financial future. Check off these important items so that you can start the new year’s finances with peace of mind.

Review your tax withholdings.
Have you had a major life change (employment change, marriage/divorce, a new child) that affects your income tax? Check to make sure your tax withholdings have been properly adjusted. Having low withholdings can lead to tax penalties, while having too high of withholdings prevents you from accessing your money until your tax return is filed.

Donate to charity as a way to reduce taxes.
You can lower taxable income by 50 or 30 percent with a gift to a public charity or by 30 or 20 percent with a gift to a private foundation. If your gift exceeds these limits, you can roll over the excess deduction for up to five years.

Reduce your estate through gifts. 
You are permitted to give up to $14,000 ($28,000 for married couples) a year per recipient as an untaxed gift. Gifts above this value will consume part of your lifetime gift/estate tax exemption amount ($5,490,000 in 2016). If a gift directly funds education tuition or pays for qualified medical expenses, it will go untaxed no matter what the value.

Check to see when you last rebalanced your portfolio.
Although you don’t need to update your investments every year, many people go far too long without making necessary adjustments as they age. As GuideStream clients, we monitor your account and rebalance your portfolio a minimum of once per year.

If you are retired, make sure you have taken all necessary required minimum distributions (RMDs).
RMDs may be one of the most important items to review when going over your finances at the end of the year. Standard IRAs require these distributions be taken annually after the year you turn 70 ½; standard 401(k)s require them annually after you retire or turn 70 ½ (whichever is earlier). Failure to take an RMD will trigger a 50 percent excise tax on the value of the RMD. At GuideStream, we strive to be proactive in helping our client’s awareness of their RMDs. However, if you ever have questions, please contact us immediately.

Max contributions to an IRA and employer retirement plan for the year.
Both IRAs and 401(k)s have annual contribution limits. If you find you have excess savings and have not reached your annual limit, it may be a good idea to make additional contributions. Similarly, you may also consider making greater monthly contributions to your accounts next year, spreading out the cost of contribution. The deadline for IRA contributions is usually April 15 of the following year, though this may vary; 401(k) deadlines may be restricted to the calendar year, depending on your employer. If you would like to make a contribution, we are always available to help.

Check your flexible savings account (FSA).
The government only permits a $500 annual rollover in an FSA; any excess funds disappear if unused by the end of the year. If you have extra money in your FSA, you may want to schedule necessary medical or dental procedures before the end of the year.

Check your health savings account (HSA).
HSA funds don’t disappear at the end of each year like with an FSA; however, many with few medical needs discover money accumulating in their HSAs much faster than they are using it, which is a good thing.  Consider increasing contributions as this is the only savings option where both contributions and distributions for health related purposes are tax free. 

Consider contributions to a 529 plan to fund your children’s/grandchildren’s education.
529 Plans allow for you to make contributions to a tax-free account that may be used to pay for qualifying secondary education expenses. (Investors should consider investment objectives, risks, charges and expenses associated with 529 plans before using them. Information about 

Keep Reaching For Your Financial Goals

Few things are able to motivate us like self-improvement. However, despite initial enthusiasm, our personal goals can seem like impossible challenges after just a few days.

Financial goals are particularly difficult to accomplish. Spending money is inherent in modern life, and financial goals can easily get lost in other money issues. What’s worse, the feedback from financial goals is blunt and immediate. As soon as we get started, our finances begin to define our success with clear positives and negatives. Financial goals also remember our mistakes. A one-time slip-up, like a costly purchase, can disrupt progress towards a goal for months or even years.

The success of a goal often comes down to the strategies and tools used to support them. However, valuable techniques are often abandoned as soon as a little bit of progress is made. Use some of these steps to help make your goal a reality:

Be reasonable – It’s always important to be realistic; In regards to financial goals, it is essential. If you make your goals too extreme, you set yourself up for frustration and disappointment. It’s better to have an attainable goal you can more easily reach than an impossible goal that discourages you and could lead to giving up on the goal entirely. Once you have a little success, you can raise your expectations.

Set solid milestones and celebrate them – Milestones are a great way to track progress and boost your morale, but you need to make them an important part of your life. If you’ve made it halfway to your goal, celebrate in some way and give yourself a taste of what success will feel like. Stay positive; milestones are meant to show you how far you’ve come, not how far you still have to go.

Find some accountability – Telling someone else about your goals and having them check up on your progress can massively boost your discipline. Even if your confidant only asks for occasional updates, being accountable for your actions can provide a lot of encouragement to stick to your plan.

Automate what you can – Constantly trying to make the right choices can wear down your motivation. Automating your target savings or debt payments can help you avoid the potential mistakes and will allow you to save your energy for other challenges.

Break and build habits – It’s often said that it takes 21 days to break a habit or build a new one. While the psychology isn’t exact, it’s clear that our habits are a lot easier to change than we usually imagine. If you can force yourself to stick to a plan for just three weeks, progress should become much easier.

Limit the number of goals – Reaching goals can be difficult, so don’t try to accomplish several of them simultaneously. Only start one or two financial goals at a time and don’t create new ones until your current efforts have become second nature.

