What is Sequence of Returns Risk?

By | Investments, Retirement

Sequence of returns risk can put your retirement portfolio in jeopardy, but what is it, and how do you fight it?

We get it. Retirement can be scary. We know this because it’s our job to help our clients plan for and seamlessly transition into what should be one of the most rewarding times of their lives. What we often find, however, is that most are worried about retirement because of the risks that come with it. But what are some of the risks that strike fear in the hearts of retirement hopefuls? Well, the first is related to longevity—it’s the possibility of running out of money as you get older, and being unable to go back to work in order to support yourself. We also find that people getting ready to retire are concerned about inflation, the cost of health care, the possibility of needing long-term care and more.

There’s one risk, however, that hides in the shadows, waiting to rear its ugly head and throw turbulence into the lives of new retirees and those right on the edge of retirement. It’s called market risk, or the possibility that you could lose your retirement money during market crashes or downturns. How might this look? Specifically, something called sequence of returns risk can be the most dangerous aspect of market risk. And while it might sound complicated, it’s a simple concept with the potential to have major implications on your retirement dreams. Let’s go over what sequence of returns risk is, as well as a few ways you may be able to fight it!

What is Sequence of Returns Risk?

Simply put, sequence of returns risk is the risk of negative market returns occurring right before you retire and/or very early in your retirement. During this time, market downturns can have a much more significant impact on your portfolio.

Again, it might sound like some buzzword the financial industry throws around to scare consumers, but sequence of returns risk is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the sequence, or the order, in which your portfolio provides market returns. It’s key to remember that sequence of returns risk is specifically associated with money directly invested in the market. That means it could apply to vehicles like employer-sponsored retirement accounts, traditional and Roth IRAs, mutual funds, brokerage accounts, variable annuities and any other assets that can lose value during market downturns.

Now, let’s think about your goals for your retirement. If you’re just starting your career, or you’re right in the middle of your working years, you may contribute to your various saving and investing vehicles with the goal of having a large pool of funds when you finally retire at, say, 65 years old. You’d hope that diligent saving and favorable returns would bring your assets to their highest total right at that point, giving you ample funds to draw from once you retire.

Sequence of returns risk is the potential of the market dipping near the end of your career, or in the first few years of your retirement, meaning those drops affect your account balances at their peak. You would then take losses on greater amounts of money, creating greater losses. While you never want to experience dips, it makes sense why you’d hope those periods of market volatility that you will likely encounter at some point during retirement occur farther down the road, especially when you’re concurrently withdrawing money to support your lifestyle.

An Example Where Both Retirees Have $1 Million Saved

Just as an example, let’s consider two retirees, and what happens during their first 10 years of retirement. Both have $1 million saved, and they both determine they need to withdraw $50,000 per year from their accounts to fund their lifestyles.

Our first retiree is lucky. They retire and then experience eight years of a bull market, growing their portfolio by 5% each year. In the next two years, however, they experience declines of 5%, bringing their balance back down.

The other retiree sees the exact opposite sequence. They immediately encounter a bear market upon entering retirement, which drops their accounts by 5% in each of the first two years. Then the market rebounds and goes up 5% each year for the next eight years.

Both retirees continued to withdraw $50,000 per year from their accounts. So, what was the result?

Even though both retirees had the same initial balance, withdrew the same amounts, experienced eight years of bull markets and two years of bear markets, the order or “sequence of returns” made a big difference.

The first retiree didn’t experience market dips at the beginning when their account balances were highest. At the end of the 10-year period, they still had $788,329 left in their account.

The other retiree, on the other hand, wasn’t so lucky. They took losses during the first two years of their retirement, on their highest balances, and by the end of the 10-year period, they only had $695,226.

(Please remember this example is purely hypothetical and not reflective of real scenarios or real people. We simply used a starting balance of $1 million for each person, then subtracted $50,000 in income at the beginning of each year, then multiplied the accounts’ balances by the annual positive or negative effect on the market we imagined for this example. Actual market returns are unpredictable and tend to vary far more than in the case study shown. This is strictly to display the potential effects of the aforementioned risk.)

What are Some Ways to Mitigate Sequence of Returns Risk?

You can see how the sequence of your returns can affect your portfolio. The market is unpredictable and bottomless, so it’s important to try to shield yourself from, or at least mitigate the possibility of, taking those losses at the starting gate. But how can you do that when the market is completely out of your control? Well, you have a few options.

First and foremost, you can work with a financial professional to diversify your portfolio. While diversification can never guarantee any level of protection or growth, it may give you the ability to withstand dips in certain sectors of the market. It also spreads risk across different asset classes, or even different categories within the market itself. That can potentially help you avoid taking losses in your entire portfolio, even if one sector experiences headwinds.

