Yesteryear’s Retirement Strategies May Not Stand the Test of Time

According to findings from a pre-retiree study this year,1 one-third of Americans age 55+ say their financial assets have not yet recovered to pre-recession levels. If that isn’t bad enough, many tried-and-true retirement income planning strategies employed by the last generation of seniors no longer appear viable.

Until interest rates start moving back up, the age-old income strategy of laddering fixed rate bonds or CDs is taking a back seat. As an article at recently pointed out, “retirees planning on using that strategy going forward may be sorely disappointed if five-year CD rates stay around 2%.”2

1 (CLICK HERE to read highlights from the SunAmerica Retirement Re-Set Study, July, 2011)

2 (CLICK HERE to read “Five Retirement Strategies that No Longer Work” at, September 1, 2011)

Other retirement income strategies of yesteryear have fallen by the wayside as well, thanks to national economic  problems during the first decade of the new millennium. For example, living off the equity in your home via a home equity loan or line of credit, or even a reverse mortgage, may no longer be feasible. Even for retirees who have paid off their mortgage, you may not get as much return on the investment in your home as you were counting on.

The same goes for selling your home for retirement income – assuming you can find a buyer. The good news is that properties in popular retiree states like Florida and Arizona are selling for a song right now. One option to consider is renting your pre-retirement home and fleeing south for retirement. If you rent your property now and sell it up to three years later, you can still benefit from the $250,000 capital gains tax exclusion if you lived in the home two of the previous five years (up to $500,000 if married filing jointly).

In light of today’s economic hardships, new strategies have gained popularity to help today’s pre-retirees and retirees subsidize their future income. According to an article in The Wall Street Journal Online3 recently, some of those strategies include annuities and “payout funds” – which are basically mutual funds that automatically distribute a level percentage of your account’s market value (4% tends to be a common distribution) on a regular basis, allowing the balance to remain invested in stock and bond markets.

Everyone’s situation is different, but the general garden variety wisdom today tends to advise utilizing a combination of different strategies that include annuities, investments and real estate. And don’t rule out bonds by any means. In fact, long-term government bonds have actually performed better than the S&P 500 over the last 30 years: 11.5% versus 10.8% a year, on average. 4

3 (CLICK HERE to read “Funding the Post Pension Retirement” at The Wall Street Journal Online, October 22, 2011)

4 (CLICK HERE to read “Say what? In 30-Year Race, Bonds Beat Stocks” at, October 31, 2011)

If you’d like to learn more about today’s retirement income planning strategies, please contact us today!.



The Psychology of Planning & the Ostrich Generation

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article dubbing many of today’s preretirees the “Ostrich Generation” – observing that folks are sticking their heads in the sand instead of proactively working on a retirement plan. In fact, according to the Employee Benefit Research Institute (EBRI), only 42% of Americans report that they’ve tried to calculate how much money they will need to save for retirement. It’s no wonder, of course, given the volatility in the stock market, low interest rates in the bond market, and the general state of the economy.

However, it does seem that now is a good time for folks to at least figure out how much money they’ll need to live on in retirement, and perhaps take a close look at all the retirement income strategies currently available. The current state won’t last forever – but similar situations may come around again before you retire – so it’s a good idea to take today’s lessons and apply them to help protect yourself from another financial retreat in the future. Like during retirement.

(CLICK HERE to read “Don’t Join the Ostrich Generation” at The Wall Street Journal, September 17, 2011)

(CLICK HERE for highlights of the EBRI’s 2011 Retirement Confidence Survey, March, 2011)

Experience shows that the more we learn about something, the more confident we grow about that area. Even though figuring out how much you will need may feel like an insurmountable number, the empowerment of the exercise may encourage you to become proactive. For instance, there are several strategies you can employ right now that don’t require that you invest for future growth. Many of these are outlined in the referenced Wall Street Journal article, such as:

  • Planning to work part-time during retirement – which can also help you stay active and engaged
  • Purchasing a long-term care policy – premiums are cheaper the earlier you buy a policy
  • Delaying Social Security – if you will soon be eligible for benefits, wait until age 70 and you’ll receive 132% of the full retirement age monthly benefit
  • Social Security selectivity – live on one spouse’s benefit and let the other’s kick in later at the higher percentage to help out with the rising cost of living and later-in-life health care costs

The point is, there is something you can do now: Make a plan. Granted, you’ll need to continue tweaking that financial plan for the rest of your life because things change – as we all well know. But the mere process of creating a financial plan is empowering in and of itself. It can help you feel more positive about the future – and your ability to have an impact on even unforeseen events. Creating a plan can also be more motivating than you might expect – finding areas to cut back in current living expenses and redirecting those funds towards your retirement.