Bend so that you don’t break – Interruptions are inevitable. Much like setting a realistic goal, it’s important to have realistic expectations for your progress. If there is an unavoidable problem, adjust your goal accordingly and keep trying. Don’t give up on a goal just because of an unplanned setback.

Reaching goals is a skill that takes practice and experience. In accomplishing one goal, you learn which strategies work best with your personality. Even when you fail, you’ve learned more about what it takes to reach success. The important thing is being willing to try again.

Remember that past performance may not indicate future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, strategy, or product referenced directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. You should not assume that any information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of personalized investment advice. If a reader has questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed to their individual situation, they are encouraged to consult with a professional adviser.

This article was written by Advicent Solutions, an entity unrelated to Guidestream Financial, Inc.. The information contained in this article is not intended to be tax, investment, or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any tax penalties. Guidestream Financial, Inc. does not provide tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding specific tax issues. © 2014-2017 Advicent Solutions. All rights reserved.

How Americans are Saving for Retirement

Recent estimates indicate that the Social Security Trust Fund will run out of its surplus in 2034. Once this occurs, program payouts are expected to be worth only about 77 percent of current benefits. Unfortunately, one-third of retirees rely on social security payments for at least 90 percent of their retirement income. With social security payouts likely headed for significant reduction, contributing to self-directed retirement accounts is more crucial than ever. Just how are Americans doing when it comes to saving for their future?

How America Saves
According to a TransAmerica Center survey, the typical American expects to retire at 67 but actually ends up retiring five years earlier than anticipated.
A shortened career means less time for earning and saving, as well as more time spent withdrawing from accounts. This further emphasizes how saving for retirement is even more crucial than some Americans might assume.

 

Remember that past performance may not indicate future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, strategy, or product referenced directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. You should not assume that any information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of personalized investment advice. If a reader has questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed to their individual situation, they are encouraged to consult with a professional adviser.

This article was written by Advicent Solutions, an entity unrelated to Guidestream Financial, Inc.. The information contained in this article is not intended to be tax, investment, or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any tax penalties. Guidestream Financial, Inc. does not provide tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding specific tax issues. © 2014-2017 Advicent Solutions. All rights reserved.

Annuities As a Potential Part of a Retirement Plan

-March 2016 -
by Kirk A. Hoffman

A three legged stool analogy is often used for planning and saving for retirement.  The three legs represent personal savings, employer provided benefits, and government benefits.  For public school employees, 403(b) plans are used for individual savings.  School districts pay into 403(b) plans and/or the state pension program to provide an employer benefit.  Social Security provides the government benefit.

One of many tools available for the personal savings portion of a goal focused financial plan is an annuity.  Annuities have two phases, the accumulation phase and the pay-out phase.  Annuities can be part of a 403(b) plan to accept and accumulate contributions.  The accumulation phase is pretty straight forward.  Contributions go in on a tax deferred basis and taxes on earnings are deferred.  More questions arise once a plan participant reaches retirement and the pay-out phase begins.

There are several options available at the pay-out phase:

Interest/earnings only.

Under this option, the participant withdraws only the interest and earnings on the account.  The principal balance is not accessed.  This can be done on a monthly, quarterly, semi-annual, or annual basis.  Taxation on the principal is deferred until death.  (Required minimum distributions at age 70 ½ may require some principal distribution).

Systematic withdrawal based on a percentage or dollar amount.

Under this option, the participant establishes a regular withdrawal percentage or dollar amount.  The plan participant could outlive the withdrawals depending on the withdrawal rate and earnings.

Guaranteed life income.

The real power of an annuity is that it can provide guaranteed life income.  Under this option, the annuity is set up to pay out, like the participant’s pension and social security, monthly income for life.  Just like with the pension, there are various guarantees that can be selected:

            Life only – payments cease at death

            Life with a period certain (5, 10, 20 years) – payments for the longer of life or the

            guaranteed number of years.

            Joint and Survivor – based on two lives, payments cease at the second death

            Joint and Survivor with period certain (5, 10, 20 years) – payments for the longer of

            life of the two individuals or the guaranteed number of years.

The monthly payout is affected by the selected guarantees.  The more guarantees, the lower the monthly payment.

There is no better tool to create another guaranteed income stream to go along with a pension and Social Security than an annuity.  It works well if you are in good health and you have a history of longevity.  You cannot outlive the income.  It removes you from the markets so you are not subject to volatility which provides peace of mind for risk adverse individuals.

Every investment tool has positives and negatives.  Some negatives of annuitizing are that you give up access to the principal and potential higher earnings that could be realized from other investments.  These are significant factors to consider.

A professional advisor can assist in determining if creating another guaranteed income stream with an annuity is a good fit for your particular situation and if it will contribute to accomplishing the goals defined in you financial plan. 

For Today’s Children, Retirement Planning Starts Young

February 2015
We all hope for a long, healthy life, but—from a financial standpoint—the length of our lives may be starting to get out of hand. One projection from the U.K.’s Office of National Statistics estimates that more than 30 percent of the nation’s children born after 2011 will reach age 100. That means that for every couple that reaches age 65, more than half will have least one partner live another 35 years.