For instance, non-correlated asset classes, which could include annuities or life insurance policies, might be a retirement diversification option for some people. Modern policy designs like fixed-indexed annuities and indexed universal life insurance policies are typically linked to a market index, while not actually participating in the market. These products can provide the upside of market gains while still protecting the principal, or the money used to fund the policy, in addition to locking in the gains.

These solutions may not match every consumer’s situation or financial objectives, however, so it’s important to speak to your advisor to explore policies and see if they make sense for your portfolio. For some people, annuities can provide a stream of retirement income that can cover lifestyle expenses, allowing retirees to leave their assets in the market during downturns rather than being forced to make withdrawals.

Be sure to speak with a financial professional who understands your circumstances, goals and tolerance for risk. The right partner can help you develop a custom withdrawal strategy and a plan to generate a reliable stream of income with your accumulated retirement assets. Your plan may include portfolio diversification, the establishment of a liquid emergency fund, the inclusion of alternative strategies and more, all with the intention of making your money last your entire life.

If you have any questions about how you can fight sequence of returns risk, give us a call today! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management in Tacoma, Washington at 253.509.0395


Trek Financial, LLC dba Trek Financial is an SEC registered investment adviser. Material prepared herein has been created for informational purposes only and should not be considered investment advice or a recommendation. Information was obtained from sources believed to be reliable but was not verified for accuracy. Any hypotheticals are for illustrative purposes only and are not to be construed as predictive of any specific outcome. It is important to note that federal tax laws under the Internal Revenue Code (IRC) of the United States are subject to change, therefore it is the responsibility of taxpayers to verify their taxation obligations.

Trek 24-241

5 Things You Need to Know About Retirement

By | Retirement

Saving for retirement is important, but it’s also crucial to stay informed! Now that it’s Financial Literacy Month, we thought it would be the perfect time to discuss some things you need to know.

There’s an old saying that goes something like, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you.” You might have even used it, maybe when you came home past curfew without your parents finding out or poured your juice into the plant when no one was watching. And sure, no one being the wiser might have worked when you were young, but in retirement, what you don’t know actually COULD hurt you.

It’s important to stay informed about not just past trends, but also what you should expect as you make your way through that exciting phase of your life. It could give you a better chance to prepare for obstacles and implement a plan to overcome them. It could also help you take advantage of opportunities, especially as you look to make your money last for a quarter of a century or longer. Let’s go over five things you need to know about retirement.

  1. Market Downturns WILL Happen [1,2]

When you spend between 25 and 30 years or longer in retirement, it’s not a question of “if” you’ll encounter market downturn; it’s a question of “when.” These declines are typically referred to as “bear markets,” which are defined as market drops of 20% or more. If we use the S&P 500 as an indicator of bear markets, there have been 12 instances of significant market decline since the index’s inception in 1957. That means you should expect to face some adversity in the market once every five or six years. So, what are your options?

Well, historically, patience has been a way to overcome market adversity, as long-term outlooks have always trended upward. It can also be helpful to work with a financial professional who can tailor your portfolio to your goals and tolerance for risk. If you’re more comfortable with risk or have a longer timeline to retirement, you may have more assets invested in the market, whereas those approaching retirement may consider shifting more of the portfolio into assets that are fixed, like bonds or bond alternatives.

Rebalancing your portfolio and creating a customized retirement plan as you approach retirement is advised, especially to mitigate sequence of returns risk. Sequence of returns risk is the risk of retirees facing market downturn in the few years prior or the first few years of retirement. Again, working with a financial professional to find ways to mitigate sequence of returns risk can be helpful. Sometimes this is done by creating a stream of income with part of your retirement assets to cover your living expenses. This allows you to wait out bear markets with your remaining assets which might remain directly invested in the market.

  1. Decumulation is Just as Important as Accumulation

Yes, we all want to retire as multimillionaires, hitting on our investments and getting lucrative returns. That period of building your assets, investment and making growth-oriented decisions is often referred to as the “accumulation” phase. However, the fact is, it doesn’t matter how much money you accumulate if you don’t have a plan for how to spend it in the “decumulation” phase, after you retire and no longer have employment income coming in. Oftentimes, that plan includes a strategy to create income for your projected lifestyle, as well as a comprehensive budget dictating where that income will go. Additionally, many factors will play a role in decumulation, including taxation, legislation, your life expectancy, your spending habits and more.

We traditionally recommend getting a good idea of how much you plan to spend on an annual basis. That’s how much income you’ll likely need to create, along with a little bit of wiggle room giving you the freedom to cover emergencies or other unexpected expenses. The best way to do this is often by assessing your goals for retirement, then estimating the amount of money you’ll need to achieve them. Then, we can build a budget for you to strictly adhere to in retirement. It’s important to understand that if you start planning for retirement once you’re already there, it might be too late. If you’ve become accustomed to your lifestyle, it can be difficult to make cuts, especially when some retirees actually need more money in retirement than they did while they were working, leading us to our next point.