Please contact me if you feel that you, too, might have had your head in the sand too long. I’d be happy to help you review your current strategy and create a sound approach for your future retirement.



Let’s Celebrate Inflation

Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U) increased 0.3% in September; the 12-month increase equals 3.9%. The agency cited increases in energy and food prices as the main cause for the increase.  

As we’ve been wavering between threats of double-dip recession and higher inflation, this news may be the more positive direction for the economy. For the record, inflation usually exists even in a healthy economy. In fact, The Federal Reserve considers an annual inflation rate of around 2% as optimal. For a point of perspective, inflation averaged 2.8% during the growth years of the 1990s.1  

(CLICK HERE to read the full Bureau of Labor Statistics announcement, October 19, 2011) 

So, amidst all the current economic news, both good and bad, perhaps there are a few nuggets that are specifically relevant and actionable for consumers. As for inflation, prices typically rise because there is a sudden shortage of supply or because demand goes up. Given today’s current stagnant economy, increased demand is good news. This generally means consumers are spending more money; therefore companies can increase prices and, as revenues go up, payrolls increase and so does company growth and expansion – yielding more new jobs.

In related news that further demonstrates the positive side of higher inflation, the Social Security Administration recently announced a 3.6% cost of living (COLA) increase in Social Security benefits for 2012, following a two-year hiatus. Unfortunately for folks not retired yet, the agency also increased the limit on the amount of earned income that will be subject to Social Security taxes – from the current $106,800 to $110,100 starting in 2012.

The IRS also published new, increased contribution limits for employees who participate in 401(k), 403(b), most 457 plans, and the federal government’s Thrift Savings Plan. Plan limits are increasing from $16,500 to $17,000, starting next year.

(CLICK HERE to read the full Social Security announcement, October 19, 2011)
(CLICK HERE to read the full IRS announcement, October 20, 2011)

If these inflation adjustments are a sign of the times, it may be a good idea to consider options now for inflation-proofing your portfolio in the future. Common hedge strategies include commodities, REITs, currency strategies and inflation-linked securities such as TIPS (Treasury Inflation-Protected Securities). Also, investing in targeted asset classes such as commodities or TIPS through ETFs can be advantageous because they are low cost, transparent, and allow you to get in and out quickly.

If you’d like to discuss ways to protect your portfolio from the impact of rising inflation, please contact us today!

1 U.S. Inflation Calculator. Accessed October 26, 2011.



The Great Misconception?

Perhaps we’re missing something. Economists have called our recent hard times the Great Recession, and many call for a double dip on the horizon. But many of the numbers, particularly the ones released just last week, tell a different story.

Let’s start with the bad news. Consumers are still reeling from the credit, market, and political low notes we hit in August. Perhaps that’s why our poor outlook remains. On Friday, the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan survey  results of consumer outlook fell from 59.4 last month to 57.5 – way off the more positive expectation of 60.2, and the lowest level in 30 years. 

Consumers reported that the biggest reason their finances have recently worsened was due to decreased household income, and 65% do not expect their income to increase in the year ahead.

 (CLICK HERE for CNBC coverage of the consumer sentiment survey, October 14, 2011.)

Then again, perception is about how we feel. In reality, the numbers aren’t all that bad. Last Friday, the US Department of Commerce announced that U.S. retail sales for September increased by 1.1% over August, and 8.1% over September 2010. Car sales also increased, up 0.6% in September and rising at the fastest pace since March 2010.

(CLICK HERE for the US Department of Commerce report, October 14, 2011.)