If today’s children continue to retire at what we currently consider a “normal” age, many could spend almost as much of their life in retirement as they spend working. Since a majority of U.S. citizens already face insecure retirements with current financial planning norms, extended longevity may become an overwhelming monetary challenge.

One solution to the problem may lie in changing when people begin to plan for retirement. A few extra years of growth can have a massive impact on the value of a retirement account. If we can train today’s children to make good financial decisions earlier in life than most adults do now, they’ll be better able to handle the cost of an extremely long retirement. 

But it’s today’s adults who will need to teach them.

In general, adults usually impart their financial habits to children—whether they mean to or not. Kids are observant, and adults’ financial decisions can imprint upon them easily. However, retirement planning, though essential, is an obscure subject. Children get to see how adults spend their money, but they don’t often see how they save it.

Obviously, trying to lecture a young child about 401(k)s and investment strategies won’t be helpful to anyone, so adults will need to take a more basic approach. By teaching children the underlying principles of saving, planning and money growth, you can turn their future financial decisions into a matter of obvious choices.  

Getting Kids to Learn
Though teaching financial habits takes more than a piggybank, it’s still a great place to start. Providing a younger child with both an allowance and savings goals is a great way for them to practice budgeting. Help the child set goals that are simple and attainable; if they set an ambitious goal, offer to help them by covering the difference if they reach a significant percentage of the total value.

But saving alone isn’t enough: children need to understand that value can grow over time. This can be taught by providing them with interest: offer a small amount of money for each dollar they saved from their last allowance. They’ll quickly learn that by forgoing some immediate gratification, they can reach their savings goals even faster.

Later on, you can reverse this process to teach a child about debt. Allow them to borrow money from you for a small purchase, but plainly explain that they’ll have to pay the money back with interest. When they hand their money over to you later, it becomes a golden opportunity to explain how debt means paying extra.

If you prefer a more direct route of education, there are numerous online resources to help teach kids about money and smart planning—one of the most interesting examples being Warren Buffett’s own online cartoon series “Secret Millionaires Club” (www.smckids.org).
As a child grows, help them get the ball rolling on retirement planning. Our team at GuideStream Financial would be glad to help them take some first steps. We can help you explain the importance of planning ahead for retirement and avoiding heavy credit debt (especially during college). Financial maturity doesn’t happen overnight, so stay patient and don’t try to cover everything all at once. 
_________________________________________________________________
Remember that past performance may not indicate future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, strategy, or product referenced directly or indirectly in this newsletter will be profitable, equal any corresponding historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. You should not assume that any information contained in this newsletter serves as the receipt of personalized investment advice. If a reader has questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed to their individual situation, they are encouraged to consult with a professional adviser. 

This article was written by Advicent Solutions, an entity unrelated to Guidestream Financial, Inc.. The information contained in this article is not intended to be tax, investment, or legal advice, and it may not be relied on for the purpose of avoiding any tax penalties. Guidestream Financial, Inc. does not provide tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to consult with your tax advisor or attorney regarding specific tax issues. © 2014 Advicent Solutions. All rights reserved.

How much money should I save for retirement?

The obvious answer is, as much as you can. You'll probably need to build a fund that you can draw on for much of your retirement income. This may be possible to do if you start early and make smart choices.

Contribute as much as you can to tax-advantaged savings vehicles (e.g., 401(k)s, IRAs, annuities). Make sure to contribute as much as necessary to get any employer matching contribution--it's essentially free money. Then round out your retirement portfolio with other taxable investments (e.g., stocks, bonds, mutual funds*). As you're planning and saving, keep in mind that you may have 30 or more years of retirement to fund. So, you may need an even bigger nest egg than you think.

*Note:   All investing involves risk, including the possible loss of principal. Before investing in a mutual fund, carefully consider its investment objectives, risks, fees, and expenses, which can be found in the prospectus available from the fund. Read it carefully before investing.

Your particular circumstances will determine how much money you should save for retirement. Maybe you have a pension plan, or your Social Security benefits will be large enough to tide you over. If so, you may not need to save as much as other people. But other personal factors will enter the picture, too. If you plan to retire early (e.g., age 50 or 55), you'll have even more retirement years to fund and may need more retirement assets than someone who plans to work until age 65 or 70. Conversely, you may need fewer assets if you plan on working part-time during retirement.

Your projected expenses during retirement will also help determine how much money you'll need and how much you need to save to get there. Certain costs (e.g., food, utilities, insurance) will be shared by almost all retirees. But you may still be saddled with retirement expenses that many retirees no longer have (e.g., mortgage payments or a child's tuition).

Expenses will also depend on the type of retirement lifestyle you want. How many nights a week will you dine out? How much traveling will you do? These kinds of questions will give you a better idea of how much money you'll be spending once you retire. In general, the greater your anticipated retirement expenses, the more you need to save each year to meet those expenses.

Content prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2014

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