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Retirement

What is COLA, and How Does it Affect Retirement?

By | Retirement, Social Security

The COLA on Social Security is projected to increase benefits by more than 10%. How does that affect your retirement?

Inflation in the United States is at a 40-year high, and the entire country seems to be feeling the squeeze of rising prices, regardless of income level. Though the debate over the cause of current inflation rates rages on, one thing seems to be certain: the cost of everyday goods, like rent, gas and food, continues to rise [1].

Understandably, that leaves American consumers with questions and concerns. First, as the value of the dollar decreases, which lifestyle adjustments can be made to compensate for the loss in buying power? Second, won’t somebody do something?

This year, the Federal Reserve has taken action by raising interest rates several times in an effort to curb spending and cut demand, ideally forcing the price of goods down, or at the very least, leading them to stagnate [2]. But lately, the Fed has been criticized by experts worried that their actions may not be having the desired effect, but instead may be bringing on a recession [3].

So, what other actions does the government take to protect people from inflation? For retirees and those collecting Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration began implementing an annual COLA almost five decades ago.

What is a COLA?

No, it’s not the tasty drink you order when you first sit down at a restaurant. COLA stands for “cost-of-living adjustment” and was first introduced by the Social Security Administration in 1975 in an effort to counter inflation for beneficiaries relying on those funds [4]. Beneficiaries of Social Security, which include individuals who have reached the age of 62 or have qualifying disabilities, can receive an increase in their benefit based on the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or the CPI-W.

For example, at the beginning of this year, Social Security beneficiaries may have noticed their checks increasing by 5.9%. That increase didn’t happen by chance or because of a missed decimal point in the accounting department. It was a carefully constructed adjustment based on 2021’s inflation rate, ideally giving those living on fixed income a chance against rising costs.

And next year’s COLA for 2023 could be the highest we’ve seen since 1981.

How does this affect retirees?

Retiring isn’t easy, and there’s a reason workers open IRAs and employer-sponsored retirement accounts, like 401(k)s, early in their careers to begin building for the future. Retirement comes with a great deal of financial risk, and one of the biggest contributors to that risk is inflation.

Retirees often live on fixed incomes, withdrawing money from savings accounts, retirement accounts, pensions, annuities, investments and Social Security to cover their living expenses. Though a proper financial plan accounts for inflation, it can be difficult to foresee spikes like the one in 2022, potentially upsetting expectations of how long your money will last. Though imperfect, the COLA can offer retirees increases to one of their main sources of income in retirement, hopefully offsetting change that can occur over the course of decades.

What is the next COLA expected to be, and when can I expect it?

A recent COLA projection made headlines with an eye-popping number. The Senior Citizens League estimates that Social Security beneficiaries could see a 10.5% COLA, meaning that the average monthly benefit could increase by about $175[5].

That estimate has steadily climbed over the past few months, though it’s certainly not yet set in stone. The Social Security Administration will announce the next COLA in October, and it will go into effect in January of 2023.

Are there any problems with COLA?

Though an increase in your Social Security check might sound entirely positive, there are drawbacks to COLA and the problems it aims to correct. The COLA is intended to cover the difference between the current cost of living and the previous year’s cost of living, but it is possible that the extra money in your benefit will only partly cover your increased living expenses.

The COLA is not directly aligned with inflation, so it is possible for inflation to rise faster than Social Security’s adjustment. For example, in 2021, inflation climbed 7% [6] while the COLA only increased by 5.9% [7]. Similarly, the Social Security COLA can remain unchanged year over year, just as it did following 2009, 2010 and 2015 when inflation rose 2.7%, 1.5% and 0.7%, respectively [8].

While not completely reflective of each other, the COLA and inflation do correlate, and inflation is currently outpacing wages. In fact, in 2021, wages actually saw a 3.5% drop when living costs are accounted for [9]. Though this doesn’t directly affect Social Security beneficiaries, the Social Security trust funds are built by contributions from income taxes [10]. It stands to reason that inflation’s outpacing of wages would mean that the Social Security trust funds, which currently project to only be able to pay at their current rate until 2035, would deplete even quicker [11].

So, as someone who collects Social Security or hopes to in the future, what can I do?

First and foremost, we would always recommend speaking with your financial professional to assemble a proper plan for your retirement. The right financial plan can be the difference between having adequate funds for your desired lifestyle or running out of money. Social Security is only one income stream, and backup plans with alternative sources of funds are vital.

If you have any questions about your Social Security benefit, please give us a call! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

Sources:

  1. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/coming-up-consumer-price-index-for-may-11654862886
  2. https://www.forbes.com/advisor/investing/another-75-point-fed-rate-increase/
  3. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jonathanponciano/2022/07/27/fed-raises-interest-rates-by-75-basis-points-again-as-investors-brace-for-recession/
  4. https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/colasummary.html
  5. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/07/13/social-security-cost-of-living-adjustment-could-be-10point5percent-in-2023.html
  6. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/01/12/cpi-december-2021-.html
  7. https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/colaseries.html
  8. https://www.thebalance.com/u-s-inflation-rate-history-by-year-and-forecast-3306093
  9. https://www.cnn.com/2022/07/29/economy/worker-wages-inflation/index.html
  10. https://www.ssa.gov/news/press/factsheets/WhatAreTheTrust.htm
  11. https://www.thestreet.com/investing/social-security-2035

 

Investment Advisory Services offered through Trek Financial LLC., an (SEC) Registered Investment Advisor.