  1. It’s Never Too Early to Prepare [3,4,5]

Think about it. You reach the most exciting period of your life, your retirement accounts are as well-funded as they’ll ever be, and you have an endless list of things you want to do now that your time belongs entirely to you. Will you want to pull back? Not likely. That’s why it’s important to start preparing for retirement long before you call it a career, giving you the flexibility to course correct if you find that you haven’t saved enough to live comfortably. But how much do you need to live comfortably? Modern estimates say retirees have set that target figure at $1.3 million for a 67-year-old heading toward a 30-year retirement, but working with a financial professional may help you get a more accurate estimate for your unique situation. It might not require that much, depending on your plan.

A 2022 study found that the average person between the ages of 65 and 74 has saved a little over $600,000. Will that be enough? It depends. Working with a financial professional early in your career, developing your own personal retirement goals and consistently devoting a portion of your income to the recommended strategies in your plan may give you a better chance to reach the financial goals you have for your retirement.

  1. Social Security May Not Suffice [6,7]

Social Security figures to be one of the biggest sources of income for most American retirees. In fact, 40% of retirees rely on Social Security for more than half of their income, and 14% rely on it for 90% of their income or more. Sure, it’s a nice benefit, but it was never designed to be a primary source of funds in the first place. It was always a supplementary tool, originally created for the economic security of the elderly back in 1932, when the average life expectancy ranged from age 57 to 63. Now, relying on Social Security has never been more tenuous. Benefits are set to take a hit of more than 20% beginning in 2034 if no action is taken soon by Congress.

Still, action is where the problem lies. The choices appear to boil down to cutting payments for beneficiaries, raising the payroll tax rate or increasing the payroll tax increase limit. So far, all of those options have been met with opposition, presumably making benefits cuts the most likely solution. Granted, American taxpayers will always be contributing to the Social Security trust fund, meaning it’s unlikely the fund is drained completely, but it is running short, making it imperative to use other planning methods. Some of those methods can include saving more and creating more supplemental income streams to provide for your lifestyle.

  1. Risk Runs Rampant in Retirement [8,9,10]

Life expectancies continue to rise, which is fantastic news for anyone who plans to use their retirement years to check off bucket list items and spend time with their families. At the same time, it means spending more money, potentially for 20 years or longer. That can put you at risk of outliving your money, which is known as longevity risk. Then, even if you do save enough to provide for 20 to 30 years of a healthy retirement, you’ll start to introduce new factors that could drain your savings such as inflation, taxes, health care and long-term care risk.

Long-term care is one of the key factors that can quickly deplete your funds, and it’s easy to see why. On average, 70% of modern retirees will need some form of long-term care, and 20% will need it for five years or longer. Additionally, the annual median cost for long-term care can run from $64,000 to $116,000 per year, and it’s not covered by Medicare because it’s a lifestyle expense as opposed to a medical expense.

That could mean enlisting in the help of long-term care insurance, which is historically expensive and useless for the 30% who end up not needing the care. Modern policies, however, can combine life and long-term care insurance, providing a pool of resources for long-term care if necessary and a death benefit to beneficiaries if not. But these policies aren’t right for everyone. We can help you compare your options and determine if they match your goals.

If you have any questions about how you can better prepare for retirement, give us a call today! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management in Tacoma, Washington at 253.509.0395





Trek 24-221

5 Things You Should Know if You’re Retiring in 2024

By | Financial Literacy, Financial Planning, Retirement

Heads up! If you plan to retire this year, you should know these five things.

Are you planning to enter the most exciting phase of your life in 2024? A phase where you get to do what you want to do, not what you have to do? With the right planning and preparation, it’s possible, but you should be aware of the year-over-year changes that occur for retirees, especially if this is your first year. Here are five changes you should know about if you plan on entering retirement in 2024.

  1. Higher Income Tax Brackets [1,2]

Traditionally, tax brackets rise with inflation on an annual basis, and 2024 is no different. For instance, the top end of the 0% capital gains bracket is up from $44,625 to $47,025 for single filers and from $89,250 to $94,050 for those who are married and filing jointly. Retirees who expect to withdraw from accounts subject to income tax—like traditional 401(k)s—may also expect to see a bit more relief this year in their income. See below for 2024’s ordinary income tax brackets.

