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Financial Planning

Financial Vows for Money-Savvy Couples

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February is a good time to celebrate your relationship with your significant other—and renew your commitment to your mutual financial success. Here are some ideas to say “I do” to this month.

  • Vow to protect yourselves from emergencies

During the government shutdown early this year we learned that 40% of Americans don’t have enough money set aside to handle even a $400 emergency. Whether you determine you want an amount equal to six months’ or 12 months’ worth of living expenses, vow to set aside an emergency fund in liquid, readily-accessible accounts so that you have adequate cash on hand should you need it.

  • Vow to protect your family finances by shifting risk

Along the same lines as an emergency fund, work with a financial advisor to determine how much risk you both face from other potentially life-altering events. What would happen if one of you suddenly became unable to work or function due to a disability? What if you required nursing care? What if one of you suddenly passed away?

Insurance companies offer policies designed to shift many of life’s unexpected financial risks away from your family. Be sure to compare policies offered by multiple highly-rated insurance companies to help ensure you get the best coverage for your premium dollar.

  • Vow to put an estate plan in place (or update your current plan)

If one or both of you have children from a previous marriage, make sure all of your documents are in order so that family squabbling is reduced to a minimum if one of you predeceases the other. Most experts say that you should have at least some of your assets transfer immediately lest one of you remarries or other circumstances change and money that you expected would pass to your biological children gets spent by an unintended party.

Similarly, did you know that the beneficiaries you designate on retirement accounts and insurance policies and similar accounts take precedence over your wills and/or trusts? If you haven’t looked at that old 401(k) for decades, chances are that your ex-spouse might inherit that money regardless of your true wishes or life circumstances at the time of your death.

All of your documents need to be reviewed on a regular basis—let’s get together as soon as possible.

  • Vow to make saving and retirement planning a priority for you both

Even though retirement accounts are held separately, it’s important to have a shared vision about your retirement together. Be sure to meet with your retirement planner or financial advisor to discuss your future goals and time horizon. Other financial goals should also be prioritized so that you’re both on the same page, like saving up for the kids’ college expenses or the daughters’ weddings.

  • Vow not to keep secrets about money and keep the communication flowing

Hopefully you’ve been honest from the beginning of your relationship about your level of debt, how you handle sticking to a budget, or whether or not you have a low credit score. Understanding each other’s financial position and money habits is the first part of being able to take control of your finances together in order to achieve mutual goals as a couple.

And remember that it’s important that both of you understands your overall combined financial picture, even if one of you pays the bills or the other takes the lead role in investing. Don’t delegate this, make it a point to stay in the loop with financial decisions. Even if you have separate bank accounts to handle the day-to-day finances, you both need to understand where you’re at and where you’re headed when it comes to your financial future as a couple, especially your plan for retirement.

Even if it doesn’t seem exactly romantic, talking about money can make your relationship a more perfect union for the long-term. Aiming “for richer” rather than “for poorer” together can strengthen your matrimonial bonds.

We’re here to help. Call us at Bulwark Capital Management in Silverdale, Washington at 253.509.0395.

 

Sources:
CNN, “40% of Americans can’t cover a $400 emergency expense.” https://money.cnn.com/2018/05/22/pf/emergency-expenses-household-finances/index.html (accessed February 11, 2019).
Forbes, “6 Financial Vows Couples Should Take To Heart.” https://www.forbes.com/sites/judithward/2019/01/23/6-financial-vows-couples-should-take-to-heart/?ss=personalfinance#1a8149385241 (accessed February 11, 2019).

 

5 Tips for Setting Better New Year’s Resolutions

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If you typically give up on your goals by March, you’re not alone. Try these tips for 2019.

  1. Go ahead and set them again.

Even if you’re one of the majority of people who have set New Year’s Resolutions in the past but gave up on them within a few weeks, try again. Because there is good news about setting goals, even if you haven’t quite mastered the follow-through.

According to one study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology, people who set New Year’s resolutions are 10 times more likely to actually change their behavior than people who don’t make these yearly goals. Tony Robbins says, “Setting goals is the first step in turning the invisible into the visible.” So go ahead and write down your objectives for 2019.

  1. Make sure you actually want what you say you want.

Some of the most common resolutions include losing weight, making better financial choices, and eating healthier. All of these sound great—if they’re what you really want. For instance, make sure losing weight is your desire, not something you read about—or a photo you compared yourself to—in a magazine.

If you typically set goals for things you think you should want, instead of what you really do want, you will not succeed because you’re not really motivated. (And frankly, who cares, because you didn’t want that stuff anyway.) Dig deep this year to try to find out what your deepest desires are, and why.