Information presented is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered specific investment advice, does not take into consideration your specific situation, and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any securities or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and are not guaranteed, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. For specific tax advice on any strategy, consult with a qualified tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Trek 348

Inflation as a Risk in Retirement

By | Inflation Risk, Retirement

Inflation can be troubling, especially for those living on a fixed income. Here’s what you need to consider.

Exiting the work force and beginning the next chapter of your life can be infinitely exciting. After a long career, free time afforded by retirement offers a great opportunity to check off long-awaited bucket list items or develop those relationships with loved ones. You might also stop setting alarms in the morning, making sure that you get the right amount of sleep to propel you toward your dreams. There is, however, one area in which you might not want to hit the snooze button: your finances.

With improvements in science and medicine have come increases in life expectancy, extending the length of retirement for the modern worker. While it’s great to plan to be around longer to pursue passions and spend time with family, longer life expectancy does present a challenge. Retirees used to plan for 10 to 15 years of retirement, but it’s no longer strange for someone to live to 100, meaning that retirement could potentially last 30 years [1].

Prolonged retirement can bring about longevity risk, which is the risk of running out of money while still alive, and inflation provides zero relief when it comes to making your money last. Inflation decreases the purchasing power of the dollar, which can create a serious problem for retirees living on fixed incomes and retirement accounts they’ve built over the course of their careers. Now inflation is at a 40-year peak [2], which can cause headaches, especially for those entering retirement as they’re forced to deplete savings faster than they might have under lower inflation rates.

Luckily, there are a few ways to alleviate some of the pain points when it comes to inflation in retirement. First, it can be beneficial to contribute to your retirement accounts early in your career. You can begin planning for retirement too late, but you can never begin too early. Some investment vehicles designed to build retirement assets for your future include employer-sponsored 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans, traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, SIMPLE IRAs and SEP plans.

Traditional 401(k) and IRA accounts grow tax-deferred, meaning that contributions will be made before taxes are taken from your paycheck then are taxed upon distribution. Roth accounts are distributed and grow tax-free if all IRS regulations are followed, but initial contributions are made with post-tax dollars. Both grow with compound interest; which Albert Einstein called the eighth wonder of the world. Compound interest means you will accrue more interest through time based on your growing account balance, so taking the time to feed those accounts when you’re younger can be extremely rewarding.

If you are getting close to retirement and don’t have decades of time on your side, there are a few more things about inflation that you should know.

Social Security considers inflation annually when calculating benefits, and some years it provides a cost-of-living adjustment, or COLA, based on one of the federal government’s consumer price indexes called the CPI-W. In 2021, Social Security beneficiaries received a 5.9% COLA, which was the highest increase since 1982, but it’s important to remember that COLA may not always cover increased costs. For example, beneficiaries received no increase in 2015[3] despite an incremental 0.12% inflation rate [4].

Some annuities are also specifically designed to combat inflation by offering a COLA. Annuities are contracts between buyers and issuing insurance companies which guarantee annuity payments based on the insurance carrier’s claims-paying ability [5] as well as the terms of the contract. With annuities that offer a COLA, the pre-determined payments may be adjusted to account for inflation.

Lastly, it’s always important to consult your financial professional to find solutions to suit your unique, individual situation. The proper guidance can assist you in determining whether or not you’re placing enough money into various retirement accounts to account for future inflation without disrupting your desired lifestyle.

If you have any questions about how inflation may affect your retirement, please give us a call! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

Sources

  1. https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/articles/how-living-longer-will-impact-your-retirement
  2. https://apnews.com/article/key-inflation-report-highest-level-in-four-decades-c0248c5b5705cd1523d3dab3771983b4
  3. https://www.ssa.gov/oact/cola/colaseries.html
  4. https://www.worlddata.info/america/usa/inflation-rates.php
  5. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/l/lifetime-payout-annuity.asp
Annuities

How Annuities Offer Protection and Growth Potential

By | Financial Literacy, Retirement

National Annuity Awareness Month is upon us! Let’s go over how annuities can be an important part of a retirement plan.

June is National Annuity Awareness Month, giving us the perfect reason to discuss how they can positively impact your retirement. Annuities have always played a role in retirement planning, but with growing uncertainty and market volatility, their importance has boomed. They offer the chance for growth along with the protection of principal during market downturns which is guaranteed by the claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance carrier.

While they can be a vital part of the retirement-planning process, annuities can sometimes be overlooked by advisors who focus strictly on accumulation and stock market investments. For people getting close to retirement and those without the appetite or flexibility for stock market risk, annuities can be an attractive option to guarantee income for life.

In fact, annuities were created for retirement; they were first invented during ancient Roman times to compensate retired soldiers. They’re meant to help you generate income once you stop collecting wages. There are many different types of annuities, but fixed and fixed indexed annuities are different than retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs in that they are not subject to market risk, and they offer guarantees.