Rate (%) Filing Single Married Filing Jointly Married Filing Separately Head of Household
10% $0 to


$0 to


$0 to


$0 to


12% $11,601 to $47150 $23,201 to $94,300 $11,601 to $47,150 $16,551 to $63,100
22% $47,151 to $100,525 $94,301 to $201,050 $47,151 to $100,525 $63,101 to $100,500
24% $100,526 to $191,950 $201,051 to $383,900 $100,526 to $191,950 $100,501 to $191,950
32% $191,951 to $243,725 $383,901 to $487,450 $191,951 to $243,725 $191,951 to $243,700
35% $243,726 to $609,350 $487,451 to $731,200 $243,726 to $365,600 $243,701 to $609,350
37% $609,351 or


$731,201 or


$365,601 or


$609,351 or



  1. Higher RMD Ages [3]

As of Jan. 1, 2023, retirees must begin taking required minimum distributions at age 73 unless they’ve already started. This was part of a gradual change made by SECURE Act 2.0 that will again raise the RMD age to 75 in 2033. This change can offer more flexibility to retirees who don’t need the money from their qualified accounts and otherwise would have incurred unnecessary income taxes. It also gives them an extra year to find other sources of income or to convert those funds to tax-free money. If you are turning 73 in 2024, your first year required minimum distribution from your qualifying accounts must be withdrawn by Apr. 1, 2025. In subsequent years, they must be withdrawn by the end of the year, or you may incur a 25% excise tax, which may be dropped to 10% if corrected in a timely manner.

  1. Elimination of RMDs for Roth 401(k)s [4]

One of the perks of the Roth IRA is that it does not come with required minimum distributions because you purchase them with already-taxed money. Roth 401(k) accounts through your employer were the same—except for the employer matching part. Before the passage of the SECURE 2.0 legislation, if your employer offered matching contributions and you chose a Roth 401(k) instead of a traditional 401(k) account, employer matching funds had to be placed into an entirely separate pre-tax traditional account which was taxable. Then, upon reaching RMD age, withdrawals were mandated for both accounts, even though taxes were only due on the matching portion.

Now, as of the passage of the SECURE 2.0 legislation, employers at their discretion can offer their matching amounts on an after-tax basis into Roth 401(k)s or Roth 403(b)s. If your employer offers this option and you choose it, you will owe income taxes on the employer match portion in the year you receive the money, but RMDs will no longer be due.

  1. Preparation for 2026 Tax Cut Sunsets [5]

Though tax cuts sunsetting at the end of 2025 won’t immediately impact 2024 retirees now, it may be crucial to begin preparing for the 2026 tax year. While the federal estate and gift tax exemption amount is currently $13.61 million per individual, it’s expected to drop back down to below $7 million in 2026. For those with larger estates, that could slice the amount of tax-free money going to beneficiaries in half. Income tax rates could also revert to what they were prior to 2018, meaning that it may be helpful to convert taxable income to tax-free income—for instance, by using Roth conversions—in the next two years. Additionally, those impacted by this change could also look to work with a financial professional to implement long-term tax strategies that give them the opportunity to pass their wealth to their beneficiaries as efficiently as possible.

  1. Higher Medicare Costs but Increased Social Security Payments [6,7]

Medicare costs are also up in 2024. Though Part A is free to beneficiaries, it does come with an annual deductible, which is up $32 from $1,600 to $1,632. Medicare Part B premiums are also up in 2024 from $164.90 to $174.40, an increase of roughly 6%. It’s important to know that those premiums are traditionally deducted from Social Security payments, which typically also rises with a cost-of-living adjustment determined by the Consumer Price Index for Urban Wage Earners and Clerical Workers, or the CPI-W. In 2024, that increase is 3.2%, so while the adjusted checks won’t be entirely proportionate to the higher Part B premiums, the COLA may help to offset the extra costs.

To learn more about what it takes to prepare for the next stage of your life, call us! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management in Tacoma, Washington at 253.509.0395



Trek 24 – 115

Important Birthdays Over 50

By | Retirement

Once you turn 50, your birthdays might have greater implications for your retirement. Here are some that you should mark on your calendar.

Most children stop being “and-a-half” somewhere around age 12. Kids add “and-a-half” to make sure everyone knows they’re closer to the next age than the last. When you are older, “and-a-half” birthdays start making a comeback. In fact, starting at age 50, several birthdays and “half-birthdays” are critical to understand because they have implications regarding your retirement income. Here are a few you should be on the lookout for once you reach 50.

Age 50

At age 50, workers in certain qualified retirement plans are able to begin making annual catch-up contributions in addition to their normal contributions. Those who participate in 401(k), 403(b), and 457 plans can contribute an additional $7,500 per year in 2024. Employees and employers who participate in SIMPLE (Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees) plans—either SIMPLE IRAs or SIMPLE 401(k) plans—can make a catch-up contribution of up to $3,500 in 2024. And those who participate in traditional or Roth IRAs can set aside an additional $1,000 a year [1].