In job news, hiring was stronger than expected in September, with employers adding 103,000 jobs for the month. That number was bolstered by 45,000 striking Verizon workers who returned to work, as well as jobs added in the construction, retail, and professional/business services sectors. The picture may have looked rosier had it not been for Bank of America’s loss of 30,000 jobs in September, not to mention the ongoing woes of the public sector. As a result of state budget cuts, public schools lost 24,400 jobs across the country and local governments eliminated 35,000 jobs. Furthermore, the United States Army eliminated 50,000 troops as part of its five-year reduction plan.

(CLICK HERE and HERE for CNN’s coverage of jobs reports, October 7, 2011.)

(CLICK HERE for an employment update from Challenger, Grey & Christmas, October 5, 2011.)

To date, this year has experienced a teeter-totter between the languishing public sector (with a net loss of 267,000 jobs) and a well-capitalized private sector (with a net gain of 1.3 million positions). 

America’s corporations may be a bit stingy on job growth, but not on balance sheets. Economists estimate $2 trillion in cash reserves among the nation’s companies. In the first six months of this year, profits of the Standard & Poor’s 500® companies increased nearly 16% more than during the same timeframe last year. The 52-week S&P 500 consensus forward earnings forecast has increased from $96 at the start of the year to $108 (a 12% increase). 

These numbers clearly indicate that corporate profit is climbing much faster than economic growth. However, stock valuations remain priced for low expectations. Equity investors with nerves of steel who are willing to ride out the current volatility may eventually be rewarded. As the Global Investment Committee at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney points out, historically, years that start out with low levels of consumer confidence have witnessed higher than average equity one-year returns.

(CLICK HERE to read at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney’s market commentary, October 2011)

If you would like to discuss the equity allocation of your investment portfolio, please contact us today!



Muni Tax Break Escapes Debt Supercommittee

Last month, President Obama proposed his America’s Jobs Act of 2011, which included a provision that would reduce the tax break for muni bond investors. In short, individuals who earn more than $200,000 a year ($250,000 for married couples filing jointly) would have to pay the difference between the value of the tax exemption of a 28% rate payer and that of a 33% or 35% rate payer.

However, just last week, Investment News reported that the US debt “supercommittee” – the 12-man congressional task force charged with finding ways to lower the nation’s debt – would not recommend reducing the tax break enjoyed today by municipal bond investors.

(CLICK HERE to log in free and read the Investment News report, October 2, 2011)

If the tax break was reduced, the lower overall return would behoove municipality issuers to increase rates, which would in turn increase the cost of the infrastructure projects these bonds are meant to fund. Furthermore, the move could persuade high-end investors, who make up the majority of the muni bond investment market, to look elsewhere for high-yielding dividend investments.

But since we can be reasonably confident that the tax break will be preserved, a review of the current state of municipal markets offers some interesting prospects. According to a recent analysis by, the municipal market has experienced less than $1 billion in par value worth of defaults so far this year (which equates to about three-quarters less than during the same time period in 2010).

Muni bond experts quoted in the article say that, assuming yields remain low, these securities are inexpensive relative to US Treasury bonds. In addition, new issues are beginning to flood the market since interest rates have dropped further, and because there is significant improvement in the stability of this market, investor demand is also increasing.

(CLICK HERE to view video of the “Muni Watch: Time to Invest?” report from, October 5, 2011).

In its October On the Markets commentary, the Global Investment Committee at Morgan Stanley Smith Barney observed that there are substantial differences in the muni market today than a year ago. For example, both state and local governments have done a great job closing budget gaps and states have produced seven consecutive quarters of growth. This has helped to reduce investor anxiety regarding the credit quality of issuers. When looking at quality, keep in mind that credit spreads for bonds rated below AAA are significantly wider than historical averages, which provides a favorable risk/reward tradeoff and the potential for higher income.

(CLICK HERE to view MSSB’s most recent On the Markets commentary, October 2011)

Overall, the municipal market is extremely diverse, and credit ratings may not be up-to-date in terms of improved quality. This market inefficiency can offer substantial credit at reduced risk – which may not be apparent to the broader market. If you’re interested in taking a more in-depth look at the muni bond market for your own portfolio, please give us a call!