In other words, fixed and fixed indexed annuities can offer a guaranteed income stream to eliminate some of the uncertainty that comes with retiring. It’s important to understand fixed and fixed indexed annuities are not investments, they are contracts. Even though they may credit interest based on market gains, they are not actually invested in the market at all. Fixed and fixed indexed annuities are contracts between you and the issuing insurance company, who again, based on their claims-paying ability, guarantee your principal and sometimes offer participation in stock market upside.

One of the main concerns of Americans on their way into their golden years is funding a secure retirement. In fact, a recent study showed that 56% were worried about running out of money in the next stage of their lives [1]. That worry seems to be well-founded, as a 2019 study projected that over 40% of U.S. households will run out of money in retirement [2].

One of the biggest reasons retirees run out of money is sequence of returns risk. This can happen when clients withdraw money from accounts early in retirement in a down market. The withdrawals can then out-pace the growth of the account, making it more likely that a person completely drains their funds while still living.

A fixed indexed annuity can counter sequence of returns risk by providing a guaranteed lifetime income option. Under a properly-structured fixed indexed annuity, the principal and the lifetime income benefit are both protected, which can be beneficial in a market crash. They also offer flexibility in diversifying your portfolio, as retirees with a guaranteed lifetime income benefit can keep other assets invested in the market, conceivably giving them a chance to wait out valleys and plateaus.

Some annuities are even designed to help combat inflation by offering a COLA, or cost of living adjustment. Considering the 2021 inflation rate was the highest America has seen since 1981[3], it’s no wonder experts are expecting an increase in inflation-protected annuities [4].

While annuities are popular among those looking for protection as well as growth potential, purchasing one can be treacherous without proper help. There are many different types of annuities, and they won’t all offer identical benefits or protections. For example, variable annuities are directly invested in the market and carry the same risk that any market investment would. There are pros and cons to each type, and innovative insurance companies are working to design new annuity products with enhanced benefits every single day.

If you have any questions about annuities or how to protect your retirement funds, please give us a call! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

Sources:

  1. https://www.nirsonline.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/FINAL-Retirement-Insecurity-2021-.pdf
  2. https://www.ebri.org/content/retirement-savings-shortfalls-evidence-from-ebri-s-2019-retirement-security-projection-model
  3. https://www.thebalance.com/u-s-inflation-rate-history-by-year-and-forecast-3306093
  4. https://ifamagazine.com/article/inflation-could-lead-to-a-resurgence-in-popularity-of-annuities-says-continuum/

 

How Big Events Like Ukraine Can Impact Your Retirement

By | Geopolitical Affairs, Retirement

World events can impact your retirement, but you can be prepared!

The past few years have shown us that big world events can impact our lives at any moment. Sometimes we see them coming. Other times, we don’t have the ability to prepare and buckle in for the turmoil ahead.

The COVID-19 virus is one of the best recent examples of major world events impacting the economy. Now, the Russian invasion of Ukraine appears to be taking an immediate toll on Americans financially. It begs the question, can we prepare for these types of events so that we can, at least, soften the blow to our futures?

Well, the first step toward answering that question is knowing what to look out for when these major moments strike. Here are five ways big world events can impact your retirement:

  1. Market Shifts

Reactions to global events often shift the market, and in times of crisis, that shift is typically negative [ An article from ThinkAdvisor said a global recession because of a negative supply shock is now “highly likely,” especially when you tack on the fact that the world is still recovering from the spread of the COVID-19 virus[1].

Market downturns often hurt retirees, especially if they have to withdraw money from accounts like mutual funds, stocks or bond funds for retirement income while account values are down. For those in or approaching retirement, the situation can be difficult if they have no other sources of income and have to keep taking money out of dropping accounts, especially at the beginning of their retirement (known as “sequence of returns risk”). In fact, many people on their way into retirement during the Great Recession were forced to remain in the workforce when they lost everything[

It’s also worth noting that market crashes can actually help younger investors because they have a long time-horizon to retirement and can “buy and hold” bargains. In other words, if younger people are able to invest when the market bottoms out, it might be an opportunity to buy low in order to accrue higher long-term gains.

  1. Inflation

Inflation can have a profound impact on finances, and those taking the brunt of the blow might be the ones who are no longer stockpiling resources. Inflation isn’t a new concept, but when your retirement money doesn’t go as far as you hoped, it can put your plans for your golden years in jeopardy. Over the course of the pandemic, the United States sent stimulus checks to qualifying Americans three different times. With more money in the pockets of consumers, prices rose, and they didn’t fall after people spent their stimulus checks. In fact, they continued to rocket upward. The Washington Post reported that inflation reached 40-year highs at the time of Russia’s invasion, posing major questions for the U.S., the Federal Reserve and retirees stretching their financial resources to their limits[4].

  1. Gas Prices

This one is no secret. In fact, if you drive past a gas pump when supply is short, your jaw might drop. As the Russian invasion of Ukraine wages on, CNN reports the biggest jump in gas prices since Hurricane Katrina[8]. Russia is not the only supplier of oil, but it is Europe’s largest, producing 10% of the global demand. The U.S. imports just 8% of its oil from Russia, but energy is a global commodity, meaning that a rise in one part of the world causes a rise in another part of the world[10]. Bob Doll, the chief investment officer of Crossmark Global Investments, spoke to ThinkAdvisor to discuss the effects of the Russia-Ukraine war. He noted, several times, that oil prices can devastate the economy. He said the price surge is why the war should be investors’ chief concern in 2022. Doll went on to say that inflation is likely still yet to peak because of rising oil prices[2].