  1. Replace a bad habit with a good habit.

At the end of the day, goals are one thing, but day-to-day habits are another. An article in Psychology Today puts it this way:

“A lot of New Year’s resolutions have to do with making new habits or changing existing ones. If your resolutions are around things like eating healthier, exercising more, drinking less, quitting smoking, texting less, spending more time ‘unplugged’ or any number of other ‘automatic’ behaviors then we are talking about changing existing habits or making new habits. Habits are automatic, ‘conditioned’ responses. You get up in the morning and stop at Starbucks for a pastry and a latte. You go home at the end of work and plop down in front of the TV.”

According to the article, there are three facets necessary to changing habits. You must choose a small action, attach it to an existing habit, and make it easy to do for three to seven days in a row.

For example, “Get more exercise” is not small. “Take the stairs each morning to get to my office, not the elevator” is a small, actionable, better resolution to make. Your existing habit of walking to the elevator can be changed to walking to the stairs, and it will become a new habit within just a week of practice.

  1. Create a new “story” about yourself.

“The best (and some would say the only) way to get a large and long-term behavior change, is by changing your self-story,” according to science.

Whether you realize it or not, you make decisions based on staying true to your unconscious self-stories, and you strive to be consistent. If you have a story about yourself that you are “realistic” because of things that have knocked you down in the past, you may have a story about yourself that keeps you in a state of cynicism about your life.

You can rewrite any story you have about yourself that might be holding you back. It’s kind of like writing a script for your own movie—you are the lead character, and the movie is your life unfolding. Instead of Mr. Cynic, moping along chained to his past, you are now your own hero, Mr. Positive, who takes new actions every day to improve the lives of others based on his experiences.

“The technique of story-editing is so simple that it doesn’t seem possible that it can result in such deep and profound change. But the research shows that one re-written self-story can make all the difference.”

  1. Tell people—or not.

For some people, telling their friends and family members keeps them on-track, holding them more accountable on the path to achieving their resolutions. But if you have friends and relatives who tend to shoot holes in your dreams, or sabotage your goals in subtle or obvious ways, keep your goals to yourself.

Consider surrounding yourself with supportive people for the year, limiting communication to “small talk” with people who aren’t on board. Take notice of people who drain your energy instead of energize you, and make choices accordingly. You have the perfect right to say “no” or “yes” more often to the activities you decide to engage in, and the people you elect to spend time with.

Have we scheduled your annual review? Let’s meet and review your financial plan in light of next year’s short- and long-term objectives. Please call Bulwark Capital Management in Silverdale, Washington at 253.509.0395 or email us at invest@bulwarkcapitalmgmt.com.

Resist Tapping Into Your 401(k), Employer-Sponsored Plan If You Can

By | Financial Planning, Retirement | No Comments

‘Leakage’ can erode assets and negatively impact your retirement wealth

If you find it difficult to save or pay for big financial emergencies when they arise, tapping into a pot of money can be tempting – even if it’s your 401(k)-style employer-sponsored plan.

But if you’re able to resist, rewards do come from the power of compounding. The problem, though, is that a small percentage of Americans take early withdrawals and withdrawals after age 59½ from their 401(k)s each year or cash out of their plan when they switch jobs.

A large percentage – typically about 20% of plan participants – have loans outstanding. They’ve used loans from their 401(k) to, among other things, pay down high interest credit card debt, make home improvements, buy a home or refinance a mortgage, or pay outstanding bills. Some don’t repay the outstanding loans they’ve taken, however.

This “leakage” – as the industry refers to it – has financial consequences. For example, the remaining balance of policy loans that aren’t repaid because of a job loss or default may be treated as a lump sum distribution and subject to income taxes and the 10% penalty tax. Moreover, a lower account balance due to leakage means less money in retirement.

An analysis by Alicia H. Munnell and Anthony Webb at Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research compared some scenarios. They found that the 401(k) wealth of a 60-year-old plan participant who began contributing at age 30 could be reduced by about 25% because of leakage compared to a participant who didn’t withdraw, cash out or fail to repay loans. The reduction in plan wealth was similar – 23% – for an individual who rolls over money from a 401(k) plan three times during his or her career with the initial rollover into an Individual Retirement Account (IRA) at age 30.  (The research, published in 2015, includes a few assumptions such as contribution rates, employer match and annual investment return rates. You can find more details here 1.)

The good news is that employers are focusing on decreasing leakage and many are turning to financial wellness programs to improve employee financial behaviors, according to Fidelity Investments. And loan usage has been trending lower in recent years, according to Fidelity’s second quarter analysis of retirement plan accounts.