Quarter End Roundup & Ideas

September 30th marked the end of the third quarter, a 3-month period rocked by 11th hour lawmaker dissention, the Standard & Poor’s® US rating downgrade, rising fear over the European debt crisis, and volatile markets that were up one week and down the next. 
Bad news last Friday revealed that Americans’ incomes decreased in the month of August for the first time in nearly two years, at a reduction of 0.1%. The personal savings rate also decreased to 4.5% – its lowest level since December 2009.

(CLICK HERE for the full August Personal Income and Outlays Report, Bureau of Economic Analysis, September 30, 2011.)

Investment Markets
Jeremy Siegel, a finance professor at Wharton, takes an optimistic view of the negative news. “When everyone has become optimistic or pessimistic, then you know you have reached a top or a bottom. The prevailing opinion is always wrong.” He believes that stocks are the most attractive investment out there based on valuations, noting that there is downside protection knowing that you’re not buying at an inflated price.

(CLICK HERE to read the full article, Does ‘Stocks for the Long Run’ Still Work? at Wharton Today, September 28, 2011)

Wanted: Entrepreneurs
These days it seems like the hottest discussion no longer centers on national debt, real estate values or even the rollercoaster stock market – it’s all about jobs. On September 8, President Obama proposed his Americans Jobs Act, which includes reducing payroll taxes by 50% (to 3.1%) for small businesses for the first $5 million in wages and providing up to $4,000 in tax credits to businesses that hire workers who’ve been unemployed for six months.

In addition, the SBA recently announced the administration has helped secure commitments from 13 private lenders and large banks to increase lending for small businesses by a combined $20 billion over the next three years.

(CLICK HERE to read the full White House press release detailing the American Jobs Act, September 8, 2011)

(CLICK HERE to view a video announcement of $20 billion commitment to small business, White House, September 22, 2011)

Most economists seem to agree that the job market can only be saved by the small business sector, historically responsible for creating three-quarters of new jobs each year. In fact Charles Schwab recently took pen to paper in an editorial published at in the Wall Street Journal to talk about his experience founding the fledgling brokerage firm back in 1974, when unemployment and inflation were high but the economy and consumer confidence similarly weak.

“We can spark an economic recovery by unleashing the job-creating power of business, especially small entrepreneurial businesses, which fuel economic and job growth quickly and efficiently,” Schwab writes, noting, “Indeed, it is the only way to pull ourselves out of this economic funk.”

(CLICK HERE to read Schwab’s article at the Wall Street Journal, September 28, 2011.)

What does this mean for investor portfolios? One might consider that investing for your future truly means investing in America – via established and start-up companies. And if you’re seeking growth and willing to accept the risk, note that the Dow Jones U.S. Venture Capital Index reports that the market value of venture capital-financed companies rose 10.1% in 2011’s first quarter.

(CLICK HERE to read performance press release from Dow Jones Indexes, September 20, 2011.)

Please contact us today if you’d like to discuss positioning your portfolio with new growth alternatives for the future!



Has CLASS Been Let Out?

Current Administration is “reassigning the workers in the office that was developing the Community Living Assistance Services and Supports (CLASS Act long term care benefits plan – a program that is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).”


(CLICK HERE to read about the reassignments in detail in the September 22, 2011 National Underwriter article.)


A provision supported by the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, the CLASS Act provision in PPACA, is responsible for creating a National, work-site, voluntary insurance program that workers would use to buy LTC protection.  HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has been called to define the CLASS benefit by October 2012 per the PPACA.

“As we have said in the past, it is an open question whether the program will be implemented,” Sebelius said. “A CLASS program will only be implemented if it is fiscally solvent, self-sustaining, and consistent with the statute.”

A new entitlement couldn’t possibly help reduce the budget deficit the Administration is so desperately seeking to address, according to The New American. “First the administration asked the Senate Appropriations Committee to zero out funding for CLASS for fiscal year 2012 despite having previously requested $120 million for the program. Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) applauded the move, calling it a “good first step,” but said Congress should finish the job by repealing the CLASS Act.”

(Read about the history of the provision HERE in an Opinion Feature in The Wall Street Journal.)