You might be wondering what that has to do with your retirement. The spike in oil costs and inflation drastically affect the purchasing power of a dollar, which could be most impactful to those living on fixed incomes. If you’re in retirement, it could force you to spend more at the pump, taking away from valuable dollars you may need for other expenses.

  1. Shifting of Retirement Ages and Plans

Uncertainty in markets, inflation and other results of a global crisis can also upset retirement plans decades in the making. In 2021, CNBC reported that 35% of Americans changed their retirement plans because of the pandemic[6]. 68.5% of those who changed their plans said they moved their retirement expectations back by up to 10 years. Some did report that they planned to move retirement up, but the uncertainty forced others on the brink of finishing their careers to table their hopes and remain in the workforce to continue collecting paychecks.

  1. General Panic

Major events, especially ones that have negative impacts on people, markets and finances, can cause panic. Common wisdom says to never make decisions in a panicked state, but it is easy to see how you might want to unload certain investments or liquidate assets out of fear that things might get worse. In his ThinkAdvisor feature, Bob Doll said advisors shouldn’t be recommending any major risks right now, arguing that investors have seen the market during wartime, and it typically bounces back[2]. Oftentimes, approaching the situation from a more measured perspective could actually provide an opportunity. A Kiplinger article used The Great Recession as a teacher for retirees in a crisis, citing one investor who remained patient, even adding to his investments as stock prices hit the basement[9]. He later said he was headed toward an early retirement and squashed his fear of volatility. With a calm, steady approach, retirees can take steps to fight market downturns.

If you have questions about how you can protect your retirement plans and weather global economic storms, please give us a call. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2022/02/25/roubini-6-financial-economic-risks-of-russia-ukraine-war/
  2. https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2022/03/07/bob-doll-10-talking-points-for-advisors-investors-amid-russia-ukraine-war/
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/23/business/economy/russia-ukraine-global-us-economy.html
  4. https://www.washingtonpost.com/us-policy/2022/03/02/powell-testimony-inflation-fed/
  5. https://finance.yahoo.com/news/russia-ukraine-crisis-what-can-prevent-150-oil-prices-112747924.html
  6. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/10/12/pandemic-has-disrupted-retirement-plans-for-35percent-of-americans-study-says.html
  7. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/3/how-much-oil-does-the-us-import-from-russia
  8. https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/04/energy/gas-prices/index.html
  9. https://www.kiplinger.com/slideshow/retirement/t047-s004-5-retirement-lessons-learned-from-great-recession/index.html
  10. https://www.eia.gov/dnav/pet/pet_move_impcus_a2_nus_ep00_im0_mbbl_a.htm
  11. https://www.diva-portal.org/smash/get/diva2:727314/FULLTEXT01.pdf
  12. https://money.usnews.com/money/retirement/articles/2011/10/31/the-recessions-impact-on-baby-boomer-retirement

Investment Advisory Services offered through Trek Financial LLC., an (SEC) Registered Investment Advisor. Information presented is for educational purposes only. It should not be considered specific investment advice, does not take into consideration your specific situation, and does not intend to make an offer or solicitation for the sale or purchase of any securities or investment strategies. Investments involve risk and are not guaranteed, and past performance is no guarantee of future results. For specific tax advice on any strategy, consult with a qualified tax professional before implementing any strategy discussed herein. Trek268

 

Your Year-End Financial Checklist

By | Financial Planning, Retirement, Tax Planning

The end of the year can help remind us of last-minute things we need to address as well as the goals we want to pursue and get serious about. To that end, here are some aspects of your financial life to contemplate as this year leads into 2022. 

Your investments. Set up a meeting to review your investments with your financial professional. You’ll want to come away from the meeting with an understanding of your portfolio positions and a revisit of your asset allocation based on your age, desires and personal circumstances. Remember, asset allocation and diversification are approaches to help manage investment risk, they do not guarantee against stock market drops or equities losses. Make sure your portfolio reflects your desire for protection and safety as well as growth.

Your retirement strategy. You may want to consider contributing the maximum to your retirement accounts—this may be a great time to decide on making catch-up contributions if you are 50 or older. It’s also a good idea to review any retirement accounts you may have through your work to see if your selections are still suitable for you. If you are getting close to retirement, you’ll want to start considering your Social Security filing strategy in advance, since that will dovetail with your overall retirement income plan.

Your tax situation. It’s a good idea to check in with your tax or legal professional before the year ends, especially if you have questions about an expense or deduction from this year. Also, it may be a good idea to review any sales of property as well as both realized and unrealized losses and gains. Look back at last year’s loss carryforwards. If you’ve sold securities, gather up cost-basis information. As always, bringing all this information to your financial professional as well as your tax professional is a smart move.