That analysis found that the percentage of employees with a 401(k) loan fell to 20.5%, its lowest percentage since 2009’s second quarter when it was 19.9%. Among Gen X workers, who historically have the highest outstanding loan rate, the percentage dropped for the third straight quarter to 26.4%. The data is based on Fidelity’s analysis of 22,600 corporate defined contribution (DC) plans and 16.1 million participants as of June 30 2.

While participants may have good intentions for what those 401(k) loans are earmarked for, the loans could hold back participants from fully achieving their financial retirement goals. That’s because participants with outstanding loans might reduce their plan-saving amounts to pay off the loans, or stop saving altogether until the loan is paid off and they recommit to deferring some of their salary to their 401(k)s.

Kevin Barry, Fidelity’s president of workplace investing, noted that the stock market’s performance over the past several years has “definitely” helped retirement savers. But now would be a good time for investors to take a moment and make sure they’re doing their part to meet their retirement goals.

“Markets may go up and down, but there are a number of steps individuals can take, such as considering a Roth IRA, increasing your savings rate and avoiding 401(k) loans, which can play an important role in their long-term savings success,” Barry said, in a news release.

Now, indeed, is as good a time as any to connect with your retirement goals. Call us for a detailed financial and retirement income strategy session or overview that fits with your needs and goals.

We’re here to help you stay on track!  Call Bulwark Capital Management in Silverdale, Washington at 253.509.0395 or email us at invest@bulwarkcapitalmgmt.com.

 

 

Sources:
1 “The Impact Of Leakages On 401(k)/IRA Assets,” Alicia H. Munnell and Anthony Webb. Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research, February 2015. http://crr.bc.edu/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/IB_15-2.pdf
2 “Fidelity Q2 Retirement Analysis: Account Balances Rebound, While Auto Enrollment Continues to Drive Positive Savings Behavior,” Fidelity Investments, August 16, 2018. https://www.fidelity.com/about-fidelity/employer-services/fidelity-q2-retirement-analysis-account-balances-rebound

September is Life Insurance Awareness Month

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Risk Management Is About More Than Your Investments

A lot of financial services professionals talk about “risk” when it comes to your stock market investments. But risk can encompass more than your investment risk tolerance. The broader definition of financial risk is the possibility of loss from any unexpected life event.

For instance, what will happen to your family’s income if one spouse passes away, becomes disabled or unable to work, or needs long-term care? What happens to your kids’ education fund, or your retirement? Risk management in this case means shifting risk of financial loss from adverse events to an insurance company in order to protect your family’s assets and lifestyle.

New Innovations in Life Insurance

First and foremost, life insurance offers financial protection to your family by helping mitigate the risks that you face from life’s unexpected tragedies, as it has done for hundreds of years. But in the last decade, life products have expanded and improved to offer much more.

Many new types of insurance policies and policy rider innovations have come about in order to answer the needs of Baby Boomers–10,000 of whom are turning 65 every day and will continue to do so until 2030.1

Life insurance companies are now covering a whole host of pre-retiree and retiree risks with permanent universal insurance policies and fixed annuities which offer features like:

1) Lifetime income in retirement

2) Spousal survivorship benefits

3) Long-term care coverage if needed

4) Disability coverage if needed

5) Income tax advantages

6) Tax-advantaged wealth transfer or death benefit

Universal Life Insurance or Fixed Annuities as Part of the Retirement Portfolio

In addition to the many retirement risks they can help address, new types of life insurance policies and fixed annuities may have other attractive advantages. Some of the newest policies offer the chance for growth by earning interest linked to market performance. And this potential growth comes with guaranteed* principal backed by the financial strength of the insurance carrier.

These are just some of the reasons more and more financial advisors are including permanent life insurance and/or annuities as part of the retirement portfolio itself.

Let’s Talk About Your Family

Call Bulwark Capital Management in Silverdale, Washington at 253.509.0395 or email us at invest@bulwarkcapitalmgmt.com.

1 Pew Research Center “Baby Boomers Retire.” http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2010/12/29/baby-boomers-retire/ (accessed September 10, 2018).

 

 

This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to provide any recommendations or tax or legal advice. We encourage you to discuss your tax and legal needs with a qualified tax and/or legal professional.

*Guarantees and protections for fixed or fixed indexed annuities and/or universal or indexed universal life policies are subject to the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company. These policies are contracts purchased from a life insurance company. They are designed for long-term retirement goals, and also intended for someone with sufficient cash and liquid assets for living expenses and unexpected financial emergencies, including, for example, medical expenses. Depending on the product, they may include surrender charges, rider charges, life insurance premium charges and/or other fees as detailed in the individual contract.