Supposedly, the office isn’t closing, but regardless, many don’t want to let the current Administration dictate their LTC protection and greater peace of mind.  Whatever the outcome, many Americans should consider purchasing Long Term Care insurance to protect themselves and their families.

Long Term Care coverage is an insurance product which provides for the cost of long-term care stretches beyond a predefined period.  Long Term Care provides for individuals who are not sick in a traditional sense but who require assistance with “activities of daily living.” 

If you’d like more information on whether you are within the range of net worth and financial liquidity to need to purchase LTC. There is a diverse array of Long Term Care programs available through insurance solutions and planning strategies. Simply contact our office today!


This material has been prepared for informational purposes only.  It is not intended to provide accounting or tax advice. You are encouraged to consult a tax professional specializing in these areas regarding the applicability of this information to your situation.  If you are not currently affiliated with a tax professional, simply contact us today as we would be happy to recommend an individual for these services.



U.S. Ranks 5th in Global Competitiveness

For the third year in a row, the United States has dropped among global competitive economies – this year from 4th most competitive to 5th.Switzerland is at the top of the rankings, followed by Singapore, Sweden, and Finland. For a bit of perspective, Greece ranked 90th out of 142 countries.


(CLICK HERE to read the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Report, September 22, 2011)

The report is largely heralded as an indicator of future growth for the countries evaluated. Rankings are based on 12 competitive categories, including higher education and training, goods market efficiency, labor market efficiency, financial market development, and innovation.


Not surprisingly, the report cites public distrust of government and business leaders as a primary reason why the U.S. continues to drop in the rankings. Researchers indicated that the U.S. must reduce its deficit and restore economic stability before it can move up in the rankings.


Weighing in as the world’s second largest economy, China ranked 26th in its competitive ranking this year. Elizabeth Lynn, Emerging Market Strategist with Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, recently observed that economic growth in the Asian emerging markets will depend on China, whose policy response following the 2008 financial crisis was the most aggressive – a $586 billion stimulus package. Now, Lynn explains, “we expect China’s policymakers to try to institute measured fiscal expansion to boost domestic growth – including social housing, consumer spending and urbanization projects – if exports slacken.” 1


Morgan Stanley’s economists estimate EM economic growth of 6.4% for 2011 and 6.1% for 2012 – compared to 1.5% for this year and next among developed economies. This scenario provides a solid foundation for stocks in those regions, whereas organic growth in the U.S. is more likely to be flat for the foreseeable future.


(CLICK HERE to view Morgan Stanley Smith Barney’s Global Investment Committee Report, September 2011)

If you’ve been reluctant to diversify your investment portfolio with more international exposure, these findings should help clarify where the U.S. stands in comparison to the rest of the world. Despite the recent S&P™ ratings downgrade, the U.S. is still considered second to none in terms of financial stability and its ability to make payments. Yet despite this stability – or perhaps because of it – there are other economies in the world that offer not just more growth potential, but also less volatility among risk assets.

In a recent interview with BBC News, Lord Desai (a professor at the London School of Economics and a member of the House of Lords) observed that the virtues of capitalism – risk-taking, saving, investing, hard work – have now migrated to countries like China, India, Indonesia, Korea and Japan. “If Asia has vigorous energetic capitalism and we have tired old capitalism, we will end up paying a huge price and we will trade our prosperity for their prosperity … That is the lesson of the contemporary world.”2

(CLICK HERE to read, Has Western Capitalism Failed? at BBC News, September 22, 2011)


If you are interested in discussing alternative opportunities for your portfolio, please contact  us today!

1 Morgan Stanley Smith Barney Global Investment Committee Report. Accessed September 27, 2011.

2 “Has Western Capitalism Failed?” BBC News. Accessed September 27, 2011.



Helping to Secure Your Estate in an Insecure Market

The current Administration is looking for ways to reduce the Federal deficit and is currently targeting the Estate Tax and Life Settlements among other insurance-based planning tools.  The deficit reduction package could turn the Federal estate tax clock back to 2009. 


This recent proposal could impact life insurance through two provisions: 


“One is supposed to raise $1 billion over 10 years by keeping buyers of life insurance policies from avoiding income taxes on the death benefits.