Your charitable gifting goals. Plan charitable contributions or contributions to education accounts and make any desired cash gifts to family members. The annual federal gift tax exclusion allows you to give away up to $15,000 in 2021, meaning you can gift as much as $15,000 to as many individuals as you like this year. Such gifts do not count against the lifetime estate tax exemption amount, as long as they stay beneath the annual federal gift tax exclusion threshold. Besides outright gifts, you can explore creating and funding trusts on behalf of your family. The end of the year is also a good time to review any trusts you have in place. Using a trust involves a complex set of tax rules and regulations. Before moving forward with a trust, it’s important to work with a professional who is familiar with the rules and regulations.

Your life insurance coverage. The end of the year is an excellent time to double-check that your policies and beneficiaries are up to date. Don’t forget to review premium costs and beneficiaries and think about whether your insurance needs have changed. Several factors could impact the cost and availability of life insurance, such as age, health, and the type of insurance purchased, as well as the amount purchased. Life insurance policies have expenses, including mortality and other charges. If a policy is surrendered prematurely, you may pay surrender charges, which could have income tax implications. You should consider determining whether you are insurable before implementing a strategy involving life insurance. Finally, don’t forget that any guarantees associated with a policy are dependent on the ability of the issuing insurance company to continue making claim payments.

Life events. Here are some questions to ask yourself when evaluating any large life changes in the last year: Did you happen to get married or divorced this year? Did you move or change jobs? Did you buy a home or business? Was there a new addition to your family this year? Did you receive an inheritance or a gift? All these circumstances can have a financial impact on your life as well as the way you invest and plan for retirement and wind down your career or business.

Keep in mind, this article is for informational purposes only and is not a replacement for real-life advice. Make certain to contact a tax or legal professional before modifying your tax strategy. The ideas presented are not intended to provide specific advice.

If you would like to discuss your year-end checklist items, please give us a call. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

The Latest Facts About Social Security

By | Retirement, Social Security

On October 13, 2021, the Social Security Administration (SSA) officially announced that Social Security recipients will receive a 5.9 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) for 2022, the largest increase in four decades. This adjustment will begin with benefits payable to more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries in January 2022. Additionally, increased payments to more than 8 million Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries will begin on December 31, 2021.

 

Biggest COLA Increase in Decades?

While many predicted a bump of as much as 6.1% given recent movement in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the announced 5.9% increase is still substantial. Some fear that rising consumer prices may dilute the impact of the increase with inflation currently running at more than 5 percent. While this remains to be seen, Social Security beneficiaries will no doubt welcome the largest adjustment since 1982.

 

How You Will Be Notified.

According to the Social Security Administration, Social Security and SSI beneficiaries are usually notified about their new benefit amount by mail starting in early December. However, if you’ve set up your SSA online account, you will also be able to view your COLA notice online through your “My Social Security” account.

 

Is it Enough?

For years organizations like the AARP have pointed out that the index used to calculate inflation—the CPI-W, a consumer price index that reflects the increasing cost of goods for urban wage earners—does not reflect the inflation on goods and services needed by the elderly, such as health care. In July, a bill titled “Fair COLA for Seniors Act of 2021” was introduced which would require the Consumer Price Index for the Elderly (CPI-E) be used when Social Security calculates their annual COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment).

 

Is Social Security Going Broke?

Per the Washington Post, each year, the Social Security Board of Trustees releases a report that analyzes the current and projected financial health of Social Security and Medicare. This year, the trustees found that: “The finances of both programs have been significantly affected by the pandemic and the recession of 2020.”

The trustees now project the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund will be insolvent in 2033. What this means there will be enough income to pay out only 76 percent of scheduled payments.

One solution often debated is getting rid of the income threshold for the Social Security payroll tax. In 2021, the maximum taxable earnings subject to the Social Security tax is $142,800. Earnings above the maximum are not subject to the tax, which is 6.2 percent for employees and a matching 6.2 percent for employers. (NOTE: Even though many do not pay in, very few high-earners decline to file for Social Security payments.)

There’s no income cap for the Medicare tax, which is 2.9 percent. (Employers pay 1.45 percent, and employees cover the other half.)

A Gallup poll this year found that 38 percent of U.S. adults not yet retired thought Social Security would be a major source of their income, but the reality is that 57 percent of retirees rely on Social Security as their main source of income.

 

Your Next Steps?

If this information about Social Security surprises or concerns you, it’s always a good idea to seek guidance from your financial professional about changes to any of your sources of retirement income. We welcome the chance to talk with you about this. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.

 

 

Sources:

https://www.ssa.gov/cola/#:~

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/social-security-benefits-cola-cost-of-living-2022-increase/

https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidrae/2021/07/21/will-congress-change-social-security-cost-of-living-adjustment-is-calculated/?sh=21dd13ca373c

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/09/03/social-security-insolvency/

https://www.latimes.com/business/story/2019-12-03/social-security-wealthy-benefits

 

 

 

What To Do If You’ve Lost a Retirement Account

By | Retirement

A recent study found that the problem of “forgotten 401(k)” and pension accounts is widespread, and amounts to approximately 24 million accounts containing $1.35 trillion in assets. The issue is so big that Congress is considering creating a national online “lost-and-found” database to help people track down their accounts as part of a larger bill containing more benefits and protections for retirees: the “SECURE Act 2.0” as some are calling it.

But until legislation is passed, you will be on your own when it comes to finding your lost retirement money. Whether you changed jobs and forgot about your old plan or your spouse passed away with you unaware of their old accounts with former employers, here are some things you can do.