Age 59½

At age 59½, workers are able to start making withdrawals from qualified retirement plans without incurring a 10% federal income tax penalty, although they probably shouldn’t. This applies to workers who have contributed to IRAs and employer-sponsored plans, such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans (NOTE: 457 plans are never subject to the 10% penalty). Keep in mind that distributions from traditional IRAs, 401(k) plans, and other employer-sponsored pre-tax retirement plans are taxed as ordinary income.

Age 62

At age 62 workers are first able to draw Social Security retirement benefits. However, if a person continues to work, those benefits will be reduced. The Social Security Administration will deduct $1 in benefits for each $2 an individual earns above an annual limit. In 2024, the income limit is $22,320[2].

Age 65

At age 65, individuals can qualify for Medicare. The Social Security Administration recommends applying three months before reaching age 65 (You can enroll three months prior, the month of your birthday and three months after turning 65 to avoid penalty). It’s important to note that if you are already receiving Social Security benefits, you will automatically be enrolled in Medicare Part A (hospitalization) and Part B (medical insurance) without an additional application [3].

Age 65 to 67

Between ages 66 and 67, individuals become eligible to receive 100% of their earned Social Security benefit. The age varies depending on birth year and month. Individuals born in 1955, for example, become eligible to receive 100% of their benefits when they reach age 66 years and 2 months. Those born in 1960 or later need to reach age 67 before they’ll become eligible to receive full benefits [4].

Age 70

For those who haven’t filed, from full retirement age to age 70, your Social Security benefit grows by 8% per year. Once you reach age 70, you should go ahead and file for Social Security because your benefit no longer grows and there is no penalty for continuing to work, other than your combined income calculation used by Social Security when calculating income taxes.

Age 73

In most circumstances, once you reach age 73, you must begin taking required minimum distributions from a traditional Individual Retirement Account and other defined contribution plans like 401(k)s. You may continue to contribute to a traditional IRA past age 70½ as long as you meet the earned-income requirement.

Understanding key birthdays may help you better prepare for certain retirement income and benefits. But perhaps more importantly, knowing key birthdays can help you avoid penalties that may be imposed if you miss the date.

If you have any questions about upcoming birthdays and how you can prepare for the future, please give us a call today! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management in Tacoma, Washington at 253.509.0395





Trek 23-795

7 Signs You May be Ready for Retirement

By | Retirement

It can be difficult to know when you’re ready to retire, but checking these seven boxes may be a sign that the time is coming.

Preparing yourself for retirement can be scary, as so many variables and questions leave timing up in the air and offer little to no confidence when it comes to selecting the perfect moment to quit your job and spend your time doing what you want to do instead of what you have to do. There are several indicators that may suggest you are on track to retire comfortably. While many savers and pre-retirees set concrete milestones and timetables, only a few of the important signs that you may be ready to retire comfortably have to do with your age. Here are some ways to know that you might be ready to leave the workforce.

  1. You Have Adequate Savings to Cover Your Projected Lifestyle Expenses

The adequate amount of savings will be different for everyone, which is why it can be helpful to consult your financial professional as you make your way toward retirement. They can help you determine a retirement budget that suits your spending habits and desired lifestyle, as well as the longevity of your savings in relation to that estimate. It can also be important to consider that your expenses may rise in retirement, as you might work to check off bucket list items you’ve had for years. It’s all part of the planning process that will be unique to you and your goals.

  1. You Are Debt-Free

Ensuring that you have little to no debt when you enter retirement can be paramount to your ability to live your desired lifestyle and have a secure post-career life. This could mean paying off credit card debt, tackling home loan bills or more. The problem with bringing your debt with you into retirement is that you stop working for your money and you start asking your money to work for you. While that’s the best-case scenario, it doesn’t always work perfectly in, for instance, periods of market downturns, where you may have to potentially turn to your savings for necessities.

  1. You Have Secured Multiple Income Streams

In the modern retirement landscape, it can be helpful to secure multiple income streams that can provide different levels of growth and protection. For example, instead of relying solely on your 401(k), you can add other retirement investment accounts or insurance products that match your goals. Your financial professional should be able to help with this. Additionally, those extra income streams can be helpful if you decide to delay claiming Social Security to maximize your benefit.

  1. Those Income Streams are Diversified Between Tax-Free and Tax-Deferred

Diversification of your retirement portfolio may not guarantee success in retirement, but it could position you to offset certain tax obligations depending on future circumstances and legislation. On one hand, saving vehicles, such as a Roth IRA, can offer tax-free growth and withdrawals. On the other hand, tax-deferred accounts, such as a traditional IRA, are funded with pre-tax dollars then taxed as ordinary income upon withdrawal. While this can present an opportunity for additional income streams, the tax landscape is ever-changing, potentially causing less certainty in how much you’ll have when you retire.