Another provision, which is supposed to raise $5 billion, would modify the dividends-received deduction for life insurance companies’ separate accounts.” 1

Understanding the role of life insurance in estate planning is critical as the U.S. continues to experience major changes in its Federal Tax policies.  Life insurance protects your family’s lifestyle in the event of your passing through the creation of an immediate tax-free estate and can also act as an excellent estate planning device.  The value for the policy owner is more peace of mind in knowing that the death of the insured will not create financial hardship and/or that his/her estate will remain intact. 


(CLICK HERE for detail in a September 19, 2011 National Underwriter article.)

(CLICK HERE to read a September 20, 2011 article in the Wall Street Journal on this topic.)


The provisions noted above would allow for more taxation of Americans’ financial and retirement assets.  Though it is uncertain if the proposal will pass legislation, it is critical to evaluate the role life insurance can play as an estate planning vehicle and to assess the potential impact of taxation on your estate if the proposed legislation passes.   


NOW is the time to meet with an experienced and knowledgeable insurance producer or advisor who understands the complexities of estate taxation and who can provide insights on the various types life insurance products available to help plan your retirement.  Through the use of appropriate strategies and solutions, you and your beneficiaries could pay significantly less in taxes and maintain more peace of mind even in the current economic environment.


If it’s been more than 12 months since you last had a tax reduction analysis completed, we strongly encourage you to schedule one now.  While current legislation is out of your hands, your estate and your wishes of what is to be done with it are still within your control.   


This material has been prepared for informational purposes only.  It is not intended to provide legal, accounting or tax advice. You are encouraged to consult a tax professional specializing in these areas regarding the applicability of this information to your situation.  If you are not currently affiliated with a tax professional, simply contact us today as we would be happy to recommend an individual for these services. 

1 Accessed Sept. 23, 2011.



Eurozone Bank Fears Assuaged – For Now

Last Thursday, September 15, 2011 the European Central Bank (ECB) announced its intent – through a joint effort with the Federal Reserve Bank, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan and the Swiss National Bank – to provide US dollars to European banks. This will help beleaguered banks continue operations and lending efforts with adequate liquidity, and temporarily subdue the ongoing threat of defaults in the euro region.


The news of the last two debt packages the ECU granted Greece, Ireland and Portugal created concern among US financial institutions and, in particular, money market fund managers. Reaction against potential overexposure to the European financial institutions bankrolling these countries’ debt led to a sell-off, further exacerbating the ECB’s liquidity issues.


The announcement calls for three separate loan auctions by year end (October 12, November 9 and December 7, 2011) for US dollars at a fixed rate for up to three months, allowing banks to purchase up to the amount of collateral they possess. The goal is to provide banks in the region with liquidity through the end of 2011.

(CLICK HERE for more details at, September 15, 2011)
(CLICK HERE for analysis of the Euro debt situation at, September 14, 2011)

This aid to European banks is a relatively low-cost instrument in the Fed’s tool chest that can also help enable US companies operating overseas to receive loans from the local banks. The move is largely considered a short-term measure, serving to calm global markets and buy the ECB – comprised of about 15 different legislative parliaments – time to properly address and agree on a longer-term solution.


Initially, there was a cautious wait-and-see sentiment among financial analysts. The fact that these banks united to take pre-emptive action is perceived as a positive sign, although no one seems to be under the impression it would carry significant impact any further than the end of the year. One analyst pointed out that past government stimulus efforts (i.e., US quantitative easing) also provided only temporary relief.


At issue is the fact that globally, growth is slowing down even further, making it difficult to produce real earnings. This is a tough environment to actually make money and create long-term solutions. However, as the coordinated central bank action indicates, perhaps for now it’s simply enough to demonstrate a united front to ward off worse case scenarios.

(CLICK HERE for analyst reaction to ECB announcement,, September 15, 2011)

Please feel free to contact us if you have specific concerns about exposure to European financial institutions.1  We’re happy to discuss alternative options which may be better suited for your goals and risk tolerance.

1Not intended to give tax, accounting or legal advice. Please consult with those professionals to discuss the impact on your unique situation.