  1. Search your paper files

Old retirement account statements can provide account numbers and plan administrator contact information to give you a good place to start.

  1. Contact former employers’ human resources departments

If you can’t locate any statements, try reaching out to the HR departments at former employers. You should have dates of employment in hand as well as your Social Security number, and you will need to prove your identity. If you are searching for a deceased spouse’s account, you may have to provide a death certificate or other evidence. Remember, a good HR department knows that they need to protect confidential information and will do so.

  1. If an old employer is no longer in existence

Your 401(k) balance is protected from creditors if an old employer filed for bankruptcy and is likely still at the investment company that administered the plan. By federal law, all 401(k) money must be held in trust or in an insurance contract, separate from the employer’s business assets.

If you are unable to reach the plan administrator, contact the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) toll-free at 1-866-444-3272.or go to their website at https://www.dol.gov/ebsa/.

  1. Search your state’s treasury department

Based on the state where you worked, it’s possible that your former employer turned over your 401(k) balance to that state’s unclaimed property fund. Often state treasury departments have online search tools to help you find money that is considered your “unclaimed property” in the form of bank account or retirement assets. You will have to fill out forms and provide proof of identification.

  1. Try a privately-owned online search tool

A service called the “National Registry” is a national database listing of unclaimed retirement plan account balances used by some employers. It is owned by a firm called PenChecks, Inc. located in La Mesa, California: https://unclaimedretirementbenefits.com/.

  1. If you’ve lost track of a pension

If you have lost track of a pension held by a former employer, you can request a pension benefits statement from your plan administrator. If that employer no longer exists, the pension may have been taken over by an insurance company or PBGC, the federal Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. You can track down your pension at: https://www.pbgc.gov/search-all.

  1. Detailed work history

If you need to prove your work history and eligibility for your pension and have lost old W-2 forms, you can request a detailed earnings statement from Social Security by using Form SSA-7020.

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Conclusion

We often recommend that you not leave money in a former employer’s 401(k) plan for the simple reasons that you may lose track of it and your money will not be in your control. If you are working, you can roll over the funds into your current employer’s existing 401(k) plan, or you can roll it over into your own IRA (Individual Retirement Account) which can be invested in many different ways.

Beginning at age 59-1/2, your company 401(k) plan may even allow an “in-service rollover” of part of your 401(k) money to your own IRA.

This article is provided for informational purposes only and is accurate to the best of our knowledge. It is not to be construed as financial or retirement advice. Please contact us if you need individualized help with examining your personal rollover options based on your unique situation.

 

Do you have questions? Call us! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395. 

 

 

Sources:

https://www.hicapitalize.com/resources/the-true-cost-of-forgotten-401ks/

https://www.kiplinger.com/retirement/retirement-plans/602821/secure-act-2-10-ways-the-proposed-law-could-change-retirement-savings

https://www.kiplinger.com/retirement/retirement-plans/401ks/603334/how-to-find-a-lost-retirement-account

Retirement Saving at Each Age

By | Financial Planning, Retirement

While it’s true that each person is unique and every financial plan should be customized according to their situation, it is generally accepted that people should start saving for retirement early in their lives so they can take advantage of compounding returns.

Here is some general information and things to consider about saving for retirement for each age group.

Gen Z

Roth IRA accounts. As soon as children or grandchildren have earned income, either you or they can open and contribute to a Roth IRA (Individual Retirement Account) in their name. Roth IRA contributions can’t exceed the child’s earned income and the maximum amount that can be contributed for the year is $6,000 for 2021. The benefit is that Roth accounts grow tax-free as long as all IRS rules are followed. After the account has been open for five years, any amount contributed can be borrowed or taken out for any reason without any taxes or tax penalties due. (But Roth IRA account earnings—meaning returns or interest credited—can’t be taken out before age 59-1/2 without a 10% penalty.) That means your child could have a very flexible way to borrow for college, down payment on a house or any other purpose—including retirement—later on.

Permanent life insurance. Another option to help children, teens and young adults save for retirement is permanent life insurance. New types of life insurance policies can be a tax-advantaged way to save and borrow later from the policy for retirement, college or any other purpose. Often the cost of insurance is very low for healthy young people.

Gen Y

Workplace retirement plans. People in their mid-20s to 40s are often pursuing careers where their employers provide 401(k) or similar retirement plans with a “match” for contributions. One rule of thumb says to max out pre-tax contributions during these years up to the maximum match by your employer; you get the added benefit of lowering your taxable income.

Traditional IRA accounts, Roth IRAs, permanent life insurance, investment portfolios. For those who don’t have a workplace retirement plan, or for those that want to invest beyond their employer’s group retirement offering, traditional pre-tax IRAs are available depending on your income level while providing a tax write-off, while tax-advantaged Roth IRAs and permanent life insurance can offer other benefits. Once you reach the maximums on retirement savings, you may want to begin to invest in stocks and bonds, forming your first investment portfolio. If possible, hire a financial professional to help you create a complete financial plan which can be updated and reviewed every year.