  1. You Have Liquid Savings

The traditional recommendation for an emergency fund is somewhere between three- and six-months’ worth of living expenses, ideally providing you with liquid savings that could prove even more important when living on a fixed income. As we mentioned above, it’s a good idea to clear most if not all your debt prior to entering retirement, but having an emergency fund could help you protect yourself from car or home repairs, medical emergencies, part-time job loss and more.

  1. You Have Hobbies

Your free time is set to skyrocket, and you’ll need a few ways to spend it to avoid immediately becoming bored. Some ideas include traveling, collecting, learning a new skill, picking up a part-time job, starting a business, golfing, volunteering and more. The possibilities are nearly endless, as long as you’re doing something you love and something that drives you to get out of bed in the morning long after the alarm means that it’s time to get ready for work.

  1. You Have a Plan

It’s important to create your plan long before you choose to leave the workforce, and it should cover more than just decumulation and distribution of your various retirement accounts. It’s your comprehensive map that outlines ways you will cover your many expenses, including those that simply bring pleasure. Furthermore, though you’ll certainly want your plan to be malleable, it can be helpful to have an idea of how you’ll use funds, giving you a better grasp of how much you’ll spend and how much you’ll want to save prior to entering retirement.

The perfect time to retire will vary based on your unique circumstances, but we’re here to provide you with the education, tools and preparation you need. To learn more about your options, please call Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.


This article is not to be construed as financial advice. It is provided for informational purposes only and it should not be relied upon. It is recommended that you check with your financial advisor, tax professional and legal professionals when making any investment or any change to your retirement plan. Your investments, insurance and savings vehicles should match your risk tolerance and be suitable as well as what’s best for your personal financial situation.


Trek 23-657

7 Ways SECURE Act 2.0 Could Affect Your Retirement

By | Legislation, Retirement

SECURE Act 2.0 was signed into law at the end of 2022. Here are a few ways it could affect your retirement.

After consumers throughout America were forced to endure a harsh financial storm in 2022, the year came to a close with President Biden signing a bill intending to increase and enhance the capabilities of retirement accounts. The bill is commonly referred to as SECURE Act 2.0, and it is the follow up to the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act of 2019. It is expected to assist retirees and pre-retirees even further in the pursuit of a comfortable and sustainable retirement. Let’s go over the biggest changes that have already taken effect as well as ones that will roll out over the course of the next decade.

  1. Pushed Back RMDs [1,2]

As of the beginning of 2023, the age at which retirees must begin taking required minimum distributions from their qualified retirement accounts is 73. Previously it was 72, meaning that retirees will now have an extra year to plan for the distribution of their accounts or enact a strategy to minimize taxes on tax-deferred accounts. Furthermore, the RMD age will move back to 75 in 2033; however, in all cases, if you have already begun taking RMDs, you must continue to take them.

Ed Slott, an American financial expert, a CPA and the president of Ed Slott & Co., looks to simplify dates a bit with a quick guide. He says those born in 1950 or earlier should use age 72 as their expected RMD age, while those born between 1951 and 1959 should use age 73, and those born in 1960 or later should use age 75.

  1. Lowered Penalties for RMD Failures [2]

Prior to SECURE Act 2.0, failure to take required minimum distributions 1) in the right amounts, 2) from the correct accounts 3) by the deadline of midnight, December 31st each year could cause you to incur an additional 50% penalty on the amount not withdrawn, a hefty price on what may be your most precious assets in retirement. Now, the penalty for not withdrawing the minimum amount has been reduced to just 25% with the potential to drop to 10% if corrected in a timely manner, which Ed Slott says typically means within a two-year timeframe.

  1. Increased Catch-Up Contributions [1,3,6]

Currently, those over the age of 50 can make catch-up contributions of $7,500—up from $6,500 in 2022—to employer-sponsored plans like 401(k)s, while catch-up contributions of $1,000 (above the total contribution limit of $6,500 for 2023) can be made to either traditional or Roth IRAs by those age 50-plus. It’s also important to know that individuals in higher income brackets may not be able to contribute to IRAs.

Beginning in 2025, those age 60 to 63 will be able to make catch-up contributions of $10,000 to employer-sponsored plans, and the limit will be indexed to inflation thereafter. Additionally, catch-up limits for individuals age 50 or older for both traditional and Roth IRAs will be indexed to inflation beginning in 2024. Ideally, this should give those nearing retirement a chance to grow their accounts as they close in on that important stage of their lives.