An indexed annuity or indexed life insurance product is not a registered security or stock market investment. As such, it does not directly participate in any stock, equity or bond investments, or index. Gains on indexed accounts are based on participation rates and other conditions offered by the issuing insurance company. Depending on the nature of funds used to purchase annuities, withdrawals may be subject to income tax and withdrawals before age 59½ may be subject to a 10% early withdrawal federal tax penalty.

 

When Should I Seek Financial Advice?

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Here are some life milestones and events that mark when you should make the call to a financial advisor.

  1. When there’s a new baby in the family.

Parents, grandparents, siblings—everyone is affected when the new baby comes along. Now is the time to plan for what this tiny family member will grow to need in the future—especially college funds. And now is also the time to make sure that you have the right insurance and protections in place to see the child through to adulthood should something unexpectedly happen to you.

  1. When you get married.

Two people joined together in holy matrimony are also going to need to bring their finances together, for better or worse. And if there are any children from a previous marriage involved, it’s doubly important to find and hire a financial advisor that you both like and respect.

A comprehensive financial plan—which includes your mutual goals, time horizon to retirement, and desires for wealth transfer to family members—is a very important way to get started on your life journey together.

  1. When you win the lottery, or inherit.

We all dream of receiving a big financial windfall someday, but when you actually land a large amount of money at one time, studies show that many people squander it away. In fact, nearly a third of lottery winners actually end up declaring bankruptcy, becoming worse off than before they won.

If you receive money, call a financial advisor first, because no matter what the amount, it is actually less than it seems. You need qualified financial advice to ensure you don’t lose 30-90% to the IRS by not understanding tax laws. Financial advisors work as a team with your tax professionals to help you navigate inheritance, winnings, and gift taxes, as well as qualified money (like an inherited IRA account) tax rules so that you can actually end up ahead of the game.

  1. When you start working.

Your first job is an exciting time in your life. Even if you’re trying to pay off student loan debt, don’t miss the chance to achieve your life goals by harnessing the power of compound interest. Putting away even a very small amount each month can snowball through the years. A financial advisor can help you lay a plan to get ahead and reach your goals over the long term.

  1. When you start a new business, or want to sell one.

Small businesses offer many different options for retirement plans for their owners depending on the company structure. Call a financial advisor to help you set up a financial and retirement plan for your business in order to have the best chance of achieving your goals. And don’t forget about an exit strategy. Whether you want to leave your business to a family member or sell it, planning for your own departure from the company is essential to your ultimate financial success.

  1. When you’re starting to get close to retirement.

You should start to save for retirement as early as possible, but as you get closer to your actual retirement day, having a written plan in place to guide you becomes critical. How will you transform that nest egg you’ve saved into monthly income after you’re no longer getting a paycheck—without running out of money? How much money will you need? How will you take money out? Which accounts should you withdraw from first? What kind of taxes will you have to pay? How does Social Security work? How will you live, what will you do? Should you pay off your house first?

There are so many issues and retirement risks to address that retirement planning is absolutely essential. Ideally, you should have a plan in place by age 50—55. If you don’t, call your advisor as soon as possible.

  1. When you’re creating estate planning documents or establishing a trust.

Estate attorneys can create the documents you need, but they may not know about all the ins and outs of investments and insurance that can reduce taxation while helping ensure your final wishes are carried out. Call your financial advisor to get that important piece of the estate and tax planning equation.

  1. If you lose your job midlife, or are getting divorced with a lot of assets.

An adverse life event can hit anyone. If you’ve lost a job or are getting divorced, your financial advisor can help determine your best options for putting an immediate action plan in place.

For instance, if you’ve lost your job, your financial advisor may be able help you position assets in order to be able retire early, or help you draw from certain accounts to get you through until you land your next job.

If you are getting divorced, be sure to get advice from a financial advisor as well as your divorce attorney. They can help you analyze the assets that will most benefit you based on your future goals in order to reach the best settlement split. They can help you see things you might not be able to see clearly, and that divorce attorneys may not know. Like what kind of burden versus advantage keeping the family home might be.

  1. In the final quarter of every year.

Once you do have a financial or retirement plan in place, you should absolutely review it every year. (Most likely you’ll just need to answer the call, since most advisors will reach out to conduct annual reviews with you.) The annual review will allow your advisor adjust the plan as well as make changes to account beneficiaries as your family changes through time.

 

There are three different advisory disciplines you should seek out—tax professionals, legal professionals (like estate attorneys), and financial advisors. We can help you with the financial advice part of the equation. We can help you get set up with a tax professional and estate attorney from our network of contacts, or work as a team with yours.