Gen X

Save, invest, and save some more. People in their 40s and early 50s can be sandwiched between providing for their older children’s expensive needs—like transportation, health care and college—while caring for their parents as they get older. Yet it is incredibly important for Gen X to begin to maximize their retirement savings. All of the possibilities discussed for younger ages also apply to Gen X, and after age 50, you can contribute $7,000 per year ($1,000 extra) to an IRA or Roth IRA in 2021, depending on your income and IRS rules. Some permanent life insurance or deferred income annuity products can allow you to save for retirement while providing other optional benefits like disability, long-term care insurance or spousal protection should you need it. Find efficient ways to pay for your kids’ college, and as you make more money, use it for retirement investing while keeping your spending on housing, automobiles and similar items as low as you can. Work closely with your financial professional to make sure you are on track to achieve your retirement goals.

Baby Boomers

How much money will you need to retire? If you are 55 or older, it is probably time to get serious about what you want your retirement lifestyle to be so that you can get some idea of what kind of retirement savings you will need to support yourself after you are no longer receiving a paycheck. For instance, someone who wants to do a lot of international traveling will need a lot more saved than someone who plans to stay close to home during retirement. Retirement planning is essential, since pulling money out of your portfolio is much different than putting money in as you have been used to. Make sure your financial professional is focused on retirement; retirement planning is a distinct specialty.

Claiming Social Security. It’s time to start learning about Social Security. The Social Security Administration recently changed the design of your statement to show you how much your benefit will be at the earliest time you can file (age 62), at full retirement age (around age 66 or 67 depending on your birth year) and at age 70, when your benefit amount stops growing. You can obtain your latest statement here. Important: Remember that Medicare is not free; premiums come out of your Social Security check.

Consider taxation. Remember that if you have the majority of your retirement savings held in taxable accounts like traditional 401(k)s, you will owe income taxes on that money. Depending on your tax bracket, your savings may actually be from 22% to 35% less after you pay income taxes. As an example, someone with $500,000 saved for retirement may actually only have $385,000 if they are in the 23% tax bracket. Current tax law requires you to start withdrawing money and paying income taxes on taxable, tax-deferred retirement accounts every year beginning at age 72. Start working with your financial professional early, because there may be ways to save on taxes for the long-term using strategies over the five to 10 years preceding retirement.

Multigenerational Wealth

As part of retirement planning, it is important that each member of the family works together for tax-efficient wealth transfer in the future, minimizing the chance for strife, confusion or excess taxation during family transitions or adverse events. New legislation—the SECURE Act—changed the rules about inherited traditional IRA accounts, and potential tax impacts should be addressed now rather than later.

The family that plans together, stays happy together, hopefully for the long-term. Whenever possible, everyone should be involved in financial, retirement and estate planning matters working hand-in-hand with a trusted financial professional, tax professional and estate attorney to document inheritance matters, final wishes, health care directives, wills and trusts.

If you have any questions about this article, please call us. We’re happy to help you and your family members. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395. 

It’s Annuity Awareness Month. How much do you know about annuities?

By | Financial Literacy, Retirement

Because June is Annuity Awareness Month, here is an overview about them.

Annuity product designs and types continue to evolve, primarily to meet the demands of people nearing retirement. In addition to their original purpose of providing retirement income, insurance companies have developed hybrid policies, adding features to address the multiple risks consumers face as they get older.

The most important thing you should know about annuities is that they are insurance policies, or contracts between you and an insurance company. Guarantees in them are backed by the financial strength and claims-paying ability of the issuing insurance company.

As with any contract, it’s important to read and understand the fine print before you sign, and you should compare policies from multiple insurance companies to find the best value. That’s where a good independent financial advisor can help.

Fixed Annuities

Fixed annuities are probably the easiest type of annuity to understand. (They are also the oldest—a simple form of the fixed annuity was originally created for Roman soldiers who grew too old to serve.) An insurance company will guarantee* a fixed interest rate on your fixed annuity contract for a selected term, usually from one to 15 years. You can usually purchase a fixed annuity with either a lump sum of money or a series of payments over time.

At the end of the contract term, you can take the money out, put it into another investment, or “annuitize,” meaning you can begin to take periodic payments over time to create income for retirement. This is called the “payout phase” of an annuity contract and it may last for a specified number of months, years, or be guaranteed* for as long as you live.

If you do choose to annuitize a fixed annuity policy, you can begin to receive periodic payments at once (called an immediate fixed) or you can wait until a certain age or time in the future to start receiving payments (called a deferred fixed).

If you purchase one of these annuities with non-qualified money (meaning you have already paid taxes on it), the interest in the annuity policy accrues on a tax-deferred basis. At the point where you take the money out of the annuity or begin taking periodic annuity payments, distributions are taxed based on an “exclusion ratio” so that you only pay taxes on the interest or gains.

If you purchase one of these annuities with qualified money, such as by rolling it over from a traditional 401(k) or IRA, distributions are 100% taxable, since you have not paid any taxes on any of the money yet. As with any qualified plan, if you take or withdraw money before age 59-1/2 you may owe additional tax penalties.

Variable Annuities

Variable annuities were developed in the 1950s. The best way to explain variable annuities is to compare them to fixed annuities. First of all, most variable annuities require a prospectus since part of your money will actually be invested in the stock market, called “sub-account investments.” That means that there is market risk involved with variable annuities, because you can either make money on the amount invested in sub-accounts, or you can lose it depending on market performance.