  1. Increased Options for Employer Matches [1]

Prior to SECURE Act 2.0, even if employers offered a Roth option for their 401(k) or similar plan, the employer match amount was required to be made on a pre-tax basis to a traditional account, meaning taxes would be owed when that portion of the money was withdrawn. The SECURE Act 2.0 allows employers to offer post-tax matches to Roth accounts, meaning employees pay taxes now but the match amounts can grow and distribute tax-free later.

Additionally, beginning in 2024, employers may match student loan payments with contributions into retirement accounts. For example, if a qualifying student makes a student loan payment of $500, that payment is able to be matched and contributed to a retirement account if it’s within the matching capabilities of the plan, allowing it to grow for the future. This allows students who may be buried deep in student debt to still achieve their employer match in a retirement account, meaning they won’t miss out on valuable contributions due to student loan obligations.

  1. Auto-Enrollment into Employer-Sponsored Plans [1]

Enrollment into new employer-sponsored plans, such as 401(k) and 403(b) plans, will be automatic beginning in 2025. Upon hiring or upon the inception of the 401(k) plan, employees will automatically be added at a rate of at least 3% but no higher than 10%. Despite automatic enrollment, employees will still have the ability to opt out of the plan.

Employers already have the right to remove former employees with low balances from their retirement plans by cutting them a check for the remaining amount if the employee has taken no action to move their money. Beginning in 2024, the definition of a low balance will be more than $1,000 but less than $7,000, and SECURE Act 2.0 portability provisions will allow employers to make a tax-free rollover distribution of a low balance account into an account in the former employee’s name at their new job without their permission.

Other SECURE 2.0 Act provisions include the establishment of the nation’s first lost-and-found database for retirement accounts which will be undertaken by the U.S. Labor Department at some point in the future.

Ideally, all of these changes could help people end up with higher savings when they retire.

  1. New Options for 529 Plans [4]

Beginning in 2024, unused funds from 529 plans, which are tax-advantaged accounts traditionally used by grandparents and parents to help a beneficiary pay for college, can now be rolled over into a Roth IRA on behalf of the plan’s beneficiary.

This could provide a small boost to an individual’s Roth IRA, but you may want to look out for a few distinct limitations to this new option. First and foremost, the 529 account must have been established and in place for at least 15 years. There is a $35,000 limit on funds able to be converted, and that is an overall total, not an annual total.

Furthermore, rollovers will be subject to the IRA contribution limit, which for 2023 is $6,500 (plus $1,000 if age 50 or older), and the beneficiary must have earned income of at least that amount in the year the rollover is completed.

There are still a lot of questions about this provision of SECURE Act 2.0 which must be clarified by lawmakers or the IRS, including the naming or changing of beneficiaries. Prior to SECURE Act 2.0, beneficiaries of 529 plans could easily be changed, and account owners could even name themselves as beneficiaries as long as funds were used for legitimate education expenses.

  1. Increased Flexibility in Annuities [1,5]

Annuities, which are a contract with an insurance company rather than a direct investment in the market, can offer principal protection and a rate of growth guaranteed by the issuing carrier. They have the potential to allow you to participate in stock market upside without experiencing market decline.

SECURE Act 2.0 offers a bit more flexibility in the purchase of qualified longevity annuity contracts, or QLACs, with funds held in qualified retirement accounts. Previous limits held premiums to 25% of an account’s balance and capped them at $145,000, but SECURE Act 2.0 has eliminated the 25% rule and increased the total cap to $200,000, giving retirees more options in the diversification of their portfolios.

If you have any questions about how SECURE Act 2.0 might affect your retirement, please give us a call.





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This article is for informational purposes only and is accurate to the best of our knowledge. It is not to be taken as investment or tax advice. in all cases we recommend that you work with financial, tax and legal professionals to find the strategies best suited to your individual situation.

5 Common Mistakes to Avoid with Medicare

By | Retirement

Medicare can be tricky. Here are some common mistakes to avoid!

The Medicare open enrollment period has begun, so we thought it would be a great time to discuss some of the most common mistakes retirees make when it comes to their healthcare. Along with your streams of income that you’ve created for yourself during your career, Medicare is one of your most important tools in retirement. It can protect you against medical emergencies that could be financially devastating, especially when you’re living on a fixed income.

It is, however, important to know that Medicare has its limitations, potentially making you susceptible to mistakes when signing up and choosing a plan. Far too often we visit with and hear about retirees who aren’t aware of how Medicare works or how to correctly utilize it as a tool for protection. We believe that many of the headaches could be avoided simply by knowing the obstacles that may present themselves along the way, thereby allowing you to prepare for what’s ahead. Let’s go over the five most common Medicare mistakes, as well as a few ways to avoid them.

  1. Not Understanding What It Is

In 2021, two-thirds of Americans were covered by a private insurance plan, meaning that they were either part of a group plan through their employer, or they sought out coverage from an insurance company on their own [1]. While private insurance plans may differ on a case-by-case basis, they generally function similarly with premiums, deductibles and various amounts of coverage in each plan. In comparison with the healthcare insurance you may have had during your career, Medicare has slight yet key differences.

For example, Medicare has four parts: A, B, C and D. Parts A and B are usually referred to as Original Medicare, with Part A covering visits to hospitals and skilled nursing facilities as well as hospice care and some home-based healthcare. It is free for those who qualify, which includes those age 65 and older who have contributed Medicare taxes for 10 years or longer.

There are, however, monthly premiums for Part B, the portion of Medicare that covers the cost of outpatient care, such as standard visits to a general practitioner.

Parts C and D can be a bit trickier for those first signing up for Medicare. Part C is commonly known as a Medicare Advantage or Medigap plan, and these plans generally replace Parts A and B (and often Part D) with a plan through a private insurance company which gets subsidized by the government. Part C Medicare Advantage or Medigap plans can also include extra coverage like dental, vision and hearing.

Part D is prescription drug coverage, which is not included in Original Medicare Parts A and B but can be added for an additional premium amount.

No matter which plans you choose, Medicare premiums typically come directly out of your Social Security benefit, and it is important to account for those deductions when figuring your Social Security benefit into your net income.

  1. Overestimating Its Capabilities

As we mentioned above, Part A of Medicare is free to those who qualify, potentially generating the common misconception that Medicare as a whole is free for those in retirement. In reality, only premiums for Part A come at no cost to the insured, which still doesn’t include 2023’s $1,600 deductible for hospital visits [2]. Part B comes with a standard monthly premium which will be $164.90 per month in 2023. Increasing and enhancing your coverage with a Medicare Advantage plan can also hike your rates, and the cost of Part D can increase with a penalty for missing your initial enrollment period.

When planning your retirement, it’s important to know that those with higher incomes pay more for Medicare, and there is a two-year look-back on your income per your tax returns when determining how much you will pay.

It’s also important to know that Medicare does not cover long-term care. While no one likes to think about the prospect of leaving their home, their possessions and their loved ones behind, 70% of today’s retirees will need some type of long-term care, and 20% will need it for longer than five years [3]. When the national annual median cost of a private room in a nursing home can top $100,000[4], it’s easy to see where the problem lies. It may be helpful to look elsewhere for long-term care coverage, including into a long-term care insurance policy or a life insurance hybrid policy that includes assistance to pay for long-term care if you need it or a death benefit for your beneficiaries if you don’t.

  1. Signing Up Outside the Initial Enrollment Period

You are not automatically enrolled when you qualify for Medicare at age 65, you must enroll yourself. There is a seven-month enrollment window which starts from the three months before your 65th birthday, the month of your 65th birthday and the three months following your 65th birthday.

Failure to enroll during that period could cause you to incur permanent surcharges.

For instance, with Part D prescription drug coverage, you may incur a penalty. That penalty is calculated by taking 1% of the “national base beneficiary premium,” which is $32.74 in 2023[5], and multiplying it by the total number of full months you’ve gone beyond your initial enrollment period. For example, with next year’s national base beneficiary premium, if you delayed enrollment for Part D by 12 months, your premium would be an additional $3.93 per month.

  1. Picking the Wrong Plan

In the same way that your healthcare plan during your career probably had limited coverage, Medicare Advantage plans and Medicare Part D plans cover different providers and prescription drugs [6].

That’s why when you’re considering Medicare options, it’s important to have a list of your doctors and medications in hand. Consider working with a Medicare specialist who can help you choose between multiple carriers rather than going it alone.

  1. Neglecting to Revisit the Plan During the Open Enrollment Period

Medicare open enrollment runs annually from Oct. 15 through Dec. 7, so now is the perfect time to review your options. And remember, as you get older, your needs will likely change. You may move. You may begin to see different specialists or healthcare providers. Almost certainly, your need for different prescription drugs will change. As those needs change, so can your Medicare plan.

The open enrollment period gives Medicare beneficiaries a plethora of options in changing their coverage to tailor it to their unique circumstances. For example, you can opt to change your Original Medicare plan to a Medicare Advantage plan, or vice versa. Furthermore, you can change your Medicare Advantage plan to a different one that offers more complete coverage for your care. Finally, it gives you the ability to customize your Part D coverage, whether you’re adding it to your current plan, removing it from your plan or changing it to accommodate your needs [7].

Too often, Medicare beneficiaries have improper coverage, leaving them scrambling to pay for their care. You can revisit your plan each year during the open enrollment period to help ensure that you aren’t stuck with medical bills you could have avoided.

If you have any questions about retirement issues like Medicare, please give us a call! You can reach Bulwark Capital Management at 253.509.0395.




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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.

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.




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.




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.