Variable annuities are usually purchased with the expectation that at some point the contract owner will annuitize or begin taking periodic payments. These are called deferred variable annuity contracts. (You can also purchase an immediate variable annuity contract.)

The important thing to understand about the variable annuity contract is that your periodic annuity payments may fluctuate based on stock market performance, depending on policy terms. And it’s possible that some variable annuity policies can lose principal due to stock market losses.

Variable annuities often come with a death benefit for your beneficiaries based on the contract terms, but some specify that there must be enough money left in the policy after annuitization payments have been taken out and/or will pay the death benefit as long as the sub-accounts have not lost too much money.

Fixed Indexed Annuities

Fixed indexed annuities were first designed in 1995. The biggest difference between them and variable annuities is that fixed indexed annuities are not actually invested in the stock market so they are not subject to market risk. With fixed indexed annuities, after you have owned the policy for a specified number of years your principal is guaranteed*.

With fixed indexed annuities, any policy gains are credited and then locked in annually, bi-annually or at specified points in time. The gains credited to the policy are determined by the insurance company based on the performance of a selected index (for instance, the S&P 500) or multiple indexes. Some fixed indexed annuity gains are capped relative to index performance, meaning you can only be credited a certain percentage, but some are uncapped.

Index performance is used as a benchmark for policy gains or periodic crediting and lock-in. With fixed indexed annuities, you have the potential to participate in market gains. And if the benchmark index loses money, your policy is credited with 0%, keeping the most current locked-in principal value in place.

Fixed indexed annuities can be purchased on an immediate or deferred basis. They can be purchased with qualified or non-qualified money. And they can offer a lifetime income option and/or a death benefit.

Other Things to Know About Annuities

*The guarantees provided by annuities rely on the claims-paying ability and financial strength of the issuing insurance company.

Annuities must be considered carefully based on your particular situation because they are not liquid. Almost all annuities are subject to early withdrawal penalties. Make sure you understand the contract terms and the type of annuity you are purchasing. Your financial advisor can help you compare and analyze policies.

This article is provided for information purposes only and is accurate to the best of our knowledge. This article is not to be relied on or considered as investment or tax advice.

Have questions about annuities? Please call us! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395. 

 

RMDs Are Back for 2021

By | Retirement, Tax Planning

RMDs, or Required Minimum Distributions, are withdrawals that are required by the IRS each year out of your traditional retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs starting at age 72. The money that you have to take out annually by December 31st at midnight is taxed based on your income tax rate for that tax year.

Some retirees forget about RMDs when planning for retirement, and don’t realize how big the tax bite may be for them. This year, because of the pandemic, the CARES Act suspended the RMD for the 2020 tax year in an effort to help retirees avoid withdrawing money from accounts when the market was down.

(An RMD is calculated based on the closing balance of the account at the end of the previous year. When the markets drop significantly, the RMD represents a much higher percentage of a diminished portfolio and that reduces the ability to recover from big losses.)

In 2021, the RMD will be back. As an example, a 75-year-old man with a traditional IRA worth $100,000 will have to withdraw $4,367 this year.

Roth 401(k) Plans

Roth 401(k) plans, which are funded with after-tax dollars, are subject to the same RMD rules that traditional 401(k) and IRA plans are. The amounts are calculated using the same IRS life expectancy tables and account holders must begin taking them after they turn 72. (One exception is if you continue working after age 72 for the company that sponsors the plan and you don’t own more than 50% of the company.)

The difference is that Roth 401(k) withdrawals are usually not taxed.

You can avoid taking the minimum distributions entirely by rolling a Roth 401(k) into a personal Roth IRA, which is not subject to RMD rules.

2020 RMDs Without Penalty, But With Taxes

As part of the CARES Act, the IRS allowed COVID-related withdrawals from traditional retirement plans up to $100,000 without penalty in 2020 for those who were impacted by the pandemic. Income taxes were due on those withdrawals, which could be paid over a three-year period. Those who can afford to can pay the withdrawals back this year (or over a three-year period) can get the taxes back by filing amended tax returns.

Those Who Just Turned 72—It’s Complicated

The SECURE Act of 2019 raised the age when RMDs must begin to age 72. If you turned 70-1/2 in 2019, the old rules applied—your first RMD should have been due April 1st, 2020. However, because the CARES Act suspended RMDs, the new due date was April 1, 2021 for those individuals.

For retirees who turned 72 in 2020 or will turn 72 this year, you can take your RMD at any point in 2021, or even delay it up until April 1, 2022. But if you choose to delay it, you will owe two RMDs in 2022, which could put you into a higher tax bracket.

You should check with your tax professional before making decisions about RMDs, because there are strict rules about which accounts must be withdrawn from and stiff penalties for mistakes—to the tune of taxes owed plus an additional 50%!

 

To discuss your retirement plan, including RMDs, please call us. We are happy to discuss ideas with you and/or your tax professional. You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395. 

 

This article is provided for educational purposes only and its content should not be relied upon for tax advice. As always, check with your tax professional or attorney for specific tax advice related to your situation.

Source:

https://www.cnbc.com/2021/03/01/required-minimum-distributions-on-retirement-plans-are-back.html